Don’t Take the Cheese Off the Pizza: Marketing in a Recession

31 01 2009

     This past week, I attended a terrific presentation given by Jeffrey J. Fox (, respected management consultant and author of numerous best-selling business books – including How to Become a Rainmaker, How to Become CEO and The Dollarization Discipline.
     Fox gave an entertaining and inspiring talk — full of terrific insights, anecdotes and counsel that distills and simplifies his extensive experience gained from years as a top management consultant, corporate market strategist and Harvard MBA, as well as his first foray into entrepreneurship as a paperboy.
     Fox’s advice for corporate CEOs during the current recession:
• Now is NOT the time to take the cheese off the pizza – that is, to cheapen the product. Now is the time to improve the product, to drive innovation and to enhance customer service. Now is the time to cull the bad customer and love your good, long-term customers.
• Don’t stop marketing. In fact, do more marketing than ever. Throughout the history of the United States, dating back to 1782, the data is indisputable that companies that have continued or accelerated their marketing during recessions have always come out ahead.
• Focus ALL of your resources on the getting and keeping of GOOD customers.
Increase sales training for your people. Cutting marketing training for your people now is the dumbest thing you could do. It’s like George Steinbrenner cutting out spring training for the Yankees – he might save a few bucks now, but he’s guaranteed NOT to win the World Series in October.
• Look in the mirror and make sure a leader is looking back – even if you must fake it, show your people that you are fearless, willing and confident. You need to be like Braveheart. Carry the company flag and unsheathe the sword – your people are dying to follow someone.
• Your competition is hunkering down, pulling back, crying and moaning. Your job, more than ever, is to unfetter, inspire and encourage your people, and find ways to get your sales people out to meet face-to-face with more prospects and customers.
• Good leaders must fight inaction, excuses and negativity. Good leaders must remind their people that everyone’s primary job is to GET and KEEP good customers, and lead by example — good leaders actually leave the office and make sales calls on the customers.
     Fox also talked a bit about business-to-business marketing and public relations. Business-to-business marketers, he said, have a more difficult challenge during recessionary times, as the demand of their products or services is derived, not directed or driven solely by promotion. However, he said, B2B marketers should not stop marketing, but must turn to more cost-effective ways to spend their precious marketing dollars.
     While the tip of the spear is your company’s sales force, Fox said, one of the most powerful tools in your marketing arsenal is public relations, because it is voluntarily consumed by the customer. As such, it is more readily believed, more likely to influence and more likely to be remembered than advertising. It’s credible. It’s low in cost. And it’s powerful.
    Great advice. To learn more about Jeffrey Fox and his successful strategies, visit ( . And watch for Fox’s newest book, Rain: What A Paperboy Learned About Business, which will be out in mid-February.

Hope Over Fear

23 01 2009

Regardless of your political affiliation, you have to appreciate Barack Obama’s inaugural address.

As a long-time word-worker, I know I admired his speech. Well-written. Well-delivered. Full of powerful images. The new president cited lines from the Bible. He also invoked the words of George Washington from Valley Forge, offered during the coldest, darkest moments of the American Revolution. Overall, Mr. Obama’s speech was realistic about the problems that trouble us, yet profoundly optimistic about the future.

These lines resonated with me most: “Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time.”

Sounds a lot like a description of the B2B marketing climate — or the automotive business — today.

He continued: “But know this, America – they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”

It has been said that hope is not a winning business strategy. Neither is fear. I’d agree that hope by itself is not a winning business strategy. On the other hand, a winning business strategy cannot succeed without hope. If you allow fear to win over hope, it can kill even the best business strategy. We all have witnessed how fear has generated division, dissension, indecision and irrational behavior among intelligent, usually rational people.

In the current market turmoil, hope may be the one thing that ensures that our business strategies can succeed. Hope keeps our eyes fixed on the horizon. Hope is a source of inspiration and confidence. Hope enables us to endure hardships that we thought we could not endure. Hope provides us the strength to shape our own destinies, to act rather than just react.

Our new president sums it up best: “…in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words (of George Washington). With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said …that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon … we carried forth …”

So as we face the business challenges ahead, let’s choose hope over fear, every day. Because that’s what true leaders do.

Surf the Economic Tsunami

19 01 2009

As we move into 2009, there’s one thing for sure – we’re facing an economic tsunami. We can’t change that fact. If Mother Nature has taught us anything, especially as she throws hurricanes, floods and snowstorms our way, it’s that in spite of all our technology, we cannot control the environment around us. We can only control the way we respond and react to it. And sometimes, that’s just enough.
As an entrepreneur, I tend to be an optimistic person, as are most entrepreneurs. Otherwise, we would have never gone into business for ourselves, we’d be focusing on the negatives and complaining about our bosses! And as an optimist, I see three ways we can deal with the coming tsunami:
1) We can try to run away from it,
2) We can batten down the hatches and try to weather the storm, or
3) We can grab our surfboards and ride the biggest wave we’ll ever see in our lives.
Each businessperson has a golden opportunity amidst the current difficulty – as your competitors are laying low, cutting budgets and slashing promotional efforts, you have the opportunity to grab share of mind and the share of market that follows. Of course, PR is one cost-effective way of doing just that. Some wise clients actually increase their PR budgets to maintain or grow visibility while they cut larger budgets for advertising, trade shows and/or events during difficult times. The key is not to stand idly by and watch the tidal wave wash your business away.
So while others are crying about the weakness in the marketplace, why not grab your new surfboard and ride the wave of your life — surf’s up!

Time for the Detroit 3 to Shine

9 01 2009

    Some data shared in a recent issue of Advertising Age magazine underscores a message the Detroit auto community has been trying to convey to consumers and legislators for the past several weeks: that the Detroit Three automakers are a crucial part of the nation’s economy.
     According to Ad Age’s latest numbers, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all ranked among the top 15 U.S. advertisers in terms of ad spending in 2007. (Automotive advertising overall accounted for 12.3 percent of all U.S. advertising spending – more than every other category except retail, which accounted for 12.4 percent of all advertising spending.)
    The Detroit Three automakers each spent more than some major consumer brands such as Anheuser-Busch, Macy’s, Sears, Kraft Foods and Sony. And combined, in 2007 the Detroit Three spent some $7.2 billion in advertising.
   That kind of spending generates a lot of work for a lot of people – not only helping to create demand for vehicles, but also the parts and materials that go into those vehicles, and work for the dealers who sell and service those vehicles across the country.
   Closer to home for many of us, that advertising spending also generates work and revenue for radio and TV stations, newspapers, magazines, Internet sites, display companies, ad agencies, printers, production studios, fulfillment houses and countless other businesses, large and small. It also creates jobs for thousands of copywriters, designers, typesetters, proofreaders, art directors, photographers, cinematographers, artists, website developers, production coordinators, producers, sales reps and other support personnel across the U.S.
   So, when the government decided to give the domestic auto industry a hand up (not a handout, as was given Wall Street), the government is helping more than just the executives and assembly line workers for a few auto companies. All told, the government is helping to protect the livelihoods of 2-3 million people in all walks of life, in all parts of the country – including those of us in the marketing and communications fields.
   For that help, I’m grateful. And if there’s one bright spot in the Detroit’s Three’s dilemma, it’s that now they have finally captured the American consumer’s attention. So with the media opening of the North American International Auto Show ( in Detroit this weekend, NOW is the time for these automakers to begin to demonstrate – to prove to the world – that they can offer competitive quality, technology and value in their vehicles. Thousands, check that, millions of people are counting on them! It’ll be interesting to see how the media react to their offering.

Hello world!

5 01 2009

    To blog or not to blog … that is the question for many communications professionals these days. I’ve heard it said that blogs “… are written by people with nothing to say, for people who have nothing better to read when they should be doing something else.”
     As a baby boomer who remembers life before the Internet, it’s interesting to be stepping into the world of social networking to see where it might take us. I’m hoping it will help start some conversations and enable us to discover some new things together.
     A college student who aspires to be a PR professional recently said that he blogs because he wants to share his perspective on things. I think that’s great, as I’m always interested to see what other people of all generations are thinking, and because we all have a lot to learn about how to use the new communications tools. And while I’m sure there are lots of people who appreciate this student’s perspective on things, perhaps his blog’s greater value will be as a catalyst to bring other people’s perspectives to him.
     One danger I see in blogging is that, if one is not careful, it becomes all about “me.” Some blogs seem to focus on talking without listening. They are simply monologues, not one side of a dialogue. And as we all learned (or should have learned) in Communications 101, that’s not communicating, that’s just pontificating!
      So, at the risk of seeming to pontificate a little myself, if there is one piece of advice I can give an aspiring young communications professional, it’s to force yourself to listen. By giving other people the floor, by letting the conversation be about someone else, and by making someone else the center of the universe for a few minutes, you’ll be amazed what you learn.
      How does one do that? Here’s an interesting exercise: try to take the “you” attitude for just one week. When conversing either in person or electronically, make the conversation all about the other person … and see what happens. Ask: “How are YOU? What are YOU working on? What problems are YOU facing today? What can I do to help YOU?” … and then, really listen. And then, ask more questions based on the person’s answers.
     You just may find that by changing the focus from “me” to “you”, you’ll actually be able to communicate much more effectively, because you’ll be enriched by the perspective, the insights and the opinions of others. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
     So, please help me turn this into a dialogue. Let me know what you think about blogs … and how they’re helping you. (And if you’re a student trying the exercise, please let me know how that works out for YOU!)

Thanks!    Jim Bianchi


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