Three things I’ve learned from the recession (so far)

I am just plain tired of the recession. (I know, who isn’t?)

But I’m not simply talking about the state of the economy. I’m sick of the negative attitudes and the fact that good news has come to mean news that’s not as horrible as anticipated.

Now, I don’t say we should run headlong into the lend-to-spend world that got us into this mess. But do I feel it’s time for us to instill a renewed confidence in ourselves, our businesses and the economy.

I’m going to start by listing three things I’ve learned from this adventure and how they changed my view of the world:

  1. You get very different advice in good times and bad. Basically you go from from spend, spend, spend to cut, cut, cut. Pendulum thinking, really. Personally, I think we should fall somewhere in between and adopt a philosophy of ‘risk and sensibility’.
  2. There are no guarantees. Contracts may disappear. Clients may cut back at a moment’s notice. Someone who calls you in for a new business opportunity one day could be laid off before the meeting ever occurs (this actually happened). What that means for business and individuals is that we need to honestly assess every situation and be prepared to turn on a dime. If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s a bit like being in perennial start-up mode, familiar, fun, yet occasionally a bit exhausting.
  3. Don’t wear rose coloured glasses, but don’t lose hope either. This isn’t easy when you’re exposed to dire news at every turn. But that’s a time to step back and put things in perspective; be thankful for what you do have and appreciate the truly important things in your life. And try to be cautiously optimistic amid the turmoil. At the risk of sounding schmaltzy, I’d like to invoke Jerry Lewis and his telethon finale: ‘When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high…’

Oh, and for PR people there’s a fourth thing too. The recession has accelerated a change in the communications industry. And while no one knows exactly where we’re heading, there’s no denying we aren’t going back. Social media is part of our landscape. And it’s going to continue to grow in importance for our practice and profession. Whether we become leaders or followers is entirely up to us.

What have you learned?


The RfP speed-date

If you work in PR or communications (or any agency, for that matter), you’ve probably done lots of RfPs. In the current economy, it seems like there are more of these every day.

Now, I’m happy to jump through all the hoops necessary to win a good piece of business, especially if it’s a brand I admire.

However, think how much time we spend creating standout strategies and creative ideas that never see the light of day. Because when you get right down to it, there’s a lot of agency talent out there and the final decision is usually based on chemistry or fit.

And that’s OK. It’s a big part of what relationships are all about.

Which is why I’d like to propose a new 10-step agency selection model:

The PR RfP speed-date

Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Client does online research to determine which agencies look the most promising.

Step 2: Client rents a neutral venue, buys a bell, selects a date and invites said agencies (no more than six) to an hour-long event. Client provides agency with a one-pager on the organization listing business challenge, goals, objectives, culture and budget.

Step 3: Agencies arrive and the venue and are each seated at a table. Client welcomes everyone and makes introductions (we probably all know each other anyway).

Step 4: Client then moves to table one, spending up to 10 minutes meeting with agency, asking questions, listening to agency’s response.

Step 5: Bell rings. Client moves to next agency.

Step 6: Repeat step 5 until process is over.

Step 7: At the end of the hour, agencies leave and client selects the top two.

Step 8: Based on what my friend Julie Rusciolelli suggests with potential new hires, client invites two agencies out to dinner (separate nights) to get to know them better and talk strategy and ideas. No presentations, everything off the cuff.

Step 9: Client makes selection and informs both agencies.

Step 10: Client and agency begin working together – (i.e. formal engagement).

Done right, the entire process should take no more than two weeks, and, while I can’t offer guarantees, my gut tells me everyone will be happy with the results. (And, if not, it’s easy to start over or to try number two.)

OK, for those who don’t know my sense of humour, yes, I’m joking (but only half). It makes you wonder if there isn’t a better process for clients and agencies to successfully pair up.

And if any clients want to try an experiment, Palette is in. Meanwhile, bring on the next RfP.

What do you think?

‘I read the news today (oh boy…)’

The past few months, I’ve had to gird my stomach before picking up a newspaper (something, just six short months ago, I loved to do). The news has been singularly bleak and negative; even spilling into the softest of stories (e.g. holiday gift guides for products under $20, the subtext being we can’t afford more).

Now, I’m all for honesty and transparency; telling it like it is. But I also think part of media’s job is to show some balance. So while the market spiraled downward and consumer confidence slid, too many outlets were painting a picture of complete doom and gloom and not leaving any room for hope.

The thing is, life goes on. We get up, eat, work, go to school, spend time with friends and loved ones, go out to movies and restaurants, shop, and have many other experiences too numerous or personal to mention. Unfortunately, some of us may lose jobs and other material things and that’s really too bad for those concerned.

But look around you. Things have slowed down but they aren’t going to stop. The economy may have gone south (like the snowbirds), but that’s no reason to nail shutters to the windows.

As a PR person who craves and consumes more than my fair share of media, I have probably taken too many of these stories to heart. In fact, I wonder if we, in the communications business, don’t have an extremely mild version of ‘current-traumatic’ stress disorder, due to the fact that we’re ingesting far too many downers (and I don’t mean of the pharmaceutical kind).

Couple this with the effects of the economic slowdown. I’ve felt a tightening in my business for months, but what’s worse than the reality are the sleepless nights and anxiety spent anticipating. I’m pretty sure my stress levels have gone up in inverse proportion to the economy.

Now, it’s a new year. And what can a person do to begin on a more positive note?

Here are a few suggestions (not resolutions) I’m going to try:

  • Become more emotionally detached about unemotional things – look at the facts and try not to take so much innuendo and speculation to heart.
  • Be more selective about the way I approach MSM; find a filter that enables me to view things objectively (e.g. get my news from sources like Jon Stewart so I can both cry and laugh).
  • Read more blogs. I’ve found the PR and tech blogs I follow have a much more balanced view. And I take solace in that.
  • See things from a fresh perspective. Don’t crawl into a hole and ignore the world, experience it. Open my mind, keep learning and trying new things.
  • Enjoy the moment – a quiet dinner, a great novel, an entertaining Hollywood film, spending time with people I care about.

So, to end on a ‘high’ note, I’m going to turn things over to Jerry Lewis as he belts out his final song on the Telethon: ‘When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark…’ (Come to think of it, watch a musical, too.)

Happy New Year. Here’s to a lighter 2009.

Panic, not depression

And I mean that in the most positive sense of the word.

In today’s Globe and Mail, there’s an excellent opinion piece by Richard Ivey School of Business professor George Athanassakos, who uses a historical context to explain why we may be in the midst of an economic panic, but are nowhere near another ‘great depression’. In his view and in light of what governments and financial leaders are doing to address the situation, we are not likely to get t0 that dire point, either.

Amid the turmoil, it’s a comforting thought.