Friday, July 31, 2009

Business aviation in a sound-byte world - Part 1

I recently appeared on Fox Business Channel with Ed Bolen of the National Business Aviation Association. We were interviewed by Jeff Flock. I thought Jeff was very good and very fair. He asked us about the viability of business jets, and I think we stated our cases well.

The whole anti-private-jet fervor that we have today is because of the sound-byte world we live in. As soon as an executive walked off a huge jet to ask Congress for money, the sound byte was: private jets are wasteful; they're merely a luxury item for rich executives.

As a business jet owner, I think it's appalling to be wasteful in any way - whether it be flying a huge jet alone or buying a $50,000 Rolex or being driven around in a limo instead of driving yourself to meetings, etc. Waste is waste. At my company, our owners and employees would simply not allow that kind of waste - after all, we have a business to run.

Good thing for Rolex that Congress didn't ask the Big Three execs about how much they paid for their watches when a $15 Timex would've gotten them there on time. Good thing for Armani that Congress didn't ask how much they paid for their suits when a decent JC Penney sportcoat would've kept them warm.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Economic and Emotional Times

Our agency, LaBov and Beyond Marketing Communications, recently updated our client testimonials, and one thing really grabbed me: our clients' emotion.

We all know these are trying economic times. What I sometimes forget is that, in addition, they are tough on us emotionally as well.

For execs at a huge corporation, the stress of lay-offs, downsizing or of disappointing their employees is gripping. The fear of a failed sales forecast is foreboding. The daily unknowns that the exec deals with can be paralyzing.What I heard in the voices of our clients was passion, appreciation and inspiration. These are tough and challenging days, and it's more important than ever to truly know you have a partner.

We suppliers must realize that we not only provide a service, we can also provide a friendship, a lifeline and a partnership to people who are under more pressure than they have ever been in their careers.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Social Media - more than buzz words

You can witness the speed of technology right in front of us today. Look how quickly social media has become the new hot topic in corporations.

In the 1400s, when the Gutenberg Bible was first printed on a press (instead of being hand scribed by monks), it was a world-changing breakthrough in publishing. This breakthrough allowed the Bible to get into the hands of the masses - although it did take centuries for that to become reality. Now, it's the most popular book in the world.

Today, a new way to publish information called social media is taking off. And it's immediately accessible to practically everyone. But it's more than two words or one site or one blog somewhere. It's a different way to think and reach out, which means it will be changing and morphing.

That means we can't just use those two words - social media - and think we've come up with a solution. We now have to think about which path - Twitter, LinkedIn or whatever is created next - is the right one (s) to take to spread our information and to connect with our audiences.

It's entirely possible that Twitter or some other social media method will not survive through this revolution, to be replaced by alternatives that better suit us at that moment.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Collaboration is more important than ever

With so many corporations downsizing, an interesting trend is taking place. The employees that are still at those large corporations are more hands-on than in ever. They're doing more of the work that their suppliers would have done in the recent past.

These employees are becoming more entrepreneurial, which I think is good. They see their hands-on approach as a form of job security. This changes a supplier's relationship with them, too.

Today, it's crucial that a supplier collaborate with the client. More than just "take on a project," the supplier needs to allow the client to carve out a portion of the project that they want to do themselves and not just deal with it--embrace it.

The traditional model of an agency is to be artistic, to want to do it their way. This used to play well with clients. Now, that agency has to sit right next to the client and work hand in hand--much more humbling, less freedom, but today, much more effective.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Monday, July 27, 2009

Unemployed Specialist/Employed Generalist

When the economy booms, so does the concept of specialization. The more specialized your position, the more job security.

But when the economy slumps, what happens if we don't need 11 bio-chemical environmental engineers? What if we only need three of them and a few generalist environmental engineers?

Well, if you've shown you only do the specialized stuff, then your job is at risk. You want to make it as easy as possible for your company to find work for you.

n a booming economy, it's easier, more fun and maybe more satisfying to be the specialist. But when it comes time to decide who stays and who goes, the generalist fits more often then not in this economy.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Friday, July 24, 2009

Woops, I Know We Promised That, But...

Alright. You're just starting to relax; you feel like things are going a little better. You're thinking, Maybe I shouldn't worry about growing my business even more. Maybe we're on a roll, and I can start to lay back.

But then, your dreamworld is interrupted by a phone call:
The client said they will not honor their two-year agreement because the former purchasing agent (who they fired) didn't file the paperwork properly, even though they have emails substantiating that indeed you were awarded a two-year contract.
That means your company has to go through the six-month bid process again, just like last year. Your client states that he hates to see you go through it but says he's powerless.

Then an email comes through:
The client likes the idea we brought them; now they are going to bid out our idea. They said we have the inside track, though.
That means the original idea you brought to the client is know taken from you and you are competing with other companies using your idea as their specs.

Then one of your employees walks up to you:
The client awarded the launch to a competitor. Even though we were the agency of record, the client said no one at his company was honoring those contracts anymore.
That means that while you have honored the contract, the client now feels they don't have to, and the good news is that they're treating other companies like that, too.

All of the above stories are true and they are the reason that we - you - can't let up.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Welcome to the Innovation Department

I met with a huge multinational conglomerate and wandered through various lines of security and x-raying only to be shuttled to a holding area before I was finally greeted by our "host," who I then followed through several hallways into yet another secure area, where we met with the "Innovation Team."

The Innovation guys were great - they were, well, innovative. Lots of great ideas and enthusiasm.

But the experience left me with a lot of questions. Why have an "Innovation Department" at all? Wouldn't that imply that the rest of the company isn't innovative, that the employees didn't feel their calling was to be innovative - unless, of course, they were in the Innovation Department? How innovative, for that matter, is the name "Innovation Department?"

I wonder - perhaps the CEO said that they needed to be innovative and therefore that meant creating that department. But how will a small department alone be able to change that culture? Sounds pretty tough.

Shouldn't all of us be inspired and expected to be innovative? Wouldn't creating an "Innovation Department" all but guarantee that the corporation will not be focused on innovation? We have to watch that, despite all good intentions, that we can create an environment that actually works against our vision.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Our Companies' Natural resources

We all agree that we need to take care of and protect our natural resources. If we don't, they'll dry up, the planet will be damaged, and our survival will be threatened.

Why don't we do the same with our companies' natural resources, our people?

Company resources - people - are wasted daily, and it's done in numerous ways. Maybe you have a loose culture where anyone can put anyone to work on anything. Sounds crazy, but it happens all the time, and it actually feels exciting - the electricity of people running about, deadlines looming, etc. But, it's not only wasteful, it's detrimental to progress.

That's one of the reasons companies are cutting back on employees, benefits and perks - they're frequently wasted and often hurt the company. Why? A number of reasons.

Sometimes, we can't handle the responsibility. Sometimes, we not only hand off the project, we also hand off the ownership to someone who thinks he or she is helping out and certainly has no ownership. Sometimes, we mistake quantity (number of people on a project) with quality (of ideas, performance, etc.).

When a parent drives her kids and someone else's children to a soccer match, she is responsible for all the kids - she can't be careless; their lives are in her hands. When we put people to work or utilize other resources of our companies, we are responsible for them in the same way.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What Can We Learn?

The most vibrant people are the ones that keep learning throughout their lives. The same goes for businesses. John Gerzema, in his great book, The Brand Bubble, tells us the same regarding great brands. Those brands have to keep learning, evolving and growing to maintain their leadership position.

At our companies, we deal with success and failure daily, but how often do we learn from them? I'm guessing not nearly enough.

When we fail, do we determine why, or do we merely conduct a witch hunt? Do we own up and learn, or do we point fingers elsewhere? The great performers, companies and brands all learn and evolve from those learnings.

Even tougher- do we learn from our successes? Why did that project turn out better this year than last year? Do we know? Have we figured that out, or do we just pat ourselves on the back and say, "We're great."

I think the reason we avoid a deep understanding of why we have succeeded is because we want to also avoid the discomfort of facing those times when we have failed.

Fight just as hard to seek the answers as to why you succeeded as you do why you failed, and you may become that great company, performer or brand.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Non-Scientific Way to Determine Value

ROI, metrics, payback, etc. Huge topics today in business. All designed to identify the value of something or someone. They tend to be scientific - or at least they claim to be.

Let's forget science for a moment. Want to know if a person adds value to your team? Close your eyes and imagine you're being told that he/she is on your do you feel? Energized, neutral or down? If you feel an energy boost, that means he/she is engaging and an attribute to the team. If you fell a thud in your stomach, that person is a drain; they take, they don't give.

Same thing about the value of an idea - when you hear it explained, are you fired up and energized, do you feel neutral or, worse, does the idea drain you?

We can turn to science to determine metrics and ROI, but we can also turn inward to learn a lot, too.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Friday, July 17, 2009

Second Place - No Endorsements

Phil Mickelson. Rocco Mediate. The Tampa Bay Rays. The Orlando Magic.

All of the above finished in second place in recent competitions. Too bad. But, then again they did alright. All of them make plenty of money, have endorsements, fame, fans, etc.

Let's not confuse this with what we deal with in business competitions.

Let me add it up: finishing first in a competition means you get the business. Finishing second (or third or worse) means you get nothing.

Now, of course, there is always the chance that down the road, the client will change his/her mind and offer you an opportunity, but we have to realize that a mediocre performance in a competition will surely lose. Only a dead-on performance has the chance.

So, before any competition, remember: either do your best or don't do it. There will be no fan club, no endorsements and no fame for being the runner-up.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Thursday, July 16, 2009

New business: Reggae vs. Elvis

I was working on landing a new client and things weren't going as I'd wished, I wanted quicker response internally, more focus, etc. I could see I was getting some looks from our staff telling me to be more like the old reggae song, "Don't worry, be happy."

Why not lay back? I pondered that myself. Then it occurred to me. We had four prospective clients we were in discussions with:

Prospect A has been talking and emailing with me since 2005. Prospect B, since early 2008. Prospect C has played cat and mouse with me for six months; and we have been in a creative brainstorming mode with Prospect D for three months trying to figure out a solution to a huge issue of theirs.

No wonder I was intense about this. The amount of time invested to get to this spot was enormous, yet all that could be thrown away with a few thoughtless or dispassionate moves. And, on the positive side, we were in the position where one person or one smart move could make all the difference in the world and knock out the prospect.

Day-to-day "business as usual" can be like that old reggae song. New business is more like Elvis's song, "It's Now or Never."

New business performance is critical because of the investment and the fact that you can't easily recover from a mistake. So don't make one.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Are you a "fan" of your clients and your career?

Listen to the office chatter about last night's Major League Baseball game - how "we" won or how "we" blew it. You can hear the emotions, the attachment to the team - even though none of us are professional athletes on those teams. Or, even funnier, the fanaticism about college teams - especially from people who never attended that college, or any college for that matter. Then of course, you hear the obsession about our kids' sporting prowess and how their coaches don't give them a chance.

All of that can be OK, maybe even good once in a while. But only if that kind of fanaticism is directed toward other areas of life, including your career. How can you become overheated about an umpire's call but be disinterested in helping a client or growing your business? It happens every day, and we accept it too quickly.

The college team you root for never paid you a salary and benefits, it never gave you an opportunity to support your family - your clients and your company do. They deserve the same emotion, commitment and fanaticism.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

One more reason to pilot your idea now

Why pilot a program instead of waiting to make it perfect and roll it out to everyone?

A pilot program can be instituted now. If it needs to be tweaked, you can do it. You may find out it was a stupid idea. Since it's a pilot, it's no biggie; kill it.

But if you wait and wait and wait to get that perfect project ready and then gather all the consensus approvals needed to do it - which could take months - guess what?

Quite often, the market you're aiming at has moved. Quite often, a competitor has come up with a better idea. Quite often, the excitement for the idea has waned.

Piloting gives you a chance to take the pressure off and to view the idea for what it is - an idea. And, if it's a good one, you can then roll it out to everyone.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Monday, July 13, 2009

It's Not About Perfect, It's About Piloting

One of my favorite clients, the late Virgil Miller, ran an RV company and was terribly worried about its future. He asked me to come in and present ideas to solve this problem for his management team. He told me, "They won't listen to me; maybe they'll listen to you."

At first that sounded great, until I envisioned his management team - all good guys, but all ultra-conservative, engineer types who were very black-and-white about everything. They had been opposed to any marketing because they felt their product was so great that everyone would buy it. (Of course, when that didn't happen, they blamed whatever little marketing they had been doing.) You get the picture.

I took the challenge, brainstormed with my team and came up with a dozen programs and concepts that we felt were worth piloting. I presented to this tough group - and they were indeed difficult. The first question was, "Do you guarantee that every one of your ideas will work?"

I was prepared for that question and shocked them when I said, "No. I can guarantee that every one of these ideas will not work." He was irritated and asked, "Why should we do them then?"

That's when the meeting took a turn, "Because each one of these programs is a pilot - if it doesn't get results we'll either shut it down or tweak it. We'll continue to monitor the results, and if it means only a couple of them are successful, then at least we'll have found a couple of winners."

They bought it and we did produce a dozen pilot programs. A couple died right away, a couple we're immediate successes, the rest were in between - they were small to big winners that needed a number of mid-course corrections. But overall, they worked, sales were up, the business had a positive momentum.

Interesting note: Most of the “new" ideas we presented to them at that board meeting were not new to them. We had presented these ideas to that company numerous times. We had been shut down because their company was perfection-oriented - they needed everything to be perfect, to be guaranteed, consensus-driven, to be safe - which had resulted in them doing very little.

The fact that their business was in trouble and that they were willing to be vulnerable gave us an opening to pilot those ideas and for them to strengthen their business.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and beyond

Friday, July 10, 2009

It's Not About Perfect, It's About Passion

Ever hear statements like these?
"The client doesn't care when it's done, they just want it perfect."
"I don't want to show my idea to anyone until it's just right."
"I'm new and don't want to make a mistake, so I'll just do what I'm being told to do."
All of the above statements are either untrue or just plain dangerous in business. And, even if we don't subscribe to them, when we hear them, we're tempted to buy in to them and nod our heads.

It's not about perfection. It's about ownership and accountability; it's about making sure what you're doing inspires you and then sharing it with others.

The best performers know:

  • That time is always a factor.
  • That sharing concepts and ideas to get feedback and input is smart.
  • They don't have all the answers, but know people who can help them.
If everything you're involved in makes sense to you, and it is what you would do for your brother or sister (meaning you think it's the right thing), and you are willing to be vulnerable to make it even better, then you're almost guaranteed success.

Barry LaBov
CEO, President
LaBov & Beyond

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ice Cream Truck Song

A buddy of mine told me a funny story that illustrated how differently we all can view the same situation. Think back to summers as a kid. It was hot; you were bored. Then, all of sudden, you heard "Pop Goes The Weasel" being blasted from the bullhorns of an ice cream truck. What happened next?

Well, in my neighborhood, all available kids ran outside to find the truck, flag it down and grab a chocolate cone. I was conditioned to connect the ice cream truck song with "run out and find ice cream."

My buddy's mother took a very different tack. When her kids heard the ice cream song, she told them that it meant the ice cream truck was out of ice cream. None left, so no reason to fly out of the house to eat ice cream. I never met her and assume she was a very nice, smart lady, but wow, what an approach! And it worked. The kids never ran out for ice cream, never ruined supper or lunch by stuffing down a cone beforehand. (They also missed out on some good ice cream, of course.)

I won't judge her approach either way, good or bad. But it does show us that life is very often based on interpretation.

Today, we all know that business is tough, the economy is struggling. That's the song we all are hearing. Question is: How do you respond to it?

Does it mean "give up" or does it mean "run out there and grab some opportunities?"

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond Marketing Communications

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

It's What You Take Away, Not What You Add

I am associated with one of the best golf courses in the nation, Sycamore Hills Golf Club, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. From about the mid-90s through the early 2000s, it had been in the Golf Digest Top 100 Golf Courses in America, but had fallen out of the rankings for the past four years. A group of us decided to acquire the course after the founder had passed away and it came up for sale.

The course, while still a masterpiece, had stumbled, and the general consensus was that it may never attain Top 100 status again due to all the new courses coming on to the scene.

I spoke with the course superintendent - a great, hard-working guy - and asked him to focus on the basics: making sure the weeds were pulled, that the greens were not burning out, and that there were no dead trees in the streams. He looked at me, clearly uncomfortable, and told me, "That all sounds good, but what about all the projects I have to tend to - building a wall over here or draining a lake over there?" He went on to list a dozen projects that he had been given to work on over the years. It was an overwhelming list, yet none of the projects were as important as taking care of the basics. So I told him that. He agreed to focus on the important stuff, but was not happy about it.

A week later he approached me and said, "At first what you told me was unsettling, but now I feel like I have the weight of the world off my shoulders. I can finally focus on what's most important and not be tempted to get lost in all those other jobs." And that's just what he did.

The course quickly began to regain its beautiful look and, miraculously, attained Golf Digest Top 100 status within months.

Sometimes it's not what you add, it's the stuff you get out of the way that makes a difference. Forget about what else you need or want - what is in your way?

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Different Ways to Motivate, Different Languages to Speak

My dad was a colorful guy. He was an introverted engineer. He was brilliant (and would tell you so). He was not, however, a natural communicator. He overcame that by joining Toastmasters and becoming an excellent orator. As I sat and timed his speeches throughout the years, he imparted one message that has stuck with me:

The best communicators speak in a language or style that is comfortable, suitable to that audience.

His point was if you're addressing an audience of professors, speak formally; if you're talking to a team of 12-year-old little leaguers, speak in words that they'll understand.

We have to do the same in motivating people. Some managers motivate by being the "nice guy" others always play "hard ball" and others avoid the discomfort and say little. None of these approaches is always right because they don't address the audience or situation.

Sometimes the audience--the employee--requires a tough talk, other times you need to help them see the good they're doing so they can build on it. Sometimes you don't say anything because the fewer the words the better.

Want to be a good motivator? Forget about what you're comfortable with. It's the language, the situation and the desired outcome that should dictate your approach to communication and motivation.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Politics is like golf when it comes to business...

In golf, the saying goes, "Every shot makes someone happy." If you make a great shot you're happy; if you don't, your opponent is happy.

The same thing applies to politics. Instead of the complaints from businesses about the new direction the country is taking, why not look at how your company or organization can benefit from those changes?

You can't alter who's in charge of the country (at least for not a couple more years), but you can focus your business on the new opportunities that new leadership is creating. More millionaires were made during the Great Depression than at any other time in history. Those business people took advantage of their new reality.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Friday, July 3, 2009

Unhappy client: familiar refrain

Our agency, LaBov and Beyond Marketing Communications, has never seen such new business activity as we're experiencing today. More existing and potential clients of all sizes are approaching us and engaging us in exciting new conversations. In some cases, we've added them to our roster. Why all the activity?

These prospective clients have all shared the same scenario: They have been working with a capable agency that has become complacent to the point of entitlement. The customer service level is mediocre at best; the work is fair, but hardly inspired. As we shared in an earlier post, these agencies are basically just order-takers.

Order-taking worked a lot better when the economy was robust. But when the amount of business activity declines, that exposes what a supplier is all about: do they just take business dropped in their lap or are they a real partner with clients and continue to serve them and proactively bring new ideas?

It's great when you are approached by prospective clients, but there's another issue to be concerned with: making sure you don't become complacent and entitled with your existing ones at the same time. You'll fall victim to the same refrain.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tough times, quality times

In good economic times, mediocrity can survive. There's so much business to go around that you can be sloppy and still get by.

In tougher times, however, you need quality, not quantity. A great performance will still reap rewards and profit. A great performance ensures that you'll retain the client. A great performance is your best chance at growing the amount of business you do with that client.

A mediocre performance means you're not profitable. Mediocrity means you'll be bid out or, even worse, fired.

Less is more when the economy is bad: Great work being performed by a few people can be invaluable. Sloppy work being done by a lot of people is a lay-off waiting to happen.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Start-Up vs. Hard-Up

I don't think it's my imagination - there are more start-ups, well, starting up right now: green housing, hybrid technology, military programs, training for the unemployed, etc. There are many, many people with ideas. That's exciting.

I was surprised when a start-up met with my company, LaBov & Beyond Marketing Communications, and told us how close it was to unbelievable success and that every supplier it works with does free work so that it could "kick the tires" and see if there was a good fit.

Wow! What a concept:
We're a start-up with unlimited potential. We want you to work for free so we can check out whether you're worthy.
Let's think about that for a second: If this particular start-up do that with every supplier, that means it will get free work for a long time - until it either goes out of business or succeeds. And if it does succeed, who do you think it will turn to? My guess is it won't want to work with the lowly, hard-up suppliers that worked for free - they'll want a sexy, big-time company that never would've have stooped to working for free in the first place.

One word for doing free work for a start-up?


Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Change will be more palatable in these times

These times, while challenging, can be a dream come true in one area: change. If you've wished to change your culture, your client base, or your company's performance, you'll get far less resistance than you would have a year ago.

People have less options today, even the most stubborn will be forced to listen and consider change.

Imagine what you wish your company or department or team could be and re-consider what it takes to get there. The walls will not be as high to scale.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond