Sunday, September 28, 2008

Working With Smart People Makes a Big Difference

We see this phenomenon all the time: In athletics, in business, in any competitive endeavor. Working with people who are more talented than you always motivates you to raise your performance. Conversely, working with people who are less talented than you allows you to be complacent, lazy, to not perform at your highest level.

Now that I've worked at MIT for just one week, this notion has become crystal clear. Comparing the business acumen, management skills, intellectual ability and integrity of the managers with whom I worked in several of my previous positions against those of my current supervisors, it's obvious why some organizations succeed and others founder.

Good leadership, intelligence and integrity always lead to success. Poor leaders and managers focus on their own egos and seek to aggrandize themselves at the cost of the success of the organizations they lead.

They fool themselves into believing that the choices they make are the best for their respective organizations. They may listen to others but believe so fervently in their infallibility that they callously dismiss opinions from staff that may very well help their organizations.

When you work with talented leaders who motivate and inspire you to raise your performance, you know your opinions will at least be considered seriously, if not adopted--for the good of the organization. That's the type of environment in which I currently work, and boy, did I miss it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Guest Submission to If You Like Wine and You Want to Contribute to Breast Cancer Research, Read On!

A few weeks ago I responded to a query on Profnet from Karen Lynch, who writes the blog, Karen's blog is devoted to raising breast cancer awareness; she covers a range of topics in this regard.

I offered to contribute a submission on a product available through Riedel, the famous wine glass maker. She graciously accepted.

If you're interested in wine and want to help raise awareness of breast cancer, please read the submission.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Avis Tries Harder: To Get Your Money!

As a marketing communications pro, I'm rarely surprised by some of the ingenious and insidious ploys my fellow marketers adopt to separate you from your money. Many marketers I know conceive and implement elaborate and often successful schemes to do so, disparagingly viewing their "target audiences" as "marks" and propagating the old saying, "a fool and his money are easily parted."

This weekend--courtesy of Avis Rent a Car--I was exposed to a clever new ploy. I know it's effective because I saw it work on three of the four people in line ahead of me. Rather than rely solely on personal observations, I called Avis to corroborate the anecdotal "evidence." Probably on the advice of counsel, Avis neither confirmed nor denied that they've instructed their agents to act in accordance with this aggressive up-selling scheme.

Here's how it works:

Avis (and other rental car companies) are losing market share to name-your-own-price clearinghouses like Priceline. Instead of cutting their prices to meet the threat, however, they're adapting their sales techniques.

The agents at the desk know when you've reserved your car on Priceline. They offer you an upgraded car for "just $4 or $8 or $10 a day." If you're on business, they blithely inform you that you can expense it. If you're on vacation, they say, "you deserve it."

Smartly, they aggressively pitch you an upgrade from which they--not Priceline--get the full amount. They don't have to share it with Priceline because the amount gets charged directly to your credit card. By quoting a small amount per day, they distract your attention from the bottom line and appeal to your perceived needs. For really effective agents--like the one I encountered at the Palm Beach Airport--it's an easy sell.

I'm not against Avis--or anyone, for that matter--trying to make an extra buck or two. From a purely professional standpoint, I admire and appreciate the way Avis has adapted to the Priceline 'threat'.

Personally, however, it seems a bit slimey.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

When It Comes to Your Life, "Think Inside the Box"

Mass layoffs on Wall Street... Hurricanes pounding Florida, Louisiana and Texas... Earthquakes in China and Iran... In all the coverage--still photography and video--we see haggard and harried people toting boxes with their most prized possessions inside. They've managed to place in a box the items most important to them.

They've thought "inside the box."

We all know the popularity of the phrase to "think outside the box." In business this cliche is meant to exhort people to adopt innovative, creative and unorthodox approaches to overcoming challenges. Like many sayings borne in business, the phrase has migrated into our personal lives with the same definition.

What if we have it wrong? What if the best solutions to professional and/or personal problems are those items which during a genuine crisis we put "inside the box"?

When we leave a place--whether by choice or circumstances--we put our stuff in a box and depart. The stuff in this case are material goods--photos of loved ones, diplomas, certificates, prized books, items of sentimental value. In a microcosmic way, the stuff we take tells the story of who we are, where we've been, what we do, whom we love. The stuff we take inside our box defines us.

"Thinking inside the box" allows us to tap the deep wellspring of our personal and professional experiences and skills. Rather than "think outside the box", we look inside ourselves for creative, innovative and unorthodox solutions to challenges. The items in our box help us overcome these challenges.

As we've seen from what refugees of natural and man-made crises carry, "thinking inside the box" forces us to prioritize those items (tangible or not) that are most important and meaningful to us.

So next time you're confronted with a professional or personal challenge, disregard the ubiquitous calls to "think outside the box." Instead, think inside the box.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Little Doggerel About My Job Search

I subscribe to a service called ProfNet, which throughout the day sends feeds of media inquiries from reporters who require sources for their stories. Today an inquiry came through from a reporter asking about PR pros who've been in job search mode.

That describes me--along with probably a lot of other PR pros. To distinguish my response to the inquiry from the myriad others that the reporter most likely received, I parsed my response in the form of a rough doggerel. You see, in my experience, creativity tends to stand out. It's memorable and shows I've devoted time to thinking about and crafting a response.

And it's fun. So I hope you enjoy my little poem.

There once was a PR pro named Bruce,
Whose earned media was on Nexis, Google and Luce.
He moved from D.C. to Mass
Where his career ran temporarily out of gas.

Despite great paper and recommendations
his job search has been 20 months of frustrations.
While working freelance as The Hired Pen,
he got rejected again and again.

From networking to recruiters,
He turned up few potential suitors.
So for Bruce the PR pro,
the prospects continue, sadly, to be slow.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Blog Today, Gone Tomorrow

I've been on a blogabbatical because I truly believe there are so many blogs out there, who'd want to read mine? Instead, I've been researching where I've been quoted in others' blogs.

One of my favorite references is from Pete Johnson's "The Nerd Guru" blog. A few months ago on LinkedIn I responded to a question about what I felt was the most overused business phrase. I took a few moments to compose my response (see below). It apparently tickled Pete's fancy, because he quoted it in his blog:

I truly believe words are precious. With so many communications vehicles available to us, we no longer take the time to choose our words carefully. While Pete's question provoked a lot of hilarious responses, the underlying theme is alarming: People just arbitrarily and capriciously vomit words without saying anything.

Which is why more than ever business leaders and owners need savvy communicators to carefully and concisely convey their key points.