Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ben + Allison

Separated by a single floor in the Standford Rosborough tower freshman year, it was improbable that our paths wouldn’t have crossed sooner. We had tons of mutual friends and common interests, but didn’t meet until junior year at the University of Miami. The warm weather, palm trees, tropical gardens and beaches of Coral Gables provided the perfect setting for this love story.

Our first meeting was at an epic college party, affectionately referred to as the “Boom Boom Hizzy: Pinecrest Edition."  For most, the party was an opportunity to take shots, funnel beers, flip cups, tap kegs, jump from the balcony into the pool, or make any other bad decisions you thought “sounded good at the time.”  For us, it was just the opposite.
Danny and Casey (both of whom you will find on the wedding party page) introduced us within minutes of arrival at the Boom Boom Hizzy. As they say, the rest was history. Whether it was Ben’s witty humor or Allison’s earthy perspective on world issues, we completely tuned out the action and noise of one of the biggest parties of the year to focus on each other. Laughing and talking for hours, it was clear we weren’t interested in anything or anyone else (plus, it took too long to get a beer!). Although Ben seemed to “forget” to ask for Allison’s phone number at the end of the night (leading her to think he was completely uninterested), he recovered with a smooth Facebook message in the morning. 

From our quasi-first date to see Across the Universe, hitchhikig to football games from the 17th Street house tailgate parties, deciding it was a great idea to buy a Doberman puppy to battling long-distance love and moving into our first place together in St. Louis – there was no denying we both found “the one”.
Just a few days before moving to New York to accept a new job, Ben and Allison took a vacation to Cancun, Mexico. On Cinco de Mayo, Ben woke up feeling “sick” and said to Allison “You know what would make me feel better?…If you would be my wife.”  
As the fairytale love story continues, we now live in the Big Apple and are loving life together – taking every opportunity to explore green spaces, try new restaurants and get lost on streets we’ve never walked before. We’re so excited to continue this incredible journey and can’t wait to celebrate with family and friends when we tie the knot in Miami this fall! 

This love story from www.benlovesallison.com is worth sharing. I haven't changed a word. They were married on October 27, 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lean Manufacturing and a Cheese Sandwich

This week I was invited to participate in a two day conference on lean manufacturing. The conference included three (3) plant tours and a healthy dose of classroom and presentation time. The Fabricators & Manufacturing Association (FMA) organized the event in St. Louis. More than 30 people attended from as far away as Tennessee and upstate New York. The tours and the discussions (formal and informal) reminded me of a cheese sandwich. Not just any cheese sandwich, but the very specific one my wife used to order. The sandwich that confounded restaurants all over the country. 

Here is the request: “May I please have a grilled Swiss cheese and tomato on rye, toasted well with Russian dressing on the side.” Sounds simple enough right? But, like lean manufacturing there are many ways to get it wrong and hundreds of ways to do it better. Ways to get it wrong for the customer (my wife): 1. Wrong cheese (not Swiss) 2. Not grilled well 3. Mushy tomato  4. Wrong bread (not rye) 5. Russian dressing on sandwich (instead of on the side) or not in on-time (later than other orders).  The list goes on and on.

The hapless waitress in any one of these unfortunate scenarios is only the end of a production line. Prep includes careful staging, assembly and presentation. Materials must be selected and prepared. In a busy restaurant the ingredients must be sorted. The work-space must be straight and shiny-clean. The process to be efficient must be somewhat standardized. Customers have a right to expect a sustainable level of service on repeat visits. Of course, food safety is critical too.

This cheese sandwich is a custom order so the lean manufacturing challenges include elimination of waste to assure a profitable transaction. Here are some kinds of waste the restaurant owner needs to avoid. Overproduction. (Don’t assume another customer is going to ask for the same thing - although that could happen.)  Waiting time. (The sandwich needs to be prepared in a timely fashion and delivered with the other meals at the table.) Transportation. (Food needs to be on hand to deliver this product. If you have no tomatoes ready for slicing you aren’t going to make it.) Processing. (Build the sandwich with confidence.) Inventory. (Make sure you have rye bread, tomato, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing.) Motion. (Stage the elements so there isn’t a lot of inefficient running around.) Product Defects. (It’s food. It needs to be fresh and handled properly.)

The manufacturing facilities we visited for tours made products  as diverse as retail display racks, industrial heaters, structural trusses for a football stadiums - each on an order of magnitude significantly more difficult than building a cheese sandwich. (So clearly there is a lot to think about.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Thank You Julia Tuttle

In 1891, a Cleveland woman named Julia Tuttle purchased 640 acres on the north bank in the Miami River, in present-day downtown Miami. Her husband, Frederick Tuttle died in 1886, leaving her with financial difficulties. She decided to move to South Florida to make a new start in her life. Julia tried to persuade railroad magnate Henry Flagler to expand his rail line south to the area. He was not interested. A few years later, however, after citrus crops were wiped out by a freeze, Tuttle managed to remind Flagler of the promise of South Florida. A favorable report and a box of orange blossoms to show that the area had escaped the frost helped change his mind. Flagler followed up with a visit and soon concluded that the area was ripe for expansion. He made the decision to extend his railroad to Miami and build a resort hotel.

On July 28, 1896, City of Miami was incorporated. Even though the earliest settlement in the Miami region came 10,000 years ago and it has a long, rich and colorful history, I always enjoy hearing the story of Julia Tuttle’s determination and persuasiveness. (And I love Miami! Thanks Julia.) 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lessons from Miami

Chapter Seventeen
Lessons from Miami

The Miami Ad School
While at Crispin Porter + Bogusky I became acquainted with The Miami Ad School. The Miami Ad School is a unique phenomenon in advertising. It is one of a handful of places students can take time to build a portfolio of creative samples that they can leverage in interviews with the nation’s top agencies, and get a start in this competitive business.

Miami is an unlikely hub for advertising. Unless you want a base of operations for international marketing communications. The tropical climate and the constant influx of tourists from around the world make it a vibrant and cosmopolitan place though. While working in Miami I was fortunate enough to become acquainted with Ron Siechrist, the founder of the Miami Ad School. Ron was instrumental in building the Portfolio Center on the same premise in Atlanta. (Legend has it that Ron had to turn over the keys to that successful business to his wife as part of a divorce settlement.) Ron Siechrist managed to start all over in Miami’s trendy South Beach with the Miami Ad School. The work produced by his students has captured the attention of Advertising Award Judges and Advertising Annuals and has resulted in some pretty impressive placements so far.

Hispanic Marketing: Like it or Not

I took High School Spanish. I took Spanish to meet the language requirement in college too. I know about enough Spanish to order coffee at the Versailles restaurant in Miami and that’s about it. I’m committed to lifelong learning but I’m afraid it would take me several lifetimes to learn to speak Spanish well. Some people have a gift for foreign languages. I’m not one of those people. Miami’s Dade County is more than 50% Hispanic. South Florida like Texas and California has areas with high Hispanic populations. Like it or not, you cannot expect to make a living in the communications business, especially in these parts of the country without learning the language they speak. Without a doubt, there are huge opportunities for advertising and marketing specialists who can speak Spanish and become experts in Hispanic Marketing. I know because I was there trying to drum up business for a hot shop. Even with a limited Spanish speaking staff, I was able to help Crispin Porter + Bogusky create advertising for The South Florida Mercedes Benz Dealer Group. (We produced advertising in English and Spanish).

Monday, October 8, 2012

Trick or Treat

A record number of people are expected to celebrate Halloween this year, and a record amount of money will be spent to mark the holiday. The 2012 Halloween consumer spending survey from the National Retail Federation predicts that 170 million people will spend a total of $8 billion. Both are highs in the ten year history of the survey, and the 2011 total spending was $6.86 billion.

“By the time Halloween rolls around each year it’s safe to say Americans have already spent two months preparing for one of the fastest-growing and most widely-loved holidays of the year,” said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. The average person is predicted to spend $79.82 on costumes, candy and decorations. Spending on costumes was $28.65, up two dollars from the previous year.

Trick-or-treating is a customary practice for children on Halloween in many countries. Children in costumes visit houses in the neighborhood on a quest for treats (most likely with the chant/question "Trick or treat?" The "trick" is an idle threat (usually) to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given. In North America, trick or treat has been a customary Halloween tradition since at least the late 1950s. Homeowners wishing to participate in it usually decorate their private entrance with artificial spider webs, plastic skeletons and jack-o-lanterns. Some rather reluctant homeowners would simply leave the candy in bowls on the porch, others might be more participative and would even ask an effort from the children in order to provide them with candy.

Wishing every family in the towns and neighborhoods surrounding the St. Louis Region and around the country a happy and safe Halloween. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Agency Evaluation

The client-agency relationship is a delicate thing. By definition, your advertising agency should act on your behalf in matters concerning your advertising communication. At the same time, you want them to be responsive to your direction. You want a partnership. After all, you will be judged on the quality of marketing communications developed within the scope of your marketing budget.

Like any relationship, it takes work. As the client, you need your agency to understand your expectations. If the agency is not in sync with your needs it could be time for a friendly divorce. You don't want your agency-client relationship to become disruptive. If you can strengthen the relationship with constructive criticism that could save you the expense and the grief of shopping for a new agency.

Here is a five-point agency evaluation system.  Maybe it will be helpful in evaluating your agency-client relationship.

Creative Excellence: Above all, your agency should be creative and not just in art direction and copy. They should be able to look at your marketing problems creatively. They should consider creative ways to allocate media spending. They should be creative when it comes to spending money and managing limited resources. They should be creative in presenting fresh ideas.

Smart Marketing Thinking: Your agency doesn't have to know as much about your business as you do (Although that can be beneficial). They should think like business people. They should recommend ways that will build your business. They should suggest ideas that are reasonable and strategic.

Problem Solvers: The best agencies will be able to read between the lines a little. If the budget is limited, your agency should be able to deal with that. If selling ideas into the organization or the distribution channels is an issue it might be appropriate for them to help with this process. They should be able to work with you to take anxiety out of your life and not add to it.

Capabilities: The agency relationships you establish should match well with your needs. Evaluate the agency on what it does well. Suggest improvement when you can. Some agencies offer an uneven range of services. If they can't or won't accommodate you, you may need to unbundle some services. Weight this notion against the added time and energy it may take to build an additional agency-client relationship.

Flawless Execution: Careless errors can cripple the effectiveness of any advertising. Nobody's perfect. But the greatest idea in the world will suffer if not produced well. This is a tough place for an agency to fall short but it's all too common. 


Crossland Construction is a family-owned enterprise that has seen tremendous growth. They recognized a need to improve its ability to communicate effectively to five regional offices and a larger workforce. Informal channels were no longer appropriate. The following is an overview of plan that was implemented as the head of that taskforce on improving internal/employee communications.  

Our overriding goal is for employees to be the best ambassadors for the company. We believe this will be a natural outcome of a total and balanced communications program.

Message strategies - The message strategies we need to launch will have to be based on a shared vision (including goals). Ideally, we will have a routine program that delivers timely news and celebrate successes.

Set goals and progress reports - Part of the shared vision is about setting goals that can reasonably be obtained on our way to continued success. "What gets measured gets done."

Celebrate Success - Success comes from hard work. As we celebrate wins we want to make sure we can enjoy it together and look forward to additional victories.

Timely delivery of news - We have seen rapid growth and we all know how critical it can be to have information. Part of the overall message strategy is to deliver news quickly so there is as much transparency as is is reasonable.

Shared Vision - A shared vision is essential for the company to succeed. Sometimes referred to as "getting on the same page" and having the kind of focus that allows us to help each other toward greater achievements as an organization.

Overview of mission/vision - Reminders of mission - printed on the back of all business cards.

Model excellence - select ENR ranked contractors we admire identify areas where we would like to model behavior or practices. Consider leading companies and why they are admired and propose modeling of them as well.

Quickly communicate to all - Continue to leverage the intranet as the "Source." Augment with e-mail bulletins and news. Experiment with e-mail blasts and determine efficacy.

Report on Progress – Communicate milestone achievements (i.e. dollar volume of schools construction, jobs awarded, awards).

Crisis Communications – (Media Training) Schedule session with Denver based experts from INA. Develop a plan for crisis communication. (Leanna Clark, Meme)

Generate press releases and pitch media - Engage Common Ground to develop a media target list and develop routine releases. Understand editorial calendars and target editors for ongoing relationships and coverage.

Internal Communications - Post job wins in all offices or use the video monitors to make wins public.

Seek Award Recognition - Identify awards and potential projects that may be considered for recognition. (i.e. AGC, metal buildings, concrete).

Segments - Education (K-12), Higher Education, Healthcare, Retail, Sports/Recreation, Distribution Centers, Hospitality, Commercial Office, Municipal Projects, Manufacturing, Civil Projects. Identify key trade show events and plan participation.

Awareness and Positive Perception - Deliver good news in multiple channels evenly to all audiences (as appropriate).

Share Metrics - Segments (i.e. Education, Healthcare, Retail) - wins vs. plan. Project Delivery - Construction Management and Design-Build. Sales.

We will need to have a full understanding of the communications needs of our internal audiences (including subs and suppliers) as well as customers and prospects.

Superintendents Field Personnel - Superintendents and field personnel are on the front line. We need to listen carefully and be responsive to them. At the same time we need to find meaningful ways to communicate with them.

Audit signage in place now with eye toward best practices. Don't mandate, simply encourage and support. Safety, Legal requirements, brand visability and awareness.

Bart Arnett job in Oklahoma City is test of new sign (Vital Signs is to build).

Bulletins - Publish and post bulletins for superintendents to share with subs and workforce.

e-mail - Work with e-blast software (i.e. Constant Contact) to make sure field and key partners are in the loop on news.

Alicia Endicott is gatekeeper of this weekly event.

Corporate Headquarters - The corporate culture we want to embrace is about being supportive. We do not want to dictate policies and procedures but we do want to help implement best practices that allow us all to be the best - World Class!

Cross functional presentations - Lunch n Learn (small groups) may participate in opportunity to learn more about aspects of the business (i.e. topics may include estimating, construction management, education/training, safety).

Task forces working together to make recommendations for improvements. 

Divisions - Divisions and offices are a part of our expansion and growth. Learning from the achievements of the most successful among their ranks will make it possible for the Crossland Way to be scalable.

Share Best Practices - Showcase processes and practices that work particularly well in each division. Videotape or otherwise document the process so that others might apply to their business unit.

Recognition of excellence - Quarterly recognition of effort. Awards for tenure (service awards).

Corporate support -Culture of support vs. dictates. (i.e. How can we better serve and support your goals?)

Subs, suppliers and partners
- The subcontractor and supplier community are a critical piece of the underground communication that goes on in the construction industry. We must find effective ways to communicate with them and also listen to them carefully.

Milestone Events - Groundbreaking, Topping out, demonstration or opportunities to teach the "Crossland Way."

e-mail blasts - Include key subs in routine news of success.

Customers and Prospects - Customers are a great resource. We must not fear open and honest assessments of our work. At the same time we must demonstrate the character and values of our organization to make things right. In the process we will gain friends, referrals and repeat business.

Response opportunity on facing card in Red Iron mailing. Formal research re: customer satisfaction and brand perception.

Red Iron response card offers Subways gift card 1/2011 Winter issue.

Participate in trade events - Schedule a list of industry events (i.e. trade shows/conventions) and plan participation that makes an impact.Kansas - USA Kansas, KASB

Honest and Quality Feedback
To achieve this goal - we need to build an environment of open and honest communication.

Benchmark Owner Research - Continuous improvement can only be demonstrated with benchmarks that allow us to measure progress. We want satisfied customers who will recommend us and we want to be a brand that is perceived as top notch. 

Implement annual benchmark study designed by a professional researcher to assure meaningful indicators of progress or backsliding.

Report results and ongoing tracking -Topline results of annual benchmark study can be shared with participants, prospects and employees.

Employee Feedback - Employees must have channels for candid dialogue with management. Management needs to understand perceptions and attitudes in the workplace if we are to be the kind of place of which people are proud to work.

Report on usefulness. Consider alternatives as well (i.e. hot line, anonymous blog) Crossland Insider Newsletter to promote feedback channels.

Breakouts - Task forces charged to find reasonable solutions. If taken seriously, relatively small problems can be addressed quickly and solutions can be adopted.

Two way communication - Part of any effective communication is the ability to have give and take. One way communication can send a message that the organization is inflexible. 

Lottery Lunch - cross-section of employees can share a dialogue about the company and about their observations on work environment, concerns or ideas.

Town Hall Meeting - State of the Union. Employees invited for attendance. Broad access (training room or offsite venue) set up so many can be there live and others can dial in for a short company meeting. How are we doing? What can we do better?

Feedback from sub, suppliers, partners - Feedback from subs and suppliers who may have a uniquely qualified set of observations are valuable. We should seek that input.

Reception for Qualified Subs - Off site event that allows subs access to Crossland and opportunity to be considered for future work and maybe share insights about their experiences with Crossland.


PR Strategy

Advertising vs. PR
Advertising and Public Relations are completely different animals. Advertising is media that is scheduled and contracted. A print ad, for example, is controlled and is consumed as such. Readers of that advertising know it is a paid commercial message. Public relations, on the other hand, is not paid media. Public Relations puts its attention on the editorial side of media. Editors are busy people. They are often short staff. They need help. They want to create an editorial environment that will attract readers. They work for publishers who want to attract advertisers as well. 

Public Relations Results
You can generate real value if you leverage your ability to work with select media (editors) in providing content - content that is not blatantly promotional or commercial. The shared goal is to produce copy that is of interest to readers as well as distribution and end-user prospects. If you can interest editors in case study examples, expertise or news about your brands, your stories will will rise to the top. They will be featured in a favorable light. There is no real fair comparison of advertising versus PR placements but if you use a relative measurement process it may help you evaluate how you are doing each quarter, each year and as time passes. It won't be perfect but at least you will have a measure of relative success. To accomplish this system you will need to score placements based on your goals. You may decide to use qualitative scores, circulation and a relative assessment of value.  

Greatest Hits
The weighted system accounts for the fact that all PR is not created equal. You can continue to pursue the low hanging fruit (placements of personnel releases and product launch copy) but focus efforts on bigger successes.(Like placements that tell your brand and/or company story.) I call this a “greatest hits” approach. By weighting the value or score assigned to better quality placements your team will celebrate a more important communication and messaging effort as they appear in your targeted media.       

Focus going forward
Public relations focused on the brands, success stories and expertise can be packaged and offered to editors and publishers of industry publications. They can and will challenge you and they should as journalists. But you can help by reviewing editorial calendars and by strengthening relationships with editors. Remember it is critical to provide value: It could be in the form of end-user success stories; expertise in sales, brand, engineering: or in unbiased scientific comparisons. Above all you need qualified review of all copy prior to submission to assure accuracy. Your credibility is at stake with each and every submission.