Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Few Things I miss.

Sadly, it seems boomers (like me) are shying away from those markers that date them for fear of hurting their own marketability. I get it. You want to be with it and on trend. You don’t want your age to have an impact on your chances for career opportunities. Still, you shouldn’t be ashamed to admit that you miss some of the simple things that used to be so ubiquitous in our every day lives.

While you were out – Those stacks of pink messages that used to be on your desk after you were out of the office. I miss them. They were the reason you needed to get back to work. Those telephone calls could be returned in a civilized 24 hours or so. You had a little time to think before responding.

The Daily Newspaper – News delivered to your doorstep in the morning. You could absorb relevant news at the start of the day over a healthy breakfast. Too bad the daily newspaper and that ritual reading is fading fast.  

Reception Areas – Sure they still exist now but not in the same way. The receptionist was the nerve-center of the company. This individual was almost always a female. She was the voice, eyes and ears of the company. She was Vice President of First Impressions.

Someone answering the phone – The phone rings and no-one answers. You are forced to listen to prompts and enter your choice by pressing the number that corresponds most closely to your reason for calling. You are a number in the queue.
Dressing for Success – It started with casual Fridays and turned into a complete collapse of business dress. My Dad used to say you should dress each day so that you could be anywhere and not be inappropriate. That’s harder to do now. The rules are more subtle.

9 to 5 – I like what I do. Don’t get me wrong. I am thinking about business, projects and planning 24/7 but that work-life balance is in jeopardy now more than ever. You have to set aside time for our friends and family. If you are lucky, you can enjoy work associates and colleagues but you gotta turn off the switch and let your batteries recharge.

What do you miss?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Is St. Louis where brands go to die?

Okay,  maybe that headline is a little harsh. But the closing of Casa Gallardo restaurants got me thinking. I know, many successful brands owe a lot to St. Louis. In fact, in many cases, thier very success made it possible for the acquisition by another company to be bigger and better. Brand equity is important, but when the going gets tough that equity is for sale I guess.

Post is the number three cereal maker and is now looking to challenge Kellogg’s and General Mills. (I hope this brand can win share from it's St. Louis base of operations.) Ya know, we had Duncan Hines, Lender’s Bagels, Aunt Jemima until a New Jersey food company decided to adopt those orphan brands. And Anheuser-Busch is doing their best to pump life into the King of Beers but you have to wonder if InBev is really all that worried about Budweiser. (Is AB really a St. Louis company anymore? They didn’t seem to lose any sleep over Grant’s Farm.) Thermadyne has grown through acquisition of industry leading brands in metalworking and welding hard goods like Tweco, Victor and Arcair. (But those brands routinely face challenges from giants ITW/Milller, Lincoln and ESAB). And what happened to D’Arcy, an advertising agency with a long and proud history in St. Louis when they became part of a giant media/communication company based out of town?

St. Louisians remember the irreverent but approachable Boatmen’s Guy played by Thom Sharp. (Thom is back but not for Boatmen’s Bank because Boatmen’s has long since been swallowed by what is today Bank of America.) And I can almost hear Jack Buck talking about Southwestern Bell during a baseball broadcast as the telephone people were plotting to resurrect AT&T. (AT&T is the monopoly the government broke up in 1984 – How did St. Louis manage to lose out on that deal? Is it because we didn’t let their CEO into one of our exclusive country clubs?) McDonnell Douglas aircraft was the pride of our town, yet we seem to have accepted Boeing as our aviation company today. And speaking of aviation, how about TWA?   

Sure we have our success stories: Build-A-Bear, Zhu Zhu Pets, St. Louis Bread Company (Which, by the way, is Panera everywhere else), Edward Jones (Not A.G. Edwards) and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Our brands never seem completely safe.

I wonder what it will take to keep the NFL Rams in St. Louis?    

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Invest in your Brand.

Brand building efforts need to be understood fully and evaluated in the context of planning, designing and execution. If you want a sustainable effort consistent with the organization’s ambition these seven (7) important elements must be included in the discussion.

One. Strategy. If you plan to enhance visibility and reputation and want to improve the marketability of your products and services you need leadership of planning, design and execution of overall communications. Accountability needs be understood. Articulate a smart and powerful position. Remember the positioning is the perception that your brand already has in the minds of your prospects but may be leveraged for greater success/growth. Fine tune your message strategy. It must be true, relevant and compelling to be competitive. 

Two. Message and Design: The strongest brands pay fanatical attention to detail. Type, color, layout and graphics need to be managed so that the message is delivered effectively without distraction. The best brands use design to reinforce a continuity of style and quality and have a language and cadence to all communication that reflects culture and its essence of the brand.

Three. Design and copy elements are a part of the brand: They should be governed by standards including interactive media, print, collateral and boilerplate copy.

Four. Implementation: Don’t make the mistake of assuming a brilliant strategy, an airtight set of graphic standards and a top-flight message strategy will translate to flawless execution. You need to make sure you have the resources in place to deliver on your plans and implement them flawlessly.

Five. Measurement: It makes sense, especially for companies that depend on relationships and trust to measure brand perception. This is most effectively accomplished with research methodology that objectively benchmarks perception. What gets measured, gets done!

Six. Your Brand Today: The concept of a product life-cycle is a useful way to consider your brand: four distinct phases: introduction, growth, maturity and decline. In the early stages it is especially important to stand out and be noticed. Beyond introduction and growth on the curve however, the challenge becomes more about sustaining brand preference and avoiding decline. 

Seven. Budgeting for Success: An investment in the brand is needed. There are several approaches to budgeting for such an effort. The method you choose should be consistent with your ambition and mindful of your plans to measure results.

Bench Strength

Those of us who followed the St. Louis Rams Football team during the 1999 NFL regular season can appreciate the power of bench strength. When our starting quarterback Trent Green went down in a pre-season game, some thought the season was over. But we had Kurt Warner, a humble back-up QB who paid his dues. I mean the dude spent time stocking groceries, playing arena football and even playing for the NFL in Europe. But by the time Super Bowl XXXIV was complete the undrafted kid from Iowa was holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy as a world champion.
Similarly, the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team found ways to win when they were more than ten games out of the running in the 2011 season with just a couple of months left in the season. By October, David Freese extended game six in the World Series in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and later hitting a game winning walk-off home run to set up a game seven that resulted in the team capturing its11th World Series Championship. The St. Louis Cardinals had the local kid from Lafayette High School, who didn’t get a shot at a starting role until an injury occurred to the Cardinals third baseman just three seasons earlier. Freese worked through injuries of his own in the next few years before the conclusion of this amazing championship season. He didn’t quit.

I have become keenly aware of a lot of talented people who are currently benched or injured themselves. At the risk of extending this sports metaphor too far – these are players with great potential that might just have the kind of character and drive to be MVPs in their own right when the time comes. Look around, You will see people who can make a huge difference because they are workers. They have a passion for what they do. They don’t give up. They know they who they are and they do what they do every day because they want to be ready when they get a shot.   

Look around. These are rare individuals with something extra. Maybe you are one of them. Just be ready. You might have to put up with setbacks. You might have to prove yourself and work within a system but opportunities will present themselves. You might just be in a position to help a team win the big one. I hope so. I hate to see great talent wasted.   

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tampa Getaway - Viva Palma Ceia

February 8-11, 2012

We are glad to be back in St. Louis after an interesting year in Joplin. As I negotiate reestablishing my career and connections in this town for the past couple of months via meetings in coffee shops, social media, association events (American Marketing Association, Advertising Club, Public Relations Society of America etc.) and professional networking I see a window of opportunity to play golf and visit with my daughter, brother and father, all of whom live in Tampa, Florida for different reasons.

Lindsey has been in Tampa for just three years as a youth group director at Temple Schaarai Zedek (I am so proud of her. The world is a better place with her in it.) Greg has been living in Tampa for more than 25 years and is an independent commercial real estate broker. (He seamlessly juggles his career and his share of the responsibility for mentoring his boys Wes, Mathew and his high schooler stepchildren Michael and Lauren. Greg’s activities include being a community leader, preparing for his term as incoming president of the American Red Cross chapter, organizer of Real Estate Lives, Broker Poker and Tampa Bay Lightning Hockey fan.)  Greg’s wife Ellen is human resources professional and can be called out-of-town on short notice to support a long list of dotted line superiors who run regional operations for a large insurance company.) Dad relocated to Tampa after Mom died in May of last year. (At 93, he’s still painting water colors. He is settled in at Horizon Bay independent senior living facility. Greg makes sure his hearing aid is working. He misses Mom. Family photos and a full gallery of watercolors in his apartment are reminders of so many memories.)

This trip is a great mix of quality time with family and my favorite hobbies: golf and art. Greg has the fix in as a friend of the MacDill Air Force base and gets us on the South Course. It is during a round of golf I am able to spend time with Greg and with Lindsey’s boyfriend and roommate Chris Dewey. Chris is an easy guy to be around. He’s smart, confident and relaxed during the round. Greg and I both offered a low bar of excellence with regard to the level of play, starting with mulligan do-overs on the first tee box.
Florida in February is always ready for visitors. Tampa is no different, but the place has a community feel and is gearing up for the Republican National Convention in August. It’s an election year and no clear front-runner has been identified yet to challenge Barack Obama in 2012. No doubt the Republicans will fill up the bars and restaurants and create an economic stimulus for the Bay Area. Ybor City is a great place to enjoy a cigar. The bay is lined by the country’s longest continuous sidewalk which is perfect for joggers. The water offers a reflection of the nearby downtown skyline. The trip was perfect. Between Lindsey and Greg we managed to get to a nice sampling of eating and drinking places: The Collonade (with Dad); Pinky’s (popular breakfast spot); Jimbo’s (BBQ); Mad Dogs & Englishmen (a default favorite pub/tavern for Chris and Lindsey); Meze (for vegan fare) and Woody’s (for dynamite tomato soup and greek salad). We even managed to visit with Greg’s boy Wes at Batteries Plus where he has been a employee for three years. Wes reminds me of my own son Ben (they are the same age). He’s a real gentleman, tall, trim with wavy hair an easy smile – a fine looking Morgan.       

Lindsey got Friday cleared from work for quality time with me. We made our way to the Salvador Dali museum via a gallery exhibit of Chihuly glass sculpture (chandeliers, bowls, colorful blown glass and installations). Greg caught up with us at the Dali museum and remembers when the collection of the Mr. and Mrs. Morse, an industrialist and his wife, was on display at the Cleveland plastic injection molding plant in the early 1980s. Years later the museum is a civic jewel in the Tampa Bay area. The Morses first discovered Dali the year they were married (1942) at the Cleveland Museum of Art. They would have been contemporaries of my parents (who were also married in Cleveland in 1942). A year later they bought a painting after meeting with the artist at the St. Regis hotel in NYC. The surrealist lived in the U.S. for most of the 1940s.

We have plenty of time to visit John’s Pass near the water, stop in one or two of Lindsey’s favorite shops, taste some fruity Florida wines - just enjoy the afternoon off before meeting Chris for the evening. Lindsey managed to get us complimentary admission to the Improv on this Friday night (where comedian Pete Correale is the featured performer). It only took a text message to one of her former youth groupers whose uncle is a part owner of the Improv. (Nice to be so connected. Chris, Lindsey and I got great seats front and center on the balcony.)

Saturday morning allowed for a little bit of tourism. In 1891, Henry B. Plant built a lavish 500 room luxury resort hotel called the Tampa Bay Hotel on the west bank of the Hillsborough River across from downtown Tampa. The eclectic Moorish Revival structure cost $3 million to build, a huge sum in those days. We were able to roam about the building and understand the essence of the time Mark Twain called the Gilded Age.

My Southwest Airline flight is delayed just a half hour allowing for a little extra time with my sweet baby doll Lindsey. Airports are always a little sad when it means separating. Life goes on. At baggage claim in St. Louis I listen to a voice mail message from Greg. “Hey Wes, Michael and I were talking about the famous joke and discussing its meaning. Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.” (I will call him later to find out what he thinks it might mean. I have a feeling it is something profoundly simple and yet simply profound.) It’s 19 degrees in St. Louis. Why did the chicken cross the road? I’m not sure. Why do people go to Florida in February? (Even Henry Plant knew the answer to that question.) 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Quality Control In Construction

How do you pay attention to quality in construction from start to finish? It’s in the details! Start with a comprehensive list of items and plan to exceed expectations by avoiding pitfalls. Plan on maintaining a high quality level on each and every project from start to finish.

1.      Request for Proposal - Remember your responses to such a document is your word, not just rhetoric to get the job that can be ignored once the project is underway. Challenge or clarify unclear or ambiguous items. Develop the scope outline spec based on the RFP and your standards of excellence. Just because the owner forgot to include something is no excuse for you to under-deliver. Contact local utility providers regarding services, fees, rate analysis and payback. Share preliminary scope definition regarding major building systems configurations and constructability with the design team. Develop design concepts which will help improve conceptual, architectural and structural layouts in addition to the evaluation of the subcontractor proposals. Work to obtain the preliminary pricing estimate portion of the proposal. Get marketing expertise to prepare for presentations to the owners. Strive to be clear and precise in all communications.
2.      Review the Proposal - Outline specifications with regards to the owner’s RFP and your response. Expand or modify as required to prepare the scope of work documents. The goal is to accurately purchase subcontractor work and plan for subcontractor bid/proposal forms and scope checklists to allow reasonable comparisons of each bid/proposal.
3.      Subcontract awards - Review subcontractor proposals for compliance with the scope of work. Provide technical expertise, and be a part of the subcontractor scope interviews to insure recommendation on selection of subcontractor is based on the scope of work and established budget.
4.      Design Development - Review subcontractors design and progress as the project design develops to insure the design reflects the scope of work and the overall project budget and that all systems are integrated into the design. Arrange for peer review of plans and specifications.
5.      Construction Administration - Review technical submittals/shop drawings to insure compliance with the project documents and scope of work. Provide information to the Project Manager and Superintendent on items to monitor during all stages of construction. Provide technical resources. Periodically visit project sites and provide feedback to project team to identify potential problems before they become major construction issues.
6.      Project Closeout - Provide expertise in the start-up, testing and demonstrations of building systems. Review test reports and closeout documents. When the job is substantially complete, get feedback from the owner and improve your standards and procedures

This Blog by Wes Morgan was originally posted on UPworld.com on January 17, 2012