Monday, January 31, 2011

Are you playing hard to get?

It's all about communication these days, isn't it? We have mobiles with us at all times, we tweet, we foursquare (?), we facebook and we blog. We're always available, and people now where we are at all times.

Er - not quite. I've visited a number of websites recently where it's impossible to find a phone number or email address. Instead, there's a "contact us" link, which leads to a page with a number of boxes that have to be filled in. Often, these include a drop-down window with "reason for your communication', as well as a link to the FAQ page, with a phrase "have you checked this before sending us a message?"

OK, I understand that companies are trying to make it as easy as possible for their customer support staff to deal with customer queries. However, this form is the web equivalent of the phone-hold system - "Press 1 for accounts, Press 2 for 30 minutes of bland music...".

Here's the thing. I'm a customer, and I want to get a message to your company. That means I'd like to phone or email you. I'll decide what the message is about. If you play hard to get, I will simply go somewhere else.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Seven more low-cost ways to boost your business in 2011

Last month, I gave you ten low-cost tips to boost your business in 2011. Here are seven more:

1) Give stuff away. In business, you have to give to get. Offer people help and advice, free of charge, and don't expect an immediate return. You'll find that the more you give away, the more comes back. As my bank manager says "It's better to make a deposit before a withdrawal"

2) Copy the best. If you see people in your line of business having tremendous success, try doing something similar. I'm not suggesting that you should plagiarise their ideas, but look at the way they do business, and see how you can adapt things to your offering.

3) Write it down. Decide what you want to achieve - five new clients, increasing turnover by 50%, or whatever. Put a timescale on it, write it down, and pin it up near your desk, where you see it every day. Keeping your goal in mind at all times will focus your behaviour, and make your goal happen.

4) Be responsive. Develop a reputation for getting back to people very quickly. Once you get into the habit, you'll find that it is easy to send a quick response to an email, or a phone message. Most people value a brief, quick reply more highly than a detailed response several days later. I must admit, I don't always succeed with this one, but I'm getting better.

5) Hone your presentation skills. No-one is a natural presenter, and everyone in business has to present from time to time. Make sure that you know how to perform professionally, and your business will benefit.

6) Practice what you preach. The best advert for your business is you. If you are providing advice on business efficiency, make sure that your business is super-efficient. If you are a website designer, make sure that your website is as usable as possible.

7) Become an expert. Immerse yourself in your topic, then offer to speak to groups about your area of expertise. Write articles, give interviews, and make yourself available to answer questions from journalists. Becoming known as a recognised expert in your field is one of the best ways of bringing in new clients.

Andy Gray - caught offside?

I was chatting with a media pal shortly after the Andy Gray/Richard Keys "lineswomangate" audio was released from Sky Sports. We were musing about the coincidence of its appearance across the news media and the fact that Andy Gray is taking action against the News of The World for alleged phone hacking. Both the NoW and Sky have the same owner, a Mr R Murdoch of various fixed abodes.

Andy Gray was apparently sacked not just for the remarks that he and Richard Keys made about a female assistant referee, but also because a video has come to light showing him making suggestive remarks to a Sky colleague, Charlotte Jackson. It would appear that Mr Gray's lawyers, Schillings, are taking a look at the circumstances to see if a claim for unfair dismissal is in order.

I'm not about to defend sexist behaviour or language. I don't know Andy Gray or Richard Keys personally, though I have met them both at Sky News. They know as well as anyone that whenever there is a microphone near you, your voice could be recorded. However, I suspect that the sort of banter that's been revealed goes on many times a day, in groups of males and/or females throughout the media, and in every other profession. This incident has been singled out for some reason. Perhaps a reprimand would have been appropriate. Perhaps a sacking has resulted from a series of incidents. We may never know, though an employment tribunal, should it come to that, will reveal more.

A question that puzzles me is this: How did an off-air conversation come to be distributed to a range of media outlets so rapidly? Is there any parallel with listening to private phone messages? One thing is for sure. This story is even more complex than the offside rule.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

House of Commons latest: Marketing 1, Alan and Jeremy 0

I was honoured to speak in a House of Commons debate last night. The event, organised by The Debating Group, was held in committee room 9, to a full house of around 100. I was standing in for Bill Cash MP, who was called to a debate in the chamber of the house.

The motion, which I was called on to propose, was "A century of marketing legislation restricts everyone while protecting nobody". A tough call, as it turned out, even though many of the audience members were from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, who sponsored the event.

Along with the seconder, speaker and broadcaster Jeremy Jacobs, I felt we put up a good case. However, the opposers, branding expert Robert Opie and legal mastermind Brinsley Dresden, won the vote by a large margin. As a reward, we were all treated to a fine post-debate meal, where the debate continued on a range of marketing issues.

It was a great night, and I can now put a tick in the box "Spoke in a debate in the House of Commons", thanks to the kindness of both the debating society and the CIM.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Best-selling author? The UK's leading...? Really?

There's always debate about what labels you can give yourself. Many argue (and I agree with them) is that the best labels are those bestowed on you by others. Nevertheless, some people choose to promote themselves to various degrees of hyperbole.

I know it's been mentioned here before, but the "Amazon best-selling author", or its shortened form "best-selling author" is still rife. This is trading on the fact that Amazon publishes hourly lists of sales performance in every category and sub-category (and even sub-sub-category) of interest. If you can persuade your pals to buy your books at a specific time, on a specific day, you can be ranked top of a list for an hour. Take a screenshot, and Hey Presto! - best-selling author! Except you aren't. It's what we call misrepresentation, especially if you drop the "Amazon"

Which brings me to "The UK's leading..." or "Europe's most sought-after..." If someone of respected stature has called you that, fine. If you made it up, it's probably not true.

So stick to the facts, please. Self-promotion is great. Over-claiming is inauthentic and dishonest.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Bristol fashion disaster - Avon and Somerset constabulary blames the media

"Ship shape and Bristol fashion" It used to be a phrase that meant "all correct". However, that phrase couldn't be applied to the actions of the Avon and Somerset constabulary right now. They have made what I regard as a huge PR mistake by banning ITV News from a press conference today about the Joanna Yates murder case.

The ban comes in the wake of a report on ITV News at Ten last night which Avon and Somerset police took exception to. The report, by Geraint Vincent, raised questions about whether the police followed proper procedure in the investigation. A former murder squad detective was quoted as saying the police were failing to conduct "certain routine inquiries", such as carefully examining the murder scene for fresh evidence.

"We have made a complaint to Ofcom in respect of the unfair, naive and irresponsible reporting on the ITN 10 o'clock news yesterday evening," Avon & Somerset constabulary said in a statement.

The police need media co-operation, especially in a difficult case like this. Withdrawing access to national reporters because they don't like the way the news is reported is a foolish thing to do, in my opinion. The focus should be on the investigation, not the nuances of a news report. They need to get their priorities back in order, and bring ITV news reporters back into the briefings as soon as possible.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Let's get physical, not digital

Like many thirteen year-olds, my daughter spends a lot of time on Facebook, YouTube and Skype, not to mention texting her pals. She has an iPod, a Wii and a smartphone too. Her world has a lot of digital stuff in it. On Christmas Day, she still gets excited about presents, even though she knows that the fat guy in the red suit doesn't bring them any more. Her favourite presents this year? Some Cath Kidston bedding and pyjamas for he room that we're about to remodel and redecorate. Physical stuff.

At this time of year, we send out books to our regular clients as a small thank you for their business, and to provide them with some useful ideas for the new year. Physical stuff.

Whenever a client pays on time, we send a box of microphone shaped biscuits as a thank you to share around the office. Physical stuff.

Don't get me wrong, I love the digital world. I'm all over Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I send out digital newsletters and broadcast digital radio shows every week. But, like you, I also live in the real, solid, physical world. It's nice to get electronic greetings cards of dancing elves (though not quite as nice as it was last year, and the year before). What is really great, though, is to receive a card through the letterbox with a detailed, personal, handwritten message. E-books are nice, but also nice is a small book with a message written inside.

What's my point? Digital stuff is brilliant. It's not better or worse than physical stuff. Real, solid stuff that you can hold in your hand is important too, and I just wanted to offer a reminder about that.

As we rummaged through the loft a few weeks ago, trying to find the Christmas decorations, we found a dusty box that hadn't been opened for ten years or more. Inside was some stuff that had come from my office desk in the days when I still had a proper job. I found a coffee-stained, dog-eared business card of mine that must have dated from 1997. My job title in those days? Head of Digital Services. Plus ca change, eh?