Cold Calling in the Creative Industry

(originally published in Screen Magazine 5/30/12)

There’s a rumor going around that making direct phone calls to potential clients is an old school approach to sales.  I’m here to tell you that the rumor is true, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’m of the opinion that clients want to work with people they like.  And what better way to introduce yourself, (and the company you work for) than over the phone?

When I’m putting together a marketing strategy, I always include phone sales.  Of course, email marketing strategies are included as well, but I don’t put all my eggs in that one electronic basket, nor should you.  It’s very hard to embody your company’s personality inside the body of an email, although many young reps are trying that approach.

I once asked an employee to call and introduce herself to a client.  A few hours later, I followed up to see how the call went, but her response was, “They didn’t reply to the email yet.”

Turns out she felt more comfortable introducing herself through an email, maybe in part because rejection is a part of sales, and being rejected with no response to an email, is well, less personal. But then again, so is the email she sent in the first place.

After all, being “personal” is a huge part of what makes a  sales person successful. Being in sales, maybe more than anything else in business is often driven by relationships. And relationships are personal.

So, I thought I would offer some unsolicited advice to anyone feeling a bit apprehensive about making cold calls.

Jim Olen’s Top Ten Tips for Cold Calling

10.  Listen to music.
I hate silence.  I use music as a source of energy, and to remind myself to have fun and enjoy the call.  Sometimes I listen to my “Really Stupid” I-Tunes playlist that features Air Supply, Monty Python, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, and an assortment of one-hit wonders from the eighties.

9. Don’t sell. Build trust.
This is sometimes a hard thing for business owners to hear, because it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking success will come with that next job. I always preferred a steady diet of work verses a “one and done” sales scenario.  Maybe your company isn’t quite right for what the client needs at this moment, but remind them that you will be here when they need you. Take time to nurture the relationship and make it about the privilege of working with them rather than merely focusing on a particular project you are bidding.

8.  They need what you’ve got.
Remember, the people you’re calling will need the services you offer at some point.  You’re not cold calling some homeowner offering a deal on long distance services. If you represent a director, make the call knowing that the person on the other end of the line has influence hiring directors even if they don’t need one today.  It’s not like you’re trying to sell music to a package design firm, right?  If you are, it’s time to update your contact database.

7. Go ahead, leave a message.
It’s not the worst thing in the world to leave a message.  Make it quick and confident.  Be personable and professional and let them know how you want to proceed. Will you be calling them back tomorrow, following up with an email, or are you requesting that they return your call when it’s convenient? Be clear that you would actually like to have a conversation with them, so it doesn’t just feel like an obligatory call you can check off your list.

6.  The Soft Sell
The person on the other end of the phone is not going to give you a credit card number at the end of the conversation, so there is no reason to pressure them. Like I said earlier, a cold call should be a simple reminder of your company’s talents & resources. Let them know where to find you when the need arises.

5. The first date
In past columns, I’ve suggested looking at the sales position as if you were on a first date.  Be approachable, pleasant, and charming.  Represent the best you and your company.  Don’t try to accelerate the relationship.  You’re not going to get engaged after the first date, and most likely, you won’t get awarded a project after the first phone call. Let the client/vendor relationship take its course.

4. Change it up.
To keep up your energy and enthusiasm, change it up. Call an Art Director in Chicago and then a Copywriter in Kansas City.  Follow it up with a call to a potential client in New York.

3. Be confident.
Confidence is the key to engaging someone over the phone.  The services you’re offering are needed.  The people you represent are talented.  Pretend you’ve done this cold calling thing for years, and you are not intimidated.  It’s kind of like buying a case of beer when you’re underage.  You have to walk into the liquor store like you own the place, like you’ve done this a million times.  The clerk won’t sell you that case of Pabst Blue Ribbon if you look like this is your first time.  The client won’t have a conversation if you don’t sound confident.

2. Timing is everything.
Yes, there will most certainly be times when potential clients aren’t looking to have a conversation.  You might have interrupted their workflow. Be respectful – their time is valuable.

1. Tell the truth. Don’t over-sell.
The content of the cold call is the most important.  With an understanding of all that is listed above, don’t forget to mention your true intentions such as “I believe we offer a creative alternative” or “Our goal is to exceed your expectations.”

Well that’s it. Good luck. By the way, one note to the people on the receiving end of the cold call: Understand that we value your time. All we’re asking for is one minute. Literally 60 seconds to make you aware of what we can offer. Those 60 seconds can result in a mutually beneficial relationship for many years to come.

Does the Creative Industry ‘Like’ Facebook?

(originally published in Screen Magazine 5/23/12)

Facebook’s recent IPO has got me to thinking… Does Facebook have anything to offer the creative industry? I know the ad industry has jumped into the Facebook game; I saw a clever McDonald’s ad the other day. I didn’t click on it, but it made me think about getting a Big Mac, and that psychological temptation came true this afternoon. A Big Mac and fries called to me. I chased it down with an old fashioned McDonald’s hot fudge sundae.

But I digress, just because McDonald’s takes advantage of the social network, does that mean that the vendors who seek their business should as well?

I refer to Facebook as a type of maintenance marketing for the creative industry.

Just like getting your oil changed in your car, it’s important to post updates (from your company FB page) every other day. Consider these posts to be very brief press releases. Most of the folks reading this column have been sharing their company news for many years now, so this may not appear to be life-altering information. At least I hope it isn’t. But, where some shops fall short is using Facebook to offer up a little bit of your corporate personality.

Of course, this is only my opinion, but I think clients may choose to work with you because they like you. Help these clients “like” you by branding your shop with simple Facebook posts.

I see great examples of this everyday. Utopic is one creative facility that seems to be doing the Facebook thing right in my opinion. The updates coming out of there are funny, professional, creative, and resourceful. When reading Utopic’s posts, I can’t help but think that these same characteristics carry over to the staff and speak of their over-all talent.

Other shops choose only to post recent project information on Facebook. Again, I think that kind of an update is very important, but ultimately not enough.

This next paragraph might rub some people the wrong way, but since I’m on topic of the utilizing a company Facebook page, let me make one quick suggestion for personal pages as well (as it relates to good business); take a look at the friends you have on Facebook and count how many you consider clients, work colleagues, or professional contacts. Keep that number of friends in mind when writing your personal posts.

Understand that people who can engage in your services can read everything that you put up on Facebook, so a slight hint of professionalism, or at least common decency, is not a bad thing.

I also like to see senior staff members post about the company they work for every once and a while. Many corporations ask highly visible employees to champion the cause of their employer on Facebook. I agree with this whole-heartedly. I know someone who has a key role in Chicago’s creative community. He loves his job, and is very good at it. But you would never know this by reading his Facebook posts. This person has a hobby that he obviously is very passionate about, which is great. But the absence of work-related topics, suggest to me that his day job is just that. Again, I’m not suggesting that everyone should be all business all the time, or that each Facebook post should have marketing spin. But when you hold a key position at a company, keep in mind that at some level you are reflecting your employer’s brand and personality.

I’ll get off my high horse now.

A Facebook strategy has to be considered when discussing your company’s marketing plan. It’s a great (free) tool for building your brand. So keep up to date with your maintenance marketing, and share your corporate personality with the world.

The Company Morale Pie Chart

(originally published in Screen Magazine 5/16/12)

Company owners – let me ask you what may seem like odd questions. Would you bring in pie every Friday afternoon if you knew it made your employees happy? Would you buy employee’s T-Shirts emblazoned with dumb sayings like “Friday is Pie-day”, if all that pie camaraderie had a positive impact on company morale?

Is company morale even important these days when many, if not most employees are happy just to have a job at all?

Back in the day (which means something different to everyone, so let’s say mid 90’s), creative shops placed company morale near the top of their priority list. I’m wondering where it ranks now on any company’s priority list, or if it made the list at all.

Believe it or not, some companies (and of course the military) still list “Morale Officer” as an actual job title. I performed a quick search for this elusive “Morale Officer” position on Simply Hired, and my search resulted in zero opportunities. It appears this job function has been eliminated along with many other roles. I did find the word morale included in the essential functions of executive management positions though. Call me crazy, but I’m not sure if a CFO is the person best suited to inspire fun in the workplace. Then again, I know a very talented CFO named Jim Cowhey at Optimus (a Chicago creative services company), who would excel in the capacity of a morale officer, but I digress.

Back in 1992, my official job title was Shipping & Receiving Manager at Editel/Chicago, but it might as well have been Morale Officer. I helped organize our softball team, ran our NCAA pool, set-up and performed on our stage for a variety of events, and a little basketball game I started (with a crumpled up piece of newspaper) grew to become the annual Pig Tournament with a hundred or so clients and staff cheering on the final four competitors.

You see, I believe positive morale in the workplace can be accomplished with something as small as serving pie in the lunchroom on Fridays, to something larger, like taking all of your employees and their families to Hawaii for a week. Thanks Oprah! I had a great time.

There’s no question that a happy employee is a productive employee, but who is in charge of making sure employees are happy?

I think employees should be responsible for about 85% of their own happiness, and the employer should look out for the remaining 15%. Of course, that assumes both parties are relatively normal, respect one another, and enjoy their role in the organization.


pie chart

And by enjoy their role in the organization, I mean both the employer and employee should like their job to begin with. For example, when hiring a bookkeeper, I want to make sure that this person loves to reconcile accounts, can’t wait to prepare financial reports, and embraces payroll with an unbridled passion. Once I find this bookkeeper (which is not so easy) I assume that the 85% employee happy quota has been reached. Now all I have to do as the employer is hold up my end of the bargain, and sustain the happiness all around.

In other words, it’s my employee’s job to want to be at work. It’s my job to make sure they want to work for me.

So next time you are driving to the office, stop by and pick up some pie & ice cream. It can make a world of difference in the morale department. I recommend the Whole Foods apple pie. That’s good eatin’.

Do You Have A Road Map for Your Company?

(originally published in Screen Magazine 5/9/12)

Have you ever started out on a road trip with your family without a clue as to where you were headed? If the answer is yes, I have a follow up question. Are you there yet?

Have you ever started a business without setting some goals or knowing exactly what direction you were planning on taking? Again, if the answer is yes, are you there yet? In life or in business, if you don’t know where you’re going – or at least where you want to end up – you’re not very likely to get there.

I don’t want to take the fun out of running a creative shop, but how much planning and preparation have you done for your business? Many of you who own a small business (in the creative industry) embarked on a life of entrepreneurship because you were really good at your craft. Perhaps you were an editor with a few handfuls of loyal clients, and the time was right to head out on your own. Maybe you were a director with a fantastic gift for storytelling, and thought you would apply your trade in advertising. Either way, you started a company because you have a passion and a gift. But did you have a road map for success?

Clients have asked for my opinion on the best marketing techniques for their services, and I always respond, “It depends, what are the goals of your company?” Unfortunately, far too many creative shops don’t have a specific answer to that question. That wouldn’t have surprised me seven years ago when the creative industry and economy was a little brighter, but it does surprise me now. You see, there seemed to be plenty of business to go around back then for good companies who had great talent. The only thing many companies needed to worry about was how to produce the work, not how to get the work. As long as projects kept coming in, it didn’t seem necessary to outline a sense of direction for the company. Now, it seems more important than ever.

So how do you put together a road map for your business? First, understand the direction you want to take your company and try not to stray too far from your planned route. If your goal is to drive from California to Maine, there is no reason to stop off in Alabama. Your final destination is like your five-year goal for the company, so imagine yourself there and understand what is required to get you to that point. Annual goals are similar to a how many miles you want to drive in each leg of your trip. You can’t drive 3,200 miles in one day, nor can you expect to accomplish all your business goals in one year. Knowing where you want to be at the end of each year of business keeps you heading in the right direction. Every decision you make along the way can have an effect on your business goals, so keep that in mind on your travels. Don’t do anything unless there is a good reason to do so.

I once asked a student music producer why he added strings to his rock track. He responded, “I don’t know, just because.” I followed up with the following stern business lesson, “Well, that seems like a good reason. You had $1,000 to produce this song, and by your own admission, you ran out of money and couldn’t mix the song correctly because you spent so much money on string players? Now, you’re not sure why you added the strings to begin with? I don’t do anything unless there is a reason for it; regardless of how much money it costs. You shouldn’t be adding a tambourine track to a piece of music unless there is a need or reason for it.” Perhaps I was too hard on the lad, but he got the point.

Of course things will happen in business and in life that you can’t anticipate, so every once in a while you will have to divert your attention and change your priorities. But if at all possible, keep your goals/road map in the back of your mind, and get back on course as soon as you can.

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” Stephen A. Brennan

Staffing Up

My advice to employers:Don’t fall in love with your employees.

The first time I was going to hire someone, I made a list of everything I needed to “complete me.” Right or wrong, I thought hiring someone was the professional equivalent to getting married. I had these grand expectations that my new receptionist would be with my company forever. She would finish all my sentences, share my work ethic, and care about the success of my company as much as I did.

I learned these expectations were too high to place on an inexperienced staff person. I was essentially setting her up to fail. I fell in love with the idea of what an employee could bring to the table and was heartbroken when my expectations weren’t met.

After several years, I came to the simple conclusion that most employees use the employer to better their career and most employers use their employees to better their business. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s really a “win – win” for both parties. Everyone gets what they want – success. Knowing this helped me make better staffing decisions (meaning, decisions without emotion involved.) Your employees have a plan for their life and some sense of direction. That direction might include your company and might not. But if they don’t have a plan, maybe you shouldn’t hire them to begin with.

It’s up to you to make sure a potential employee’s plan and skill set is a good match for your needs and goals. Recently, fans of the Bulls have been complaining about Carlos Boozer’s defensive skills. Yes they’re sub-par, but I would remind everyone that he was brought in primarily for his offense and not his defensive abilities. I’m sure the Bulls management isn’t surprised or concerned with what they’ve seen. They’re getting exactly what they thought they would when they brought him on. It’s no different in the creative industry. Your new employees aren’t going to magically re-invent themselves simply because they’re working for you. So practice due diligence and interview as many qualified candidates as possible; just don’t over think it. Follow the same instincts that made you successful in the first place. Employees need to be difference makers regardless of their responsibilities. They need to make your company better and they should know this from the start. I’m guessing you didn’t start your business with the goal of being average.

My advice to employees: Take initiative and make a difference. Put yourself in your employer’s shoes, and know that they’ve made an investment in you and they’re expecting it to pay off. The money set aside to pay you could easily be going to pay down a loan, purchase new equipment, expand space, or many other things. Respect this fact, and work your butt off. Most importantly, make yourself invaluable. Put your employer in a position where they can’t live without you. Be so dynamic that any move they make, or are considering making, has to include you. Take advantage of every minute you’re there, and every resource at your disposal. That means instead of updating your Facebook page, try mastering a new piece of software. Expand your knowledge to other areas of the industry, work on your people skills, and contribute as much as you can to the company’s success.