Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tackle the tough stuff, by George

When I was a young guy in advertising, I was invited to be on the board of the local advertising federation's club. I was nervous. After all, I was a young punk surrounded by these real ancient statesmen and stateswomen. That's when a real old guy (he must have been 45 years old) named George pulled me to the side and gave me some great advice:

Volunteer to take on the toughest assignment - the one that no one has done well, the one that no one wants.

George told me this with a wry smile on his face. Honestly, I wondered if he was pulling my leg. I nervously asked why and he gave me more sage advice:

If you take on a task that has already been done well, you'll have to deal with everyone's very high, maybe unreasonable expectations. Taking on the task that no one wants will give you a chance to do what no one else has done before. You almost can't lose.

I followed George's advice and took on an undesirable board task that was a perennial failure and, in doing so, became a hero in the eyes of the board. Truthfully, I did nothing particularly great. But I did take on the task that no one else wanted.

Sometimes, half of the battle is tackling the thing that nobody wants to.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and beyond Marketing Communications

Monday, June 29, 2009

What's so difficult about growing your business?

In theory, it seems really easy to grow business. You go out, meet people, talk to them, they like you and your company, and everything is just perfect. You have a new customer.

But that's exactly what makes it so difficult to do. It doesn't happen that way. True, you do need to connect with a person, have them at least respect you and hopefully like you. And, of course, they have to have a need for your company.

But the problem is you don't know if or when that investment of time and effort will pay off. Indeed, it may never pan out. Or maybe it'll be a bonanza. The problem is that we can't count on it happening - and that's just why the vast majority of people give up.

Want to grow your business? Stop wondering whether you should follow up with that prospect. Stop considering whether it's worth it to send an email or a newspaper clipping or a new idea or a reminder to your prospect. Stop thinking about it, just go ahead and do it.

Growing business is not just a science, it's an art, it's a gamble, it's a crap shoot and it's a commitment. And, boy, does it feel good when it pays off. But you'll never know that unless you do all the things possible to make it happen.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Friday, June 26, 2009

Stress is Stress

I have a friend named Felice Dunas - a real smart lady. She's an MD, an expert in Chinese medicine, a nutrition expert and a counselor. Very brilliant. Here's one thing she told me I'll never forget:

Good stress and bad stress have one thing in common. They're are both stresses. They both wear you down.

Why is this important? Because, if you're stressed out over having to deal with a plant shutdown or a lay-off, that's understandable. But if, in addition, you have new opportunities that require you to travel and to stretch to land new clientele at the same, that, too, is stress (even though it's a positive). And it all adds up.

Don't feel guilty, either. It's not wrong if you're feeling beaten up and drained during these times. There's plenty of bad stress and good stress going around. And it all adds up.

Barry LaBov
President, LaBov and Beyond Marketing Communications

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Scary Accountability

Accountability. It's a big deal today. Here's a scary question: Is it possible that at your company there's a noticeable accountability gap?

Maybe the president thinks the VP of sales is committed to increasing sales and growing the business. Sounds good, right? But what if that sales VP isn't committed to sales? Maybe he's committed to servicing the current accounts instead. In all fairness, maybe the sales VP never said he was committed to growing the business.

Maybe the production manager assumes his engineers are accountable for the designs they submit when, in reality, those engineers only care about taking orders and keeping their head down to stay out of trouble. In all fairness, maybe they didn't commit to be accountable for great designs.

Maybe we need to stop and learn just what we and our employees are accountable for. If we assume we know, we're headed for disappointment - or worse.

Doing this will reveal gaps we have at our companies. It may give a good person a chance to perform like a hero. It may expose someone who doesn't want to work. Either way, it's time to know for sure - don't you think?

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rules vs. Standards: Installing vs. Instilling

It's tempting to overcome performance issues by installing more rules and processes. It's done every day - you know, the "42-step process to ensure quality control" or the "15 rules of customer service."

I'm not a big fan of processes, but I agree that a smart process is great. I just dislike processes that are used to protect people from themselves. Often, those result in people having little to no ownership.

There is an alternative to more processes: Instead of installing, instill. Set standards for your team. Give them a chance to figure how, together, they can achieve those standards.

Think about it: What will inspire better teamwork - establishing the "17-step process to teamwork" or setting standards or expectations for your team? I think the latter. I'd rather my team realize that there are standards for them to live up to and allow them to find ways to do just that. That's far better than letting them rely on a process to do that.

Think of the end result you want; think of how your team or company performs on its best day. Establish the standards you expect that are needed to achieve that "best day." Communicate them.

It's more inspiring to instill than it is to install.

Barry LaBov
CEO, LaBov and Beyond

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Idea Factory

My company was in the middle of a creative session with a manufacturing client. He immediately stood up after about half an hour and told us, "I can't handle all this sitting and talking. I won't allow this in my company."

We were a little shocked. The creative session was going well, a lot of new ideas were being discussed. The client continued,

"I've taken the chairs out of my conference rooms at the factory. That way my people can't sit around and waste time. Meetings are quick and then we go out and do our work in the factory."

At first that sounded pretty impressive. Maybe it was for his group. But we had to remind our client of one thing.

Our "factory" is our conference room. That's where we do our "work." This is where we create what our clients value and buy from us.

Our client understood and sat down again, this time with more enthusiasm. It got me to thinking. In companies like LaBov and Beyond, where we have to think and create for a living, it's critical that our meetings are valuable, well-run and focused. If not, we're wasting our Idea Factory and its valuable resources.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Monday, June 22, 2009

Surround yourself with "you"

My agency, LaBov & Beyond, was preparing for a visit from a prospective client. As we were preparing, it became clear that we needed to step back and review our facility. Sure, it was in good shape, but what did it say about us? Did it contribute to the experience and enhance it - or was it merely neutral? After careful review, we determined it was the latter. I'll share what we did.

We looked at the upcoming client visit as more than a one-time deal. We viewed this as an opportunity to reshape our physical environment not only for prospects, but for clients, employees (new and old) and even for the public (including prospective employees).

We created an experience. We determined the mantras that we live by on our best days - the days that we are brave and impassioned - needed to be on our walls along with real examples that correspond. A dozen mantras that we live by were stenciled on walls and dozens of examples adorned them. We made "fatheads" - large images that stick to the walls - of some of favorite accomplishments and clients, ranging from a character in our Umbrella Story book series to a Ferrari vehicle. We removed all generic images on the walls. Unless it was created by us or had a meaning to us, it was taken down. We reviewed everything in the building - including the bathrooms - after all, the client sees the bathrooms. We removed many of the awards we had displayed - unless they were relevant, they were vanquished.

The result was inspirational, educational, and it serves as a primer on who LaBov & Beyond is. More than a wacky interior design, far better than generic art work on a wall, it was "us" and it designed to inspire us to continue to be "us." Better yet, take this idea to your personal workspace: Does it inspire and reflect "you"?

Review your surroundings, ask a friend to walk in and give his/her impressions. Is your office a collection of artifacts, generic messages and mediocrity or are your surroundings a reflection of your culture?

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond marketing Communications

Friday, June 19, 2009

Don't create your brand - discover it

The best advice I've heard regarding branding is:

A Brand should not be created - it must be discovered.

Too often, we try to compete, compare and trump the competition by outdoing - by being them, only better. Problem is, we aren't them. We're not good at being them - they are. We're better off determining what makes us tick, why our clients love us, why we do great at certain things. Then we should focus on those things and promote them to get more clients that find us attractive.

Look at your life and you can see this truth. My daughter, when she was 11, was tall. Living in Indiana, being tall means one thing - you must play basketball. She did, or at least she tried, but her heart wasn't in it. I was the father at the games urging her from the bleachers, "Take your hands out of your pockets!" Yes, she had her hands in her pockets- not a good thing to do if you're supposed to handle the ball.

My daughter's passion is in creating things, playing music, etc. If I tried to force her to become a great basketball player, we could have drifted apart and she would have been miserable. Instead, we supported her in music and other creative endeavors - which has led to a good relationship and great artistic expression.

Look at your company; it's no different. You can force it into being something it's not in order to capture a market or to try to beat a competitor. But wouldn't it be easier, smarter and more successful to identify what is its strength and to focus on attractive customers and employees that are inspired by that?

Barry LaBov
LaBov and beyond

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Allow for a little graciousness

In my business, I get to listen to execs and managers discuss the big issues - and the small issues - that drive them crazy. I just conducted an assessment of a company, and several execs shared the same "small issue." These good people were frustrated because they are robbed of being gracious too often because their employees or suppliers are presumptuous. I think this is a problem that many companies share.

Most of us like to be gracious, to say, "Sure, no problem" when asked for a day-off or for time to run to your kid's school to see them perform "The Wizard of Oz."

But what too often happens is an email is or a voicemail left by the employee saying, "I'm not coming in until after noon because my dog is sick," or "There's a school delay; I'm working from home," or "There's a delay from the supplier so I'm not going to be able to ship the product until I hear from them."

All of this would probably be OK, but it feels bad if you're the boss or a co-worker depending on those people. You wonder if you can count on them, what else isn't getting done, what's the next promise to be dropped? You also feel that your time is devalued - their time is more important. I don't believe that this is the intent, but it is the reality of how people feel.

All this can be solved if that person actually asks and confirms if it's OK to come in late, to see the play, to not send the shipment, etc. 99 percent of the time the exec will be gracious, and the fellow employee will understand.

We all love to be able to be gracious. Don't rob your boss or co-workers of that.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Volunteering: One "Do" and One "Don't"

I'd like to cover one "do" and one "don't" about volunteering at a company.

The "do:"
Volunteering for an assignment or opportunity is great and motivational. And, it sets a great tone at the company - if, and only if, the person volunteering is 100 percent sincere and dedicated to it. If it's a negotiation ("I'll do that, but here are a couple other things I can't get to") or, if it's not from the heart ("I'm willing to volunteer"), forget it. It's worthless. If it is sincere and you can feel the passion and dedication in the person's voice, then it's great.

The "don't:"
You can't volunteer someone else. Just like in baseball, if there's a pop-up and two fielders are going for it, one is supposed to yell out, "Mine." Yelling out "Yours" is an obvious mistake in baseball. The same in business. We can't volunteer a co-worker for something we should do ourselves. If you're the right person for the job and you can do it - but you don't feel like it - it's best to look internally and figure out why.

The "do" is a boon for a company. The "don't" is a downer and it is seen clearly by everyone.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond Marketing Communications

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I know two great people with completely different styles - but they both get great results.

David Keuhner is the CEO of Destination Cellars, a wine experience company that offers private wine tastings at prestigious wineries worldwide. He's a resourceful, chatty (that's an understatement), well-connected business guy.

My wife, Carol, is a nice (that's an understatement), friendly, laid-back person.

I saw both of them in action recently and came to a conclusion about the importance of networking - it's huge. My golf club, Sycamore Hills Golf Club, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, needed to raise money for a charitable event: The USGA Women's State Team Championship. I saw two networkers - with very different styles - go to work:

David called in favors from some of the top wineries in the world and even secured PGA Tour Professional Jerry Kelly. Carol worked locally and rallied people to attend the event as well as brought in dozens of items to be auctioned off.

The results: More than $50,000 raised (the goal was $20,000) thanks to the generosity of the 280-plus people there(the goal was 150). Everyone had a great time; and, not only we will be able to fund the event, but there very well may be a surplus - which will go to the Special Olympics.

David and Carol networked. They asked of people in a way that made the people feel good. They allowed their natural styles, whether it was high-intensity or laid-back, to achieve a higher goal.

Look back on your business successes: How often are they the results of networking?

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Monday, June 15, 2009

Doing what doesn't come easy

I had dinner many, many years ago with a client and two of our employees. We were on the road producing an event and were recovering from a day in the hot sun herding hundreds of sales people around a training session. We needed a chance to relax. I loved being with the three people - they were smart, funny and engaging.

The topic of high school and college came up, and I was astounded. The client said, "You know, I never had to study, never took a book home, and I was an honors student." One employee piped in, "Me, too. School was easy." The other employee added, "I never studied in high school, but finally in college I had to pick up a book once in a while."

I was dumbfounded (good word for this) and I felt like the stupid guy at the table (which I probably was). I had to study during elementary, junior high (that's what it was called then), high school AND college- or I would have been in big academic trouble.

At first, I felt almost sorry for myself, but then I realized it was an advantage. I was so used to tackling uncomfortable things, having to figure out something and having to study that I inadvertently took that into my business life. It made running a business easier - I expected to face challenges, to feel the stress of performing and never assume anything was going to be easy. I also felt the thrill of succeeding through the hard work- my smarter friends didn't get that bonus, either.

I think we face this issue in the workplace. All too often, the reason an employee doesn't perform well is that the assignment didn't come easy and he/she gave up. When the economy is booming, we can get away with this because we "specialize" - we give that unique or special or even weird assignment to someone else that may be more comfortable with it.

But in today's economy, that position may not exist at your company - we have to tackle the tough stuff and find a way to succeed. It'll be tough, but we'll learn and we'll feel good about it.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Friday, June 12, 2009

New Economy Culture Shifts

With our economy shrinking, we not only are seeing lay-offs and smaller budgets to work with - we're also seeing a shift in company culture.

Whether it's our style or not, our company cultures will shift toward being more "hands-on." I just heard a minister tell his congregation that their church was under financial stress, but this was good because, "Maybe it's good that we clean up after ourselves and take out our own garbage." He wasn't being philosophical - he specifically meant that his church could no longer afford a professional cleaning service.

Most companies, large or small, will have less employees to do the grunt work, to do the clean-up that many of us have grown accustomed to avoiding. That, as the minister said, can be good.

Imagine if companies actually had owners and managers engaged in the customer's business - I mean truly engaged. Imagine if we all took out the trash, cleaned up after ourselves, turned off the lights at night and learned to do the basic maintenance on our computers?

That hands-on approach may result in a few mistakes here and there, but we'd learn a lot and our customers would see our face and hear our voice more often.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Thursday, June 11, 2009

ROI: Return On Inspiration

Cool ideas, pretty pictures, neat tag lines, beautiful models, suggestive images...that's what we see a lot of in advertising today.

That's all great if it sells the product. The next time you see a great commercial, wait a few minutes and try to remember what company paid for that commercial. Was it Miller Beer? Budweiser? Was it Ford? GM? Which pharmaceutical company was it?

If you don't know, then is it really a great commercial?

Whether we're in advertising or we build skyscrapers, our responsibility is to create stuff that gets results - no matter how unique or creative.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Speed Thrills

I look back at some of the coolest things I've been involved with and many of them had one thing in common: Time. Or, more accurately, lack of time.

A few examples: We had to figure out how to help a client in a 24-hour period so he could present a recommendation to his boss. We named a magazine while sitting in my office, in about 45 seconds. A couple of our people created a campaign that has resulted in a 500 percent increase in sales - in two hours.

The list goes on and on. The famous rock band, the Eagles, recorded their blockbuster album, Hotel California, in months - yes months - less than their unsuccessful follow-up, The Long Run.

Time is not on our side,. We can waste it just like we can waste other resources, such as money, people and opportunities. And, as we squander our time, our focus and passion wane.

But, when you have little time, you have to get to the point, you have to make decisions, someone has to step up and own the situation. This all leads to a possibility of greatness.

Next time you need a breakthrough - focus on it now as if you don't have time to waste. Because you don't.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ideas - don't stop when you're ahead

Keith is a buddy, as well as a business partner, of mine. He has a pet peeve. He hates - yes, hates - when creative people settle for the first good idea that comes into their mind. He's right.

It's been proven that we just don't know when a great idea will come into our head - it may be the first one, it may be the 200th one. One thing we do know is that if we only go far enough to get the first one we like that we'll rob ourselves of a lot of our best ideas.

When our company does a brainstorm session, we'll come up with at least 100 ideas to solve an issue. I admit that 60 or so of them may stink. But, then again, how do we know if we have the best idea until we wade through the murky mediocrity to get to some gems?

We were tasked with creating a slogan for a company. After a half-dozen sessions and more than 250 ideas, we settled on a list of five favorites. Where did they come from? One of them was in the first 10 we came up with. A couple were at No. 33 and No. 77 ; another was at No. 90, and the final one was our 177th idea. You never know when or where your best idea will come from.

Don't settle for the first one you like. It's probably not the best.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Monday, June 8, 2009

You don't know what you don't know

One of the most unique clients I ever had was a guy named Al Swenson. He was a polarizing guy. He was dashing, articulate. He also simply didn't care what you thought because he knew better. He had a crazy past of numerous jobs, wives and creative ideas. If you try to locate him, he's just as likely working at a dude ranch as he is in Corporate America.

He loved to perform, to present in front of people - no matter what the message, he wanted to get up there and speak. He had disciples - I remember one of them watching mesmerized as Al presented. The disciple turned to me and said, "I just love listening to Al. I'm not even sure what he's saying, but I love hearing him. I want to be like Al some day."

One day, during a business brainstorming session, we were struggling to solve an issue for his company. Al turned to me and proclaimed, "You don't know what you don't know." If he was merely a friend of mine, I would've given him some grief - but he was my client and so I kept my mouth shut. Secretly, I thought that was the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

Now, a decade or so later, I realize Al was brilliant. His point of "You don't know what you don't know" was genius. Apply it, for example, to an employee. Let's say you're disappointed in the way he/she handled a situation because it hurt your company. Well, did he know that before he did it? Probably not. Maybe our time is better spent teaching an employee stuff so he or she knows - it's a lot more positive than getting angry with them.

I didn't know what I didn't know. I didn't realize I needed to educate and inform before I should judge.

Thanks, Al.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Friday, June 5, 2009

Performers are performers

Pick your favorite comedian. Why would you pay to see him (or her) perform? Well, for one, he's funny. But for another, he has to stay "fresh." You won't pay to hear the same material over and over. Staying fresh is a sign that the performer is passionate about his craft, that he's growing, developing, improving.

That was the beauty of great bands like the Beatles. Always something new, always progressing, always a reason to buy their new music. Never the same song with a different title. Never cashing in by dumbing-down their work.

Same thing at the office. A performer can "play well" and say the right things for awhile. But it gets old hearing the same cliche or office-speak or seeing the same behavior over and over again.

We're all performers. We need to make sure we're not stale - not singing the same song over and over again. Everyone around us knows it when we do; we have to face it ourselves.

The best way I know to do it is to catch yourself when you're saying the same thing over and over again - and question it. What am I really saying? Am I "mailing it in," or am I really, truly being sincere about my work or my idea or my assessment of the situation?

I'd rather be too critical of myself then have others do it for me.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Less Dealers Does Not Mean Less Sales

When GM and Chrysler announced they were reducing thousands of their dealers nationwide, it was a blockbuster announcement. But it shouldn't have been.

The "fired" dealers, in some cases, gave up and conceded defeat. In other cases, they vowed to fight to be retained. It's too bad that the first time some of those dealers fought for their lives was after it was essentially too late.

I read an article that stated Chrysler eliminated dealers that represented 14 percent of their sales. That sounds like a lot. In reality, those dealers represented close to ZERO percent of Chrysler's future sales. Now, if a customer wants to buy a Chrysler, they have to drive an average of 1.3 miles further to buy one. No big deal.

Chrysler and GM feel they will do fine without those dealers because they were, in most cases, dead weight. They didn't commit to the brand, they didn't have high customer satisfaction and they didn't sell as much as a dealer 1.3 miles away.

It's tempting to feel that we're more important than we are, but sometimes we're just taking up space.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bleacher Seat Not Available Anymore

When times are booming, we get slack, lazy; we lose our bearings. We have employed people hanging around our companies because, well, they're great or cool or funny or smart. It's like a client I heard say to me once, "We're doing so great that we sit around and try to figure what it is that we're doing so great, but we can't figure it out. I guess we're just great." Yikes.

But when times get tough and all of sudden you have to figure out who stays, who goes, who makes a difference and who doesn't; that's a totally different story.

No longer can a good company afford to have a person in the "bleacher seat" - you know, the person that "helps out" or "touches" a project, that doesn't really have responsibility, but has opinions and watches what goes on. We can't afford a person that flits in and out of a client relationship or an assignment. That person is radioactive - he or she hurts the project, the relationship and the company. He or she weakens a good company.

You're either involved, engaged, accountable - or you're not on the team, the project or in the company. It may sound harsh, but how can we rationalize a position with no consequences, no commitment and no purpose?

Eliminate the "bleacher seat" and make sure everyone in the company is in the field, playing to win and make a difference.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

One question before you "process"

Before installing your next process - before asking prospective suppliers to submit their customer relationship process or their work flow procedures - ask yourself:

Why am I looking for a process?

If it's because you want to find a smarter or quicker way to achieve something, then that's great. But if it's because you're frustrated with mistakes being made, with sloppy performances, with uninspired work or with bad customer service, maybe it's not a process that you're in need of.

A process will not guarantee that your supplier, for example, will take care of you, be creative or even just care. Those issues, as tough as they are to deal with, have to be faced head-on with humans.

A prospective client asked my company, LaBov and Beyond Marketing Communications, to show them our project management process. Once we listened long enough, we discovered that their current provider took them for granted and gave them little more than competent products delivered with lip service. That provider also probably had an impressive project management process. They just didn't care.

Do you need more process improvement - or do you need people improvement?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Crying "Uncle" - Another Symptom of The Economy

I just learned another sign of just how tough things are. People are crying "uncle." You heard it here first: People - whether they are employees, ministers, or politicians - are not willing to continue the fight.

A consultant who is just tired, doesn't feel like going through it all over again, simply rationalizing his existence - he's giving up. Not worth it.

The minister under fire for being too liberal or too conservative - it doesn't matter any more. He's finished fighting the fight. Time to sell insurance or retire.

The waitress whose kids are grown and out of the house is fed up with the hassles and attitudes. She's done. She's out of here.

Where do they go? The unemployment line. Or maybe they just live off the savings they have. Or maybe they sell some of their stuff and live off that for a while.

Doesn't matter, they're done. No more fighting. Not worth it.

More opportunity for those who won't give up.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond