Friday, April 26, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities (errrr cultures)

Having had the pleasure of serving as Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communications Director at two premiere contractors, I can see the impact culture has on the workforce. One size doesn’t fit all. I have been involved in marketing communications assignments for other A/E/C clients, but it was the eight years I spent at those two firms where I got to see up close and personal how important corporate culture is to an organization. Both firms have enjoyed remarkable success. Both are places where people have enjoyed long, prosperous careers. Both have cultures that are reflections of their founders.

The former is very focused on one building type. They want to be the premiere designer and builder of hospitals in the U.S. They have worked on (if not completed) more than 1,000 projects on hospital campuses across the country. The later is more diverse. It counts among its areas of expertise, the ability to design and construct large warehouse/distribution facilities. It isn’t the building type that defines these two firms, however.

The hospital builder is closely held and tightly controlled. This company’s founder occasionally points out, with a chuckle, that he and Fidel Castro came into power at the same time -1960.  The other firm is more collaborative and is open to growth via strategic business units (SBUs) and more flexible on choices among a variety of project delivery methods. Both companies are among Engineering News Record top contractors year after year, and both offer employees opportunities to work on projects of which they can be proud.

Neither is fully good or evil. Both organizations have strong points. Both places offered me opportunities to present powerful stories of expertise, processes and best practices. In both cases, I found editors willing to publish stories of success in design and construction. Interestingly, the stricter/more rigid culture has its perks: a formal work schedule with no more than an hour for lunch usually means rational work hours most days. The later, on the other hand, allows people the flexibility to participate in industry functions/events and get an early start on holiday vacation time and time off for family which can mean some disruption in scheduling/planning at that firm.
The point, if there is one in this posting - Culture is important. There is probably more than one right answer. There are always trade-offs. If you are in the C-suite, you might be in the best position to set the tone and think through the implications.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sales and the $13.99 Deluxe Stud Finder

Mark Moyer is ready to present at Washington University, St. Louis. The Knight Center classroom setting is really ideal for a guy who has fine-tuned his skills as a coach and sales trainer at three top-flight St. Louis firms over the last three decades. He is a coach, trainer, speaker and champion of sales professionals everywhere. The ExecLink organization is pleased to present him as the latest in a series of presentations to senior executives. After routine announcements and an introduction, Mark moves to center stage and begins.

“So I’m on my knees in the guest bathroom.” Mark’s opening line is fantastic. It’s sort of like something you might expect in a screenplay of a Quentin Terantino movie because the audience is immediately engaged and curious. Mark goes on to fill the audience in on the home remodeling project that includes routine carpentry he learned from his father. He uses this story skillfully to explain that an investment of $13.99 for a deluxe stud finder at Home Depot will relieve him of the trial and error of hammer and nail to find that room’s structural studs - the studs of which he hopes to hang the bathroom cabinet.  
The $13.99 purchase spares him the time on his knees working around the commode and it illustrates a kind of salesmanship akin to the maxim “people don’t want to buy a 3/4” drill-bit. What they really are buying is a ¾” hole.” Mark has the room captivated as he goes on to expel some myths about sales and salesmanship.
Mark hates the unfortunate practice of training salespeople in such a way as to create the impression it is all about your stuff. “The person with the power to purchase is the one in charge and that means the sales process needs to be about them – NOT your stuff in a sales scenario. Of course, your stuff is part of what you are going to be armed with in the materials supplied by the marketing folks. To be effective, you need to make it about your prospect and his or her stuff," he says. Moyer suggests you can boil it down to three lists: BUSINESS, PERSONAL and PROFESSIONAL attributes of your prospects. “Instead of worrying so much about what to say, a good sales person understands that the dialogue must be about how you can change that person’s life.”
Mark presents without the crutch of presentation deck favored by so many PowerPoint and/or Keynote speakers. He eschews the notion that sales is about trickery and manipulation. He dispels myths and offers insight into the art of sales. He reminds us too that a win to a salesperson is not always scientific or mathematic. (In those areas one can expect the results to be precise and expected whereas sales results will not always be as simple as a formula or like 1+1 = 2.)   

Saturday, April 20, 2013

State of the Media

A Rainy miserable day in April didn’t keep the 100 or so guests for flocking to the following event this week:

April 18, 2013 – Pew State of the Media Moderator Rachel Lippman with Amy Mitchell (PEW Research acting director in from Washington DC) and panelists (Jim Steward, DICOM; Denise Bentele, Common Ground; Jill Gainer, Hughes Leahy Karlovic). The venue, UMSL at Grand Center St. Louis Public Radio facility, on Olive next to channel 9 and around the corner from the Fabulous Fox Theater. Afternoon function was scheduled from 4:30-6:30 p.m. as a special joint presentation of the St. Louis Chapters of the American Marketing Association (AMA) and Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

The program was kicked off with announcements from the chapter presidents of the AMA and PRSA respectively and handed over to the moderator who introduced Amy Mitchell from PEW Research Project for Excellence in Journalism. Newspapers are more focused on content delivered in digital form. News departments continue to struggle with smaller staffs. Cable content is moving to interview and other less expensive formats. Ironically, longer format pieces are growing in popularity. “Declines in television news viewership among younger demographics is noticeable again - Especially surprising in an election year,” says Amy Mitchell.

Jim Steward of DICOM still enjoys reading (every word) of the daily newspaper in the morning. He often reminds clients that they should not project their own media habits onto strategic plans, but this is sometimes unavoidable. “I might have to include CNN just to shut a guy up who always wants to see CNN somewhere in the schedule.” Jim’s company offers at least one national client a platform that monitors negative stories. Jim was well prepared, having appeared earlier in the day on St. Louis Public Radio along with Amy Mitchell.

Denise Bentele added that the smaller staffs in newsrooms have changed the way her public relations firm will coach clients and position stories. She added that clients need to understand that the challenge is still to package stories that will be of interest to viewers/readers/listeners.

Jill Gainer offered a particularly poignant example for St. Louisans of how news is delivered with the proliferation of social media. “I recall hearing of the death of Stan Musial on twitter first, and from a friend even before any news media reported it. Of course, I still sought out media for additional content.”

Rachel Lippman skillfully involved each of the panelists, but as expected the time vanished quickly. The meeting adjourned as the crowd dispersed, some quickly as if to rush to another meeting while a portion of the audience remained to network, mingle and share thoughts on the impact of these trends in news media impact their respective roles in pubic relations and marketing.

The partnership of AMA and PRSA appeared to be a success. Planning and execution of the program was very much a team effort that included coordinated, if a bit fragmented at times, efforts of chapter leaders in programming both professional associations.         

Friday, April 19, 2013

Hail Docent Volunteers

Docents at Laumeier Sculpture Park are dedicated volunteers who add value to the visitor experience. The term Docent is derived from the Latin word docēns, which is the present active participle of docēre (to teach, to lecture). But you don’t have to understand Latin to benefit from a docent lead tour or to recognize the impact of this mighty group.

“You are on the front line for us.” Museum Director Marilu Knode said at a recent docent meeting in the gallery space. She is right. Consider the mission statement: Laumeier Sculpture Park is a living laboratory where artists and audiences explore the relationship between contemporary art and the natural environment.  The staff at Laumeier manages a complex range of activity from development, education, interpretation to curatorial decisions, the park gets 300,000 visitors a year. They range from art scholars to residents just walking the family dog. Chances are they will encounter a tourist group, a group on regularly scheduled free tour or courtesy “Got Questions?” golf cart. In each case, docents are involved.
There are more than two dozen Docents affiliated with Laumeier Sculpture Park. They come from a variety of backgrounds but all share a love of art. Each has participated in an eight-week training series lead by Clara Coleman, Director of Interpretation. The learning continues well beyond that initial eight weeks, however. Clara inspires the group in monthly meetings and periodic correspondence that might include information about artists, events and trends in contemporary art. Clara also schedules docent lead tours for students and groups which are organized year round. It could be a group of 30 third graders who unfortunately had their tour cut short by thunderstorms (April showers!) or college students looking to complete an assignment involving the current exhibition The River Between Us. Docents are often leading the discovery process. Ask a docent a question and you will find a wealth of information. Sometimes, you will stump a docent. (And that’s okay too, because it adds to the journey and challenge. Curiosity fuels us all to learn more about the art around us each day.)
ST. LOUIS - Third graders from Mason Elementary take a photo break at the park last November. This is just part of a group that included 50 students and five adults. Docents Wes Morgan, Maureen Jennings and Jahn Epstein were on hand for the scheduled tour that day. The kids had a blast. Photo by Wes Morgan.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Growing up Morgan

Living in the nicest house, in a wonderful neighborhood, with a spectacular view of a Great Lake (Erie), we never knew we didn’t have Wasmer, Barth or Joel Gray/Cabaret “Money Makes the World Go Around” money. We were not on Hyannisport at the Kennedy compound, but we surely did our best to keep up appearances. Not to suggest we were trying to fool the world. We were, rather, I think the result of a combination of Dad’s business running a design studio that depended on a short list of blue chip clients and Mom’s affinity for the dramatic arts.  

It’s not easy being anybody. Que the violins. I am most grateful for the Camelot I got to experience in that time before Nixon was forced to resign. The President of the United States (before twitter shortened it to POTUS) was caught up in Watergate and became the first POTUS to resign the office on August 8, 1974.  Maybe nothing was ever the same after that. After that Greg and I began our Freshman Year at the University of Miami. Pan to the parking lot at Mahoney Residence Hall. You can hear Joe Cocker on the 8-Track player in the Cutlass Supreme. (“What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?) Later on the sound comes from Room 234: Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, Leo Sayer, Rod Stewart, Elton John and Cat Stevens.
15106 Edgewater Drive was a special place to be sure. But upon closer examination that time had its quirks.
No Gardeners – Six kids with a carefully orchestrated and delineated plot of responsibility. I remember some areas of particular pride. The rose bushes in front by that wrote iron fence, for me, paid dividends in bloom. Dan was artful at keeping that side yard weed-free between the bricks Dad acquired from some dismantled high-level bridge in Cleveland. Greg was fearless with the lawn-mower in that treacherous area behind the backyard wall. Rob was great with a rake (and that leaf sweeper).

The Eight Year Plan – Rod Varney asked his friend Jim Geshke if he wanted to dump “clean  fill” from construction out back. That’s a lot of wheel barrel runs. 8 years would not be enough to stop the cliff erosion.
Kitchen Chairs – Built in refrigerators, stainless steel countertops with built in stovetops and stunning display of Revere ware pots & pans. Still, sit down for almost any weekday meal and you will hear one of the screws holding those chairs together pop out and roll to the kitchen floor.
Ann Page Cereal – ready to eat cereal, sandwich crème cookies and onion soup mix (for that famous holiday chip dip) and plenty of Bumble Bee chunk light tuna (unless Chicken of the Sea was on sale).
Hot Rod Lincoln – ("Son, ya gonna drive me to drinking if you don’t stop drivin’ that hot rod Lincoln.") I barely had my driver’s license a month when I picked up a blind date for a St. Augustine Sadie Hawkins Dance. Sally forgot to tell her dad that I went to LHS (not St. Edwards). That date almost never happened. On other nights cruising the Morgan Lincoln was something of a novelty with the posse.
Teen Pregnancy – Lynn was committed to getting out of the house as soon as she could be legally emancipated at age 18. She achieved her discrete move to Rocky Top (outside of Huntington, WV) with a miracle birth in record time in 1970. She returned for the built in baby-sitters and enough free time to finish high school. Go Rangers. Lakewood High was able to help Lynn stitch together credits accumulated at St. Augustine, Horace Mann and Andrews School for Girls (Willoughby, Ohio).    
House  Paint – Stucco is a surface that takes more paint than any painting contractor can accurately project. $800 for the whole house probably cost that crew more than that for which they bargained. Mr. Morgan probably knew it up-front. A deal is a deal.   
Fire Wood – Another deal is a deal. “Mr. Morgan, the wood is $125 a cord,” the man says. Dad’s response: “Great, give me $100 worth.” And the cellar stash is ready for the dumb waiter. The Lurch Bell doesn’t stir a domestic servant but it does conger up images of the Adams Family. “You Rang?”
CYC – Just wave at the guy at the gate as if you are supposed to be here. If you have the nerve you can sign #836 for a burger and a suicide soda (a mixture that might be Coke, Sprite and Root Beer) at the pool concession stand.
CAC – Old naked guys swimming laps at the pool and catching a steam afterwords. Mahogany walls, dusty oriental rugs, trophy cases, Racquet sports and good-old-boy clubbiness. So great to be a blue blood.
The last on the block to get color TV, but the first to get the PONG video game. Still only 3-4 channels to choose from so it will be the Wonderful World of Disney, The Movie of the week  (maybe a mini-series), The Ed Sullivan Show, The Flintstones, Sonny & Cher, Dean Martin Show or Tom Jones (What’s New Pussycat? Whoa-Whoa-Whoa-Whoa.)
The Breakfast Room – Dad’s morning ritual was NBC’s Today Show, The Cleveland Plain Dealer and Frosted Flakes (with slices of banana and whole milk). In that little nook pantry was a world map showing the iron curtain. (A thing I never fully understood but later appreciated as a cold war mentality/reality. That mentality was still there when we all knew the words to Country Joe and the Fish at Woodstock…"One, Two,Three …What are we fightin’ for?…Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn…Next stop is Viet Nam…") Some days the stock pages in the PD were just bland and gray enough to invite a rough layout or a some balloon head cartoons before heading downtown to the Studio.
Verticle Parking in the Breezeway – Almost every thing else Dad designed was square but vertical parking was best in this case. The diagonal lines guided the orderly parking of bicycles so the Sealtest milkman could pass.
Show Time – St. Patrick’s Day, a cast party or later on a party for the High School football players and coaches. Depending on the occasion it could mean a call to Rosie’s wine house, the window washers and the piano tuner. The LPs playing the soundtrack from Oliver, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Man of La Mancha, Edith Piaf or Judy Collins (“I look at clouds from both sides now….It’s clouds illusions I recall. I really don’t know clouds at all.”). The clickety click of the Kodak Carousel projectors showing vacation shots from Sandusky, Cedar Point, Key Biscayne or the Bahamas. Or maybe a carousel series featuring the St. Luke Crusader CYO lightweight football team.
Polishing Silver and folding laundry – Anna Benson and later Annie Avery. It seemed completely status quo to have a housekeeper who managed some of that drudgery. The ten dollar bill on the baby grand piano in the living room seemed fair enough compensation. Surely enough to catch the 55 Cliffton Bus back to the East Side. (Also on the piano, Look, Life, Time, Newsweek and maybe Seventeen Magazine) 
Hough Bakery – Hough was a dicey neighborhood but Hough Bakery meant birthday cake in February (2), May (1), June (2), July (1) and August (2). That’s a lot of cake. But off peak, you can count on those chocolate cupcakes in the freezer (Yum).

Lindsey (b. 04-22-1982)

Aunt Zelda made sure Monmouth County knew that Lynnie Stevens had a baby girl. Uncle Marty (Dr. Malachowsky) showed himself to be the man for the job of delivery. Dr. and Mrs. Stevens (Sam and Toby) were thrilled. I was there too, of course. I knew then and there that you were Daddy’s little angel (all 7 lbs. 7 ounces). Being born in 1982 makes you a millennial, a statistic and among the first of another generation. I love to think that you represent and influence the future. It makes me very proud.

You became a sensation in Hoboken. The shops along Washington, the Italian bodegas, the chocolatier and the city park will never be the same because they saw that little angel smile. Henri Matisse painted The Dance just for you: “The Ring around the Rosie painting is my favorite,” you said of that work at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Around that time you mastered your Big Wheel bike on our block (Elmwood Avenue in Maplewood). Your smile was missing some baby teeth then. Nevertheless that smile welcomed a baby brother. (He didn’t know then how lucky he was at the time.) You shared a room with Ben in the Dorothy Street apartment in Los Angeles (Brentwood). Before you knew it we’re back in New Jersey (South Orange). The Penthouse suite at Kingsland Terrace was your perch. Another move and you were the very best ADDY award assistant The Triangle Advertising Federation ever saw. You were 10! (Raleigh, NC). You and your brother were emphatic fans of “technique of the week” and always a blast at flea markets and store checks. The continuity of Camp Seafarer for a land general who was camper and counselor is a part of your journey. Of course, we moved again – to Miami, and you rose to the top again. “First Clarinet is like the quarterback of our team,” your music teacher said of you. You were a teen changing High Schools when we moved again. St. Louis. Parkway West High School never saw a more enthusiastic supporter of free speech. (I was so proud of you as you took it upon yourself to lead a crusade and alert the media over the issue of Free Speech.)

Fast forward and it is astounding how many lives you have touched (as a leader, sister, daughter and youth group advisor. You are a friend, an advocate, a champion of human rights, a decent citizen and a remarkable inspiration.) That might be enough for some, but now you show the world you can set unbelievable goals, new goals, and get on a path to not only achieving them but crushing them. The world is a better place with you in it. Happy Birthday Lindsey! Thank you for being you! Dad