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The only problem I’ve ever had in life, is not getting my own way.

I’ve spent the last 24 hours with some of the brightest minds in publishing.  The C-level folks from organizations like Hearst, CNN, SheKnows, USA Today, HuffPo, and more.  Really smart folks who’ve built legacy brands with massive reach.

At their core they want to be an agent for change in the publishing space.  They want more revenues, more ROI for their advertisers, more audience engagement, more, more, more.  They want to be really good at a lot of shit. 

In my media business, I’ve done very well at leveraging network, finding the right folks that are doing one thing really well and plugging them into another group doing something else very well.  The returns are prolific.  The advertisers get reach and ROI while the consumers don’t feel screwed watching a damn commercial or ad in every thing that they watch, read and consume.

Ads are increasing the amounts of misinformation and pressure to put out more content more cheaply . At the expense of quality. It’s unsustainable.

I’m not suggesting that I have the solution to any of this.  I’m merely suggesting that publishers get out of their own way.  They’re stuck in ads and subscriptions, while talking about platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and more.

What if they listen to consumers rather than advertisers in order to go beyond ads?  I get it.  ROI is important.  It’s a great buzz word that comes up often.  How many brands (not publishers) have learned to embrace ROR (return on relationship) and have won big because of it?  I’m not sure that we can focus on advertisers and their needs without focusing on consumers and their wants.  Connecting to consumers garners the data that becomes meaningful to advertisers.

I get the sense more and more that marketers (brands) get it.  Agencies do not.

In all of these conversations and roundtable discussions one theme emerged.  All of us want the same thing.  And none of us are getting our way.

“I shot an elephant in my pajamas.”
Sure, it may seem as natural as breathing to you and me, but English is a mighty perplexing language to the non-native speaker. Some words are spelled the same but pronounced differently, some sound the same but have different meanings – even capitalization and the placement of commas can change everything. So with apologies to Groucho Marx, consider that first, simple sentence.

What’s it really mean? Was the elephant wearing your pajamas? Were you wearing pajamas? Or was the elephant in your jammies in the figurative sense (like by slipping his/her trunk up your pants leg?)
See? And while this example is sorta silly, similar slipups abound in corporate life. The other day I got an email that began with this sterling prose:

“Hi, as we discussed you are both going to work together.”

Wait, what?

My more attractive readers may recall that last November, I posted a blog called “How to Get My Attention” where I gleefully unloaded on a spammy email I received, but heaped praise on (and acted upon) a good one. This piece today is certainly related in that it involves bad communication, but the email example from last year was poorly researched and not applicable to me. This time I just don’t know what the #&% they’re talking about.

So what’s a BBQ loving, cigar stubbing, sales grubbing Texas country music fan to do?

I’m going to fight fire with fire (more on that later.) But first, I want to be sure I’ve at least tried to convince you that this is a real problem today, and not just me on a jet-lagged rant. Consider the following:

  • A Watson Wyatt study found that companies with effective communication are much more likely to have turnover lower than the industry average. With the recruitment and replacement process costing as much as several times a given person’s salary, we are talking about real money here.
  • Private company studies consistently reveal that poor (i.e. inadequate, contradictory, insensitive or otherwise incomplete) communication hurts employee morale, which is directly correlated to increased absenteeism (again – ka-ching ka-ching). But similar studies show that when employees believe they are in the loop, absenteeism is below average.
  • And perhaps most alarming, consider this – if you are not communicating effectively with your employees, what do you think is happening when they speak to customers? Are they magically translating your garbled messages into soothing marketing magic? No, chances are they are frustrating your customers because they are frustrated themselves. And in my experience, frustrated customers won’t do business.

Here’s an example of poor communication from the customer perspective. You’ve done your research and you find the truck you want at a local dealer. You walk in, greet the salesperson, point to the vehicle, and say you’re willing to pay X dollars for it. The salesperson says it’s worth at least X, but you meet in the middle and shake hands. Elapsed time – two minutes.

Then Elvis canters in astride a hot pink unicorn with “Ride of the Valkyries” as a stirring soundtrack. Exactly – you are dreaming. The only thing you can do at a car dealer in two minutes is find a parking spot. It will take your sales drone at least four trips to the cage to determine if they can sell you anything. And this is poor communication. Why not have the minimum acceptable cash price on all vehicles available to the sales staff all the time? Then deals can get done without the endless frog marches around the showroom. Poor communication sucks for customers and employees. Think it’s a coincidence that Carmax stock has outperformed its industry for 15 years while being a perennial member of the Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work For” list?

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I think not. I believe that well-informed employees are healthier, happier, and more productive. This flows right to the bottom line, and (dare I say it?) will make me look good.

Poor communication can have even greater consequences for brands. If you’re a marketing person, you know that brands aren’t just something you do during the day. You live and breathe your brand. You have to, because it’s a living thing that can wither and die if you don’t feed it, flatter it, and talk it up to others consistently.

  • You spend many tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on brand-building activities, and then (for example) your social media staff launches a Twitter campaign the day after your fleet is grounded due to labor issues. Poor internal communication – this happened to Qantas Airlines in 2011.
  • How about this one – you’re one of the largest tobacco companies in the world (possibly the galaxy) and you release a study concluding that premature deaths from smoking are a good thing due to reduced healthcare and pension costs. Unless your PR staff are all named Mr. Scrooge, how do you explain that gem from Phillip Morris in 1999? Epic failure in communication.
  • Some folks just can’t help themselves. In 2007 the Spanish retailer Zara pitched a handbag featuring colorful flowers, bicycles, and…swastikas? The bags were pulled, and presumably the entire design and communications teams were told why this was unacceptable (and then fired.) But seven years later Zara went off the rails again, marketing a sweater the resembled a concentration camp uniform, complete with a huge yellow Star of David. Can’t fix stupid, right?

Obviously, poor communication is both personal and corporate. So what do I intend to do about this crisis? I plan to beat offenders with their own sticks.

For example, my response to the “Hi, as we discussed…” email mentioned earlier was “yes.” If someone is either incapable of or won’t take the time to ask a coherent question, then my response will be equally nebulous and nonsensical. Time is money, people. I can be much more productive by ignoring those who can’t tell me what they want or need and shifting my attention to people who fully engage their brains. At the same time, I will be sure that I am crystal clear in my statements, instructions, and messages.

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I want to be successful, I want my people to be successful, and I want Wright’s Media to be successful and an industry leader. To be successful in 2016 and beyond, you must have a clear vision of what you want to be. Then you have to live it (personally or corporately) while cranking up the marketing machine and spreading your gospel of greatness. Sub-par communication during any part of this effort will slow it down, derail it, or worse. Do it well, and you will save money, save time, boost sales, increase customer and employee engagement, create brand advocates – all things that will improve the performance of your company.

 

Those of you with a few miles under your belt may remember this little ditty from the original hard core troubadour, Jez “JJ” Jefferson:

“Jack up that old truck so you can change your bent wheel,

Whip out your mama’s skillet – get yourself a hot meal,

Hitch up your box scraper cuz you need a smooth field,

But you can’t fix stupid, son, your fate is done sealed.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

The problem with stupid is this – 99.9% of the time, it is unrecognizable to the practitioner until after it has occurred and the damage has already been done. In this way, stupid differs from some of the other afflictions of humankind. As an example, let’s discuss carelessness.

When you’re careless, you usually have a little voice telling you that what you’re about to attempt is a bad idea.

Say you’re on a ladder in your backyard, trying to get a big branch off the roof before the wind blows it onto someone’s head. You can almost reach it, but it would be much safer to move the ladder to a more convenient position and easily grab the branch. You stretch for it, the ladder falls away and you’re hanging briefly on the edge before you fall ten feet into the bushes. Assuming you didn’t break anything, all you are thinking is dammit, I knew I shouldn’t have done that! But you did, and now you’re horizontal in your hedge with a branch up your ass. That’s just careless.

Or maybe you are running a little late to a business meeting. You grab the papers you need from your desk and jog/canter to the conference room. Everyone is still standing (phew!) and making introductions. As you sit and the presentation begins, you have that nagging feeling that you forgot something. But what? You dismiss it, since you have everything in front of you. Life is complicated, and sometimes your brain gets spun up in all the excitement and chaos. Then it hits you, just as the presenter clicks to the next slide. Which is a photo of you sticking your tongue out at the camera, except that now you’re doing it to a room full of potential clients. You forgot to remove the placeholder image from the file. Embarrassing, yes. Career suicide? Hopefully not, but still careless.

And then there’s insensitivity. While in these instances you may not have that little conscience-fairy whispering to you, with hindsight you should have foreseen the potential for hurt feelings and worse.  

You’re shopping for a birthday gift – nothing too extravagant, but something that will be fun for the recipient, who is a huge fan of the recent movie, “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” You look and you look and you look, and right there, on the clearance rack, is a beautifully embroidered shirt with a colorful image of the main characters. On the back it states, “Don’t mind me, I’m lost and mad as a hatter!” Perfect. You exit the checkout line, beaming and triumphant. But later, you hear through a couple party attendees that the gift didn’t go over too well. The party was for a child with special needs, and you never considered how a shirt saying something like that could be taken the wrong way. You call to apologize, wishing you had possessed the wisdom to walk right by that clearance rack and keep shopping. Say hi to insensitivity.

How about this – you’re in the bathroom at work washing your hands and two of your co-workers walk in. They are in stitches about a movie both saw recently, and take great relish in reciting some of the more libelous and libidinous dialogue contained therein. It sounds a bit naughty, but also hysterically funny, so you ask a couple questions and laugh along with them briefly, then exit. But as you leave the room, you see multiple eyes looking at you. Listen up Einstein – you do recall that most bathrooms are constructed of materials that amplify sound. You just did a live broadcast to a bunch of your co-workers. At this point, you have to hope that no one heard too much, because creating a hostile work environment these days is not just a no-no, it’s just wrong. To be safe, you should have left the bathroom the minute Beavis and Butthead showed up. Now you might be in big trouble due to insensitivity – there’s no way to tell until you get the call from HR.

But being careless or insensitive is usually not fatal, either personally or professionally. Stupidity can be fatal. Stupidity can ruin lives, and much worse. Stupidity can end lives.   

Consider the flat tire. You hear that semi-familiar whump-whump-whump and know you have to pull over. You’re on an overpass so there’s plenty of room, which is fortunate because to change the tire, you have to pretty much empty the trunk of all your vacation gear. So that’s what you do, being careful to stack it against the wall away from the lanes of traffic. Finally, the compartment holding your spare is uncovered, and just as you are pulling out your jack, a huge truck blows by with a fierce wind blast in its wake. You watch in slow motion horror as most of your Sunday newspaper rises into the air, freezes, and slowly flutters over the guardrail, raining down on the oncoming vehicles below. After what seems an eternity, the first screech, then the second, the third. The first crunch, then a bunch more in quick succession. Silence. You just know. Stupid. Doesn’t even begin to describe it.

There are also stupid business scenarios that can lead to fatalities, literally and figuratively. Let’s say you and a couple of your friends got together five years ago and created a social media app that blew up beyond all expectations. Millennials absolutely love it, and daily use is now well north of 100 million. Your problem today is – how do you monetize your users without turning them off? Distract them with new features so they won’t notice the ads! Your product team keeps them coming – all kinds of customization options, chat, a smart watch version, video calling, additional data security measures, and more. Your valuation has grown to the point where you can acquire other companies, and you do this on a regular basis.

Sounds great Brian – I don’t see a problem. In fact, this is a “problem” that all of us would love to have!

Unfortunately, there’s more. One of the embedded features is a filter that measures how fast the user is traveling at a given time. Slick idea – if you’re running or on a bike or in a plane you can communicate this to your audience. But even great ideas can morph into morbidity – did you ever consider that your user base (especially the younger millennials who still march to the beat of their collective nucleus accumbens) might be tempted into irresponsible behavior by the challenge of speed? No, you were focused on feeding the beast, and we all get this – your company needs to evolve in order to survive and this is your sole focus (besides taking calls from investment bankers.)

So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that one of your dear users crashed a car into a family while using your speed filter. And probably it’s not a stretch to imagine that given the ferocious impact, everyone was killed. Snapchat is facing a very similar situation today. Stupidity in business can result in fatalities, both human and (quite possibly, in this instance) corporate.

So like I said earlier, stupidity is usually unrecognizable until it presents itself. At that point, it can’t be fixed cuz it happened. What can you do?

You’ve got to learn. Create your own filter and set it to auto so there is no chance of a recurrence. Practice engaging your filter throughout the day in difference situations. Even if you think it’s a waste of time and you already have the answers, do it anyway for two reasons. First, practice makes perfect. By looking at even the most mundane events and interactions a different way, you might learn something.

And second, an ounce of prevention cures a pound of stupid. Be sure to take the cure.

 

 

keyboard courage
Function: noun
1: A quality or characteristic displayed by a person through the written word that this person would not ordinarily possess. 2: The confrontational attitude exhibited by someone via an anonymous entry to an internet web-page or posting. 3: An attitude demonstrated by someone when they realize that actions taken by them or words written by them across a computer connection will have little, if any, personal repercussions. 4: A false bravery possessed by an individual who does not possess the true quality in person.

I love this definition of keyboard courage.

Sometimes I catch a ball game on the weekends, spend time on my family farm or even book a last minute getaway. But not last weekend. I went to Beautycon for the first time ever.
I’m sure I could use a ton of the products they were selling and demoing, but I personally think the eye shadow would clash with my favorite bowties.

All jokes aside, the event was phenomenal. I was able to spend a few days with some top notch bloggers, you-tubers, content creators and influencers. All of them use the power of social media to share their journey, much like influencers in the corporate world.
As one Beautycon influencer shared the continual backlash of negative comments she would receive on a daily basis in a panel discussion, she was firm in her belief that it’s not worth the time or energy to even respond.

We’ve all been there. I work in media and have gotten the same type of backlash. Somehow a computer screen gives people the courage to act like a complete jackass, yet most of them would never do it in person.

Both in business and our personal lives (which are closer than we want to think), we put ourselves out there using social media of some sort. I’ve even had negative responses on LinkedIn – which is probably the most unlikely place to get those, you know, since recruiters and employers use it regularly to get insight to who you are before hiring.
Opening ourselves up to people we don’t actually know and quite frankly some of whom we have no desire to “get to know,” we often get feedback we don’t like.

Negative comments on Instagram, YouTube or blogs can get downright absurd. Internet trolls get off on posting hateful noise across any social media posts to degrade the original poster and solicit negative responses.
Whether you’re a beauty blogger, a marketing influencer or a content creator in any other industry, you’ll find yourself dealing with trolls. So what do you do about it?
I wasn’t a bit surprised when this same question came up during a panel discussion with Beautycon influencers. Know how they respond to negative comments on social?

Spoiler alert. They don’t.

The common opinion of the Beautycon influencers was that haters gonna hate (inspired by Taylor Swift, I’m sure) and getting wrapped up in their opinions is not doing anything for you in the long run. We all know that misery loves company and the posters only want to stir the pot with their comments.
Don’t let internet hate diminish your efforts.

But most importantly, don’t let the haters get to you. In the famous words of Miss Swift herself, “Shake it off”.