Forty marketing professionals. Fifteen pots of coffee. A hundred new marketing ideas. All in just 24 hours, on zero sleep and at zero cost to the community. The WhiteSpace Creative 2013 CreateAthon was our largest, most substantial effort yet.
One agency re-branding three deserving nonprofits — the Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet, the Battered Women’s Shelter and the Victim’s Assistance Program — from the ground up.
In 2002, when WhiteSpace was a nine-person design shop wanting to give back to the community, we kicked off our first CreateAthon. The brainchild of a South Carolina-based firm, Riggs Partners, the National CreateAthon was a fledgling round-the-clock creative marathon providing pro bono marketing and communication services to nonprofit organizations.
In retrospect, our inaugural CreateAthon’s uncomplicated nature reflected WhiteSpace as an agency at the time. We were just four designers, two account executives, a copywriter, an office manager and an intern producing a few modest communication materials.
Growth in size and ability
In the 12 years since that premier event, WhiteSpace has grown substantially in both size and ability. As our agency has evolved, so has our approach to CreateAthon. Getting bigger meant we could make a bigger impact.
Sure, increasing the number of nonprofits and projects also increased our stress level. Heads banging on keyboards at 1 a.m. Brisk walks through downtown Akron at 2 a.m. Adult beverages uncapped around 5 a.m.
It also added to our degree of satisfaction. Early on Friday morning, when we finally revealed our projects to the nonprofits, we got more heads nodding with approval. More smiles. More tears of appreciation.
To date, the WhiteSpace CreateAthon has benefited more than 100 nonprofit organizations throughout Northeast Ohio. That’s more than 300 projects — valued at more than half a million dollars — making a difference for thousands of people throughout the region.
Over the past two years, the WhiteSpace CreateAthon has morphed into an Extreme Brand Makeover competition where nonprofits compete for a branding “package” valued at more than $25,000. It’s another reflection of our company’s restructuring. Rather than producing individual projects for our clients, WhiteSpace — as an agency and for CreateAthon — is immersed in developing integrated programs.
You don’t have to outgrow the concept
CreateAthon is a perfect example of how a company doesn’t have to outgrow a concept. Yes, WhiteSpace has changed significantly over the past 12 years, but the important things have remained the same. Last September, as the sun began to rise and signaled the end of our 12th CreateAthon event, I looked around at the 40 WhiteSpace employees wearing sweats, baseball caps and slippers in place of their pressed pants, ties and heels. These are people who not only gave up sleep, but precious time with their families. I realized then, that whatever our size, it’s WhiteSpace’s commitment to attracting others who share the belief that “it’s not what you get; it’s what you give” that keeps us successful.
As WhiteSpace — and CreateAthon — continue to grow, I can’t help but think how fortunate I am to have gathered this exceptional group of talent that cares about the extra things we do as a company, that cares about each other, that cares about the long-term success of our clients and, especially, cares about our community. Even at 3 a.m. ●
Keeven White is the president and CEO of WhiteSpace Creative. He openly shares his expertise and experience with the community through a variety of speaking engagements and has been recognized for his business, creative and community service efforts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.whitespace-creative.com.
It’s safe to say that individuals are more likely to do business with organizations they trust. With that in mind, establishing and preserving a good name is critical to the long-term success of any organization.
In my book “Trust Is The Tie-Breaker” I provide checklists, step-by-step instructions and real-world examples organizations need to succeed. Here are the three cornerstones to building a good name for your organization.
Ask tough questions
Reputation building starts with asking tough questions and insisting on truthful answers. Here is a partial list of questions you should be asking:
- Are you getting and keeping the customers you really need?
- Are you able to recruit and retain excellent employees?
- Are you creating important new relationships on a regular basis?
- Is your business growing at the rate it should?
- Do stakeholders know what makes you distinctive?
- Do you really care about stakeholders in ways they understand and appreciate?
- Do you have vulnerabilities that need to be fixed before they blow up into a crisis?
- Do your company’s actions match its words?
- Do you give people reasons to trust?
If a good reputation is on your wish list, ask the tough questions and get the right people in the room to help answer them. Then, implement an improvement agenda.
Focus on the relationships that matter
Every company has 10 or 20 key relationships. It’s never a big number, but it’s the people who can make or break your enterprise. Their impact on your company’s reputation is huge.
Keep them current. Ask for their advice. Track those relationships. Provide lots of TLC along the way. Be upfront with those key relationships when there is a problem or an issue. Never, ever surprise them. Whether the news is good or bad, they need to hear it from you first.
Set the bar high
What goal is higher than wanting to be the organization of choice?
That starts with establishing your organization as distinctive in ways that mean something to your stakeholders.
You can achieve distinctiveness in the workplace when you encourage a culture that values teamwork or which constantly reinforces the expectation of high ethical standards.
You can achieve distinctiveness with customers by constant repetition of actions that place their interests ahead of yours or by services that are truly easy to navigate.
Almost without exception, organizations can identify distinctiveness and those that can’t do so today can identify potential to reach that goal tomorrow.
Define what your organization does really well. Make sure everyone reinforces that distinctiveness in ways that address benefits to others. ●
Davis Young is the principal of DY Author & Speaker LLC and is the author of “Trust is the Tiebreaker,” an e-book published by Smart Business Network, currently on www.amazon.com. Contact Young at (440) 248-9550 or Dysolon@aol.com.
The idea of driving aimlessly seems glamorous in movies and songs. In reality, few of us get in a car without knowing how to reach our destination. We’ve created smartphone apps, GPS devices and satellite mapping to make our trips as efficient as possible and to avoid what we know to be an inconvenient, expensive outcome — getting lost.
I bring up this idea because many companies using social media have inadvertently become lost drivers. They start using social platforms with the goal of reaching some number of likes, retweets or shares, but as they embark on their social media strategies, many experience a disconnect between the content they post, blog and tweet and their progress on measurable business goals. These companies are driving without a roadmap; they just don’t know it.
Sound familiar? If social media isn’t working for you, your social media approaches may be missing a fundamental component: an effective content strategy. Here are three ways a solid content strategy will enhance your company’s social media success.
A like is just a like
All social media engagement is not created equally. To be successful, the social media activity that you generate needs to support your marketing goals — whether you want to improve employee engagement, boost customer conversions or build interest in a new product.
Creating a content strategy before you engage in social media will help your business clarify the specific marketing goals you want to achieve through content, as well as what messages you need to communicate to reach those goals. This process will ensure you get the right likes, shares and retweets from social interactions.
Social is a vehicle
Social media is a vehicle for sharing compelling content with your audience, and it doesn’t work if you don’t know what issues, topics and trends your audience finds compelling. Part of developing a content strategy involves learning how those you are trying to reach want to be talked to. Where do they go for information? How much time do they spend online? What kind of content are they looking for from your industry?
By getting to know the interests and pain points of your audience (customers, employees, shareholders, etc.), you can develop tactics to reach your online audience more effectively, saving you time and enhancing your company’s social influence.
Relevant content is meaningful
Kings of social content don’t become that way by luck. They use strategic tactics to connect with their audience through the right channels at the right times. More importantly, they make these connections meaningful and memorable by posting and sharing strategic, relevant content that their audiences desire.
When you deliver social content that your audience members find valuable or interesting, they’ll reward you by sharing your content, engaging with your business and, ideally, helping to promote your reputation as a thought leader in your business or industry. A content strategy allows you to do that by providing a roadmap for what kinds of informative, helpful, educational or creative content you need to make meaningful interactions.
As a recent Huffington Post article put it, the golden rule of the web is clear: “To know us better is to sell us better.” Ultimately, being successful in the social media space means taking the time to map out what success looks like. In this sense, a solid content strategy is not only an important component of any social media strategy, it’s the key to driving the results your business wants.
Michael Marzec is chief strategy officer of Smart Business and SBN Interactive. Reach him at email@example.com or (440) 250-7078.
When Albert “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap was the CEO at Sunbeam in the late ’90s, he had a reputation for ruthlessness. Besides massively downsizing the company, he was also known to intimidate everyone around him and resort to yelling and fist pounding.
While extreme, Dunlap’s behavior is an example of the type of “dictator” leadership that used to be fairly common in the C-suite. Rules were rules, there were no exceptions for anything and people were just a line item on a budget. Need to cut thousands of jobs? Don’t think twice about it.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Christ-like leader. This leader focuses more on building people up rather than tearing them down. This type of leader understands that there are rules, but sometimes to do the right thing, the rules need to be broken. For example, during the economic downturn, some Christ-like leaders went well beyond what was called for to make sure laid-off employees were taken care of.
They made sure they had the use of office resources to look for a new job and did everything they could to lessen the hardships. They weren’t required to do this; it was just the right thing to do. They saw employees as human, not just numbers on a spreadsheet.
Does it cost money to take the more humane route with your leadership? Yes and no. From a short-term, bottom-line perspective, it probably does cost a few more dollars to help people through a hardship. But long term, it can pay dividends. By treating people with respect and doing the right thing, it helps eliminate animosity toward you and your company from both the ex-employees and current ones. Maybe there are some good employees who you wanted to keep, but couldn’t afford. By showing compassion, when the economy turned around, they were far more likely to consider coming back than if they had just been shown the door with little regard to their well-being.
And what happens when these ex-employees end up in key positions in companies that could be customers? Do you think an ex-employee who you mistreated is going to buy anything from you or recommend your company to someone? It’s a small world, and what goes around often comes around, so it’s always best to treat people as best you can.
You can lead like a dictator and still get results. But do the ends justify the means? Will you conquer all, only to find yourself alone with no friends, the equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol?” Or will you have an epiphany and realize there’s a better way to do things?
During this holiday season, think about your leadership style and the long-term effect it has on people’s lives. If this exercise makes you uncomfortable, then maybe it’s time to change how you lead. ●
What would it take for a company to succeed if its leader could effectively do only one of the following: innovate, instigate or administrate? We all know that an innovator is the one who sees things that aren’t and asks why not? The instigator sees things that are and asks why? The administrator doesn’t necessarily ask profound questions but, instead, is dogged about crossing the “t’s,” dotting the “i’s” and making sure that whatever is supposed to happen happens.
Ideally, a top leader combines all three traits while being charismatic, intellectual, pragmatic and able to make decisions faster than a speeding bullet. Although some of us might fantasize that we are Superman or Superwoman, with a sense of exaggerated omnipotence, the bubble usually bursts when we’re confronted simultaneously with multiple situations that require the versatility of a Swiss army knife.
Business leaders come in all shapes and sizes with various skill sets and styles that are invaluable, depending on the priorities of a company at any given point in time.
Every business needs an innovator to differentiate the company. Without a unique something or other, there isn’t a compelling reason to exist. Once those special products or services that distinguish the business from others are discovered and in place, it takes an instigator to continuously re-examine and challenge every aspect of the business that leads to continued improvements, both functionally and economically. It also takes an administrator — someone who can keep all the balls in the air, ensuring that everyone in the organization is in sync and delivering the finished products as promised to keep customers coming back.
As politicians and pundits of all types have pounded into our heads in recent years, “It takes a village to raise a child.” All who practice the art and science of business have learned that, instead of a village, it takes a diverse team working together to make one plus one equal three.
On the ideal team, each member possesses different strengths, contributing to the greater good. The exceptional leader is best when he or she is an effective chef who knows how to mix the different skills together to create a winning recipe.
In many companies, however, leaders tend to surround themselves with clones who share similar abilities, interests and backgrounds. As an example, a manufacturer may have a management team comprised solely of engineers, or a marketing organization could have salespeople who came up through the ranks calling all the shots.
If everyone in an organization comes from the same mold, what tends to happen is, figuratively, one lies and the others swear to it. This builds to a crescendo of complacency and perpetual mediocrity.
There is a better way. Good leaders surround themselves with others who complement their capabilities, and savvy leaders select those with dramatically different backgrounds who will challenge their thinking because they’re not carbon copies of the boss. This opens new horizons, forges breakthroughs and leads to optimal daily performance.
Strange bedfellows can stimulate, nudge and keep each other moving toward the previously unexplored.
To have a sustainable and effective organization, you can’t have one type without all the others. While everyone on the team may not always agree, each player must always be committed to making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
The single most important skill of the leader who has to pull all the pieces and parts together is to have the versatility of that Swiss army knife — selecting the precise tool to accomplish the objective at hand. ●
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More than 800 years ago, medieval philosopher Maimonides outlined eight levels of charity, the greatest of which was supporting an individual in such a way that he or she becomes independent. In Maimonides’ view, support was defined as a gift or loan, entering into a partnership or simply helping that person find employment.
Few things are more powerful than philanthropy — especially when its end goal is to better the lives of others. These days, philanthropy, and corporate philanthropy specifically, has assumed a broader role in society.
Today, companies give back more strategically than ever before. They align themselves with nonprofits that foster missions they believe in. The wealthiest people on the planet have even coordinated the Giving Pledge (www.givingpledge.org), where they’ve committed to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.
At last count, more than 115 people had taken the pledge. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates may be the most prominent names on the list, but others include Spanx Founder Sara Blakely, Cavs Owner Dan Gilbert, Progressive’s Peter Lewis and Netflix Founder Reed Hastings.
Last month, one member, David Rubenstein, CEO and co-founder of The Carlyle Group, discussed the importance of philanthropy during a presentation at EY’s 2013 Strategic Growth Forum.
In his pledge letter, Rubenstein explains why: “I recognize to have any significant impact on an organization or cause, one must concentrate resources, and make transformative gifts — and to be involved in making certain those gifts actually transform in a positive way.”
One way Rubenstein is being transformative is through “Patriotic Philanthropy.” He has given $10 million to help restore President Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home and underwrote renovations to the historic Washington Monument. Yet Rubenstein’s most noteworthy initiative is the whopping $23 million to acquire a rare copy of the Magna Carta, ensuring it remained in the United States. After its purchase, Rubenstein gifted it to the National Archives.
Not everyone has Rubenstein’s vast resources. But every organization and any individual can make their own impact.
In the workplace, for example, organizations that give back elevate their status perception-wise among competitors and peers. It doesn’t take much. But by being a company that cares, prospective employees want to work for you. For your existing team, deliberate and well-organized corporate philanthropy programs quickly take on a life of their own, becoming a rallying point.
Think strategically and get started by finding your cause. We all have them. They exist at our very core, forming the belief system we live by every day. So why shouldn’t our philanthropy follow that same course? Consider aligning your giving or volunteerism with something you personally believe in or care about; something that fits with what your company does or something that is close to your employees’ hearts.
Most important, get involved and just make a difference. It really comes down to that. One initiative that has always impressed me has been the annual CreateAthon event undertaken by WhiteSpace Creative, a member of the Pillar Award class of 2005. You can read a first-hand account of this year’s program here.
Being a good corporate citizen goes well beyond making good business sense. When you align yourself with causes you care about, whether big or small, you make a difference in someone’s life. And the bottom line is this: It is all of our duties to get involved. It’s no longer a question of if, but rather of what, when and how. ●
Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business. Reach him at email@example.com or (440) 250-7026.
Have you ever watched a flock of geese soar through the air? Their synchronized patterns help them conserve energy, communicate and keep track of one another. Understanding and adhering to their patterns is a critical part of their survival.
If you are managing people, you have a lot in common with a flock of geese. On a daily basis you are faced with the challenge of synchronizing your team with the objectives of your business. Making sure that everyone puts forth the right amount of energy, understands corporate objectives and executes according to plan requires constant adherence to a preset pattern.
Determining the pattern is important and requires a lot of thought and discussion. Once the pattern is decided, you can achieve alignment throughout your organization by ensuring that department and individual goals, job descriptions and evaluation tools lineup with the corporate pattern.
Decide the time to start
If you are entering the final year-end quarter, then this is the perfect time to begin this process. Talk with your team about the objectives and goals of your department or business. If you don’t have objectives or goals, then you’ll need to create them. One thing to keep in mind is that objectives are a set of words and goals are a set of numbers.
For example, two objectives for my business include profitable growth and diversification of our revenue base. Our goals include our projected revenue and profit numbers for each line of our business. We also break down our customer base and set numeric goals for each line of business.
Once we’ve set our objectives and goals, we move on to developing strategies and metrics. Similar to the objectives and goals, strategies are comprised of words and metrics are comprised of numbers. Strategies should include important elements such as where the firm will target business and what products or services the firm will offer. Market segments and target audiences should be identified as well as geographic ranges.
The strategy section is also a good spot to determine where the firm will not do business. A few examples of strategic initiatives from my business include activities that drive toward profitable growth, our ability to manage resources, organizational effectiveness and customer satisfaction.
For instance, one of the strategies under our profitable growth initiatives includes developing and implementing a targeted commercial growth plan focused on attracting organizations conducting infectious disease research.
Develop a plan
This plan can be developed for one to three years or more. We focus our firm on a three-year period and fit the plan to one page. The process of developing and fine-tuning the plan takes a few months and should include the involvement of all senior management.
When the senior leadership has signed off on the plan, then each department should develop annual goals that align with the plan. Personnel within each department should work with their managers to develop individual goals that align with their department goals.
Personnel evaluations and bonus plans should incorporate these individual, department and corporate goals thus integrating the plan throughout the organization. Routine monthly or quarterly assessments and opportunity for communication should be scheduled to ensure that everyone remains focused on the corporate plan.
Adhering to this framework should result in a synchronized team that pulls together in the same direction.
Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why do more than 38,000 U.S. businesses go bankrupt each year? Obviously filing for bankruptcy wasn’t management’s aim.
Management in these companies simply allowed the “wrong things” to happen. These wrong things represent problems that have been allowed to fester, persist and multiply. As the problems went unrecognized and unresolved, they compromised carrying out essential activities, increased expenses and eroded profits. Eventually these unaddressed problems caused the business to go bankrupt.
Understand the problems
But why can’t management effectively solve problems? Ironically, in most cases, actually solving problems is not the issue. Instead, the challenge for management is to recognize the problems and understand what they are. Once problems are identified and understood, management is in a position to solve them. As George Washington often liked to say: “Errors once discovered are more than half amended.”
So what is it that makes identifying and understanding problems challenging? Management either lacks or fails to use the fundamental managing disciplines that would allow it to do so. These disciplines make effective managing possible. If practicing these management disciplines is so essential why aren’t they universally practiced?
To answer this question, consider a 19th century military theorist named Carl Von Clausewitz who observed, “Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.”
The same is true of management. Although simple disciplines make up the practice of management, actually carrying out these disciplines is difficult. This is because difficulties arise and accumulate, producing a kind of friction or inertia that cause the disciplines not to be practiced. When this happens, managers and their organization stumble along in frustration and failure as problems go unidentified and unresolved.
Consider the why factors
There are three main reasons for the disciplines not to be practiced. The first reason is that many managers do not know that there are seven learned disciplines of management that, through practice, are essential to their effectiveness and success. Therefore the disciplines are neglected.
The second reason is the seven learned disciplines of management are not practically understood — management does not know how to use them. Consequently the disciplines are misused.
The third reason is that management does not practice the management disciplines systematically. As a result, the disciplines are not practiced constantly and consistently.
The seven fundamental management disciplines include planning, organizing, measuring performance, executing, following-up, real-time reporting and problem-solving. Each discipline is impactful, and all are indispensable. Their practice is the best way to understand what effective management does.
How can I be so certain these management disciplines are the secret to management’s success? Because I use them in my work as a turnaround specialist — I’ve helped turn around 28 underperforming and troubled companies (from large Fortune 500 companies to smaller public and private organizations).
When these disciplines were deployed an amazing change took place. The same managers who had wallowed in mediocrity and failure now formed the nucleus of a successful turnaround as they used the management disciplines to make the right things happen.
Fortunately, each of these seven management disciplines can be learned and can empower your management effectiveness.
Jim Burkett is president of Corporate Turnaround Consulting Inc. and author of “The Learned Disciplines of Management: How to Make the
Right Things Happen.” Contact him at
Imagine a potential customer walking into a retailer such as an automotive parts store, home improvement center, etc. Now, the customer walks in the door feeling excited, anxious and a bit overwhelmed by the bombardment of information. He or she may need guidance from an associate to help make sense of it all in order to make the best decision possible. Will your start-to-finish shopper marketing seal the deal? Will you gain one more loyal customer for your brand?
Today, customers are dictating when, where and how they buy. The traditional sales process has become complex, with shoppers bouncing back and forth between the Internet, stores, family, friends and customer reviews. Brands need to engage and listen to their customers. Think about the shopper’s needs first and then see where the brand can be inserted along the path to purchase.
Doing so will help improve conversion rates, accelerate the buying process and reduce customer service requests. Ultimately, these benefits will lead to what we’re all after — customer loyalty, positive brand image and advocacy.
Gain an understanding
Understanding shopper wants, needs and motivations is critical to shopper marketing success. In order to put the shopper first, the brand must first understand that there isn’t just one path to purchase.
Shoppers will research, plan and shop all before they set foot in the store. Making the brand not only accessible via every medium, but consistent across all channels will help the brand fare well in the eyes of the shopper.
Work hard to collaborate with the retailer for maximum impact on shopper experience. Create packaging and point of sale that is easier to understand, not only for the shopper but for the retailer and sales associates. Use QR codes, concise information and helpful resources for easily accessible information. The point of sale system should be easy for both the shopper and sales associate.
Envision a scenario
Again, imagine customers walking into that store. This time, you have thought about their needs first, you know their motivations and have been available to them on all channels of media.
You have taken into account the whole shopping experience and have made it easy for them to make a decision by providing comprehensive, accurate and consistent information. The necessary collaboration between manufacturer and retailer has been made and you have tested, measured and optimized your resources for the best shopper experience possible.
One of Hitchcock, Fleming & Associates’ automotive clients, for example, was seeking guidance on how to improve shopper marketing ROI and better educate sales associates. We implemented a plan for sales associates to carry tablets to enhance the in-store buying experience. The tablet was a simple way for both the associate and shopper to answer a series of qualifying questions and pick the best product.
As a result, more associates began requesting tablets, content offering increased by 70 percent and nearly 80 percent of tablets distributed are actively used each month. We made the decision process easier by understanding the shopper’s perspective.
Inserting your brand into the shopping path will help keep the brand in the shopper’s mind, ultimately creating the sought-after effect — customer loyalty, positive brand image and advocacy. This process can be challenging but done properly can be beneficial to the sustainability of an entire brand. ●
Dale Elwell is vice president, account service, at Hitchcock, Fleming & Associates. From product launches to brand positioning, he has a broad experience base that allows him to be versatile and adaptable in helping clients reach their marketing and communications goals. For more information, visit www.teamhfa.com.