Professional Services at the Digital Crossroads

crossroadsI’ve been watching lots of professional services firms evolve to take on the world of digital.  PR agencies are embracing the evolution of communication to online, unstructured and real-time content.  Marketers are embracing the troves of data available and looking at how to craft effective campaigns, content and platforms to reach audiences in new ways.  Ad agencies are extending “big ideas” to be rooted in shareable social platforms.  Even the big consulting firms are finding their way into the digital strategy arena.

These are exciting times for anyone in the advertising, marketing and communications space.  Career opportunities abound, and CMOs of companies in all industries are looking at their agency rosters differently.  Agencies need to “bring it” with compelling, integrated ideas.  In some ways it doesn’t matter if the agency was born from PR, marketing, digital, or advertising.  What matters most is the combination of the ability to understand a client’s business, the ability to generate stellar ideas based on true insights, and the ability to deliver on those ideas.

I am in the midst of a related career transition and will be sharing more details in the near future.  I’m excited to be sharing and collaborating more with peers who understand this space.  I’m excited to be writing again and getting this blog back in gear, hearing from you about what excites you most in the world of digital.  What I am most excited about is the continued opportunity to work with smart colleagues and great brands in a digital landscape.  Describing it as “fun times” would be an understatement.

image credit: PedjaP via flickr


The Digital Five Tool Player

As the convergence of different marketing tactics takes root in agencies, vendors and marketing departments of companies of all sizes, I’ve started to think about what it takes to ultimately be a “five tool player” in the digital space.  Ed Boches wrote a great post yesterday about labels in creative and digital – and that got me thinking it was time to document these thoughts.  What did I miss?

1. Creativity and Appreciation for Technology

Being able to come up with creative concepts is important for anyone in the marketing business, but taking it to a new level with an appreciation for technology is what is going to make or break success with regard to digital.  I’ll be calling out some other technologies separately below, but understanding and being able to leverage tools available is critical to delivering impact.  One of my favorite examples of this application is the Converse Domaination effort (it’s worth the watch, go ahead, I’ll wait).

2. Understanding the Community

I contemplated using “customer,” “audience,” and even “constituents” here, but community seems to broadly cover business partners, customers, and prospects.  Understanding the needs, attitudes and behaviors of the community a digital player is trying to reach or interact with is a fundamental key to being relevant.  It’s more than just market research, it’s the practical application of it.

3. Understanding of Conversational Technology

Social media is providing new tools, technologies and techniques to identify, engage and activate.   Digital players today need to understand the etiquette, ins and outs of how these tools work and how people use them.  A most recent example for me is a conversation with a copywriter trying to craft the “voice of the brand.”  If that voice isn’t conversational, and they haven’t considered how to be so, an extension of any initiative into social media will be very challenging.  One person who has spent plenty of time studying behaviors and what makes social initiatives work is Dan Zarrella – worth subscribing to.

4. SEO

Another critical area of technology focus is search engine optimization.  A few years ago SEO as an industry was on par with voodoo, but today it’s both art and science to understand how people search online and how to best position digital assets to be found.  Without an appreciation for SEO, a digital player will have a harder time delivering the goods to the community who is searching for it.  One of the best speakers and evangelists in SEO is Lee Odden, always looking to understand and push the digital marketing industry along in this space.

5. Business Acumen

Those who have worked with me before know this is a space near and dear to me.  Perhaps it’s obvious, but to be successful in digital a player needs to understand marketing, the relevant industry (regulated industries have very different expectations and limitations), and how to work with people.  They need to be good team players and good leaders, especially in pushing through ideas that are new.  Honoring commitments, adjusting approach to who you are working with (C-level vs. junior resources), ability to multi-task are just some things I look for in a team player – regardless of digital background.

What other qualities make the most well-rounded digital athlete?  Does this apply to all areas of interactive marketing?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.  And if you’re a Digital Five Tool player yourself, I know an agency who would love to hear from you 😉

Photo credit: StarrGazr via Flickr

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On Beyond Snake Oil

Say all you want about people who make a living off of consulting in social media – like any industry where there is buzz, there will be snake oil salesmen who are trying to take advantage of the trend.  A Google search on “social media snake oil” returns over 187,000 results.  There are great posts about how you should beware the snake oil salesman right along side excellent posts defending the folks who are legitimate and hard working on behalf of their clients in the business.  While there will never be a shortage of folks trying to take advantage, it’s time that companies treat finding a partner to help in social media like they would with any other partnership.

Thanks to for publishing my first article submission there this week, called 7 Tips for Choosing a Social Media Provider.  As the services industry changes in this space, evolving models of co-opetition will come and go and analysts will attempt to capture the changes going on in social media services.  What’s clear to me though, is that companies need to evaluate the following when making a decision on how and where to get help to infuse social media into their marketing or other business tactics:

  1. Industry experience of the provider
  2. Your company’s current agency ecosystem
  3. Internal resource support and sponsorship
  4. Social media integration
  5. Social media maturity of the company
  6. Business results achieved by the provider
  7. Provider’s partnership ecosystem

These factors provide a much broader view on how companies need to evolve their thinking to selecting a business partner in this space.  What did I miss?  For more thoughts on what each one means, please see the post on iMedia and let me know what you think here in the comments.

Photo credit: caseymfox via Flickr, with apologies to Dr. Seuss

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10 Business Development Tips from the Master of the Obvious

usedcarsalesChances are you’ve been part of a sales pitch – a meeting to demonstrate your product or capabilities with a potential buyer.  In my career I’ve been involved in many – both as the discussion leader, as I would prefer to call it, and as the audience.  Several months ago I was part of a call with a social media technology vendor that went badly.  Very badly.  I captured my thoughts on Twitter at the time, and a recent similar experience caused me to go dig these up.  Due to karma, Murphy’s Law and several other corollaries my next presentation is likely to flop, but I still thought this was worth capturing.  All of these measures actually happened in one meeting.

Ten Business Development Tips from the Master of the Obvious

1. Don’t focus on previous clients that barely used your services many years ago. Lead with the best examples and case studies.

2. If you’re new to the company and the one delivering the presentation, don’t play the “I’m new” card every other sentence.

3. If you have multiple product or service offerings, don’t open with the ancillary ones – focus on the meat first, especially if it is the foundation for the others.

4. If you are a software vendor and include screen shots, don’t put in ones that are blurry. A live demo is usually better anyways even though it can be more challenging to arrange.

5. If you are a software vendor don’t ever say the phrase:  “I’m not sure what this does.”

6. Here’s another phrase to avoid:  “We haven’t found a client who likes this yet.”

7. When you share a recent example of client work, don’t start with what went wrong on the project.

8. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you.” It’s way better than making up an answer and the follow-up opportunity allows another contact or inquiry.  I’d rather hear a confident “I don’t know” with a follow-up than a wishy-washy explanation.

9. When sharing who your business partners are, don’t start listing partners you are no longer partnering with. (Wow)

10. When you schedule a software demo (aside from screenshots mentioned in #4) have someone available who knows the product.  Either be that person or have an engineer on the call.

Thanks for listening to me vent – we all learn lessons the hard way sometimes.  Any other tips the Master of the Obvious would be proud of?

Photo credit: bonkedproducer via Flickr

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The Value of Program Management for Interactive Marketing

When most people hear "program management" they think "<yawn>."  It's not a sexy skill set, like User Experience Design, Web Strategy or Flash Development.  I've heard program managers jokingly referred to as "overhead."  They have been confused with Project Managers and can be accused of knowing a little about a lot of topics but being an expert in none.  I had a conversation with a good friend last week about whether program management skills could even add value in an advertising agency environment, whose halls are filled with right-brained creative wizards.  For crying out loud, the main homepage of a primary industry nonprofit for program managers, the International Association of Project and Program Management, has a voice welcome on it's homepage that could be the same guy who does the radio sponsor spots on NPR.  

In the words of Mitch McDeere, "It may not be sexy, but it's got teeth."

What is program management?

Wikipedia calls it "the process of managing multiple inter-dependent ongoing projects."  This could apply to several dozen or even thousands of projects.  Program management is a discipline that requires leadership, vision, creativity, organizational and political savvy, and communication.  The large IT consulting firms have figured out that program management is critical to the success of client initiatives.  My old firm Accenture actually created their own training class called Value Driven Program Management, emphasizing the focus on measuring outcomes and return on investment vs. the business case for an initiative.  I always thought that internally at the firm, this skill set was valued more than in the marketplace.

How does it apply to interactive marketing?

Interactive marketing, according to Wikipedia, is the "ability to address the customer, remember what the customer says and address the customer again in a way that illustrates that we remember what the customer has told us."  The online channel is a primary vehicle for interactive marketers who use search engines, email, web analytics, display advertising, optimized websites and (increasingly) social media to engage customers and drive their businesses.  Interactive marketing departments are typically full of deeply skilled SEO and SEM specialists, visual designers, marketing veterans and technologists.  

These marketing departments need the same leadership, coordination, and strategy to drive multiple disciplines, projects and campaigns to achieve goals for the company.  Good program managers in this space are influencing the outcome; they are navigating the marketing, sales and product development organizations in a company to align executive sponsors, building a roadmap and budget, energizing resources to execute on the vision, and measuring the results.  Retailers that do this well have campaigns online that match other channels, exploring multi-channel campaigns.  Who is behind making all of these marketing pieces come together, execute on plan and achieve the value for the company?  Program management.

What about agencies?

In the agency environment the program management domain is just as critical, with the added pressures and challenges of navigating both the internal and client organizations.  Traditional media and new media agencies need this skill set to execute and deliver – otherwise the creative talent will generate a lot of good work but may be disillusioned, unfocused and be at risk for not meeting the client's objectives or expectations.  This video is a parody of the client/agency relationship gone wrong (thanks to Kate Brodock):

How do you see the program management function in your organization?  Is the program management discipline at your company effective?  Why or why not?

photo credit: stephendann via flickr  … and no, that book was not written by yours truly but I'll have to check it out.

Top 5 Ways to Build Team Commitment

"I am only as good as the team I surround myself with."  I've said it many times.  This statement applies to any team environment, but especially in professional services.  It applies to large projects, small projects, quick and easy projects and those complex, painful, challenging projects that everyone claims one day "you'll look back on this as a learning experience." 

Commitment and compliance are two very different states for project teams.  A compliant team is one that shows up because they have to.  They may not actually punch a time clock, but at the end of the day they shuffle their feet to the parking lot – they may even run out the door.  They are working on the project because, well, what else would they do.  A committed team treats the project like their own garden or pet – they obsess over it, they care for it, they own it.  They are thinking ahead of how to do it better, already solving the next three problems that haven't been discovered.  The project just 'clicks.'  It's much easier to go from a committed team to a compliant one.  A couple of poorly managed challenges can easily break the chain, and it's much harder to go from a compliant team to a committed one.

How do you get a team together that 'clicks'?  How do you transform your team into a high performing one?  Here are my top five means I like to employ to help build a solid team that is engaged, exceeding expectations and most importantly, committed.  (Not quite to the level of the Spartans in 300 though – now that's commitment).  I'd love to expand to this list and hear your thoughts – this is certainly not an exhaustive list.

1.  Roles and Responsibilities

It's important to know your team members and their skill sets to make sure each is in the right role, and it's even more important for the team members to know what their responsibilities are.  Often times expectations aren't laid out for teams up front that are in line with a project's expected outcomes or objectives.

2.  Empowerment and Ownership

Once you have roles that are clearly defined for your team members and expectations set, empower them – let them "do their thing" – and hold them accountable for the success and outcomes of their role.  Set expectations that "you own it," with some guidance and parameters on what they need to do.  Support them, back them up.  One example I often use:  "I don't really care which hours of the day you work, so long as you can make sure we meet our commitment on the deadline.  What do you think and what's your plan?"

3.  Trust

Trust needs to be earned, but also requires some faith.  In a leadership position you need to grant some trust in order to start the chain.  With follow-through and execution, trust will build.  It's only a matter of time until you can finish each other's sentences. 

4.  Recognition

When a job is well done, don't skimp on recognizing the team.  Highlight small wins and big wins all along the way.  Look for those folks who aren't inclined to shout about their accomplishments.  Make sure the management team stays in touch with what is happening and shares good news – not just the crises.

5.  A Sense of Humor

Stress affects people differently.  I, for one, need an environment where laughter exists.  If everyone is so heads down focused without time for a good practical joke, to laugh at ourselves or share some good project humor, I'm not interested.  Projects can be tedious, lighten up!

What other means would you recommend for building a solid and committed team?  What things do you remember most about good teams you have been a part of?  What made them "click"?