Thursday, June 21, 2012

Letter to AOA


Barry J Barresi O.D.  Ph D
Executive Director
American Optometric Association
243 Lindbergh Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63141

Dear Sir;

No doubt the current business and economic environment have had an impact our on your plans and goals as an association. Challenging times require extra care in association management and as you evaluate alternatives. Going forward, marketing and communications will play an important role in shaping the future. As I have thrown my hat in the ring as a candidate to be a part of AOA, I hope you do not mind a few unsolicited thoughts on just how my background and experience might be relevant and how I might contribute if I am fortunate enough to be selected.    

Building a plan and using that plan as a benchmark
AOA has a mission and a number of exceptional programs and initiatives. The annual meeting/conference, ongoing efforts to guide regional membership, thought leadership/position papers and publications – to name just a few. Resources are always limited, but your chances of making progress on an annual basis are more likely to be achieved if they are part of a dynamic planning process that organizes and prioritizes activity. Given the opportunity, I would be happy to share examples from my experiences at HBE, Clayco and Thermadyne. In addition, as a 12+ year chapter leader for the American Marketing Association I would be happy to show you how that successful association addresses ongoing challenges. Done well, a dynamic plan becomes a documentation of success as well as o commitment to focus on best practices.    

Budgeting for success
The plan document is important and should have broad readership. The budget, on the other hand, in my experience, is best managed with a smaller circulation. Budgets for marketing and communications activity can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Many companies simply do the best they can with a ballpark that has been established within in the past two-three years. Consumer products marketers often battle for a reasonable “share of voice” and budget based on best estimates of competitive spending. New products often try to obtain targeted rating points against the target prospect. When all is said and done, the budget should be a companion document to the marketing and communications plan. It should be realistic and fair. The budget also needs to be evaluated at least quarterly as the year unfolds. My experience has been within a relevant range of a wide variety of budget scenarios. Examples: I was account director at D’Arcy when they rolled out a campaign on behalf of Caller ID in the Pacific Bell territory that totaled $17 Million. At Crossland Construction, their budget for marketing and communications was decidedly more modest. (Less than one million dollars for a company with annual revenues of $500,000,000.)

Engaging membership
Your association must attract new members and retain members each year. To accomplish this you must understand what products and services add value. If your value proposition falls short or it not fully understood, you will experience attrition among your ranks. At Thermadyne, we were keenly aware of the industry-wide problem and growing shortage of skilled craftsmen interested in metal cutting, welding and fabrication. To address this we launched an industry leading campaign that featured Thermadyne brands while celebrating the end-users themselves. As membership VP  for the American Marketing Association I saw firsthand the very real impact of reaching members as they faced the annual membership renewal decision. In both cases, we recognized the influence and impact on schools (welding and trade schools for Thermadyne/marketing programs at area colleges and universities for the American Marketing Association)

Managing the brand
AOA is a brand. Like all brands, it is a reflection of a positioning in the minds of members and others who interact with the association. The brand comes with a promise. The promise must be reliable and true. Otherwise the brand loses equity and can be tarnished.  I have come to believe that marketing and communications programs designed to reinforce the brand are a critical pieces to the puzzle. If you visit a Starbuck’s Coffee Shop, anywhere in the world, you see a dramatic illustration of a company effectively managing their brand. I have been fortunate to have built my career from the very beginning with a keen understanding of the enormous impact branding can have on the perceptions of the products and services. A well managed brand can command a premium because it is trusted and respected. My experience with some well known brands and some less famous caused me to adopt the challenge to “Make good brands better and new brands known.” It has been my privilege to leverage brand equity in the context of a number of new product launches from JVC consumer electronics to Matchbox die-cast miniature vehicles (toys) to the TRUE series plasma cutting line from Thermal Dynamics and the EDGE series regulators from Victor.   

Innovation and thinking outside the box
AOA is a brand platform, just as Thermadyne’s Victor and Thermal Dynamics brands are. I mention this to reinforce the fact that as a newcomer to the metal welding and cutting hard goods market, I was able to apply brand building strategies that resulted in meaningful success that added value to the brands and the company overall. I mention only two examples here, but there are countless others. The discipline and processes for uncovering this equity and leveraging it is very real and palpable at AOA.

Social media and thought leadership
Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Blogs and a host of other digital media options are generating opportunities for exponential exposure (and at a modest cost). It begins with understanding the attitude of key stakeholders. But the only way to earn exposure is to go viral with news that is relevant, compelling and timely. In short, it starts with CONTENT. AOA is an organization that has a unique opportunity to showcase best practices and expertise. At Thermadyne, we were able to use our industry leading brands as leverage in ongoing e-mail blasts to distributors and drive traffic to our website, newsletter and trade show activity. Like all media, the interactive media presents opportunities to be an important part of a bigger picture. The AOA whole has an opportunity to be far more significant that the sum of its parts!

Targeting market segments
The association has, like many brands, a number of market segments that will merit effort and attention. Underdeveloped segments may require some investment, mature segments may require some fresh thinking and new products might require exploration. My career has cast me in the role of managing product launch assignments. Examples: Over a two year period we introduced 25 new products from Matchbox. Some were simple innovations we knew would attract our existing following (like themed multi-packs) and others were completely new territory (like a radio-controlled skateboarder called R.C. Radskate). 

Reputation Management
AOA needs to be mindful of its brand and its reputation. Being prepared with crisis communication and smart about the brand is essential. I could elaborate on how we were able to reinforce brands with an ongoing program of public relations activity. (I can also share with you a process by which the successful measurement can guide ongoing programs designed to add credibility and showcase expertise but instead I will share a personal experience that dramatizes the potential negative impact if reputation management is not a part of your overall plans for your brand.)

In 1999, I found myself in the center of a big national story around the Adam’s Mark Hotel chain. What began as a small group, snowballed into a class action that was joined by the NAACP and the Department of Justice (DOJ). While the Adam’s Mark Hotels (and their parent company HBE) were never convicted of any wrongdoing or required to admit any guilt, the damage was done. The settlement and all of the publicity around the chain of 24 hotels, resulted in setbacks of which the company could not recover. The list of actions the company could have taken to prevent the brand from taking this hit is long. Today, the Hyatt Regency enjoys the premier location (in the shadow of the gateway arch) where Adam’s Mark once sparkled.    

AOA needs innovation and creative thinking. Membership at all levels want to be a part of an organization and profession that is viewed in a positive light. There needs to be a sense of urgency and a desire to be pro-active. AOA has an opportunity to reinforce itself the place to go for answers and leadership.   

Managing the team
Marketing and communications are often undervalued. The activity can boost sales, enhance value and dramatically improve an organizations performance. Yet, so often,  much activity falls on a small cadre of soldiers motivated more by the art than the commerce of their daily tasks. This is as it should be. Let’s face it, movies would be boring if actors and directors thought of nothing else but box-office draw. Instead, you need actors and directors who are passionate about telling a story and telling it well. Managing such a team, takes finesse. It also requires discipline and guidance to contain and focus energy on priorities. At the start of each day there needs to be a sense of purpose. At the end of each day a feeling of accomplishment (and being a part of a larger mission). 


cc: Renee Brauns, Chief Operating Officer

Saturday, June 9, 2012

So, how did it go?


I managed to navigate the scrutiny of a top retained executive search firm and a round of interviews with a division of a global manufacturing firm. The company is based in college town about two hours west of me, so an offer might mean relocation and starting over with a host of daily rituals (coffee shop, library, grocery stores, networking and meeting people to name just a few). On the other hand the opportunity seems well worth the sacrifice. Those thoughts are bumping into each other inside my head but, I know, these issues tend to work themselves out if it comes to “getting the offer.”

“So, how did it go?” is the opening question from my wife and a short list of colleagues who know I am in the running for this position. It is sometimes followed up with the question “How did they leave it with you? Next steps?” I can only respond with impressions of a victim of a flawed process.

In my case, I struggle a little with the idea of running my own business vs. becoming a hired gun in another corporate scenario. I’m not gonna lie. I’m flattered when somehow my resume, reputation and experience rise to the top in a search. I have a solid track record of managing marketing communications.  I’ve done it all of my professional life. Notably, in the past dozen years in roles as head of communications and marketing. My consulting practice has helped me realize that marketing communications in recent years, in particular, has a tendency to be undervalued, misunderstood and even neglected. So, when a company is considering restoring that function, chances are they have no frame of reference - or worse a bundle of unrealistic expectations.

Nevermind the simple fact that cutbacks and reorganization have decimated the in house staff and eliminated outsourcing for marketing communications, what seems to be left is an organization with operations people and number-crunchers. Sadly they have to assess what’s missing. So how did it go? I have no idea.