Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Holiday Massage - for your dreams of independence

 First published in December 2010 in Sparkings

All of us in creative gigs think about starting our own thing.  For your holiday gift here is some logical inspiration from a very smart lady who started hers.
I really wanted a massage. I Googled what I wanted and where I wanted it: massage, williamsburg.  Guess what came up?  Yes – a business called Massage Williamsburg owns most of the top organic results including several review sites. I searched no further.  It must be one of the only massage businesses not called Tranquil Touch or the like.
The mastermind behind this is Rachel Beider LMT.  “I put all my effort into being found by people who are looking for what we do rather than trying to find people who aren’t looking,” she told me.
Rachel had studied at SVA and run a photographer’s studio.  But she didn’t like the ups and downs of project work.  Escaping to the Far East – she discovered massage in Thailand and turned out to have a real knack for it.  She applied online to train at the Swedish Institute in New York and hurried back.
Rachel’s research told her that 40% of Americans have had a massage and people who get it regularly have 8 a year. She realized that the 80,000 inhabitants of Williamsburg, Brooklyn were under-served.
She landed a job at a spa. “There was all day Enya – and I had to use oils that I knew contained carcinogens.  I wanted my own practice, with my own oils and my own music and my own clients. One day I walked past a physical therapy practice.  They had empty rooms and no massage therapist.   I said: ‘2 days a week I’ll work on your clients and you let me use the space. I have always liked trading – it is very helpful.”
She traded massages for haircuts and personal training.  Hairdressers talk to their customers, and gym clients are all sore! “I handed them a card I’d made from a VistaPrint template: the most expensive marketing I have ever done!”  This effort produced more referrals than she could handle – she added therapists. 
SEO fascinates Rachel.  Focusing on massage places that came up top in searches, she added her business to the same directories and review sites they were in, boosting her own page rank.
And so on. It’s all very logical.  She got the skills.  She did the research.  She traded work for space and for referrals.  And she made full and intelligent use of the free online search and marketing tools to make sure that when people are looking for her, they will find her. 
Happy Holidays and all the best for making your dreams come true in 2011.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fear of change - Dostoevsky weighs in

 "All is in a man's hands and he lets it slip from cowardice, that's an axiom.  It would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of.  Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what they fear most..."

Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How to choose a career or job

You know how in brainstorming or ideation sessions a facilitator will tell you that there are no bad ideas.  All ideas that surface should be kept on the table and considered – at least for the time being. 
Well that kind of positivity is needed when you are searching for a job or considering a career change.  You should play that game with yourself – there are no bad ideas.  Not if I have them, not if my partner or friend has them.  Note them all down. 

When the new idea or suggestion comes to you, give it some thought – respect it.  Don’t deny it out of hand or knee-jerk the response “Oh that will never work.”  Instead say to yourself, “Ah yes, I see, and this is how maybe this could work.”

Keep the lists of the ideas that come to you.  Review the lists and put three pros and three cons against each of the ideas.  When I was a kid we were taught to debate: traditional formal debating.  This was a big deal, part of the curriculum, not just an after-school club for people who liked the sound of their own voice.  We had to be able to argue persuasively on either side of any argument – regardless of our prejudices and preconceptions.  This is the attitude I ask you to bring to this exercise.  Consider all the options on your list.  Work hard at finding reasons why each one is a good idea and how it could work for you – and only then work at finding reasons why they won’t work.

Keep this kind of thinking going – it will open your mind to possibilities you hadn’t considered.  If you were thinking about a career change, ask your friends what their friends do and put these occupations on your list.  If you are looking for a job, look at different sections of the listings, or different job categories and put them on your list.  Then debate them with yourself.  See what happens.  This is designed to bring ideas to the surface that may have been submerged below some of your personal default positions that are out of date, or have run their course.

If someone suggests you relocate – put that on your list and see how it could work.  If someone suggests that you start your own business, take some time to visualize that and see how it might work. 
Remember your initial response should be that there are no bad ideas – and try to see how each of them would work. 

Open your mind.  Stretch the possibilities.  Most people do jobs you have never heard of.  Pull yourself out of any rut you might have inadvertently gotten yourself into and imagine the sky is the limit.  There are no bad ideas.

Revealing interview questions

Getting the real scoop on a candidate you’re interviewing is not that hard: here are some tips from a pro.  Listen up, job seekers.

The hiring manager from a Minnesota ad agency told me she starts with a couple of innocent questions:  “Did you have trouble finding the office? And how was your commute? You can learn so much right off the bat from these.”  Some people launch into a story of how they overslept and missed the train or couldn’t find a parking space.  Or that they went past the building three times before they figured out which one it was.  Really. They don’t realize that this is neither interesting nor confidence inspiring. Even if you did arrive on time, the details of this triumph are not the story you ought to be telling.

Candidates, I suggest that you scout the commute in advance, or at least build in fifteen minutes of slippage time so that you are not flustered when you do make it. The Japanese believe that arriving early is just as rude as arriving late.  So they often give themselves a time bumper, and bring a book to read in a coffee shop or on a park bench - then they walk in right on the dot.

So what does she ask after the how-did-you-get-here test?  “I ask if you’ve done your homework on our company, and before I start my questions, do you have any questions about us? And then I ask if the job description makes sense to them.”  Their answers give a good indication of how they will approach the job.

Then one more revealing question: she asks people if they are comfortable being out in front, or if they prefer to work behind the scenes; in a team or a silo.  “And when they tell me – I ask them why.”
The right questions from the interviewer – beyond the substance of work history and accomplishments, can elicit so much about the candidate’s attitude and confidence.  These answers provide the first impression: the frame for everything that follows.  They are extremely important indicators of how the candidate will perform and fit in. 

This recruiter keeps the job description in front of her during the interview so she can be sure she remains focused on the needs of the position and the tone of the company. Just as the candidate should have clearly in mind how they want to be perceived, so too does the interviewer.
“So did you have trouble finding us today?”

Resume Feedback

First published in Cynopsis Classified Advantage

I recently received a resume from an apparently extremely capable leader in the digital marketing field. He is an innovator who has launched and built digital departments in several major ad agencies.

But I had to work my way through his chronology to figure this out. His brief summary was utterly generic.  It could have been written by any one of a thousand people and it didn't in any way indicate the innovations that he had been responsible for. Nor could I tell what campaigns he had worked on or what strategies he had crafted and executed. So a quick glance would not have separated him from the pack.

I sent this resume to a recruiter friend.  Here is some of her feedback: "He looks good but there's a but... I don't really get the actual hands-on work or accomplishments/impacts on business from each of his roles. It's TOO topline and needs to go deeper."

Wonderful and succinct feedback. This is advice that we can all take to heart as we review our resumes.  (You do do that regularly don't you?) Make sure it tells clearly and simply what you have done and what you can do. You have to show that you can do it yourself, that you have done it and with what success. The days of the manager who just sits in the office and manages other people are over.

Writing our own resume can be a trip down memory lane, with all those snapshots illustrating the twists and turns of our lives. But a stranger reviewing your resume is not interested in your life story  they want to know are you the best person to fill their position. To them this is not about the story of your life, it is about the next chapter of theirs.

So select and present the details under each position so that they support your positioning as clearly stated at the top.  Make them vivid  put in detail that no one else could. Saying that you "built a world class division" doesn't mean much in this age of superlatives  instead provide specifics that actually carry weight and bring your value to life. 

Be tough on yourself.  Check each element of your resume to see if it supports the clear story you want to tell.  Then check each element to see if it is unique to you.  If it is generic, then rewrite it  reframe it.  Squint at your resume (metaphorically of course!) - look at it sideways - and see if the main idea is so strong that it still shines off the page.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pollock Spark the words of our clients

Pollock*Spark works for Ad Agencies
  • “Michael was absolutely instrumental in helping us to design and build a new strategic broadcast capability for RedWorks.  Through partnering with Michael I learned that he possesses a truly unique blend of strategic savvy and operational experience - thinking at 30,000 feet while simultaneously piecing together the jigsaw on the ground.  And he does it all with a much-valued sense of humor.  Without Michael's help, we would never have ended in as good a place as we ultimately did.”
    Quinn O'Brien
    RedWorks, an Ogilvy Company
    Director of Global Operations and North American Managing Director

Pollock*Spark works for Film Companies
  • “I hired Pollock/Spark to help me sharpen my business efforts by focusing on the Clients likely to use my services. He challenges my thinking, helps me become the master of my own destiny and always looks at my situation from a fresh and smart perspective. He hates bullshit and is incisive but always tactful. His contribution is like having your very own management consultancy, except it's like dealing with the partner and not the pimply -faced recent graduate. His experience is earned and wisely applied. You can take away anything you want from me but don't take away my Michael!”                                                                      As seen on
  • “I said good things about you to your face and I'll say them behind your back as well. I thought you navigated a potentially difficult internal political situation at our company very well (difficult because of the self-perception differences between the partners), advertised your services accurately and delivered an analysis that is relevant, clear and integral to creating forward movement.”
  • “You asked many questions that we had let lurk in the shadows and pointed us in the right direction.”

Pollock*Spark works for Design Firms

  • “You took us to a whole new level that we would not have reached on our own.”
  • “Michael (Pollock, pollock|spark) has a very strong ability to focus deeply on a company and draw out important, often overlooked, issues. His suggestions for next steps and action plans are excellent. Michael has been instrumental in helping us clearly define goals and working towards achieving them.”
  • “ ...instrumental in helping us to clearly define goals and working towards achieving them.”
  • “Your support and wisdom have already improved our business, and we're looking forward to continuing the collaboration.”
  • “I am excited about moving forward”
Pollock*Spark works for Filmmakers
  • “Since we [worked together] I have not stopped working. I have been booked solid. I shot nine new spots in the last eight weeks. Being able to shoot with the confidence of knowing my strengths has been a great pleasure. I have never had a run this strong.”
  • “One of the most priceless bits of information that I learned from the sessions was the importance of being able to “tell my story”.... Once I became more comfortable with my story and goals, getting out and networking became a LOT more relaxed and enjoyable. The impact will be huge. What I learned in the coaching sessions will not only help me land jobs in the short-term, I’m certain that they will help lay a foundation for my own production company down the road. “
  • “this was a terrific experience at just the right time for me.  Thank you, Michael, for your creativity, honesty, and insightfulness.  You’re easy to open up to.  I never felt judged.  You were always prepared and able to quote things I had said 2 sessions before.  It’s invaluable as a human being to be listened to on that level, and incredibly empowering as a businessman.  I wish us both limitless success.  Cheers to you!”
  • “Although you laid out the structure and the “mini-goals”, it gelled in our final meeting beyond what I expected. As if it were a well told story and we came to the third act.  I hope we do another round 12 months from now. It’s really as important to me as seeing your doctor regularly to check your blood pressure etc.”
Pollock*Spark works for Creative Craft Associations
  • “The Pollock*Spark report has served as a trusted guide for the board of directors and the professional staff. It has helped navigate the substantial structural and behavioral changes the association has gone through, helped change the way AICE conducts its business and the way it informs and engages its membership. The difference has been extraordinary. From the attitude of the board to the renewed sense of purpose of the membership, AICE is a reinvigorated association thanks in no small part to the careful and insightful work of pollock*spark.”
Pollock*Spark works for Individual Creative Professionals
  • “I was able to see that I have way more interesting skills/experience than what is outlined on my resume.”
  • “I have, and will continue to recommend the coaching. The coaching sessions truly are a "spark". ...the sessions got me excited about what I've done, what I can do and what I hope to do.  It's one of the best investments you can make if you're in the creative field.”
  • “this (coaching) was a terrific experience .... Thank you for your creativity, honesty, and insightfulness. You're easy to open up to. I never felt judged. You were always prepared and able to quote things I had said 2 sessions before. It's invaluable as a human being to be listened to on that level, and incredibly empowering as a businessman”
  • “I went from lackluster "brand' materials (cover letter, resume etc.) in serious need of improvement to getting job offers and finding new opportunities in the span of weeks."

How to plan your next career move

I assume you have thought about a what-do-I-want-to-be-doing-in-five-years career goal. Though for lots of us it has never quite formed into anything beyond "I want to be happy and in charge of my destiny."

Maybe it feels a bit vague and you can't figure out how you think you are going to get there.  So write something down; make it moderately specific.  And don't panic. It can change.  But find something to write down that you feel good about at least for now - don't feel you are going to be trapped by it.  If you have a few ideas write them all down and then follow these steps for each one.

Now write down three (or four or five) steps that you might have to make to get there.  They could be to move to a particular company or to get particular new clients. They could be taking on new responsibilities where you are.  Or picking projects that will strengthen your portfolio.  They could be investment you have to make or courses you have to take.  Write them down. And figure out the order they need to come in.

Okay: now you have a track to head out on.  So the next piece of the pie is staying on that track.  Here I want to introduce you to the idea of a cognitive dissonance.  I want you to stay on that track and I want you also to be open to other tracks.  Got that?  Since you now have the track marked out - you can on a daily and weekly basis pick the three sub-steps you will need to make to get to the next step.  And each of those steps can have its steps.  It is like producing a movie.  When you first read a complex script involving alien creatures and locations in Rio and Shanghai and Mars and a cast of thousands it can look daunting.  But a producer will break it down into tiny manageable steps: as small as booking the airline tickets or making a first sketch of the Mars base.  These small steps will be easy to take - and put together they will add up to a major Memorial Day worldwide release.
So set out on your track. It is very satisfying to know why you are doing what you are doing and where it can take you.  And pay attention when you pick your jobs or your clients or the color palette for your website or the typeface, or the charity you volunteer for - and  ask yourself if each little choice is taking you in the direction you want to be going.
The wonderful thing about this is it will get you into a flow.  Your neurons will be happy and you will be happy. You will not be floundering or guessing.  You will know where you are going.  You will feel justified in what you are doing because you will have justified it. 

Are your business silos working for you - or bringing your company down?

Have you ever wondered about the effectiveness of business silos?  Most of us have seen them or worked in them.

business silos
The metrics, the P&L and certainly the culture, do not encourage co-operation between divisions, capabilities or regions.  The results can look good from silo to silo - maybe - but the global result for the business may not be so strong.Resources are often duplicated, efforts may be directed silo against silo, and there is frequently internal competition between executives.

From inside it is often impossible to discern what would be the greater good, and the pressure to protect the near-in is too great to resist. 

The Economist tells the story of how this culture changed at Ford, and how this change is credited with its recent massive financial turnaround.  Here is an excerpt from that story:

Soon after Alan Mulally arrived as Ford's chief executive in September 2006 he organized a weekly meeting of his senior managers and asked them how things were going.  Fine, fine, fine, came the answers from around the table.

"We are forecasting a $17 billion loss and no one has any problems!" an incredulous Mr Mulally exclaimed.

When he asked the same question the next week, Mark Fields, head of Ford's operations in the Americas, raised his hand, and - in what once would have been a moment of career suicide - admitted that a defective part threatened to delay the launch of an important new car.  The room fell silent, until Mr Mulally began to clap his hands. "Great visibility," the new boss added.

Four years on, Ford is making record profits.  Its revival began with this new willingness to recognize its faults.  In the old days management at Ford was preoccupied with executive rivalry, recalls Mr Fields. "Now it is about who's helping whom," he says. When Mr Fields stuck his hand up at that meeting and won Mr Mulally's approval, colleagues soon began chipping in with helpful suggestions to overcome the problem with the new car.  It was more than a symbolic moment for a business which used to be run like a collection of principalities rather than a global enterprise.  As far as Mr Mulally is concerned, demolishing those management divisions has been the most important factor in turning Ford around.

Buffalo, Funerals and Assumptions

I spent the past three weeks in Indonesia and got an amazing reminder that what is important to someone else might just not be obvious to me.  We stopped in on a two-week funeral ceremony in Tana Toraja on the island of Sulawesi.

The event had taken two years to plan since the death. The hundreds of extended family and friends had come from far and wide, taking big chunks of time off work. That itself had taken a while to get together, but most of all they had needed time to find the appropriate buffaloes to slaughter (about 30 in all were required for this ceremony - also countless pigs): one with extra long horns, a white one, a spotted one, one with one horn up and one horn down and so on.  The deceased had remained in the house for the duration of this planning, with food and cigarettes being provided daily. 

This all made perfect sense to our guide, a wonderful man with whom outwardly we had seemed to have so much in common. 

Note to self (and to you dear reader) it always behoves us to open our minds to what could be important to those with whom we have dealings.  We should not make assumptions, it might not be what we expect.  Even if we know they need a buffalo - did we really understand that they were holding out for one with blue eyes?

A bit of a stretch, do I hear you say? Well maybe. But the idea is valid and how many other blogs do you read with buffalo pix in them?  Here is your correspondent at the weekly Rantepau buffalo market - where the deals get done.