Category Archives: business planning

If wishes were horses we’d all ride like kings

Some optimist has figured out the terrible 14 percent decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in the days between Obama winning the vote and Inauguration Day almost mirrors exactly a similar slump in the stock market right before FDR’s presidency in 1933. And after FDR became president, the Dow rebounded with a wild 75 percent bull run upward in just a few months. It’s lovely to think stocks may come roaring back (we suggest you pin this chart up on your wall and gaze at it fondly for the next three months), but the real lesson here is how fast markets can turn. Very few business leaders look ahead with contingency plans for what happens if the marketplace for their services tomorrow has shifted from that of today. Via Shelton.

Running marketing

Brian Morrissey, the writer-editor-and-advertising-arrogance-deflator at Adweek, is also an avid runner, the kind of guy who jogs half-marathons before breakfast. He wrote something recently that made us think of launching marketing initiatives.

There’s a great quote in The Lore of Running about what running taught the author, Timothy Noakes, about life: “It has taught me who I am and, equally important, who I am not.” Lots of people focus on the everyone’s-a-winner mantra. This is the marketing fiction, where it’s nothing but success, awesomeness and glossy photos. Running is both more complicated and more fickle, an endless repetition of a couple steps forward and one back. It’s undeniably about achieving goals, but inevitably involves coming up short sometimes. That’s what Noakes is getting at: we have our own limitations that running makes abundantly clear. Ultimately there’s no hiding.

Anyone who works in marketing can recognize that challenge — setting up not just advertising or creative but an entire series of sequenced business processes, from targeting to impression to awareness to response to sales to fulfillment to loyalty to attrition to winback that have to fall into place, somehow perfectly and magically, for the desired customer victory. When in a long race, the road to the finish line almost always surprises.

Photo of boy with paper airplane by Woodley Wonderworks.

A colorful look at your business future

Someone painted a fragmented rainbow in our boys’ grade-school hallway. It’s a little ugly, but if you snap it with a blurry cell phone camera, the evocation of hope seems to come across. This someone was pretty cheerful about the future when he or she created this.

Which reminds us of working at a media planning agency — we’re building several businesses, our own plus our clients, and the act of creation is often a messy process. The planning phase requires looking at past performance, which is often sketchy or a short timeframe, and adding in other data such as customer segmentation studies, focus groups, competitor analysis, media research.

And then, at some point, there is a leap of faith. With all the best data in the world, you still have to forecast, and that requires predicting the future. How much do you spend? Where do you invest? What will drive the most sales, most new customers, most repeat purchases?

All the science in the world can’t control whether your predictions are accurate (because if you could, we’d all do nothing but start new businesses and reap the ironclad rewards). Net present value it all you want; the reality is at some point you make art — a beautiful forecast, a dream based on reality, but really a hope that it all comes true.

Sort of like painting on grade-school walls.

The physics of groupthink

Ever sit in a meeting where all the executives start leaning toward one decision and you just know it’s gonna be bad but you don’t want to speak up and soon Project Omega is heading toward implementation with bad pricing and the wrong target and no customer input and even the agencies and vendors involved start to agree that it’s all brilliant and it’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion but you can’t stop it cause, man, there’s consensus?

Well, here’s why.

Thanks, Andy.

Free your mind. Forget the RFP.

It’s hard to say no to RFPs. If you work in a large organization, Requests For Proposals are as standard as planning committees, timesheets and tall bosses with executive-style hair parted just so at the side. It just feels right, if you’re about to invest a million dollars of budget, to use a hefty form to start the search.

Until you realize: That form is dulling your mind.

Eric Karjaluoto wrote brilliantly last fall that RFPs should die, noting they are bad for the business managers who rely on them. Why? Because if you define exactly what you want, you are not getting a new idea. The process of discovery, Eric wrote, often guides the solution.

RFPs are most distasteful when used to bid for marketing, advertising, or design services. You know: “I’d like to take 25 ads, please, and make them as cheap as possible.” Wrong-o. Effective marketing planning is a bit like family therapy. You enlist an outside expert to understand the issues, explore the problems, and work jointly on solutions. You don’t get good counseling, or marketing, or branding, or creative design, by ordering it like paper from the Staples catalog.

Our own agency just got an RFP today from a large government entity with a huge budget, and we have three specific ideas on media planning that we’re certain would give them a 30% lift in performance. Hint: These guys aren’t doing anything on the internet, and we know how to make that work.

And so … we’re not going to bid. Sorry, gov’t sirs, your RFP asked for cheap advertising — lowest-cost quote wins — and our ideas on getting you results just won’t fit inside your RFP box.

(Photo: Freg. Inspiration: Darryl Ohrt.)

Solutions that are out of order

Today the landlord of our office building hired a door guy to install new locks on the bathrooms. The new doors work brilliantly, except for one thing. The public bathrooms didn’t have locks on them before.

Now, no one in the building really knows what to do — it’s as if the English invaded and suddenly forced us all to drive on the left side of the road. Our building is secure, and in the past going to the bathroom meant knocking on the door, opening if no one was inside, and locking the door behind you. Suddenly, people have to ask for a key at the front desk. We have to worry that some stranger might use the key and lose it. Someone suggested we tie a big broken engine part to the keychain, like at gas stations, so the key won’t walk off.

Anyway, landlord, thanks for the solution. Which reminds us: Next time anyone dreams up a business solution, make sure you are solving a real problem. (Photo via Cardboard Monocle.)

Business Planning 101

Brilliance from a client of Sean Howard’s:

In the beginning was the plan
And then came the assumptions
And the assumptions were without form
And the plan was completely without substance
And darkness was upon the faces of the workers
And they spake unto their marketing managers, saying “it is a pot of manure, and it stinketh”
And the marketing managers went unto the strategists and saith,
“It is a pile of dung, and none may abide the odor thereof”.
And the strategists went unto the business managers and saith
“It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong and such that none may abide by it”.
And the business managers went unto the director and saith,
“It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength”.
And the director went to the vice president and saith,
“It contains that which aids plant growth and it is very strong”.
And the vice president went unto the senior vice president and saith,
“It promoteth growth, and it is powerful”.
And the senior vice president went unto the president and saith,
“This powerful new plan will actively promote growth and efficiency of the company and the business in general”.
And the president looked upon the plan and saw that it was good
And the plan became policy.

Voyeurism, adventurism, and mental stimulation

The willingness to take risks is required in reproduction, evolution, creativity, communication and business. None of us would have left the womb if we’d carefully weighed the odds. So we shouldn’t laugh to hear that some German tourists are now flying absolutely nude on an airline sponsored by travel agency It seems there is an entire movement in Germany of free body culture in which clothes are, uh, too confining.

We shouldn’t laugh because our management team is taking a flight ourselves (fully dressed) to get away to a warmer clime for a business planning powwow. A quick scan of Google finds there is an entire consulting-travel industry that facilitates corporate offsites. Yep. Our minds will think deeply on how to steer the economic ship, and we may end up drinking to our future in a big blue pool.

Why do humans long for green fields far away? Why do we surf the web at lunch, watch drivel on TV at midnight, travel to sunny lands to think business, and deep in our hearts know that, in another life, it might be cool to strip bare-assed on a plane? It’s not sex or lunacy. More likely, modern civilization has our brains so wound tight with Twitter-recession-smartphone-Obama-blogging-Bernanke-RSS-iPhone feeds that we all just long to go away. Turning the brain off is a good way to turn the mind back on.