Archive for March, 2012

Playing and winning takes STRATEGY

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

by Neil Kuvin


A simple enough word. Does anybody disagree with the fundamental meaning of strategy: “a carefully devised plan of action to achieve a goal, or the art of developing or carrying out such a plan.” (Encarta Encyclopedia)

StrategyWhy does this very basic construction of a “road map,” if you will, cause so many disagreements among serious management thinkers? Those in executive positions have struggled to steer their businesses, or clients to some form of sustained success. And the succinct, pragmatic response to describing a “Plan” escapes through holes caused by disagreement. Having a shared vision or definition of strategy is not simple, but essential. Let’s give it a shot.

BIZCEOS requires me to focus on business first, so let’s explore that only for now. So, what is a business strategy? First off, it is different from vision, mission, goals, priorities, and plans. It is the result of choices executives make, on where to play and how to win, to maximize long-term value.

“Where to play” specifies the target market in terms of your company or the customers and the needs to be served. The best way to define a target market is highly situational. It could be defined in any number of ways,

1. target customers (in certain parts of the world or in particular parts of your agency’s focus),

2. how they buy (very specific channels),

3. who they are (their particular demographics and other innate characteristics),

4. when they buy (for example, on particular occasions),

5. what they buy (for instance, are they price buyers or service hounds?)

6. or for whom they buy (themselves, friends, family, their company, or their customers).

Having a differentiated approach to a target market can be a source of great advantage in its own right. Southwest Airlines is a case in point. Early in its development, Southwest defined its target market to include regular bus travelers — people who wanted to get from point A to point B in the lowest-cost, most convenient way.

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In contrast to the industry’s hub-and-spoke standard, Southwest’s point-to-point operations and hassle-free service model comprised a compelling value proposition for people who were choosing bus travel. You win (first) and obviously Southwest does by filling their airliners.

Tried booking a flight on Southwest lately? Their destinations, availability, generally lower costs and personal attention are just a few of the elements that make them desirable. This gave them a unique growth path compared to the traditional airlines. And latest attempts by most other carriers to raise additional revenue by charging serious money for extra bags, blankets, schedule changes, etc. have been positively rebuffed in a terrific PR and advertising campaign. That’s strategy!

The “where to play” was probably the most successful element of their strategy. What they did about it: essential for success. But without very carefully selected playing fields the message could have been expensed on millions of non, or occasional flyers.

A good strategy calls for the right amount of “capabilities stretch”: not too much or too little change from capabilities already existing.

Every company faces innumerable options for where to play and how to win. Often they have to sort out seemingly conflicting objectives, such as the need for both long-term growth and short-term profitability, to choose which options to pursue. To “maximize long-term value” means — when there are mutually exclusive options — select those that will give the greatest sustained increase to the company’s economic value. How do you know when you’ve maximized value? You can’t, because you can never know with certainty if there’s a better option than those you’ve considered and promoted. To “maximize long-term value” is to never stop looking for those higher-value options.

“Winning” is the value proposition that will distinguish a business in the eyes of its target customers, along with the capabilities that will give it an essential advantage in delivering that value proposition and identity. Choices must be made because there is at least one way to win in every market. But not everyone can win in any given market. With good choices, you, or your business clients gain the right to win in your target markets.

The “value proposition” simply stated, for air travelers, using the Southwest conditions, is essential from a “give me what I need” perspective. Southwest has landing rights in many cities where travelers want and need to go. And they “win” against an industry that maintains the status quo in marketing and advertising.

So, in the end, to define the fundamentals of yours or a client’s business strategy, here are some topics to consider as you answer three questions:

1. Who is the target customer?

2. What is the value proposition to that customer?

3. What are the essential capabilities needed to deliver that value proposition?

4. What’s “winning” look like?

Without clear and coherent answers to these four questions, you may have an exciting vision, a compelling mission, clear goals, and an ambitious corporation with many actions under way. But you don’t yet have a strategy.

Should you join a non profit board?

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Non profit invitation: turn on that personal station WIIFM and decide for yourself

By Joseph John

non profit boardYou’ve had your interview for the board, and during the process you most likely have conducted your personal due diligence on the non profit organization. That due diligence includes items such as the organization’s impact on the community, programs, finances, structure of the board, bylaws, fund raising, and most importantly, board member responsibilities.

And now? Well, now you’ve just been asked to join the non profit organization and become a board member. You’re flattered and ready to join. But before you say “yes,” you should turn on a famous radio station: WIIFM (what’s in it for me).

Yes, even though you probably asked great questions about the non profit organization and got the answers you were seeking, you really do need to switch the dial to WIIFM — it’s a station only YOU can tune into.

Now, before you get upset at me that I’m condoning ego trips and major league boosts to your resume, let me explain why WIIFM is not a negative. It can be a helpful station that filters out all of the personal traits that are counter to altruism.

Just What’s In It For Me to become a board member?  Begin with truthful responses, so begin with the most basic one: Do I want recognition, or do I really want to serve and give back to the community? (egoism versus altruism).

O.K. If you can get past that first set of questions, here are some other questions to consider (not in any specific order). And by the way, as you read each question, remember Socrates’ famous words — “know thyself:”

  1. Can serving on this non profit board enrich my life while developing passion for the organization’s cause?
  2. Can I grow as a board member and add value to the board?
  3. Can I move out of my “comfort zone” and learn new skills?
  4. Can I become a valuable asset to the community?
  5. Can I place the non profit organization’s interests above my own and serve the organization’s needs?
  6. Can I network with those like me who are serving, to broaden my horizons and sharpen my people skills?
  7. Can I learn to “play nice” and become a TEAM player with a group of people who also are contributing their free time to serve?
  8. Can I make a difference?
  9. Can I commit to self-improvement while helping to improve the non profit organization?
  10. Can I be empathetic, accountable, and ethical?


The preceding questions, not all-inclusive, comprise a WIIFM exercise NOT designed to assess potential materialistic or power gains. The true nature of the exercise is to determine if you can serve an organization that needs you and one where you cannot nor will expect payback — other than the satisfaction of serving others.

I asked an associate of mine to read this article before posting. After reading it, he told me that he was creating a rating scale of 1-5 for the WIIFM questions — just so he could re-assess his commitment to the organization(s) he serves. What a GREAT idea.

So if you’re approached to serve on a non profit board, proceed with the necessary due diligence, ask the questions you need to ask about them, and then step back, turn on WIIFM, and listen to yourself.

Change for a Penny, Please

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

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Prices: just some Friday thoughts…

by Neil Kuvin

$4.00/gallon. Saw it change at the Thornton’s in Middletown last nite. And what’s with the 3.999 anyway. Who gets the extra .001? Is that a coin? If I give the clerk $4.00 what do I get back? I’m going to start asking for change. Why not? The oil companies think we’re all dumb, inactive, pliable sheep, don’t they? I figure on every 10 gallons they owe me a penny. During a year of transactions, I figure with their “rounding up,” I’m owed several bucks.

Back in the early 1900’s there was an actual coin representing this transaction amount. If the gas station had those coins today they likely would be worth thousands of dollars each! And for advertising, marketing purposes, they casually “round down” with us going along. Do you say, “three ninety nine? Or do you say “Three ninety nine, ninety nine?” Do you ever day, “Four bucks.” We’re all so easily trained. Welcome to the “Lemming” universe.

The major point I want to make here is what are we going to do about it? Lemmings are braver than we are and a lot tougher. Lemmings may follow their front row of brothers and sisters right off a cliff, but when challenged they are aggressive, dangerous little beasts. Are we?

Howard Beal (“Network”) said it best: “I’m as mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

I didn’t think I’d reach this level of anger & frustration. But I have. I’m strapped to this gas pump and I’m watching it get fatter almost every day, while my wallet is losing weight at the same rate.

This is not a political call to rally. Just to have you pay the clerk and casually ask for your change. Just look at the amount and figure is out. For every ten of their ” round up” dollars they owe you a penny. You’ll blow him away.


Public Relations: 9 Ways to Close the deal

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

by Neil Kuvin

Hey, Public Relations expert. What’s Public Relations mean to you?

And what is your plan to convince a client to give you their precious money and their trust. Fundamentally, do your clients “get it?”

Public RelationsIn your presentation of a marching forward plan, do they “understand” Public Relations and its inherent benefits for their visibility, brand awareness, sales and growth? If you don’t personally advise them, who do you think should? And as far as managing a plan and budget, getting closer to your client’s target audience is the goal. Generating a fully understood message from your client to their audience is the objective. This delicate relationship with your client demands open communication.

First things first. Have you vetted the client and the competitive environment in which they wrestle for customers? Until you more fully understand your client’s message, how can you establish their goal? Until you have locked onto and have literally bought into their goals and objectives, you’re not going to have the passion and conviction needed to wake up at 3:30AM thinking about how you’re going to maximize opportunities for awareness and brand. And we all know that moving product from the shelves can be a gauge by which you and your client agree on whether your contract gets renewed.

The Public Relations element you’re developing in behalf of your client, as you journey out to create a PR/marketing plan requires that you frame your messages to answer the questions, “what does this information mean to me?” “How will this affect me?” and “Do I care about this information?”

I am currently working on marketing and communications’ plans for three diverse organizations and thought you might gain something from what I learned from my mentors years ago.

Here is the outline for one client’s public relations section.

1. Executive Summary – One page overview offering enough information for the reader to understand the key points in the document.

a. Statement of problem
b. Background information

c. Conclusion – anticipated results

2. Analysis – One to three pages depending on how much information you want included. Key issues that programs will address. Good idea to provide too much info than too little.

3. Client’s background (competition, your client’s strengths & weaknesses, etc.) Show ‘em you know ‘em.

4. Challenges faced by your client / Opportunities by competition’s mistakes

5. Reason for plan creation (How do we get there from here)

6. Planning – Create a document with objectives, target audience, strategies, program & activities’ schedule:

a. Objectives – These should be in line with the overall marketing plan
b. Target Audience – Create a list of all audiences and influencers. A planned, lengthy meeting with your client will provide categories besides the assumed (media)
c. Media List – Create a list of journalist to be included
d. Strategies – In general explain the strategies you recommend to achieve objectives.
e. Programs & Activities – Editorial calendar, media kit, news releases, fact sheets, media tours, open houses, data sheets, presentations

f. Schedule & Timeline

7. Main Story Framework

a. Message & language library – Three to five key messages that tell ther story

b. Spokesperson & Training – Approved individuals capable of handling media interviews about the company, event, etc. Hold interview pre-briefings. Recommend Media Crisis Training to tune skills and create learning experiences

8. Tracking and Evaluation

a. Go slow on this one. You’ll likely

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be criticizing your own work.

b. Have the client provide their evaluation

c. Good tracking, especially of non-public media success, is irreplaceable, especially if you’re looking for a contract extension.

9. Developing a budget

a. A good, thorough, quality presentation of goals, objectives and tactics will provide you with a positive environment for putting acceptable dollars to the strategy.

b. “Prove it” says your client, challenging you on some tactics & media buying.

c. Your hourly budget is your product price. Don’t defend it Just quote it


Non Profit Board Meetings Can be Effective

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Start using the “Consent Agenda” and be pleasantly surprised and efficient.

By Joseph John

non profit boardIt’s on your calendar — your regularly scheduled non profit board meeting. OUCH! How many board meetings do you dread attending? Be honest! And why? Do those meetings always seem to be the same old thing? Once again, do you see that there’s no substantial business that is being conducted that NEEDS to be conducted!?

I didn’t coin this phrase (I wish I did), but check this out: Efficient [non profit] board meetings begin with an efficient agenda.

The following concept is not new, but if you’re not using it, try it: The Consent Agenda.

It’s surprising how many non profit boards do not use the Consent Agenda. Believe me, if the consent agenda strategy is used, meetings can be more effective and streamlined while the focus can be on the real issues that need discussion and votes. The proof is in the following citations:

“A consent agenda, sometimes called a consent ‘calendar,’ is a component of a meeting agenda that enables the board to group routine items and resolutions under one umbrella.” [BoardSource]

“A consent agenda groups the routine, procedural, informational and self-explanatory non-controversial items typically found in an agenda. These items are then presented to the board in a single motion for an up or down vote after allowing anyone to request that a specific item be moved to the full agenda for individual attention. Other items, particularly those requiring strategic thought, decision-making or action, are handled as usual.” [Core Strategies for Non-Profits]

“I think it’s a critical and helpful agenda tool. It was an invaluable and necessary element of the agenda, and it dramatically shortened the meetings. At least 70% of the time, at the board meeting, the items were not moved from consent by a board member for further consideration/deliberation.” [Dr. Michele Sabino, Houston TX]

The first thing to keep in mind is that the Consent Agenda is a bundle of routine matters that don’t really need any time for discussion IF those items had been distributed before the non profit meeting for pre-reads. That is one of the critical features of the Consent Agenda — it must be distributed in advance of the meeting so that the entire package can be voted on and then move on to REAL topics.

And what are some of those “routine” matters?

1)     Minutes of the last meeting,

2)     Committee reports

3)     Staff reports

4)     Routine financial reports

5)     Informational documents

6)     Future meetings (and the list goes on)

As you can see, many of those items and more can be reviewed by non profit board members, at their leisure, prior to the meeting, making the approval process of the entire “bundle” a time saving feature. Imagine a one-hour agenda where all of those previously mentioned items accounted for only a one or two minute vote of approval.

As noted by Dr. Sabino and the other sources I quoted, there may be times that a particular item from the package is requested to be moved from consent to deliberation. However, it’s worth the percentage odds that it’s not going to happen, and as a result, more strategic issues can be discussed in the remaining fifty-eight minutes of your one-hour meeting.

There are numerous sources for you to use. However, I found that BoardSource has an excellent monograph The Consent Agenda: A Tool for Improving Governance. This document explains the process and provides very helpful tips to create the agenda, what should and should not be included, as well including a section titled “Breaking with Tradition” — you know, the proverbial “we never did it that way before” statement.

Busy non profit boards and busy people need effective meeting management processes — give the Consent Agenda a try.


Could you use a little Public Relations today?

Monday, March 19th, 2012

by Neil Kuvin

Public RelationsDid’ja hear the latest in a long line of corporations making public fools of themselves by using past incidents to stir emotions or use examples? Here are just three examples of incredibly bad decision-making and why Public Relations is essential to wipe up the dropped and broken advertising bowl.

UPS buys time in the highly-viewed NCAA 2nd round Kentucky game and builds a commercial around video of Duke’s previous basketball star, Christian Laetner shooting a last-second shot that won the 1992 NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament.  UPS is using the video footage of Laetner’s shot to demonstrate a lack of “logistics” – their latest limp ad campaign.  When you see the complete video you know Kentucky’s team left Laetner alone at the foul line at the other end of the court.  Logistics indeed.  Sounds more like a major coaching mistake by Kentucky.  Laetner is virtually unguarded.  The ball arrives.  Laetner turns and shoots a 16-footer and… we all know the outcome.

And now, 20 years later, probably no fewer than 25 million people saw the spot and except for basketball fans in Siberia, Iceland and Greenland, haven’t the slightest knowledge of why Duke is so hated across the tobacco and horse fields of Kentucky.  And this commercial has stirred up the Kentucky Cats’ faithful.  They are outraged.  Hell, I can’t escape a Kentuckian’s wrath when I proudly wear my 30-year old Duke hat.  In fact, about 10 years ago, while wearing the dark blue hat, I was sternly told by a “Home Depot” clerk not only to “get out,” she added, “and don’t come in here again wearing that hat.”  Her eyes and hands told me she was serious.

How many of you remember the “New Coke” product and its advertising campaign?  That product died a painful and expensive death.  Did Coca Cola put anything into Public Relations to mitigate the damage done to their iconic brand and logo?  While they didn’t use anything untoward or personally offensive in their ad campaign, they were guilty of even thinking that we consumers would literally eat it up.  They think we’re all Coke-worshipping lemmings and will buy anything they produce.  I wonder if the person who thought that whole thing up is now waiting tables in Peoria.  Just think of the money spent on creating the “New Coke” product, bottling and shipping costs, and then the ad campaign.  And no follow-up Public Relations after the product got pulled from the shelves.  I’m getting dizzy.

And now the latest in a long line of mistakes with no mop supplied. “Huggies” diapers are, like UPS, offending probably 40-50% of the population with their commercial featuring men changing diapers.  The sequences inside the commercial show men to be oafs, irritatingly silly and downright incompetent.  Men may not buy their product, but it’s for sure they know how to use it on their child.  “Stay at home” Dads and many men throughout the country are furious with the commercial, and rightly so.  But will “Huggies’” corporate moguls and overpaid advertising agency creative types change the spot or pull it temporarily to do some Public Relations damage control?  Not a chance.

Public Relations is not the end-all and be-all to fixing an image.  But it can and does have an impact on diminishing; even taking the edge off what stupid people in critically important positions do between nine and five on Madison Avenue.  Sometimes it’s years before the stigma of major advertising mistakes can finally drift away.  For UPS, at least here in Kentucky, it’ll be a lifetime.


Do you need a code of conduct for a Non Profit Board?

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

YES. Be Proactive and Develop a Non Profit Board “Code of Conduct”

By Joseph John

non profit boardCreating and publishing a code of conduct is a very important process for any non profit board. Why? It makes your board proactive in eliminating any potential conflicts, which can arise when board members deal with each other or with the people in the communities they serve.

Consider the following exercise. Rate the following items in the following manner: “It would NEVER happen on our Board;” or, “It HAS happened on our Board; or, “It COULD happen on our Board.” OK. Ready?

  1. Abusive language
  2. Sexual harassment
  3. Bullying other board members or staff members or persons impacted by your organization
  4. Possession of illegal drugs or firearms
  5. Rudeness to another board members, staff members, or persons impacted by your organization
  6. Criticizing other board members or staff members publicly
  7. Failure to comply with one’s fiduciary responsibility
  8. Unethical or illegal practices that could harm the image of the organization
  9. Disclosing confidential information of donors, staff, volunteers and other people associated with or related to the organization

As you can see, this list may not be all-inclusive. But the list illustrates more than enough areas of conduct to pose the question: Has YOUR non profit board ever experienced any of those issues? If the answer is “NO,” congratulations! Now let me ask you the million-dollar question: “Could it EVER happen on your board?”

Let’s face it, when you’re dealing with non profit board members, i.e., human beings, you’re dealing with people who come from all walks of life. Those board members bring diverse value sets and perspectives on life to the boardroom. Now, combine all of those different value sets on a board of directors and the result? Verrrrry interesting dynamics.

Those of you old enough may remember the expression they used in the horse operas: “Let’s head ‘em off at the pass!” Well, writing a code of conduct and referencing it in your bylaws is a way to be proactive and head off any potential problems before they DO become problems. Having board members sign a code of conduct and/or Code of Ethics will be a valuable tool for enacting swift AND just treatment to those people who betray the trust of the organization because of their behaviors.

Abusive language, sexual harassment, bullying and more just don’t occur in the classrooms or the workplace. Unfortunately, poor behavior, and less than desirable personal interactions, takes place EVERYWHERE, and that also includes a boardroom — yes, even for a non profit organization.

There are numerous sources to help guide you in crafting a code of conduct. Organizations such as the National Council of Nonprofits, BoardSource, Independent Sector, and Center for Non-Profit Excellence are just some of the outstanding groups you can reference to begin the thought processes in developing your document.

Remember this reality check:  No non profit board is totally insulated from violating good conduct; therefore, commit your organization to creating a code of conduct so you can “head ‘em off at the pass” for peace of mind.