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The Learning Continues

27 Jun

3 Suggestions for New Grads

brochure man

hillman

Guest Contributor:

Matt Hillman, Creative Director

As I approach a quarter century working in the marketing & advertising field, I’ve begun exercising my hard-earned right to be a curmudgeon. And a recent article in AdWeek offered some interesting reflections on the latest batch of graduates headed out to “conquer” the advertising world, and that helped me get in some quality scowling.

The article’s subhead “Traditional job titles can be shackles for multitalented grads” really grabbed my attention. It got me to thinking about not only new grads coming to advertising, but to the workforce in general.

The article opens:

Meet Jason. He’s an art director/filmmaker/editor/web designer. Or say hello to Sarah. She’s a writer/art director/journalist/photographer. Over there’s Ayusha. She’s a planner/art director.

From the rest of the article, it would seem like these new grads, nurtured by advances in technology and social media-fueled collaboration, are a force of multidisciplinary wunderkind poised to change work as we know it.

But the first problem as I see it isn’t in their state-of-the-art training or access to vast information, it’s their lack of experience—or rather, their confusing of ability with expertise. The notion that graduates arrive at agencies or offices or warehouses or any full-time job with a fully functional collection of self-defined skill sets is absurd at best and dangerous at worst.

The tricky thing about experience is that it takes experience to gather it, and time to realize that knowing is not the same as understanding. One of my favorite parts of the film Good Will Hunting is where Robin Williams’ character explains life to the young, troubled genius played by Matt Damon:

“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling, seen that.”

The desire for those entering the job market to somehow bypass the vitally important experience-phase seems to have grown more pronounced in recent years, perhaps fueled by the interactivity and immersion available from the internet. But there is no substitute for actually working in a real-world environment, removed from the safety and surety of the classroom.

The second problem is the idea that job titles are “shackles.” Job titles are intended to define a function or role, but not a person. And this is not a new idea. People coming from the exact same educational program with the exact same degree would still offer very different skill sets because their backgrounds, personalities, and experiences are different.

If job titles were what defined a person’s abilities, then based on my own skills and education, I could have easily started my career 24 years ago as a “writer/editor/illustrator” or even a “designer/coordinator/announcer” or any number of combinations that would have tried—futilely—to capture what I could contribute.

But instead, I selected one job title and worked to master it. I made a decision and commitment to be the best I could in that one area before setting out to tackle any others. And in the process, I not only made valuable mistakes, but I was able to surround myself with incredibly talented people in the fields that touched mine. In other words, I continued to learn well past graduation.

And that’s where I found the idea for 3 simple suggestions for new grads—let me know if you don’t agree:

Your 20s: Find Your Strengths.

Brimming with information, ideas, theories, and youthful exuberance (do not discount the value of that!) this is the time to figure out what you’re truly good at. Choices will need to be made routinely that will impact the course of your career and life; spend this period honing your skills in the real world, daring to be bold, taking risks, and asking questions. And in that process, learn from mistakes and build on successes.

Your 30s: Know Others’ Strengths.

Once you’ve sorted out what your core strengths are, surround yourself with talented people who are different—and even better!—than you are and learn how you can benefit from their strengths. Continue to polish your craft, but figure out how it relates to those of others. Whether it’s through helping directly, anticipating needs or simply having everything accounted for on your end, focus your energies on being the person everyone else can count on—that person who “gets it.”

Your 40s and Beyond: Understand the Balance.

By this time, you’ll have had some struggles—between life and work, between the job you have and the one you want, between your role and those of coworkers, between being someone who does the work and someone who leads it. This is the stretch where applying what you’ve learned comes into play. Understanding what’s really important and what really isn’t can only come from experience, and now is when you apply what you’ve learned over the years. This is the period where those hybrid job titles aren’t so farcical because they’ve been developed over time and are backed up by tangible experience.

While having multiple talents and being versatile can definitely be an asset, there’s an inescapable truth to the term “jack of all trades, but master of none.” With the ability to move laterally in different roles, the generalist will always have a place in an organization, but being a true master of your craft is the surest way to move up instead of just around.

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Book Review 3: The Fred Factor (Part 2/2)

12 May

4 Steps to Find and Develop “Freds” in Your Organization

fred-factor

I recently wrote a blog post on Mark Sanborn’s book, The Fred Factor. While that post focused on explaining what a Fred is (long story short: a passionate employee who delivers an extraordinary customer/client experience) and how to identify one, this blog post will dig into how you can find and develop Freds within your own organization.
But first, why go to the effort? Quite simply, Freds—the most passionate people in your organization—are different. They do ordinary things extraordinarily well. Not surprisingly, Freds are also generally happier because people doing good work feel good, and people doing exceptional work feel, well, exceptional.

Sanborn uses the acronym FRED to explain how to develop “Freds”:

  • Find: There are three main avenues for finding Freds within and for your organization:
    1. Let Freds find you. If you really want your company to be world-class, it must become the kind of place that attracts Freds. To accomplish that, you must empower the Freds you have so their impact will be felt not only in the work your company does externally, but also in your internal culture.
    2. Discover “Dormant Freds.” There are many employees, also known as Dormant Freds, whose inner Fred has yet to blossom. To find them, watch for people that do things with flair (not to be confused with showing off or trying to attract attention)—an exceptionally well-done project, an elegant client meeting, or a clever suggestion are all possible tip-offs that a Dormant Fred is hiding in plain sight. Here are some questions to ask yourself about a potential Dormant Fred:
      • What do I remember about this person?
      • What’s the most extraordinary thing he or she has ever done?
      • How badly would this person be missed if he or she left his or her current position?
    3. Recruit and hire Freds. When you have exhausted your internal Fred pool, you may have to look externally to find them. Here are some great interview questions to find those prospective Freds:
      • Who are your heroes? Why?
      • Why would anyone do more than necessary?
      • Tell me three things that you think would delight most customers/clients/consumers.
      • What’s the coolest thing that has happened to you as a customer?
      • What is service?
  • Reward – Implement a rewards program to make sure Freds are recognized and appreciated, even if you are only recognizing good intentions and not a good final result. While nobody likes to fail, it is important to encourage employees to take chances. When people feel like their contributions are unappreciated, they will stop trying. And when that happens, innovation dies. My company, ER Marketing, recently implemented an award system in which employees nominate each other for exceptional work and attitude. This is meant to encourage employees who live up to the ER Marketing values of Curiosity, Respect, Accountability, and Performance (yes, we know what that acronym spells) with peer and management-level recognition.
  • Educate – Find examples of “Freds,” (both inside and outside of your organization), analyze those examples for commonalities that others can learn from, teach others to act extraordinary everyday—not just when there is a crisis—and set an example (invite others to act similarly).
  • Demonstrate – Set an example by inspiring, involving, initiating, and improvising. Here are some ways you can set an example and inspire employees to better serve your customers, vendors, and fellow employees better:
    • Inspire, but don’t intimidate.
    • Involve by creating a “Team Fred” of leaders in your organization.
    • Don’t wait for the “right” moment. It will never come—you have to make it.

One final, important thought from the book: Pull, Don’t Push. You can’t command someone to be a Fred. You can’t require someone to practice the Fred Factor. Command-and-control short-circuits the spirit of the Fred Factor, which is about opportunity, not obligation.

Invite people to join you. The most powerful tool you have to spread the Fred Factor throughout your organization is your own behavior—the example of your life and the effect it has on others. The best “Freducators” are themselves Freds. As John Maxwell says, “You teach what you know, you reproduce who you are.”

 

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Book Review 1/3: Built to Sell

1 Mar

Building Something with a Life Beyond You

As part of a blog series, I’ve decided to complete three reviews of three separate books. The books are about topics like marketing, business, and leadership. My goal with this series is to draw out some teachable lessons for anyone attempting to grow—personally, professionally, or otherwise. In this blog, I will cover some humbling lessons that leaders, business owners, managers, etc. can learn about creating a business and developing people to be able to grow independently of their leadership.

It’s a relevant topic to almost anyone with direct reports or a business to be accountable to. Haven’t you ever wondered how you can create a department or a company that can thrive without you? If you aren’t a business owner in the building materials segment, do you run a department or product category? Could some of the same principles necessary to generate a sustainable business work in this scenario—one without you?

To that end, I recently finished reading a book titled Built to Sell by John Warrillow. What a fabulous read. Throughout the book, John offers valuable insights and tips to help the reader build a sustainable business or department that can continue on without the leader.

I’ve compiled a few of the tips I found most interesting—and if I’m being honest with myself, the most humbling as well.

  1. Don’t generalize—specialize. If you focus on doing one thing well and hire specialists in that area, the quality of your work will improve and you will stand out among your competitors.
  2. Owning a process makes it easier to pitch and puts you in control. Be clear about what you’re selling, and potential customers will be more likely to buy your product.
  3. Don’t be afraid to say no to projects. Prove that you are serious about specialization by turning down work that falls outside your area of expertise. The more people you say no to, the more referrals you’ll get to people who need your product or service.
  4. Hire people who are good at selling products, not services—even if you are in a service business. This expertise leads to scalable solutions as opposed to all customized one-off solutions.
  5. Build a management team and offer them a long-term incentive plan that rewards their personal performance and loyalty.
  6. Think big. Write a 3-year business plan that paints a picture of what is possible for your business. Remember, the company that acquires you will have more resources for you to accelerate growth.
  7. Always know your pipeline prospects and what their worth is to your company. This metric is essential to be on top of market opportunity and your potential for a percentage of that.

Don’t take the book too literally—this concept is not just about business owners and it’s not just about selling; it’s about leadership and creating something sustainable beyond you. Elton and I aren’t trying to sell ERM, but the lessons from this book are ones that any business owner, manager, or leader attempting to make something bigger than themselves can learn from.

Whether you own a business or manage a department, these are tips that should influence how you approach the work if you want to create opportunities for long-term success. At the end of the day, none of us can be in our roles forever. The more you can do to lay the foundation for success, the more poised for success you—and the business—will be.

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IBS 2016: “The New Big Thing” Is…

23 Feb

My Key IBS Takeaway for Building Products Marketers

IBS 2016

We’ve talked a lot about the 2016 International Builders’ Show (IBS) throughout the course of the last few weeks. You might even say we’re a little obsessed. But the reason why is that, for building products marketers, trade shows are a big deal. And there is perhaps no bigger one—or more important—than IBS. Every year, IBS represents where the building industry is going, from products to design trends to marketing. And every year, it’s at IBS where you can find “the next big thing.”

For me, the next big thing in trade show marketing is pretty clear: experiential booths. For a long time—too long, in fact—boring and uninspired booths have ruled the roost. Matt Hillman, our creative director at ER Marketing, even recently went as far as to describe the majority of booths as “brochures you stand in.” Not far off. But things are changing. In his post, he discusses some of the booths at IBS that delivered much better experiences for their audience. The common theme was that these exhibitors need to put on a “show” for their audience.

I think this is true no matter what trade shows you attend. In fact, it sparked my thinking on some other trade shows I’ve been to that have exemplified the experiential booth marketing that was such a hit at IBS. Here are some of the standout booth experiences I’ve had attending trade shows—experiences that should become the model for B2B marketers in the building products industry:

  1. At the Food Equipment Show, a commercial sausage making company proved the power of their product by doing multiple demonstrations using Play-Doh. This created a colorful (in more ways than one) experience for attendees.
  2. A simple product demonstration that proved effective was a window company that let attendees experience their good, better, best product offerings. By placing single, double, and triple paned windows in front of heaters, visitors could simply touch the glass to feel the difference in quality.
  3. A house wrap company had an innovative approach to showing their product’s resilience. By pulling their house wrap taut and placing it next to competitors’ products, they were able to demonstrate which was the strongest—by having a professional pitching machine shoot baseballs at the wrap.
  4. At the Deck Expo, one company created a competition in which attendees attempted to break their product with a hammer. If they were able to break it, they won a huge prize. It was simple to execute, and best of all, the loud noises of people attempting to break the synthetic decking drew a crowd.

IBS proved that the next big thing for building products marketers is creating an experience attendees will remember and breaking from tradition to do it. But that’s not exclusive to IBS—these examples demonstrate that it’s a change happening at all trade shows. B2B marketers in the building products industry need to do better. Your average, boring trade show booths are no longer effective. Worse, they’re very likely a huge waste of your money.

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Lessons From The Builders’ Show

18 Feb

An Open Letter To Trade Show Exhibitors

Dear Friends,

According to the Convention Industry Council, trade shows added more than $280 billion to the U.S. economy in 2012, drawing more than 225 million participants. That’s a staggering set of figures and it underscores the importance these shows play. As marketers, we all know exhibiting at trade shows can be vital to our business—to see and be seen, to market products and services, and to nurture relationships.

Over my career, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a variety of trade shows across numerous industries, the most recent at the building industry’s combined 2016 IBS & KBIS in Las Vegas.

And over the years, I’m struck by one constant of booths, regardless of time, region or industry…

Chances are, your booth sucks. It’s cramped, cluttered, and really boring.

While harsh, it’s also probably true. Worst of all, you probably know it. But take heart because you’re most certainly not alone in this. Everywhere, at every show, are long swaths of cluttered and uninspired landscape—overwhelming collections of shapes and colors, fixtures and messages, all masquerading as brand. It’s as pervasive and inescapable as it is predictable.

Why? When did this happen? When did it become okay to develop a trade show booth as if someone pitched the idea “You know what people will want to do after spending thousands of dollars and traveling hundreds of miles? To stand inside our 4×9 brochure!

Sure, it sounds ridiculous, but it’s the reality we’ve all seen time and again—and sadly, what we’ve come to expect and attendees to accept. Throngs of people shuffling past a booth, each scanning over it and moving on. And that’s after you’ve spent—what?—tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of marketing budget, ostensibly to get exactly their attention.

So now that I’ve pointed out the obvious problem, let me point out the not-so-obvious remedy. The secret, the greatest missed opportunity, comes down to a simple idea that the majority of exhibitors overlook which is…want a hint? Here you go: International Builders’ Show, Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, International Consumer Electronics Show, SHOT Show, Club Industry Show, Nightclub & Bar Convention & Trade Show…

Notice anything in common? They’re trade shows. And what is a show? It’s an event, a spectacle, something to witness and enjoy. It’s active, not passive—and that’s the key. If you were invited to “dinner and a show” you’d naturally expect to be entertained, and yet at trade shows, we invite people to come see us and then reward them with opportunities to stand around and read something. Where’s the spectacle? Where’s the pizazz?

Face it, contemporary trade shows are overgrown ice trays of bland inactivity. But there is hope, bright morsels of brilliance among the milquetoast masses.

As recently as the IBS/KBIS in Las Vegas, I found a few who got it right and as a result, got noticed—some with every chair filled and some with onlookers clogging the aisle (drawing even more to come and see what the buzz is about). Others would do well to follow their lead.

CertainTeed

IBS Certainteed

If you have the budget, go big and use celebrities. CertainTeed brought in HGTV star Mike Holmes for an appearance and photo opp, plus constructed a climbing wall. What does a climbing wall have to do with their products? It was lost on a lot of people. But see the woman in the foreground…she’s capturing it on her phone, probably sharing it with others. She’s sharing images of a B2B trade show booth unsolicited. Money shot, indeed.

GAF

IBS GAF

Don’t have big budgets for big talent? Go traditional and use models and simple RTW giveaways. Your own team is paid to be productive experts, but hired talent is paid to be charming, inviting, and generally attractive. At the GAF booth—just inside a major entry point—a smiling woman with a bubbly personality was getting grown men to register to win stuffed animals. And it worked; in the few moments it took for me to grab this picture, two men asked where to sign up.

Plastpro

IBS plastpro

I walked by the Plastpro booth a few times and each time I did, people were standing-room-only to watch a pro install a door. To most people, this would be a punchline, but to attendees it was interesting, valuable, and yes, entertaining. The presenter was upbeat and personable…and he presented, not simply talked. I’ll admit, I stuck around and learned how to square a door much easier than I used to (and I’m not even the target audience).

Okay, so it’s great if you have the resources for a 30×40 booth with big events and headline talent and boxes of prizes. But what about the 10×10 along the back wall? What about those who spent a third of their marketing budget just to get it all to the show?

Bad Dog Tools

IB baddog

For more than 10 minutes, I watched two men at Bad Dog Tools do nothing but demo their product and answer questions. No brochures, no giveaways, no models. Yet people were constantly lined up on two sides of the booth to watch drill bits bore through everything from rasps to brake discs. Bad Dog Tools could have made a video of it and had it looping while two of their salespeople sat on bar stools and watched attendees shuffle by and not stop, but instead they made the product the show. Brilliant.

What’s the takeaway? Don’t settle, make a spectacle. Create a booth that’s a destination, or at the very least, an interruption. Remember that people can get information about your products or services at your website, so use your trade show booth to interact with them in a way you can’t otherwise—and in a manner that doesn’t feel like you’re pressuring them to buy a timeshare.

And here’s one final thought to consider…

“People will pay more to be entertained than educated.” –Johnny Carson

So come on, marketers. Show us what you’re made of.

Sincerely,

Matt Hillman

ER Marketing, Creative Director

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