Friday, January 23, 2009

The Recovery Begins Right Here

If you are following the ups and downs of the stock market in order to gauge the condition of the economy, you may be looking in the wrong place. Let me tell you why.

I recently asked a client, "How's business?" "Good," was his tentative reply. But then he amended it to, "surprisingly good." It seems January has been a productive month for his company. And, while he admitted the orders were not flying in like a few years ago, he was pleased with the way things were going. Maybe even a little optimistic.

Thus, the recovery begins. Not on Wall Street, but on Main Street. If you are hoping that the infusion of billions of dollars of our money into the financial system will eventually trickle down to help you out of the doldrums, don't hold your breath. Look where the first $350 billion went - nobody knows. (Although my guess is that most of it is now in private accounts in the Cayman Islands.)

No, the strength of the U.S. economy is not centered in the money shops of New York. It is in the small machine shops, local retail stores, local banks, farms and business offices just down the street from where you are. WE will be the engine that drives the recovery, not the socialization of America.

The client also shared the fact that much of his current business is coming from repeat customers. That is always nice, but never an accident. Such support and loyalty is the result of treating customers fairly and staying in touch with them.

I have always said that the most important marketing you can do is not to prospects, but to existing customers who already know and understand you. But they can easily forget about you unless you make the effort to keep the channels of communication open.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The REAL Miracle on Pennsylvania Avenue

A miracle occurred today on the west steps of the Capitol Building in Washington. But it is not the miracle you may be thinking about, or reading about ad nauseum.

Yes, it is wonderful that an African-American has been elected President of the United States. And I truly wish President Obama well. We need real leadership right now.

But the REAL miracle was evident in the people around President Obama on the dais: ex-Presidents Carter, Bush, Clinton and Bush. The miracle was that, once again, a peaceful transfer of power occurred. No riots. No bloodshed. No revolution. No palace coup.

The fact that four ex-Presidents willingly braved the cold to stand in support of the country's newest leader speaks eloquently of the depth of faith we all have in our nation and in our form of government. In other countries, the ex-President is often jailed or killed in order for the new one to take office.

Good luck, President Obama. We are ALL behind you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Marketing Advice for Our New President

The fact that Barack Obama will soon be taking the oath of office to become our new President may be proof that he needs no marketing advice from me. After all, he just completed the biggest sale of all, convincing the American public to hand over their votes.

But I urge President Obama not to abandon many of the marketing techniques that served him well during his campaign for office. Once inside The White House, he may be tempted to circle the wagons and work on his agenda in isolation, insulated from the pesky media and their clients, the people who elected him. This is exactly what Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick did, and it has cost him dearly.

Gov. Patrick, the first African-American Governor elected in the Bay State, campaigned on a platform of reform and openness, promising to free the state from the tight grip of career politicians and the corrupt "in crowd" that surrounded them. He was duly elected and sworn in.

Then, for all intents and purposes, Gov. Patrick disappeared. For the first several months of his term he was seldom seen or heard. No doubt he was busy tackling the enormous job of governing the state. But he should have let the rest of us know what he was doing. The political capital of goodwill and optimism he built up during his campaign quickly evaporated, and many people began to suspect he was "just another politician."

To his credit, Gov. Patrick has worked hard to emerge from his self-induced isolation and has been much more open and accessible as he tackles the challenges brought about by the recession. (Some of his proposals even make sense to this conservative scribe.)

President Obama can learn a lesson from this. During his campaign he was very open and available, and even seemed willing to address controversial topics. His campaign was ground breaking in its use of new media and technologies to reach out to voters.

Now that he is in office, the President needs to keep the channels of communications open, and his activities as transparent as is practical. The American people don't need a "White House wizard" pulling levers behind a curtain. Instead, we want a leader who is not afraid to show us the direction in which he is leading us.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Miracle of Good PR

Kudos to US Airways on how they handled themselves during yesterday's airliner crash in New York. First to the pilot and flight crew for their decisions and actions that saved so many lives. But also to the company who showed how a good crisis communications plan works.

What am I talking about?

Look at the clutter of all the politicians (mayor, governor, borough president) pushing each other aside to get in front of the cameras. Yet the only public comment from US Airways was delivered by a spokesman in Phoenix. Nothing from local (New York) US Airways representatives.

And that is how it should be, especially in a time of crisis. US Airways executed its crisis PR plan to perfection, with all communication funneling through a single spokesperson who was well prepared and provided enough information, but not too much. One message, cohesively delivered.

Every company should have a written crisis communications plan in place to help them deal with critical audiences (employees, customers, media, investors, regulators) in the event of a disaster or emergency. Once the goose hits the engine, it is too late to start thinking about who is going to say what, and to whom.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The World Has Not Stopped Turning

So we are in the middle of a recession. (Or perhaps we are at the beginning, or nearing the end. We won't really know until it is long over.) What is clear is that fewer homes are being purchased, fewer automobiles are being sold, fewer appliances are being delivered, fewer dollars are being spent across the board.

Please note one very important word in the preceding paragraph: "fewer."

I did not write that NO houses or cars were being sold, or that NO money was being spent. The economy has certainly slowed, but it has not stopped. Business is still being conducted. But many people are acting as if they must hide in the bomb shelter until the big, bad recession goes away.

That's bull****. It is a weak excuse for not being willing to compete for business. Too many people in business today have grown fat and lazy during the last ten years of prosperity. They think that customers and sales should magically drop into their laps in ever increasing numbers.

New reality, folks. We have returned to a time when you have to earn every dollar you make. When you have to do what it takes to steal market share from your competitors, and to fight for every customer.

Some businesses remain unable or unwilling to go on the offensive. They will fail.

Those that adapt and get aggressive with their marketing and sales efforts will survive, and then REALLY make hay when the economy climbs back up.

"Tightening your belt" has two connotations. You can cinch it up to try to hide your hunger pangs. Or you can gird your loins to do battle.

Which will you choose?