Quips from Fred Allen, Senior Editor at Forbes

Found these gems in a notebook. (I heard Fred Allen speak at a workshop of the Association of Management Consulting Firms earlier this year.)

1. It’s 2013, nobody pays for ideas, they pay for execution. (On the many freelance consultants employed by his online magazine)

2. CEO’s are generally curious people. (On his main type of interviewee)

3. Headlines should be crystal-clear, accurate, and provocative. (We humble marketers don’t have the platform that journalists do, but nonetheless, we can use this advice.)

Database Administrator or Minister of Culture?

Many keepers of corporate culture complain: how can we “force” (their word choice) project managers to log data points and narratives at various milestones and thereby keep good records that enable marketing and business development staff to field new client inquiries about relevant work? The answer is simple and can be found in the Lean framework so popular today. Hire a marketing manager to keep a marketing database that is driven by the marketing department’s needs, and tie it to client billing.

I have known three firms within the last few years that struggle with maintenance of a marketing database. All three lack a marketing manager, or marketing database administrator. A fourth firm that boasts a healthy, well-utilized database, as well as high retention in marketing staff, has a different process. This firm requires all project management staff to send client setup forms and project initiation forms — information that typically goes straight to the billing office — to a marketing manager first.

The marketing manager examines the project data carefully for quality, records it in the database, assigns the root project number, sets up files per protocol, and then passes the form along to accounting. Essentially he or she is responsible for the marketing project database, which requires 1-2 hours per day to maintain. The rest of his or her day is spent utilizing this rich database. This marketing output work provides feedback to the job of quality-checking the input data that comes from those responsible for profit and loss and their project managers. The marketing manager is the link between what clients require — the “pull” in Lean-speak — and what information the project staff provide about current and recent projects. As it grows in size, quality and relevance, the database serves all marketing staff very well, so they in turn can serve internal and external clients very well. Several goals are achieved: the marketing database facilitates nimble and thorough responses to new inquiries, while corporate culture keepers can breathe easier knowing that the firm’s intellectual property records are alive and well.

Workshop Proposal Fails Despite Alliteration

I found out this week that my proposed workshop for the American Society of Landscape Architects annual meeting and conference this coming November did not make the cut. Here is part of the proposal:

Presentation Title: The Marketing Mix and BD Basics for Generation X
– Learn how marketing and business development are unique for Generation X
– Consider all of the marketing channels that are appropriate for a landscape architect
– Evaluate the marketing options for your particular specialty
– Experience a systematic sales process that feels authentic

Perhaps I was overly enamored with the title (“Mix”, “Basics”, and “Gen X” all have such nice X sounds). In retrospect the title was probably the only good thing about the proposal. The key error I made was a legal one. There really is no good way to talk about generations in the workplace without edging near age discrimination. Here is the dicey paragraph:

Often thought of as the last child born to the large families that grew directly out of the Second World War, Generation X can be challenged when breaking out of manager mode and into a rainmaker mindset. This presentation draws on the firsthand experiences of Boston area l.a. professionals …

The marketing essentials content could be repurposed a hundred ways, of course, so the effort is not truly lost. And surely alliteration inspiration will strike again.

In Praise of Inconsistency

I went to a conference hosted by the Massachusetts Hospital Association the other day. My intent was to commune with C-suite leaders of health care organizations in order to build relationships with them and thereby help my design clientele build business. One of the workshops was on managing up and down, a subject I find endlessly fascinating. The speaker, an up-and-coming vice president at Lowell General Hospital, identified several areas of leadership. Of course I rated myself on all of them because someday I would like to be a CEO. I give myself good marks for attitude, presentation, commitment, communication, vision, ownership, appreciation, accountability, and timeliness. The only area that I could not give myself high marks was consistency. I was never the girl who could get to work at the same time every day. Not the one who can treat every situation the same, every person fairly at all times. My executive coach leapt at this revelation. “That’s great,” he said. “You have identified a key weakness!” Not so fast, Mr. Coach. I waved in his face this passage from a piece in the New York Times entitled “The Perils of Perfection,” about machine learning and all that Google glasses promise us, like enhanced self-insight and auto-correcting our daily behavior:

In his brilliant essay “In Praise of Inconsistency,” published in Dissent in 1964, the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski argued that, given that we are regularly confronted with equally valid choices where painful ethical reflection is in order, being inconsistent is the only way to avoid becoming a doctrinaire ideologue who sticks to an algorithm. For Kolakowski, absolute consistency is identical to fanaticism.

“The breed of the hesitant and the weak …of those …who believe in telling the truth but rather than tell a distinguished painter that his paintings are daubs will praise him politely,” he wrote, “this breed of the inconsistent is still one of the main hopes for the continued survival of the human race.”

So you see, Mr. Coach, Ms. Hospital VP, inconsistency, chameleon-like adaptation to the particulars of the day and the person, the mood and the weather, are the creative and beautiful strokes on this painting we call life. I may be the very hope for your continued survival. {Chuckle.}

Brushing Up on Dark Arts

Reading the job boards recently, I came across a few open posts for university communications directors. I believe it was Harvard’s that wagged a finger at potential applicants, “Must be able to work in a highly matrixed environment.” I have pondered that dire warning ever since. In a highly matrixed environment, presumably, one has to get buy-in or sign-off from many different people: those who lead departments or silos or special programs, all of which might be funded differently and possibly compete for attention, dollars, researchers, or students. In a simpler company or organization, a communications director would simply report to the chief executive officer, helping him or her manage communications and bulletins, whether internal or external.

Pondering the matrix led me to research politicians. (And anyway, we have been watching House of Cards on television.) How are politicians different from executives in highly matrixed environments? Probably they are in fact the same, I hypothesized. In the blog literature, how are politicians advised to get their start? “Always be fundraising,” say the writers. “Be transparent. Have a budget and stick to it. Listen.”

These strategies are so similar to sales. As you advance in your career, you simply have to improve in both dark arts.

Architects are Great Party Guests

Assembling the SMPS Boston interview of Robert Brown, managing director of Perkins+Will, was a formidable feat, due to the many topics we covered in half an hour. As I read and re-read the transcript, I was reminded how likable architects typically are, and that they are often great conversationalists.

Growing up , my parents had friends who were architects, and they have lasted as friends for decades. I have a few, now, too. They are creative of course, and often overflowing with observations on their environment and life.  They are futurists, visionaries, grand schemers, too. Sometimes so fiercely analytical as to be caustic, but usually with a sense of humor that softens the blow. A great dinner party should include a few architects, artists, musicians, writers, and journalists.

7 Lessons Learned Managing People

  1. People management takes time. Occasional team meetings have to be scheduled into the calendar. Regular or irregular, take your pick.
  2. Subordinates may not be adept at expressing what they want in a direct manner so the manager has to take the time to pull it out of them.
  3. Natural leaders emerge from surprising places so the manager should ask peers to review one another and disclose the most valuable players. The manager cannot always see what others see.
  4. All people hate to be micromanaged.
  5. Micromanagement is a form of exercising control. Some managers may crave control when they sense that subordinates are withholding information.
  6. “Getting back to work” seems like a strategy but it only delays the reckoning.
  7. The more effective strategy is to take the time to have team meetings. If the staff are quite junior, it must be explained to them at such meetings how critical it is that they share information. A manager cannot act if she is not fully informed.

Cheap Date

The Appalachian Mountain Club can count two new fans today. Paying the non-member price of $1 per person, a guide shepherded us (and 20 others) on a 5-mile hike in a nature preserve. The hike cleared our minds, transfused our blood, and delivered a renewed sense of wonder. Who knew such great fun could be had in the city on the cheap?

You Hate Writing? Get On the Bus

That’s what a fellow professional marketer says to her colleagues when they gripe about an assignment for the company blog or newsletter. Inspired by that line, here are a few next steps.
  • Admit that you have a problem: you need to build business for your firm.
  • Acknowledge that you are a high-potential individual.
  • Get educated on the basics of business development, marketing, distribution, and public relations. [I can help]
  • Overcome your fear of social media (you already get it and your kids do, too but you don’t have time to do it for business). [I can help here too]
  • Some of you don’t like travel–the housecats.
  • It’s okay, you can still hate writing.