November 20, 2010

Saturdays in the Office

When I was growing up and dad had to go in on a Saturday he would take me along. We'd buy the New York Times at the newsstand kiosk operated by Al, a retired boxer, and read it on the subway. We took the D train to 42nd Street and walked past Bryant Park and the library to his office building at 50 E. 42nd.

He put me to work running off press releases on the mimeograph and doing the mailings. He taught me his method for doing mailings that I have taught to assistants over the years. Run the envelopes through the Addressograph. Tri-fold about five press releases at a time and stack them up. Line up the envelopes with the flaps extended. Stuff them all. Then line up five envelopes at a time so you just see the glue (no self-stick yet). Take a damp paintbrush or sponge and paint the glue wet, then seal each envelope. When all the envelopes have been sealed, take a sheet of fifty stamps (always commemoratives - they attract attention), crease them at the perforations in both directions and divide into strips of 5. run each strip over a wet ceramic roller (no self-stick yet) and apply.

For lunch, he would take me to a coffee shop on Madison Avenue for a hamburger special: hamburger with fries, a little serving of coleslaw in a pleated paper cup, pickle slice, and a Coke. Even better, sometimes he'd have it delivered and we'd eat in the office. That and 25 cents was my compensation.

I long for those days.

November 15, 2010

When Sales Is Also Customer Service

New to the area, I selected a new dentist this April and went for a cleaning. As I was checking out, they had me address a postcard to myself that they would send in six months to remind me to call for an appointment, a common practice. All they then needed to do was correctly file the postcard and mail as scheduled.

I received the postcard, and kept intending to call for that appointment. I've done that before, and eventually I do call and make the appointment, but it could be a month or more late, despite my intentions to stay on a six month schedule.

This time something new happened. A week after I received the card, the dentist's office called and asked if I'd like to make an appointment. I was grateful they did, and made the appointment.

Perhaps it's always been the practice at this office, or perhaps business is slow. But they provided a service by reaching out to me, and made a sale at the same time.

What can you do to increase sales and leave your customers thanking you for doing so?

November 07, 2010

No Reply

It's happened again.

After moving to a new area, I needed to find snowplowing for my driveway. I searched online and found a few decent looking websites for small business that do this, among other services. Only one offered an email address. I sent a message and got no reply.

A friend in the real estate business who works for a local office of one of the big franchises, had someone send a test inquiry about one of his listed properties. The inquiry didn't come to him as he expected it would. It came to another agent...who replied two months after the inquiry had been sent.

More times than I can remember, I have sent inquiries to local and national businesses, using email addresses on their web sites and sometimes web forms, indicating a desire to do business with them, and have received no reply.

I have left voicemail messages with contractors and others, requesting quotes or information, and received no reply. Some of them have big Yellow Pages ads. Why?

I'm not sure why you would publish an email address or a phone number, or even have a web site, if you don't make it a constant practice to respond to people who are interested in your business.

Even if business is good right now, it may not be tomorrow. The people you insult (and it is an insult) by not responding will not call you the next time they need work done. And they will not tell their friends about you, at least not in the way you would like.

The message is clear:

If you reply to inquiries -- potential customers -- you will stand out from the crowd. Even if you do not win that business, you will be remembered.

October 16, 2010

Is "Dress for Success" Dead?

This piece is inspired by an article titled The Tragic Decline of Business Casual.

In his work life, my father dressed above his pay grade. He shopped at Wallach's and had "his" salesman. I remember accompanying him there one time. He told the salesman he wanted two summer suits. The salesman knew which suits to propose. Dad put each one on and proceeded to the tailoring platform. While they were being marked, the salesman was pulling shirts and ties to go with them. He knew Dad's style preferences. Over time, he was also able to move Dad up the price ladder. That was salesmanship! But Dad knew that to be successful, you had to look successful.

Times certainly have changed, and I admit to having mixed feelings about it.

I recently worked in an office in Colorado where shorts, sneakers and t-shirts were common. I wore them too, happily. It provided a comfortable work environment in an office where there were few outside visitors.

Before working for that company, I had regular business at their headquarters in Washington DC. Going there in the 90s, a shirt and tie were the minimum requirements for men, and if you were meeting with an executive, you always put on a jacket. A new CEO came in and introduced business casual. Today, you'll see some executives in jeans.

I like being comfortable, and I like not having to invest a lot of my pay in clothing. But I wonder if a lack of standards is a good thing.

In todays world it's so hard to decide what appropriate dress is for a given event. The toughest calls are job interviews. I think there is still truth to the idea the better-dressed people get treated better. But ten years ago I came to a job interview dressed in jacket and tie, and found my interviewers were all 15 years younger than I, and dressed in jeans or business casual. There is no question in my mind that my more formal dress worked against me.

Last week I exhibited at a trade show in San Francisco. My sense of the industry was that a suit or jacket and tie would be appropriate as opposed to the polo shirts I now sometimes wear at trade shows. Indeed, many exhibitors were dressed this way (women wearing the equivalent suits or dresses), although some wore logo shirts. Among the attendees, a sizable minority wore suits, and most of the rest were business casual. However, a fair number were dressed in sneaks, jeans and t-shirts, and some of those were ratty looking shirts and frayed jeans. Sorry, but they looked like bums. And perhaps they don't care -- they're buyers and have money to spend, so there. To me it makes them seem less serious.

I knew the world had changed when I exhibited at a computer trade show in the early 90s and the IBM folks had logo polos instead of the traditional white shirt and dark suit and tie. I think I'm OK with a more casual look in any business environment, but where I draw the line is when you transition from clean and neat, to sloppy and worn-looking.

There must still be a perception among the public that a suit makes you more important or trustworthy. Note that nearly every male news anchor or or talk show host wears a suit (with women wearing the equivalent). Would you deposit your money with a banker dressed in a t-shirt with printing on it, torn jeans and untied sneakers?

August 14, 2010

The Price Is Right

Seth Godin has a wonderful post on pricing your products or services to reward your customers and partners for their loyalty.

Two personal stories, both of which relate to services whose prices have gone down radically over the past decade:

I used to use for my domain registrations. A few years ago I switched to godaddy, despite their awful commercials, because they had the best price. After using godaddy, I found I also like their web site and domain management tools. So I decided to switch the domains that were still at to godaddy. This required actually calling In an effort to keep my business, they offered to match godaddy's price. I told them that if they had offered that price in the first place I wouldn't have switched, but now it was too late.

For more than ten years, I have used for my domain hosting. They have a great service, a useful online knowledgebase, and when I do need support they are responsive. However, as more competitors have entered the field, they have remained the high-priced supplier. I am willing to pay something more to retain their excellent service and avoid the hassle of moving all my files and learning new procedures at another supplier. About five years ago, I was considering a switch, but they lowered their prices enough to keep me. But now, I am paying $35 a month for services I could get from highly rated companies for well under $10. So I wrote to intermedia on their customer service web form, giving them an opportunity to keep my business. No response. This may not be my highest priority, but I will be switching.

July 22, 2010

Do you hear what I hear?

The Shirley Sherrod travesty points up how far journalism has fallen in this country. One incorrect piece of "media" posted on the internet is multiplied and amplified a thousand times by so-called news media before anyone in the business does their homework to learn whether there is anything truthful or accurate about it.

The fact that our government acted in the same fashion is disappointing at best, and not the fault of the media that led them there.

But among all the major media, none is as adept at legitimizing hearsay as Fox News. And the epitome of hearsay "journalism" at Fox News is Fox & Friends.

My favorite Fox & Friends phrase is "some say." As in, "Some say that Obama killed and ate his mother," never explaining who those "some" people saying that are, but imbuing the statement with legitimacy.

I imagine Steve Doocy in kindergarten, wanting to grow up to be a reporter. He sees some kids taunting Brian during recess, calling him a bed-wetter, when in fact they have no evidence of that being true. Steve picks up his toy microphone and says "Some say Brian is a bed-wetter."

That's journalism a la Fox News.

July 16, 2010

Not "Sort Of"..."Definitely!"

I'll admit to picking up some of the verbal tics that circulate in our culture. I say "you know" when I should simply pause as I form my words.

But there is one tic that has become prevalent which bothers me much more: "Sort of." This is different than "you know" "like" or "ummm."

"Sort of" or "kind of" softens and qualifies whatever it is we are saying. It's as if we're not confident to just state what it is we wish to communicate.

Example from this morning's New York Times:
Phil Mickelson played through tough conditions, finishing at one-over 73. "It kind of affected my attitude a little bit," he said.
Kind of? A little bit? The guy finished ten strokes off the lead!

June 24, 2010


Recent interactions with customer service people at supermarkets, other stores and on the phone indicates that many companies have not trained their people in what for me is the number one item on my list when I hire a customer service person:

There is no "they." There is only "we."

May 24, 2010

Make the Calls!

I've been in the publishing business for 30 years. A lot has changed, but at least one thing remains true: If you are selling to independent retailers, no matter how many customers you have, you need to call them.

They may love your company and its products, and perhaps you're not worried about a competitor taking your place on their shelves. But they have a lot of vendors, employees to manager and customers to serve. In this economy many have reduced employee hours, which means the owners and managers are doing more.

My wife and I own a small publishing company, and running it is one of several gigs we each have. Ours is a somewhat seasonal business, Memorial Day was approaching, and we had both been busy with other things. She started calling and the result is May will be our best month to date. A number of dealers thanked her for calling because they just hadn't got around to ordering our product.

"Smiling and dialing" still works.

May 05, 2010

Press Agents Shining Hour, today 3:15 - 4:15 local time

On this 47th Press Agents Shining Hour, I recall PASH's greatest coverage when my dad hired college students to picket the White House:

On May 5th,1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson's White House observed one of the more unusual "special events" -- Press Agents Shining Hour (PASH).

PASH was the first client of a company called Proxy Pickets, formed by and employing DC college students to picket for hire. The PASH demonstration was picked up by AP and numerous local papers, resulting in more than 100 placements nationally. And we almost made national TV: the founder of Proxy Pickets was later on "To Tell The Truth," and just as Kitty Carlisle asked the real founder who his first client was, Bud Collyer said that time was up!

In Marc Benioff's book, Behind the Cloud, the founder of writes about a similar tactic. From the Business Week review:
Benioff could have written an entire book about marketing. This one is peppered with ideas that once seemed over the top but turned out to work. Early on, for example, Benioff hired actors to pose as protesters outside a user conference held by larger rival Siebel Systems. They chanted that traditional software was "obsolete" while a fake TV crew interviewed passersby. The stunt generated a lot of press—aka, free advertising.
Great minds...

February 04, 2010

For a New Book Publishing Model

Once upon a time, there was the hardcover.

Then there was the pocket (mass-market) paperback.

Then there was the high-quality "trade" paperback.

Then there was the audiobook.

Then there was the e-book.

Publishers looked for a way to deploy these different formats in order to maximize profits. Not unreasonable. In general, they believed that either paperback format would cannibalize the hardcover. So would e-books, if priced less than the hardcover. Audiobooks not as much of a problem as long as they were priced appropriately.

Also, they found that a paperback release about a year after the hardcover created a new marketing opportunity.

What they did not realize is that by postponing release of paperbacks, and in some cases e-books, they were squandering their best marketing opportunity. The one that comes when the book is new.

A consumer who hears or reads about a new title and gets excited, but is among the majority of readers who will not pay $25 for a book, is unlikely to remember that interest a year later, and unlikely to be reminded by a renewed marketing effort which in nearly all cases will have weaker results than the original campaign.

The most consumer-oriented and profitable approach in today's world of insta-demand is to publish every format simultaneously (including the decision on whether to even have a hardcover edition).

Kevin Smokler has a great piece in this week's Publishers Weekly on this subject. More than ever before, making consumers wait is a losing strategy.

February 03, 2010

Challenges of Selling to the Retail Channel

I started selling to retailers thirty years ago. Then, most retail segments were not controlled by national chains. You could have a successful product by selling to regional chains and independents. As such, even the national chains were not horribly demanding as long as your terms met industry standards.

As retail has become dominated by national chains, they have gained leverage over suppliers and demanding deeper discounts, longer payment terms, and instituted a variety of fees, fines and discounts they will simply deduct from your payment when they feel justified. As a supplier, it's very frustrating. There is little if any opportunity for a supplier to negotiate.

Some suppliers react by choosing not to accept these terms of business, and that's their prerogative. My suggestion is that they not do so emotionally, but rationally consider their choice.

In my experience I have always found that more distribution is better. You'll make more on some transactions than others. But unless the smaller margin transaction is literally taking away larger margin potential sales, I'll still go after it as long as the revenue justifies whatever sales effort I have to put into it. It may not be true for every product, but often, the more places a consumer can run into your product, the more you will sell.

While there are certainly cases where the pricing and other challenging policies demanded by a retailer makes selling to them less attractive, I have yet to find a situation where I lost money instead of making profit by increasing my retail distribution.

Although sometimes I scream at retailers in my head, I try not to let my annoyance at their demands cloud my judgment on whether I am better off making the sale or not. To the "small guy" it may seem predatory, but they're just trying to get the best deal they can, and in today's world they are in a position to do so.

January 28, 2010

Working on Spec

MediaBistro's PR Newser has a poll today on "What Would You Do When A Prospective Client Or Employer Asks Your For A Tactical Plan Before Making A Decision?"

I still find it astounding that p.r. and ad folks, designers and perhaps others, are asked to do actual client work on spec as part of the sales process. If a client can't judge you by your past work and a sense of "fit" from the interview process, they aren't competent.

When I sold local radio ads a few decades ago, I would make spec spots because many store owners would buy based on liking a spot rather than whether the medium was effective for them.

Are businesses large enough to hire ad and p.r. firms no more sophisticated than the pizza or auto repair shop guys I used to sell to?

Check out

January 08, 2010

Incompetent Talking Heads

It's stunning how much of 24-hour news channel and Sunday morning network news time is given to people who have shown no competence for the subjects they expound on, and politicians who make provably false and misleading statements that go unchallenged (except by the "fake" news shows on Comedy Central).

For instance, Rudy Guiliani.

Now, if you want to ask him about crime reduction, I think he has valid experience and success. And he did make Times Square safe for people from small town America who want to come to the greatest restaurant city on the continent and eat at Red Lobster.

But national security and national politics?

Let's take politics first. Yes, he certainly was successful in becoming mayor of our largest city. However, that is less a partisan contest than a personality based one. On the national scene, he was the accepted frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination and lost due to the worst strategic decision of modern politics, not competing in Iowa and New Hampshire.

On security, here's his record:

1. Located his command and control center in a complex that had already been attacked by terrorists.

2. Did not assure his fire and police communications systems were compatible.

3. After September 11th, proposed his corrupt and incompetent police commissioner to be the first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security

January 05, 2010

Poor, Misunderstood ®

Every now and then I read or hear a story, like this one, about a small business that is threatened by a larger business with a trademark violation lawsuit and capitulates. Most often, they do so because they do not understand trademark law. As in this case, they even confuse trademark with copyright. These people are not forced to change their names, they are cowed, understandably so. The trademark owner's claim might be supportable, but often it is not.

Noone can own a word or phrase for every use. Trademarks are issued for specific goods and services. Search any product or company name here and you'll see the details. Often there will be multiple trademarks for a name as the breadth of products or services it is used for expands. What are trademarks for? A good explanation from the Thomas Law Firm:
The purpose of trademark law is twofold: first, it is to aid the consumer in differentiating among competing products and second, it is to protect the producer's investment in reputation. The U.S. Supreme Court summed up this purpose nicely in 1995 in the case of Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co.:

"[T]rademark law, by preventing others from copying a source-identifying mark, 'reduce[s] the customer's cost's of shopping and making purchasing decisions,' for it quickly and easily assures a potential customer that … the item with this mark … is made by the same producer as other similarly marked items that he or she liked (or disliked) in the past. At the same time, the law helps assure a producer that it (and not an imitating competitor) will reap the financial, reputation related rewards associated with a desirable product."

Since foreclosure sales or carwashes (another case I recall) are not competitive with Toys "R" Us, the question is whether someone using "R Us" in a name is infringing on the reputation of Toys "R" Us. They are certainly playing off it, but are they doing harm? Similarly with any product or company called "Mc"something.