The Wild West – Part II

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

About seven months ago, I wrote a little blurb about how the creative industry was starting to look like the Wild West. The thinking behind that article was that If you want success you have to go out and claim it. Nothing will be handed to you. There is no map or trail that will guide those working in the creative industry. You have to draw up your own map.

I love history, and I often wish I lived in the Wild West. It must have been pretty scary for those early settlers, but exciting at the same time. But can you imagine if everything had already been established, lines drawn, and then erased? That is where we are now.

Twenty years ago, everything was clearly defined. Advertising agencies provided specific services, event agencies played a defined role, PR firms applied their trade, and marketing shops tied up all the loose ends. Back then, talent agencies and their famous acting clients didn’t really concern themselves with the advertising world, because there were bigger fish to fry. Recording artists were considered “sell-outs” if they collaborated with a brand, and no one was talking about product placement or interactive agencies back then.

Everything was right with the world. Or was it?

I currently hold a position that didn’t exist twenty years ago. If I told my high-school guidance counselor that I wanted to be a Director of Branded Entertainment when I grew up, he would have said, “Really? What the hell is that?”

So I’d like to expand my Wild West analogy to include the entire entertainment industry. That’s right, I’m here to officially announce that we are all working in one big industry called the entertainment business. In fact, I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome those working in the direct mail sector, as well.

Seriously. Everything is a part of everything now. TV networks are looking to include interactive and potential branding components. Record company execs are talking about how to best brand their artists. Event agencies are producing some of the most visually creative work out there. Interactive agencies are taking the lead on many campaigns. Dogs and cats, living together – it’s mass hysteria!

But don’t let all this change scare you. In fact, embrace it. I think it’s great for everyone involved – especially the brand. Where others may see a duplication of service, I see a creative challenge. Exceed expectations on this assignment, and you’ll get another one. Earn the client’s trust in one discipline, and the door will open to another. But the key is this. If you put yourself out there and offer services that you haven’t offered before, you better be good at it. You better be ready to perform beyond the level that everyone has come to expect. You better improve on client relationship skills, and not just execute the boards. You better be prepared to live up to – and exceed – all of those promises. Because if you don’t, there is someone else out there that’s expanding their services to include your specialty. The Wild West just keeps getting wilder.

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.

Redefining Job Responsibilities {slash} The Employee Hybrid

(originally published in Screen Magazine 4/18/12)

Help Wanted: 
 I’m looking to hire a Director who also has mad editing skills.
 This person should be very capable working in After Effects, Cinema 4D, and Photoshop. He or she must have experience writing and producing creative content. This individual should be able to manage the financial aspects of projects and prepare all necessary Quickbooks and Excel reports. A working knowledge of Pro-Tools would be appreciated, and of course you should be able to speak at least four languages, fluently.

Although this ad is completely made up, it’s not too far from the truth. There seems to be a shift in the creative industry where employees are expected to do more by expanding their individual capabilities, and help employers get through these rough economic times by adding a {slash} to their job title.

Yes, the {slash} has become the most important piece of punctuation in the creative industry. I think it can be both good news and bad news.

The good news is:

• Employers might be able to save money by merging responsibilities.
• Clients can contract one creative person to perform two traditional services.
• It’s obviously easier to start a company with less upfront expense. If your Executive Producer can also be responsible for all things Quickbooks, you can hold off on that hire.

The bad news is:

• Qualified candidates have less of an opportunity to get hired.
• Focusing on two jobs might water down the employees’ core strengths.
• Clients could get short-changed in an attempt to save money.

Recently, I responded to a client’s concerns about his company’s productivity by suggesting he follow this industry trend. Can your receptionist help the marketing department when she is not busy? Can you reduce your IT maintenance costs by giving a raise to an assistant who has shown interest in that area?

So, if you’re considering bringing on new staff members or want to increase productivity with your existing staff, think about the implementing the {slash}. The new employee hybrid is all the rage.

Jim Olen – Consultant/Executive Producer/Business Developer/Columnist/Neil Diamond Impersonator