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Sol Marketing is celebrating a decade in the business, so I figured it would be a good idea to share 10 things I’ve learned in the past 10 years that you can learn from. Here they are in no particular order, with the exception of learning #1. That’s really the top thing I’ve learned that somehow I still can’t manage to stop repeating.
Ten things I’ve learned in 10 years:
10. Serve clients but don’t over-identify with them. Sol Marketing’s reputation is built on stellar client service. What separates us from other client-service focused organizations is that we know how to be a trusted advisor while maintaining a healthy distance from our clients and their businesses. I personally have close, long-standing relationships with clients that include such niceties as vacationing together or even serving as Godparent to their children. Despite that personal closeness, my clients still pay me as an objective third party to think strategically about their business and act with their best interests in mind. While I care deeply about my clients and their desired outcomes, while we’re working on difficult projects, cooler heads always need to prevail.
9. Try new things; they just may work out! Looking back on 10 years in business, I can say that today’s Sol Marketing was built on saying “yes” to just about every problem that’s come our way. That’s why today we’re in the business of creating kick ass brands that win instead of being a PR and strategic communication firm, which is what I initially set out to create. Creative approaches to addressing client problems and trying things that have never been done before are the cornerstones of our business today. From learning how to create online training modules for Dell’s learning management system. to pioneering new research techniques to inform brand positioning, to creating an entire business around supporting entrepreneurs with their investor pitches, trying new things has almost always paid off for us.
8. Hire people who make you feel uncomfortable. Many managers tend to hire in their own image. Throughout my tenure with Sol Marketing, I’ve learned how to get comfortable with people who make me feel uncomfortable. I feel most comfortable with people who think and act just like me. Without pushing myself to be around individuals who think and act differently, the company would be going nowhere fast. Innovation needs newcomers who see and respond to things in different ways.
7. The client isn’t always right; but they sign the checks. I have a personal policy of always trying to act in my clients’ best interest and guide them towards solutions to their business challenges while letting them feel like they’re in charge. Sometimes those two ideas are at odds with one another. Often in the throes of working together, I see the client veering down a path that I wouldn’t personally support. But occasionally there are intervening factors that I have no knowledge of that require that us to do things in a certain way. In these cases, I set my own personal feelings aside and shift into the role of supportive advisor, with a primary goal of clearing the way so the client mitigate the risks associated with those choices.
6. Being strategic isn’t just big-picture thinking. I’ve often said that there are two kinds of marketing and communication strategy. Strategy with a big ‘S’ and strategy with a little ‘s.’ While big ‘S’ Strategy – rooted in quantitative and qualitative research and often a “big idea” – is the dazzling jewel in the marketing crown, little ‘s’ strategy is the often overlooked and undervalued approach that can make or break a program. This kind of strategy covers things like project timing, the application of software tools, creative financing and the thoughtful use of team resources. While the brand strategy and account planning teams get all the glory for coming up with the big “ah-hahs” that drive programs and creative, don’t forget about program and project management people behind the scenes who make sure we actually deliver on our promises.
5. You’re going to make mistakes. Pay attention to the small ones. Of course, no one can execute flawlessly every time. I could fill up about a hundred pages of prose about the huge and obvious mistakes I made over the past ten years. While memorable and usually very public, the huge mistakes rarely make a difference in the long run. The little things, like misprinted nametags at a client event, fat-fingered email typos and deadlines missed by only an hour can all erode a client’s trust over time.
4. Don’t spend too much time at work. “Wow, I wish I had spent another hour at the office,” said no one EVER. The reason I got into this owning and running a business situation in the first place was to have more time for myself. Now I have the flexibility to stretch myself in ways that I can’t by sitting at a desk all day every day. Very few of the rewarding experiences I’ve had during the past 10 years have occurred while seated in front of my computer at a desk in Austin.
3. You always have enough time to do things right the first time. This one really doesn’t need explanation. Take the time to do it right the first time. Never compromise quality or strategy in an effort to make a deadline. Clients ALWAYS appreciate someone pulling on the brakes to avoid disaster, even when it impacts timelines.
2. Listen to the voices inside your head. Contrary to popular belief, hearing voices in your head doesn’t necessarily signal a serious psychiatric issue. Recent scientific research indicates that hearing voices in your head relates to one very ordinary aspect of your personal experience: your own internal running monologue. Most of us talk silently to ourselves as we go about our business, and some scientists think that we hear “voices” in our heads when we don’t recognize those little bits of speech we hear as self-talk. Whoever’s voices those are, I have learned to pay attention to them because they’re often signaling me to make important choices or take risks. Those internal voices have become a wise inner guide. They rarely place limits on me and have given me the confidence to try new things and contribute to my world in ways that I perhaps never thought possible.
1. NEVER take the last flight out of anywhere. EVER. This one goes without saying. Those who know me know that I’ve pissed off some travel god somewhere along the way. Even those of you who are not generally travel-cursed should heed this good advice. It should go without saying: fly early in the morning or at least some time before noon if you can swing it. Less opportunity for travel disasters to pile on throughout the day. Also, revised pilot rest rules go into effect this January, guaranteeing us safer flights and introducing more opportunities for disaster. You can read more about this here.
How movie stars and a real-life Peggy Olson put a ring on it
Diamonds are a rare and eternal symbol of romantic love and fidelity. Or are they? The idea of a diamond as a symbol of eternal love was actually created by a diamond company and an advertising agency.
The diamond industry became flooded when a vast supply was discovered in South Africa when Victoria still ruled the British Empire, leading to a panic among the bankers and other concerns in the mining industry.
This is the story of how De Beers, the company that controlled almost all the world’s rough diamond supply, turned to an advertising agency to turn that problem into one of the biggest, most profitable monopolies in history. In the process, they transformed how the world’s couples express their love and commitment.
Marriage is a contract, and throughout the last half of the 20th century, the deal was most likely sealed with a diamond ring. Today, more than 75 percent of brides in the U.S. sport a diamond engagement ring, and diamonds are seen as the ultimate symbol of love, commitment and prestige. But that wasn’t always the case.
When supply gets out of control, the only way to protect your position is to increase demand. In addition, a market with fluctuating supply needs stabilizing. A market without competition from resale is a market that can continue to grow.
In the turbulent years leading up to World War II, diamonds had lost their sparkle. Americans were already buying diamonds for engagement rings. They just bought cheap ones, and with the Depression in full force, the diamonds were getting smaller and cheaper. After World War I, the total amount of diamonds sold in America had dropped by half.
De Beers was convinced that Americans could be persuaded to buy more expensive diamonds. They just needed help to figure out how.
In 1938, De Beers approached advertising agency N.W. Ayer to research and craft a campaign to create a new image for diamonds in the American market.
In their research, Ayer uncovered an opportunity to convince young men who were already buying engagement rings that the larger the diamond, the more it expressed their love. It had to happen both with those who bought diamonds – the young, besotted men—and those who would be the receivers.
The campaign’s signature line, “A Diamond is Forever,” was created by Frances Gerety, the female copywriter at Ayer. They loved it, and De Beers was her main client for 25 years.
Gerety partnered with Dorothy Dignam on PR. Movie stars were given (large) diamonds to present to their beloveds and to wear in movies and at their many public appearances. Dignam made sure the press all knew about it by feeding them stories and writing guest columns. The agency arranged to lend jewels to stars and socialites.
The campaign was a smash, and the price of diamonds continued to climb for decades. A one-carat D loupe clean diamond that cost $2,700 in 1960 went for $25,000 in 2010.
“A Diamond Is Forever” was named the slogan of the century by Advertising Age, and De Beers. Over the years, the campaign evolved to include “education” about the “Four C’s,” the rule of thumb that an engagement ring should cost two months’ salary, and appeals to women to buy diamonds for themselves and for their men.
There are many lessons here for marketers—one that particularly strikes me is how a little research can uncover that nugget of insight that can literally change society.