All posts by Brian Harrison

Signs of Recovery

These days, everyone is looking for some sign of recovery, indications that we may have turned the corner, or other signs of light at the end of the tunnel.

They’re looking in all sorts of different places — the stock market, housing, advertising, crystal balls, you name it.

Sure, you could follow the latest Gallup Poll data, or an assortment of economic indicators as your guide.  Or, you could track trends in the stock market for signs of sustained growth.  Prices on commodities such as copper, nickel and aluminum have also been mentioned as a barometer for recession and recovery.

And for a lot of people, those work just fine.

But I take a simpler approach:  Signs of recovery can be judged by the business at local restaurants.  How busy are they?  How full (or empty) are their parking lots on a given evening.  And most importantly, are they hiring?

The hiring question could ultimately serve as the single-best gauge.  Working through the entire scenario:  A restaurant will start hiring, either for their front-of-house (service) staff or their back-of-house (kitchen) staff when their business has picked up to the point that they can no longer effectively serve their existing customers.  That is the sign that their business has increased, which means that either 1) existing customers are spending more or 2) their number of customers / volume has increased.  Either way, it’s a sign that the purse-strings have loosened at the individual level.

How is this different than other indicators?  Mainly, it’s a sign of spending at the individual, not institutional level.  Stock markets, housing, and financial markets, among others provide a view of institutional spending.  Home and vehicle sales, for example, are still controlled by the lending institutions, and spending, or a lack of, is at their discretion.

Conversely, restaurant spending is controlled at the individual level, and is a sign that money has once again returned to you and your neighbors, who are confident enough to spend more freely.

This would, no doubt, be classified as a qualitative sign, rather than the more qualitative indicators, and may very well be an oversimplification.  But it’s also a matter of common sense.

And sometimes, a little common sense goes a long ways.

Differences Between Managers and Leaders

File this one in ‘Today’s Random Thoughts’

There are those that use the terms Manager and Leader interchangeably, but there are dramatic differences.

A Manager is one who sees chaos around them, and tries to control it.  They try to quell the uprising, and maintain the status-quo.  They’re the ones who will do everything they can to make sure that the machine keeps running.

A Leader is one who looks at that same chaos and tries to harness it.  Instead of simply keeping the machine running, they encourage those around them to tear it apart and build something better. 

A Manager wants to keep control.

A Leader wants to give control to those who are ready for it.

The list could go on and on, but we’ll stop there for now.

The question is: Which are you?  Or, which do you want to be—a Manager or a Leader?

Internal Culture and its Effect on Your Brand

Recently I came across an article on from Morgan Daloisio, a manager with CMG Partners, discussing the impact that a company’s internal culture and organization can have on the brand.

A few excerpts from the article, Build Your Brand From the Inside Out:

Employees have the power to either reinforce or break a brand’s promise every time they interact with a customer, shareholder or even another employee. Because of that, you can’t build and sustain a strong brand externally if you don’t start with your employees, building your brand from the inside out.

Engaging employees with your brand can be just as challenging as engaging customers, but the three lessons below will form the foundation you need to start branding from the inside out.

Lesson 1: It’s more than just posters in the hallways

Lesson 2: Brand + HR, new best friends

Lesson 3: Internal communications is your lifeline

Take the time to read the entire article.  Morgan provides a number of great insights that can be applied to clients across the board.

New Work: Idaho Ad Agencies Blog

The Idaho Ad Agencies blog made its debut in March of 2006 as a way to keep up with the happenings in and around the agency world in Idaho. Since that time, it’s readership grew steadily, and it had outgrown the limitations of its existing platform.

Almost Live Productions migrated the entire site from the Blogger-hosted platform to a self-hosted WordPress platform. This allowed a number of new additions to be made, including specific sections exclusively for:

Feedback for this latest version of the Idaho Ad Agencies blog has been extremely positive, and traffic to the site has been reflective of that attitude as well.  A ten-day comparison of traffic prior to the launch of the new site, and following the launch yielded the following insights:

  • Total Visits:  Up 48%
  • Total Pageviews:  Up 136%
  • Pages per Visit:  Up 59%
  • Bounce Rate:  Down 28%
  • Average Time on Site:  Up 94%
  • New Visits:  Up 46%

The Idaho Ad Agencies blog continues to be viewed as the source for information about the marketing, advertising, and communications world in Idaho.  These latest changes help to ensure that it will remain that way, while giving the additional functionality needed to grow into the future.

State of the Industry: Marketing, Advertising and Communications in Idaho

Originally published in the Idaho Business Review, March 2, 2009

No one is safe.

That’s the popular opinion in the marketing, advertising and communications industry.  Dire news pours out of trade publications such as Adweek and Ad Age on a weekly basis.  Slashing budgets and cutting costs are necessities in today’s business marketplace.

And the layoffs. Oh the layoffs.  Will they ever end?

Enough already.

So, with the doom and gloom out of the way, let’s take a practical look at the industry, the year that was, and what to expect in the months and years to come.
For most, 2008 began with a certain degree of promise.  Agencies were hiring around the state, and the war for talent was in full effect.  By summer, however, new job listings had tapered off, and the frequency of new hire announcements slowed to a trickle.  As summer turned to fall, word of cuts throughout the local marketing, communications and media world began to spread.  Those cuts, by most accounts, were necessary steps to ensure the long-term viability of the respective businesses.  They weren’t easy decisions.  They never are.

The only constant is change.

Business relationships have also evolved over the past year.  “Clients are looking at their budgets much closer” says Lou Perlaky, Vice President of Client Services at Noot Group in Boise.  “They’re looking to get the best value, and the best return on investment.”  Perlakyalso notes that clients are asking better questions, and are more actively involved in the creative process than ever before.  “They’re much more concerned about how their money is going to be spent.”

That sentiment is echoed by Jeff Nielsen, President of Davies Rourke in Boise.  “Everybody is working smarter – more frugally” he says.  “Clients are looking for more value for their dollar, and reassurance that they money is being spent efficiently.”

These changes are not unique to the Treasure Valley.  In Northern Idaho, the story is much the same.  “Mid year was when the hit was felt for Salty” says Jeff Sutherland, Owner of Salty Design Foundry in Coeur d’Alene.  The shop, whose work has been featured in HOW magazine recently, has been adjusting to the changes in their business.  “It gave Salty the opportunity to focus on new client prospects and keep moving forward on finding clients that understand the importance of what we do” says Sutherland.

Agencies aren’t the only ones who have been impacted.  Media has had to adapt as well.  “Consumers are putting off purchasing big ticket items, but they’re still spending” says Greg Giersch, General Sales Manager at Journal Broadcast Group.  Those delays in purchasing, in turn, effect the advertisers with whom Giersch and his staff work.  “We’ve had a few larger advertisers who havecut their advertising dollars, and it takes about five smaller advertisers to fill the void left by a larger one.”  But Giersch is quick to point out that the Treasure Valley still has a vibrant business community, and even today, small businesses see the value in marketing and advertising.

Looking toward the future.

Conventional wisdom says that the tide will eventually turn, and business will once again pick up.  In the mean time, however, those in this, and other professional service industries, are forced to adapt as needed.  For some, that means narrowing the focus of their services, and sticking with the tried-and-true.  For others, it means diversifying, and offering a broader set of services in order to develop a stronger relationship with their clients.  Either way, it is clear that business as usual is not an option.  In the end, those in the marketing and communications industry will, as they’ve always done, play a role that is part Artist, part Psychologist, part Salesman and part Coach.  “To be successful, you have to know the audience better than they know themselves” says Perlaky.

The year that is will be as challenging, if not more so, than the year that was.  But those in this industry have always been a resilient bunch, and expect that today’s challenges will ultimately help them become better at what they do, and provide a higher quality of service to their clients in the long run.