Archive for June, 2008

Equity 2.0

Back in “the day” (circa 1998) there were three pretty common, and often, intertwined phenomena occurring in the world of technology PR and marketing relative to the Internet bubble and its impact on client programs, expectations, budgets and agency compensation models. Three things that stood out as memorable from this time period were:

1) Lack of focus on building real value – for many clients and prospects, attaining coverage in the business press or “in” publications like Red Herring and the Industry Standard was the “Holy Grail” regardless of its impact on the sales efforts.Hype levels were high, often they were off the charts.

2) Ridiculous “awareness” budgets were not at all uncommon and were often developed without any sense for how the budget could be used to contribute to the bottom line. No promotion was too crazy, expensive or outlandish.

3) Equity positions taken by professional services firms (not just PR, advertising and web development, but also accountants, lawyers, executive search firms, etc.) Companies were willing to cede equity to an agency without truly acknowledging them as a partner and quasi-investor. The company’s track record was rarely evaluated for its value to other investors.

Fast forward to present day and items one and two are thankfully a thing of the past. But recently at BluePoint we’ve been offered equity partnerships in several of our clients. We see this as an opportunity to place some small, but strategic bets with our clients. To put some proverbial “skin in the game” and show them we are in it for the long-term and willing to trade fees (cold hard cash) for a small piece of the action. It is also an opportunity to build a little portfolio that all of our employees can hopefully share when our clients have a successful exit.

We can’t pretend that we have the analytical capabilities of a VC firm, but we do know a thing or two about working with strong leaders. Our bets have been placed with people who we consider to be part of superior teams with winning ideas and a proven track record.

I’m curious – among other services firms out there – in Boston or across the country – are you using your instincts to join up with clients on the equity side? What lessons did you learn from previous mistakes or those of former bosses, colleagues or competitors that you’re applying? Could we be seeing a trend developing?

Don’t Get Petty About Marketing

I could not help but think about Tom Petty (in town last weekend to play Great Woods, err Tweeter Center, err Comcast Center), when reading yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article titled “Don’t’ Back Down.” It was a Q&A with MarketingSherpa’s research director Stefan Tornquist on why times like these where we are enduring a “faltering economy” are actually the best time to expand marketing activities, rather than cut back or main the status quo. (Full disclosure: Stefan is a former client of mine, but I can neither take credit for helping secure this great piece, nor did we put him up to it. )

As a marketing firm for young companies, we agree with many of his points (no kidding!). What was reassuring was that MarketingSherpa recently conducted a survey of small businesses which revealed that many companies aren’t entirely slashing marketing budgets; in fact, the second largest group of respondents sees an opportunity to increase marketing activity despite challenging economic times. But, the survey – not surprisingly – revealed the marketing mix is changing: instead of relying exclusively on traditional ads and direct marketing campaigns, they are investing more online. This mirrors the activities of most of our current clients who are using a variety of tools and campaigns – both traditional and new, off line and viral and looking at marketing in a more holistic way with quick and easy measurement at the very heart of every program. Stefan has some good tips on how to save on marketing expenses for those firms who remain under tight financial restraints.

He sums up the overall premise of the article very succinctly: “One of the greatest challenges for small companies is to make a name for themselves and a downturn actually provides an opportunity to do that because it tends to suppress the branding activity.”

You Guys?

This week’s Boston Sunday Globe and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette both commented on the debate about whether it’s appropriate to address both men and women as “you guys.”

From the New York Times to modern-day scholars, comments have ranged from it is “demeaning to every lady” to “it’s simply an attempt to fill the hole left in English when we abandoned the singular thou and thee.”

I have to admit that I have a hard time with the phrase “you guys,” but not for any of the reasons that scholars or journalists noted. I certainly would much rather be addressed as “ladies and gentleman,” “Kim,” “Ms. Pegnato,” “team” or even as part of “folks.” In my opinion, greeting others with the generic “hey guys” sounds unprofessional.

It is impersonal and reminds me of the 1970’s PBS show, “The Electric Company,” and Italian mob movies.

The first was a sketch comedy program for children to help them develop their reading skills. It was aimed at kids who had graduated from Sesame Street. Each night the show opened with one of the cast members, Rita Moreno, screaming at the top of her lungs, “Hey, you guyyyyys!!” Each night I would scream along with Rita, and my mom would say it wasn’t polite or lady like.

The latter is self-explanatory. We have all been entertained by movies like “Goodfella’s,” “Bronx Tale” (my personal fave) and of course “The Godfather.” Each portrayal of Italian American families is a little different, but they all share the same dialect that is evident in dialogue-heavy scenes in which “you guys,” and “how you guys doing,” and “what’s up with you guys” is commonplace.

While I don’t think calling your clients or a group of professionals at a business dinner “you guys” is sexist or sets the women’s movement back, it just sounds like slang to me. Coming from someone who has been called “Formal Frank” in the past, I would love to go back to the singular “thou” and “thee” … Bada Bing!

— Posted by Kim Pegnato

Field of Dreams or Field of Realities?

We sit on the sidelines of the Little League field two or three evenings a week and watch the drama unfold as our kids rise to new heights or fall victim to unfair calls, frustrated teammates and inconsistent performance. Some nights, one kid will have the magic bat, other kids will have the golden glove, but the wins are fleeting and the losses are heartbreaking. The drama rivals anything Puccini or Shakespeare could have conjured.

We have all walked a kid off the field, holding his breath, willing himself not to cry at the finality and cruelty of it all. And then, the second we’re in the car, the tears flow in streams of mud and sweat as they look straight ahead and knuckle off their eyelids.

They get up in the morning to face their conquerors in the school cafeteria, ready for another shot at it, knowing their chances are as good as anyone’s. This is life. This is America. It’s good.

And then, once in a while, it’s great. There are transcendent moments that remind us why we let our kids do this crazy thing that threatens to ruin their self-esteem (or at least, wreck a really nice weekend). There’s the kid that offers to play for the other team because they are short-handed and might otherwise have to forfeit. There’s the coach that questions a call on behalf of the opponent. There are the younger kids cheering on the sideline and just willing the underdogs to win – and they do.

After a particularly bitter loss last week, one of my son’s coaches sent this link out and asked the kids to show it to their parents. I double-dog-dare you to watch this video without a backhand swipe at your own eyes.

Please post a comment with your spring baseball and softball stories.

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