Self-promotion Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007

Why is it that otherwise productive and creative executives are often dismal at marketing their own ideas or accomplishments? These business pros can do a credible marketing job for others but not for their team or for themselves. The reality is that many executives’ communications, self-marketing and spins often miss the mark and do not connect with their intended audience. It’s akin to flirting in the dark — if the other person doesn’t see you, then you’re not flirting.

There is nothing insidious, egomaniacal or inappropriate about letting others know what you do well, how you do it and why you’re doing it. I am not talking about shameless self-promotion or shallow boast-and-brag assertions.

Instead, substantive communications are the cornerstones of our free enterprise system. The positive effects of advertising, marketing and communications — not only on educating consumers but also on ultimately improving goods and services — have been proven. As more people become aware of something, that awareness breeds competition and forces the originator to continue to make it better, leading to improved efficiencies.

Henry Ford knew the drill well when he launched the first Model T in any color as long as it was black. Shortly thereafter, the spectrum of available colors covered the rainbow.

The creators of the likes of the iPod or Smart Phones have improved on this lesson, fine-tuning these products through further innovation, combined with communicating their increased attributes and creating demand, resulting in these items being used across all age and economic boundaries.

But what about marketing your own ideas? The streets are littered with good concepts created by clever people, concepts that never got out of the starting block because the promoters didn’t have a clue how to get attention focused on their undertaking.

There are some basics to creating a buzz, garnering attention and getting things moving. Whether you want to raise money for a business idea, get credit for something your team has achieved, or simply make sure your boss knows you’re the next best thing since sliced bread, the process is essentially the same.

Whatever you’re promoting must have substance, be fact-based and deliver on your promise, from a solution that solves a problem to that great “whatever” that the world just can’t live without. It has to be credible, and it has to be true. The next step is to make sure others know about it. In real estate, the three keys to success are location, location, location. Similarly, in marketing, it is communication, communication, communication.

Communication is limited only by your imagination. It can include simply telling someone of influence something that no one else knows. Tell the person to keep this news quiet, which will almost always ensure that the very next person he or she encounters will immediately hear your story, followed by, “This is very confidential, so don’t say a word.”

This applies to communicating what you’ve done or discovered to one person, all the way to wearing a sandwich board sign at a freeway exit. It’s all about communication that starts with a whisper and builds to a shout.

It quickly gains momentum, size and scope with each revolution. But there are two important caveats: You can’t bore people, and you have to make whatever you’re saying new — it must be news.

The Holy Grail of effective communication is creating attention, interest, desire and action. This formula is self-explanatory, but few follow this tried-and-true methodology.

If you don’t get people’s attention, you’ll never get them interested. If they’re not interested, how will they ever have desire? Finally, without successfully crossing these first three hurdles, they’ll never take any action, and you’ll be flirting in the dark.

But don’t get carried away. Never, and I mean never, fall in love with your own spin. A little can go a long way.

Creating new news about moi cannot occur on a daily basis. Pick your spot before you communicate, and make sure the subject matter will further your cause.

If you want to be recognized as a subject matter expert, improve your credibility or get backing for a new idea, you must stop doing business in the dark, or your ideas will never see the light of day.

MICHAEL FEUER is co-founder of OfficeMax, which he started in 1988 with one store and $20,000 of his own money, along with a then-partner and group of private investors. During 16 years as CEO, he grew the company to almost 1,000 stores with sales approximating $5 billion before selling it for almost $1.5 billion in 2003 to Boise Cascade Corp. In 2004, Feuer launched another start-up, Max-Ventures, a venture capital operating firm that focuses on buying control and/or making substantial investments in retail-oriented businesses and businesses that serve retail. Reach Feuer with comments at