Monday, October 27, 2008

And Just Like That

I gave a little presentation last week for members of the Chamber of Commerce. The subject: Marketing. The product: You. Whittled down to its essence, I talked about how it's the little things that seem to matter the most when forming a positive first impression. Do you look someone in the eye? Do you smile? Does your posture indicate empathy and interest when someone is speaking? Are you fully engaged? And most importantly, do you care about someone's well-being or are you only interested in you, you, you?

Nothing I said was of monumental consequence but in this dire economy it was good for the attendees to hear how the cheapest form of product marketing (you at your best) can actually build business. As the desserts were served, I walked around the room and found myself face to face with a non-believer.

"You mention the importance of the front desk greeting patients but it's really tough to expect someone to do all the work we're giving her and still have time to say hello," said the eye doctor, somewhat defiantly.

Got it. I haven't been to his office but I've been to the kind of office he's running. You walk in and you're met with a blank stare. A crooked finger tells you to step to the front desk to pick up the form sheet. The receptionist's obnoxious (and cretinous) ear bud encourages conversation but not with you. Am I the only one who has wondered if the doctor knew the kind of message his office is sending?

I know people like the doctor who rather than fight rude and dehumanizing behavior end up embracing it with their whacked out rationalizations. So I've got some news for you, doc: One of these days a patient will complain about your office to a friend who will tell her "My doctor's office is wonderful" and just like that your patient will bolt.

I know because I've done it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Send Her to 'Wardrobe'

Is there a woman alive who doesn't feel a sense of envy at the news of Gov. Palin's $150,000 wardrobe makeover? Forget the clothes for a minute. What about shopping without having to hide the receipts?

In a weird sort of way, I felt the same when I heard about Eliot Spitzer's final tryst with Ashley Dupre (a.k.a Kristen) in Washington, D.C.'s Mayflower Hotel. The liaison included travel to and from New York plus full use of the mini-bar. When was the last time we checked in and The Lord said "hey, want a Toblerone?"

Other People's Money rules!

Back to business...this tempest in a teapot over six weeks' worth of suits and Louboutin heels is ridiculous. Does anyone have a camera-ready wardrobe for jumping on and off airplanes seven days a week looking polished and vice-presidential? A guy throws on a fresh shirt and tie and voila, he's ready for the next rally but a woman can't do that. She needs...stuff. Suits, shirts, sweaters, shoes and the savviest of stylists to create an indelible impression of a perfectly-appointed hockey mom ready to rule the free world.

Let's not be naive. Forty years ago Joe McGinniss changed the way we view political campaigns with his book "The Selling of the President 1968." Politics is show biz ("send her to wardrobe") plus advertising...and everyone knows there's very little truth in any of those.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sartorial survival

Reader, I must confess, I view the world through the prism of sartorial obsessions which is why, given the current economic climate, I think it's time for the guys to hang up the Dockers, the sockless loafers, the two-button golf shirts and shop de closet where they will hopefully find a navy wool blazer, a smartly-tailored chalk stripe suit and an array of button down shirts and paisley and striped ties. This "uniform" will serve them well in the months ahead when showing up for work looking smart and polished and business-like is just the ticket to survival.

As for the ladies'...those of you who thought a pair of killer jeans, Jimmy Choo high-heeled boots and a bomber jacket was all you needed to compete, guess what? I do believe you'll find lurking somewhere a smart black pant suit, a couple of crisp white shirts, a pair of highly-polished loafers and a beautiful gabardine overcoat that will reinforce your remarkable work ethic and professional aspirations.

Epochs ago, when the heir and the spare tried to pull one over Third Paragraph and wear shorts to school, words were exchanged. And using the hegemony of my position, Viscounts A. and J. were sent back to their turrets and returned to the breakfast table in long pants. "When you wear shorts, you're telling your teachers you'd rather be at the beach."

Fast forward: The beach days are done. It's time to get back to looking like you're ready to put in a hard day of work. (Sorry.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More "ooh," s'il vous plait

Dear Blog, I am writing under the influence of Airborne, Contac and Luden's Cherry Cough Drops (don't you pine for the days of those chewy Smith Bros. cough lozenges that came in honey and cherry?) as my cold is in full throttle.

As the economy tightens like a too small pair of Spanx I am unable to sit back and watch my clients forget the cardinal rule of operating in modern society: The Spin is all.

I overhead a young man (in truth, the son of The Lord) tell a relative about his current stint of employment. In describing his internship, Viscount J. said "I'm working for a political website." Now that's absolutely true however it's not a political website, it's one of the internet's most prominent and respected political websites. Blue chip, in fact. And by omitting its name the Viscount missed an opportunity to add a bit of sheen or spin to his biography.

A client and I meet to discuss her personal narrative. What exactly does she tell people when she talks about her work? She admits to going micro (big thud) rather than emphasizing the razzle and the dazzle. She's got a terrific business but does she spin it? (Opportunities to stand out and be admired are missed.)

The monosyllabic does not substitute for energizing conversation. A plain "all right" does not advance an engaging and hopefully cross-referenced encounter. An in-depth accounting of business travails does not send my spirits soaring.

Am I advocating a gasbag approach to social discourse? Au contraire. But marketing is about differentiation and articulating the "ooh" in what you're doing. Put it out there for all to admire.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Put Your Hand Out

Blog, it's been awhile but I've been reading and thinking about this economic mess and its impact on career and business opportunities and how to increase one's options. How tempting it would be to throw in the towel while the alternative of pushing ahead and remaining warily optimistic seems so much more appealing to my sunny nature.

This morning as I was heading out the door, I pulled the Times Business section from yesterday for a second look. The story about Neel T. Kashkari, 35, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker whom Secretary Paulsen has tapped to oversee the $700 billion bailout effort caught my eye.

How did someone like Mr. Kashkari with only six years of experience in finance and government get on Mr. Paulsen's radar screen? Before I could read further, my imagination took flight: Was he a former Navy Seal? A Fulbright winner? Had he written a novel while commuting to his office? Or perhaps he 'toddled' (never mind prepped) at one of those Park Avenue pre-schools that send their graduates to run hedge funds?

None of the above. He has impeccable credentials, of course, but most importantly, he's the consummate networker.

Two years ago, Mr. Kashkari's supervisor helped him set up a meeting with Mr. Paulsen, who was then Goldman Sachs chief executive. The so-called reason for the meeting: Mr. Kashkari was interested in government service and Paulson had worked in the Nixon administration. (Rule #5 in trying to get ahead: When attempting to get on someone's radar screen, have an advocate set up an information-gathering meeting.)

According to Mr. Kashkari, Paulson was encouraging. And when President Bush asked Mr. Paulson to serve as Treasury secretary, Mr. Kashkari called him, reminded him of their conversation and asked for a job. (Rule #9: Don't be afraid to ask for the position, internship, meeting, referral or order.)

Mr. Paulson hired Mr. Kashkari as his special assistant in that he took on special projects that caught the secretary's interest. It didn't come with real estate as Mr. Kashkari shared a cramped official with another junior official (Rule #7: Don't worry about the a la carte when trying to move ahead. Focus on the entree.)

Mr. Paulson soon gave him a bigger portfolio and while he had mixed success, he was soon promoted, winning Senate confirmation to be assistant secretary for international economics. (Rule #2: Don't dwell on the projects that didn't fly. Just keep spinning the stuff you're superb at.)

And so today Mr. Kashkari, who is remembered by his teachers as a "gentle and persuasive student" will be in charge of like, the world's financial stability. Is he up to the task? (Is anyone?) All I can tell is that he's very very good at soothing and caressing brobdingnagian egos.

Can I overstate the importance of connections? Or having the confidence to put your hand out and ask for some help? I don't think so....