Thursday, November 19, 2009

Let's Ban Consultant Speak Forever

I hate the way consultants talk. I just read, OK scanned, a white paper by a social media policy/strategy/consulting expert and it was filled with basic marketing, models, charts and quite frankly a lot of crap. Consultant speak.

An old friend of mine who is now in marketing once described it as “They make it look so complicated and academic that the clients don’t know what they are saying, and often they don’t either. But the client is afraid to admit they don’t know what it means because then it makes them look foolish.”

And the cycle continues.

The PR business is filled with consultant speak. People think we wave a magic wand and make publicity happen – that we are like snake charmers. We’re not. If you don’t have a good story - we can’t sell it. If 10 other companies are doing the exact same thing that you are – we can’t sell it.

You need to do something that no one else is doing. You need to add something new to the conversation. If anyone tells you differently, they are just taking your money. Hope you don't mind wasting it.

What kind of phrases comprise consultant speak? Here’s an easy one brought to you from the home page of one of the world’s biggest and most successful PR agencies.

“The modern practice of public relations is about creating, managing and enhancing relationships between a business or an organization and its key stakeholders to drive successful business or organizational outcomes. With the overall erosion of trust in institutions combined with the convergence of technology and media, at no time in the history of our profession has the proactive management of stakeholder relationships been more critical.”

Thank you Edelman. Just reading it gave me a headache.

Translation – You pay us gobs of money and we’ll figure out how to spend it.

I have favorite consultant speak words too – here are a few.

Appropriate – I had a consulting firm client once who used this on everything. Why? Because it doesn’t say anything. It's a lawyer word. If it’s appropriate it fits whatever situation you’re in and whatever way you are using it.

Effective – PR people use this all the time. They use the phrase “Effective Communications.” What other kind is there? Bad? Sucky? Great? Because that’s over promising. Effective promises nothing except we won’t screw it up too much. Isn't Effective kind of like when it's pouring rain on your wedding day and everyone tells the bride it's good luck. What are you supposed to tell the bride - that her outdoor wedding is ruined and it's bad luck? That wouldn't be very effective.

Right-sizing – This one became part of business lingo in the 1980s and has stuck around. It puts a positive spin on the fact that you’re getting fired. We’re fixing something that’s broken. No you’re not. You over hired or screwed up and now you can’t afford to keep some of the people that trusted you to keep them.

Impressions - This is actually the term for a unit of measurement that PR firms use to make you think that a lot of people paid attention to what was written about you. There's some abstract formula from newspapers where you take the circulation and multiply it by three I think, to account for the fact that people pass it to other people, and then you got value for your money.

No you didn't. You got value if the person who read about you picked up the phone and called you and asked you more about your company, or went to your web site and bought something. Impressions in today's world are useless. But someone recently told me that their PR firm got 50 million impressions for them - so it's still being used and it's still nonsense.

Change – Obama won the presidency on this. He borrowed it from Bill Clinton who also won the presidency on this. What does it mean? We don’t like the way things are. Do it differently. But how? Oh we can’t tell you that – it would be too specific. So let’s just throw that word around and people will gravitate towards it and vote for it. Then we don’t deliver – well that’s a whole other blog post.

Why am I allowed to rail against all of this? Because it's my blog. Because I don’t use these words. I tell clients the truth even if it’s ugly. Maybe it’s because I’m a New Yorker. Maybe it’s because I started as a journalist and my bullshit detector is perpetually set on high.

So what’s the advice in all of this? We live in an age where people have the attention spans of insects. No one is reading any of this stuff. Say what you mean. Use short words that tell me something. Give me real information so I get it right away. That’s the difference between Effective and great PR.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me – Expert Marketing Sites Not so Expert

This is the first in a series of articles on marketing web sites and their customer service and marketing. This site is called I already know it will be two parts.

I started getting the MarketingProfs newsletter “Get to the Point – B2B Marketing,” a little over a week ago. It was free and I was curious. The positioning of the site is great – Marketing Professors – or those smarter about marketing than everyone else are sharing what they know. Cool.

I developed, wrote, reported and edited a marketing newsletter for five years. I wrote about marketing and advertising for Business Week, The New York Times and other publications. I thought I had seen every possible angle. There were a couple of new ones – of course about social media.

The first couple of issues the cover stories of the newsletter were pretty good. I thought this is refreshing – and a couple of issues I actually learned something. Then the articles changed about three days ago – they became your standard web crap, drivel with a marginal headline – one point I already knew and a lot of other ideas I didn’t even bother reading. The of marketing.

So I went on the MarketingProfs web site. I still like this idea so I go to a section called Sponsored Links. Maybe I should advertise? So I fill out a form – I make an ad – well it’s actually two lines but they call it an ad. Then the site asks for $140 for 20,000 impressions and there’s a 7 in there somewhere. I don’t get what this means.

So I call the toll free number and ask what the Sponsored Links are, where they go, what 20,000 impressions means. I get customer service and someone who puts me on hold for 11 minutes and then tells me his supervisor will call me back. Three hours later I have a toll free number that I think is them in my phone – I call back and it’s her, the supervisor. She didn’t leave a message and says something about getting interrupted by another call as she dialed. Right.

I ask about the content. I learn that the free content is not “premium content,” which of course you have to pay for. I do not ask the price and she does not offer one. I ask her if all of their content is for sale? She says something bright and chipper that kind of answers yes.

I get off the phone and figure out that the first content I got for the newsletter must be better and then they started sending the free crap. This probably makes people go to the web site and learn more. Or maybe it just makes me cancel or stop reading it.

So I ask her about the Sponsored Links and she says she can’t help me either but she can find someone who can. I ask if the Sponsored Links are for the web site. She says they are for the newsletters.

An hour later I get a call from an advertising sales rep. He says the sponsored links are self explanatory and he doesn’t sell them. When I persist, he says he’ll walk through the web site with me. He does not know where the Sponsored Links are on the home page. I show them to him. I remind him that he is an advertising sales rep - as nicely as I can while wanting to scream. His dog starts barking in the background.

I ask him the same questions about impressions, reach, etc. and he is impatient and tries to get me off the phone. I picture the dog, big, with a lot of matted hair, barking at the door wanting to be walked or maybe tackling a child or robber.

He sends me a media kit which has no information about sponsored links in it and asks me to send a list of questions and he’ll get me answers. I haven’t done this yet.

Stay tuned for Part II of Learn to Practice What You Preach.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Don't Waste My Time - Six Ways to Improve Your Presentations

Throughout my career as a journalist and communications consultant, I’ve probably been to thousands of presentations. When I wrote a newsletter for marketers my job was to go to conferences around the world then come back and report on what top marketers were saying.

The vast majority of the presentations I saw were incredibly boring. But if I listened there was always something buried inside that I learned something from. Forty five minutes of hell to get one good idea? How many people whose job it wasn’t to sit there would stay in the room?

In all those years I probably saw half a dozen presentations that I’d sit through again. Here’s why:

1. British humor. Martin Sorrell, the former head of the WPP Group, one of the largest advertising and marketing conglomerates in the word, came to talk to the first year Harvard Business School marketing class. He opened with “Our research shows within the first couple of minutes during a lecture most people drift off into sexual fantasy. So here’s to enjoying where you go with that.” Be outrageous. It’s unexpected and incredibly compelling. And you bet we listened to him too.

2. A good schtick. Yiddish says it better than English – they had a gimmick. And they were entertaining. People like Stephen Covey and Tom Peters captivated the room. I felt better about myself listening to their common sense advice confirming much of which I already knew. They packaged it well and told a good story. Trouble was when I went back to my notebook afterwards I couldn’t find anything to write about.

3. No PowerPoint. Whoever invented PowerPoint made a lot of money. But they ruined business presentations. What happens when you use slides? People read them and stop listening to you. And these days you look dated and foolish. The Internet generation has no attention span. That’s the point a Generation Y consultant made at a presentation I saw recently. She showed up in jeans and just talked about why she didn’t listen to the grown-ups. I listened to the whole thing.

4. Got me in the gut. Something has to resonate with the majority of your audience, help me see myself in what you are saying and figure out how this could apply to my business or life right now. Jason Alba of Jib Jab wins this one. He talked about how to build a marketing program around your blog by explaining how he did it with his company. Still haven’t done everything he suggested but took small suggestions and did them right away. And it really helped.

5. Entertaining. Why do you think comedians make the best talk show hosts? Because they can be spontaneously endearing, funny and in the best cases, really smart. They make something we know is ridiculous look more ridiculous. Be Stephen Colbert. His parody of a right wing talk show host is so engaging we can't stop watching. Of course in business you’re supposed to be professional and serious. But you can also let some personality shine through. You’re on stage – work it or I start reaching for my Blackberry.

6. Keep it Simple. What do you want me to walk out of the room remembering? My brain can only hold so much information as I go from session to session. And I may be smarter than a fifth grader, but I don't always remember what they taught me in fifth grade about writing. A refresher: Tell me what you are writing about, give me information to support that, and tell me again. You can call it messaging, or many other buzz word like terms, but it's as simple as that.

6. Know when to shut up. I saw this in a new business presentation recently. The tenor of the room wasn't good because the prospective client was late and rushed. We had a long presentation and didn't communicate well and adapt it to the moment. The meeting just didn't go well because there was too much of us showing work and too little of her engaging with us. We should have shut up and engaged her by offering potential solutions to her challenges but instead we talked about ourselves. She just stopped listening. Yes even smart people screw up sometimes.

So what's your takeaway? If you don't know I'll be the one napping during your next presentation or texting my way through it.