For PSF marketers (as well as fee-earners), heed Seth Godin's words. Then back it up with action.
In reviewing old posts from last year, specifically those that dealt with the recession (how we wish we were in the "recession" of early February 2008 instead of the one we're in now in January 2009). This is a post from February 8, 2008 and I thought that it still rang true. In fact, it motivated me to renewed action. As such, I am republishing it and hope you enjoy it if you missed it the first time.
The Role of the Marketing Director in a Recession - Part I
When faced with the uncertain, most people become afraid. That fear causes them to be hesitant or even paralyzed. This is the first step towards failure.
Marketing directors - don't allow yourself or your firm's leadership team to be paralyzed with fear. Take action and take it NOW.
The first action I would suggest is to gather the firm's leaders together to brainstorm a plan of action. Hopefully your CEO or managing partner has already done this, but if not, you do it. I believe the primary role of every marketing director is to make sure the phone is ringing, so if a fee-earner thinks you're overstepping your bounds, remind them of what your purpose is.
Focus the group on identifying 3 to 5 things that are vital to do in the short-term and 3 things that are vital in the long-term.
Don't be afraid and don't let your firm be afraid. Action alleviates fear. Action creates momentum. Momentum creates opportunity. Opportunity offers the chance for success.
Don't wait. If you haven't already, now is the time to take action.
My CEO is reading A Sense of Urgency by John P. Kotter. While I haven't read the book yet, he gave me copy of Mr. Kotter's chart "Complacency, False Urgency, and True Urgency" (page 10 - 11). Under the category of "behavior," Kotter proposed the following definitions:
Do you recognize your firm in any of these three?
I have written and spoken about marketing budgets. I have advocated not spending less, but spending differently. I still believe that. Yet, I am a realist. Many, if not most, firms are combing through the expense portion of the income statement and making cuts in order to deal with this recession which just seems to worsen with each passing day. In talking with a professional in his early 60s who has lived through the past 4 recessions, he says this one is the worst he has seen.
As a marketing professional, be proactive. Comb through your own budget and offer cuts. Squeeze your vendors for the best price which I know can be difficult to do given that sometimes our vendors have become friends. I suggest focusing on spending money on those things which have the best chance of making the phone ring - sooner rather than later.
More likely than not, there is fat in your budget. To tell on myself, let me give you one example. In going through my advertising budget, we found we spend about $1000 per year on yellow pages advertising. First of all, Mercer Capital is a national firm so we don't get "walk-in traffic." Second, the majority of people will find us via the web. So, that was an easy cut to make.
My humble advice is to go through your budget and look for those expense cuts, if you haven't already. In tough times, there is pressure on everyone to do more with less and to contribute to revenue generation. Focus on both.
Photo: Rabbit Scissors from The Daily Planner (www.thedailyplanner.com)
If you don't know who Marshall Goldsmith is, find out and read his books and articles. He is one of the premier executive coaches in the country. In reviewing his blog, housed at the Harvard Business Review, I came across this post (and stole the title): Advice for Marketing Executives During Tough Times. One of his readers asked "Do you have any specific suggestions for marketing executives in this challenging climate?"
I have reproduced her response below and added my comments, which are directed towards PSF marketers, in the parentheticals. I do not presume to improve upon Ms. Lyons suggestions, which are outstanding. My comments are designed to speak directly to marketers at smaller professional services firms.
1. Have a thorough understanding of how the business runs.
Many marketers are creative or have deep functional expertise but lack
general business training. Set aside time to learn the ins and outs of
your businesses - for example: revenue drivers, influences on
profitability, corporate vision, and budget. To earn credibility, you
not only need to keep track of your own budget, but also understand
exactly what the marketing function is doing to drive bottom-line
results. (I would also add that in addition to driving bottom-line results, PSF marketers have to be focused on driving top-line results. Having a thorough understanding of the business is vital. I have met many wonderful and creative marketers who do not really understand the services a CPA / BV firm provides. A marketer doesn't have to be a technician, yet we do have to educate ourselves on the firm's services, and as such, revenue drivers, etc.)
2. Speak the same language as other executives. Chances are
your peers talk in terms of revenue, cash flow, and profitability -
they don't have an ear for the soft language marketers grew up with
like "brand awareness." Listen to how your peers are talking and adopt
their lingo. Think of how you can explain your activities and results
using terms that resonate with them. (Marketers in a financial services world can sometimes be lost. The BV fee-earners I work with talk about cash flow, EBITDA, specific company risk, CAPM, and on and on. Ask yourself if you know the difference between revenue and net income. Many marketers do not. If you work in a financial services firm, you have to learn the lingo.)
3. Align yourself with the rest of your executive team.
Driving revenue hinges on alignment of marketing with sales and other
functions. For example, you don't want the CEO and CFO coming to you
and saying, "You never justify why we're spending so much money, so
we're cutting your budget." Having meetings to discuss methodology and
the types of metrics the other executives are looking for, such as what
the VP of Sales thinks of as a "qualified lead," will align your role
with theirs. (This advice is important even for smaller firms without these defined departments. We have to work with the partners to understand the metrics they value and keep the lines of communication open.)
4. Find the right reporting tools. Arm yourself with tools
that let you say: "here's the proof that we really helped drive these
results." These tools generate hard numbers such as how many leads were
brought in and how many of those leads converted, and you need them in
order to demonstrate a firmer business case. (We always have to focus on ROI.)
For professional service firm marketers, Ms. Lyons' suggestions are spot on. Reading through the comments to the post, I was also struck by the thoughts of one of the commenters, Umesh Ramakrishnan:
This is all good advice. If you are a PSF marketer, learn from this wisdom. If you are a fee-earner, pass this along to your marketing executive.
Tom Kane at Legal Marketing Blog has a great post entitled "Time to Apply Clear Vision to Your Firm's Direction." While Tom is speaking directly to attorneys, the same advice applies to accountants, business valuators, etc. In the post, Tom says:
It is both a practical and thought-provoking post. Thanks Tom!
I follow Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson, the Christian Book publisher, via Twitter. I first learned from him that Houghton MIfflin Harcourt, a big publisher, has temporarily stopped acquiring new titles for its trade and reference division.
Michael recently tweeted that Thomas Nelson had to eliminate 55 positions. I am so sorry about that. These are tough times for many.
I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that while all this was happening, we are working furiously to bring two new titles to market. We will publish them via print-on-demand. While our market reach is teeny, tiny vs. what a big publishing house can provide, the nimbleness of print-on-demand, along with the ability to focus our marketing to a defined target group and continue to push the books for a prolonged period of time, makes it worthwhile for us.
I believe that the world we live in constantly demands three things: 1) meaningful content, 2) specificity; and 3) flexibility.
My sympathies to those who have or are about to lose their jobs. I pray they land on their feet quickly. I also pray that we stay focused on the three things above. We forget them at our peril.
12/04/08 UPDATE: More publishing house lay-offs announced.
When I'm giving speeches, I always offer to review the marketing materials and websites of the attendees. The difference in perception in how I, as an uninterested bystander, view their firm and the job they do at presenting themselves to the world and how they view their firm (and themselves) is often striking. But it's human. They see the beauty beneath. They realize the untapped potential. I see the raw reality.
I try to look at Mercer Capital as an uninterested bystander but I really can't. There is no way to remove myself totally from that which I've helped create. So, don't always trust your own opinions. Instead, find a trusted group of people who will tell you what you need to hear and listen to their advice. How you present your firm and yourself to the world is important. This is especially true in this slowing economy. Try to throw away the cane and begin to dance.
I have two daughters. The oldest is five and the youngest is about to turn three. They attend pre-school (even the two year old). Part of the drive to school is the daily ritual of going over the rules which go something like this:
Be a friend
*** and the two most important rules ***
Have fun and be a leader
So, when I go off to work in the morning, the girls are very good at reminding me of the rules. They always end with "have fun and be a leader." From the mouths of babes ...
As the marketing director in a slowing economy, you've got to remember to have fun by finding purpose in the challenge of doing more with (often) less. (Hopefully your firm hasn't succumbed to the mentality of shrinking. If so, see here and here.)
And now is your time to shine. If you've not had a seat at the management table, now is your opportunity to prove your worth by thinking like an owner and coming to the table with a plan of action.
So, come Monday morning, remember ... HAVE FUN AND BE A LEADER.
Photo credit: Marta Barceló. www.marta.com (great photoblog site)