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The United States of Analytics Test

Everyone seems to agree these days that having a handle on the numbers helps you more effectively manage an activity. In my earlier life as a practicing CPA, I was amazed by how few people had a handle on their own personal analytics. They didn’t know the amount of their net-of-tax income; the amount of their annual household expenses; their debt-to-income ratio; or their marginal or effective income tax rates. Needless to say, the people who didn’t know these metrics tended to have expenses in excess of their revenue and ended up financing their lifestyle with a high debt-to-income ratio.

This causes me to reflect on whether the average taxpayer has a handle on the metrics of their own country, so let’s have a test to see how well you know your own country’s metrics before you enter the voting booth. (answers below)

  1. GDP: What is the annual GDP of the USA? All measurement really starts here. We gauge our booms and recessions by how this number is growing (or shrinking). It shrank by 2.3% last year, and the private industry shrank a staggering 23% in investment spending. The good news is that the GDP has been growing the last couple of quarters, and we are still the big dog, as our GDP is three times the size of China’s (but they are gaining fast).
  2. Annual Government Expenses: How much do the folks in Washington spend? This year it is projected to be a staggering 26% of GDP, one-fourth of our entire nation’s output (a record high).
  3. Annual Government Revenue: Whoops! This figure is a lot less than what we spend. That generally spells trouble for individuals (or small nations like Greece). The gap between this and our expenses is called our annual deficit.
  4. Annual Deficit: Ouch! It’s the biggest it has ever been, and it’s a whopping 9.7% of our annual GDP.  Expenses are 166% of our income.
  5. Federal Debt: Yikes! I hope this has a teaser rate and is interest only. It is 89% of our annual GDP and six times our annual revenue. That is $41,000 for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. Can you say overleveraged?
  6. Debt Held by Foreigners: Hmmmm… It is 23% of our GDP and more than our annual revenue. That can’t be good.
  7. Unfunded Liability for Social Security and Medicare: If you were a private company doing this, ERISA would put you in the slammer and throw away the key. It is $130,000 for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. We have promised retirement pensions and health-care insurance to everyone, taxed them for it, and have no way in the world to pay for it.


  1. $14.5 trillion estimate for 2010
  2. $3.5 trillion estimate for 2010
  3. $2.1 trillion estimate for 2010
  4. $1.4 trillion (you just need to be able to subtract to get this one right)
  5. $12.9 trillion current estimate
  6. $3.4 trillion current estimate
  7. $39.2 trillion ($5.1 trillion for Social Security and $34.1trillion for Medicare)

So, how did you do? If you couldn’t answer these questions, you might want to consider my initial premise that it’s hard to manage an activity if you don’t pay attention to the metrics. If you want a handy URL to keep track of the figures, the U.S. Debt Clock has most of them.

Mike Reineck, Principal


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Looking for inspiration on my bookshelf.

I’m not a writer.  I think I’ve made that perfectly clear in my previous blog entries.  I really wish I was though because, generally speaking, I think writers are cool.  There’s definite power in a well-crafted piece, whether its ad copy, editorial or just a smart-ass reply in Facebook or Twitter.

But as I sit here and look desperately toward my small collection of business books to see if something already published will inspire me, I am struck by something.   Most of them over-promise, enticing us with things like, “Revolutionize your customer service model in 10 easy steps!” or “Become a top-notch speaker by working the room with your eyes.”  Really?

So, the written word needs to be taken with a grain of salt – a rather large one sometimes, particularly in business.  I think all too often, we look to a self-proclaimed expert for answers to our questions. That “expert” might just be better at marketing themselves than actually delivering useful and practical information.

It irks me that sometimes, because someone else says it, we take it as gospel.  And we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we believe is going to be effective, or what our collective experience has proven.

So, trust yourself, and forge ahead, using books as inspiration, not the Holy Grail.

Here are a few that have inspired me over the years:

– The New Marketing Paradigm: Integrated Marketing Communications

The Great Marketing Turn-Around:  The Age of the Individual and How to Profit From It

Radical Marketing: From Harvard to Harley, Lessons From Ten That Broke the Rules and Made it Big.

What does your list look like?

— Ellen Repasky, SVP, Account Director


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Is Your Company a Thought Leader? Take the Test.

Your company may be an industry leader, but not necessarily a thought leader.  According to commentator Elise Bauer, a distinguishing characteristic of a thought leader is “the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates.”

Does your company measure up?  Here’s a quick test to help you determine whether or not your company is a thought leader:

  1. Are company executives being tapped for speaking opportunities on a regular basis?
  2. Do reporters call executives at your company for a comment when they are writing a trend article?
  3. Are executives at your company asked to contribute bylined articles to industry publications?

If your company has not reached “thought leader” status yet, here are six steps you can take to help achieve that goal:

  1. Generate white papers.  A white paper is an informative piece, designed to educate a reader about a solution to a problem or to introduce new technology, innovations or products.  A white paper should include third-party research results, statistics and endorsements, wherever possible, and be limited in the number of company references.
  2. Develop and circulate case studies.  Case studies demonstrate experience and can be a very powerful sales tool.  Design your case study format to address the problem, challenges faced and solution your company provided.  Include photos, if possible.
  3. Write bylined articles. Make a list of industry trade publications, and contact the editors to determine guidelines for submitting bylined articles.  After an article appears, market it via your Web site, in sales materials, at trade shows, etc.
  4. Set up a speakers’ bureau. Make a list of local business meetings and national industry events where you want to have a presence.  Obtain the “call for speakers” information for each show.  Consider co-presenting with a client or another industry leader to increase your odds of being selected.
  5. Establish relationships with local business media. Regularly send local business reporters newsworthy information about your company.   Take key reporters out to lunch once in a while and stay in contact with them.  A good way to do this is to send an e-mail or leave a voice mail with a comment about a story they’ve written.
  6. Submit op-ed pieces and letters to the editor. Read your local paper on a daily basis.  Look for opportunities to submit a letter to the editor or an op-ed piece.

Establish a plan, set up a reasonable timeline and stick to it.  The payoff will be worth it.  Not only will the exposure help your company’s bottom line, but you are likely to see a boost in company morale and an increase in the number of qualified employee candidates in the pipeline.

— Debbie Dryden, VP Thought Leadership


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I have had my share of hearing what a tough economy this is. Particularly in my industry – advertising and marketing communications. The solace I took during last year was that we were able to keep our head above water (despite a few layoffs) and turn a small profit.

The saga continues into early this year. “It’s turning around,” some pundits say. “The economy still has a long way to go before it comes back,” other experts expound. Well, from my vantage point, the economy is still weak, with glimmers of light here and there. All bodes well if you can hang on until 2011 (didn’t they say that about 2010?).

So here’s my advice for keeping a good attitude during the rough and tumble of our current economic times:

1)    Be curious. If you’ve got down time, reinvent your business offerings. In our case, it’s working more digital technology into our campaigns – social, mobile, and experiential.

2)    Play more.  If you’re a bit more relaxed, and minimize stress, it really does help give you perspective.

3)    Read as much as you can about the business. In our industry, change happens very quickly. New case studies from within our business and outside of our business inspire us. When an opportunity arises, you’ll be able to offer new and interesting ideas.

4)    Meet new people. I became a member of a leadership group, and it has opened doors that were previously closed. New friends and experiences, also.

5)    Keep in touch with your competition. We’re fortunate to be able to pick up the phone and talk to our friends who are in the same business. Once you get past all their bluff about how great things are going (really?), you can commiserate with a peer who knows exactly what you’re going through. It’s somewhat therapeutic.

6)    Be inspired by your staff. I’m fortunate to have a very creative staff that surprises me with campaigns our clients love. Oh, and the best gift of all – clients are getting good business results from them.

At the end of the day, you can call me Pollyanna. But, we’ll be okay, our clients and staff will thrive – it will just take another year or so before we can take a deep breath and breathe.

— Rena Kilgannon, Principal


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The Marketing “S” Word — and seven other words to live by

With the title of Chief Brand Strategist, it is inevitable that you have to define what you do.  Chief and Brand are pretty self-explanatory, so I suspect that it is the “S” word that trips everyone up.  It isn’t that Strategy is an unfamiliar word – but it seems to mean different things to different people.

  • To some, strategy is a PowerPoint security blanket — put it in a binder on your shelf, so if anyone asks, you have one.
  • To others, strategy is a buzzword – something guaranteed to make you look smart if you throw it around in meetings, as in Great idea, Bob.  But, what’s the strategy behind it?
  • In some organizations, strategy can be a formula – For target audience x, brand y is the miracle product that delivers benefits a, b and c better than any other competitor.
  • And, strategy can even be paralyzing – something you know you should have but seems big, scary and insurmountable.

To me, strategy is as simple as a road map that both focuses and inspires effective marketing efforts.  The foundation of strategy goes back to journalistic fundamentals and six simple words — who, what, where, when, why and how.

  1. Why may be the most powerful word in strategic development.  Simply ask Why am I considering this initiative? Why is also a particularly effective way to refocus knee-jerk tactical assignments, as in Why do we need a Facebook page?
  2. What has two key components — What am I trying to achieve? (ensuring accountability) and What need does my brand address? (Note, this is different than answering What am I trying to sell?)
  3. Who defines the audience and is more than just Who am I trying to reach? Who really becomes effective when you can truthfully answer Who will be most receptive to what I have to offer?
  4. How demands discipline.  Answering How does my brand meet the target’s need? requires digging to find the true benefit your brand offers, not just making a list of product features.
  5. Where has changed dramatically over the past few years.  The question is no longer Where can I best reach the target?, but rather Where can I best interact and engage with the target?
  6. When can really make a difference when budgets are tight (and whose aren’t?).  The strongest strategies look at all the potential points of influence and clearly articulate When will the target be most receptive to this message?

In the end, developing a great strategy isn’t rocket science.  But getting from good to great requires the discipline of a drill sergeant.  Once you have defined who, what, where, when, why, how, go back and look for one more word – and.

7. And is the difference between good strategies and great ones.  Great strategies are focused, precise and require trade-offs – there is no room for and.


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The Power of Local

They tell me that the worst part of the economic downturn is behind us. Maybe it is, but I just haven’t seen anything that seems to indicate that’s the case. Everybody’s been hit hard, even the lawyers aren’t immune. A lawyer friend of mine told me he was let go from his position at a law firm when his caseload dried up. However, he’s doing OK because he’s now working on a freelance basis with a friend who specializes in bankruptcies, and that’s a category that’s very robust at this time.

Advertisers have been feeling the pinch, which has been well documented. Consumer spending is down as families look to save where they can:  buying generics, using coupons, and doing more with less. One of the areas where consumers are especially vigilant is in their discretionary spending for family entertainment. A movie night out for four could easily cost $50-$60. And then there’s the matter of the movie’s content. You can see how parents might want to consider an alternative to this.

Enter: minor league sports.

You know, that’s those guys who bust their butts day in and day out trying to make it to the big-time. They have small contracts and play with a zest often missing in major league sports. There’s minor league baseball, hockey, basketball, and arena league football.

What’s nice about this is that a family of four can have a great night out of entertainment which probably will include agame, in-park (or arena) promotions, and maybe even a sponsor giveaway, all at a reasonable cost of $30-$40. Kids can interact with the mascot and the players and may even get to ride the Zamboni at a hockey game (For the uneducated, that’s the tractor-like machine that comes out between periods to smooth the ice.)

This is also a perfect opportunity for sponsors to get up close and personal. The cost of sponsoring a minor league franchise is only 20-35% the cost of a major league franchise, and the contract often doesn’t include the constraints that the majors place on participating sponsors. In minor league hockey the promotions could be as basic as sponsoring a fan of the game or allowing one kid to watch the game from the home team’s bench. The sponsor’s brand name is featured on the scoreboard every time the lucky kid is shown, prompting other kids watching in the stands to sign up for the contest the next time.

Last year the AHL’s (American Hockey League) Milwaukee Admirals ran a promotion called the Merkt’s Cheese Race, in which several fans dressed in costumes shaped like tubs of the company’s cheese spread. The tubs raced around the rink, mimicking the famed Sausage Race held at Milwaukee Brewers home games. Each racer represented a corresponding section of the arena, and the winner earned fans in his section a coupon for discounted cheese.

Though in-game promotions are the best way to reach families, most minor league hockey teams also offer uniform advertising, allowing sponsors to place small patches on jerseys or decals on helmets. This is also something their NHL brethren do not allow.

These are examples of companies that realize that their customers are local and want to establish a strong connection with them in the form of entertainment. This isn’t the Super Bowl and its $3MM commercial price tag. It’s not MLB or the NCAA. It’s just good, old, clean fun that happens to be local.

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Is It Time To Rethink Your Trade Show Strategy?

Having attended more than my fair share of trade shows over the past six months, I have one question. To quote a former NFL coaching legend, “What the hell is going on out there?”

No matter the industry or size of the show, it seems that the current economic climate has caused most exhibitors to go back into their shells and rely on the dull, boring, and overused means of generating awareness and impact, attracting folks into their booth, and conducting business.

Attendance at many shows is way down, and companies are sending fewer representatives, if any at all. That’s a fact. Dragging the same old booth to the same old show with the same old speech just won’t cut it anymore. I would argue that it has never been more critical for exhibitors to get out there and do something different to make an impact with show attendees.

What can you do differently with your presence and/or your booth space to stand out from your competition, generate traffic and buzz, and achieve your goals? Try doing something totally different. We’ve had several clients do a trade show 180 over the past year, and the results have been dramatic.

CHANGE YOUR BOOTH: Get into the current mindset of your target. Survey your audience ahead of time. What are their points of pain? What solutions are they looking for? What needs are they trying to fill? Focus your team’s goals, your booth, and your talking points in these specific areas…and find a way to do it differently than everyone else! One of our clients recognized that a key trade show was right in the middle of the Daytona 500. They also knew that their audience loves car racing and drinking beer. So, they turned their booth into a giant weekend sports bar, complete with numerous hi-def flat-screen TVs that showed nonstop sports programming, including the Olympics! Booth attendance was like nothing they had ever seen before, and showgoers lingered and engaged with the reps for much more time than in previous years. The PR generated from doing something so unique was an added bonus.

It was unique, aligned with the brand strategy, and crushed the money-blowing machines, Wii bowling, prize wheels, and washed-up ex-pro-athlete autographs that other booths were using to stand out.

SURROUND THE SHOW: Consider taking your message outside of the convention center walls to stand out. Once again…get into the mindset of your target. Where will they be staying? What will they do at night or for fun while they are there? Will they all fly into the same place or travel along the same route? Do a scouting trip or two and get inside the head and the potential itinerary of your key attendees. Talk to the convention center, nearby hotels, and nightlife spots. Challenge them with ideas that they may have never seen before. We have taken this approach for several of our clients and have implemented some very unique ideas at convention centers, airports, hotels, restaurants, shops, bars, and even on the sides of buildings.

So consider doing something different at your next show. It could pay off in a big way.  And make sure you save some time to walk the show. You’ll get a great sense of what is going on in the marketplace, and how you should position your brand to stand out.

– Stephen Weinstein – Director of Account Management


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