How We Won The Olympics

Part 4 in the series “Pitching To Win…Without Pitching”

If Seattle’s decade of the dotcom gave us anything, it was breathtaking innovation followed closely by mountains of investment capital. Or the other way around. This became more obvious each day in my tip-of-the-spear New Business Director role at Horton Lantz & Low in the early 2000s. It seemed that, almost overnight, the entire marketing landscape started shifting at warp speed. Every hungry business now wanted a fancy website adorned with 1-click storefront technologies, pop-up windows and clever meta-tags tied to search engine optimization strategies. Suddenly the fabled “big idea” pushed by ad agencies and eye-popping graphics of branding firms were being kicked to the curb. Marketing innovation harnessed by digital technologies became the bright new currency of brand managers of consumer products–and data-driven lead generation campaigns for B2B clients–across the Northwest and the nation.

As fate or good fortune would have it, I left Horton Lantz & Low  with a mix of optimism and dread. I was determined to ply the new waters of digital marketing. But the currents seemed deep, dark and a bit deadly. I dove in anyway. Over a period of several months I became an expert digital marketing strategist (albeit self-appointed). I read volumes on a multitude of topics from every digital marketing web portal and e-newsletter my eyeballs could land on. But the ones that caught most of my attention were Click-Z and MecLabs, two daily e-newsletters that, though light on creative ideas, were heavy on data and analytics-driven content I was looking for.

While doing my industry due-diligence two topics rose to the surface that gave me pause, telling me these were worthy of my full attention. Three actually, though they are intricately interwoven—multi-variate testing, landing pages and keyword search.

Providentially while doing this research I discovered a quiet but potent Seattle digital marketing agency specializing in app development, web design and back-end data analytics—Peak Systems (subsequently renamed UpTop Corp (www.uptopcorp.com). I was mostly drawn to the company by their roster of super cool clients like Warren Miller Ski Films and the Salt Lake Winter Olympics. But what was most exciting was a) they were looking for a New Business Director / Chief Marketing Officer and b) their CEO lived on Bainbridge Island, which meant we were fellow ferry boat commuters to downtown Seattle.

After making contact with John Sloat (the CEO) which led to an engaging lunch interview, I was hired. John gave me one specific assignment: to help UpTop win the RealNetworks account. More specifically, win a never-done-before project to acquire new subscribers for RealNetworks’ new streaming music service, Rhapsody. For me it was a perfect storm opportunity to apply my love for music with my passion for digital marketing, sales and analytics.

What ultimately won me an open-ended Rhapsody marketing assignment and subsequent full-time job offer as UpTop’s CMO was the surprising initial success of the project. Admittedly, that success had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the dream-team to whom I handed off most of the heavy lifting—my boss John (and the UpTop developers); Scott Fasser, the project manager; Tom Kelly, RealNetworks’ Rhapsody Division VP; and last but not least Scott Simonelli, Optimost’s VP of Sales (who was the primary architect of the multi-variate testing platform that pioneered a systematic way to test offers, images, colors and headlines to ensure the optimal combination of creative messaging on landing pages were tied to the most popular keyword searches at the time, such as streaming music, Coldplay, free digital music, jazz, etc).

The Rhapsody music project was a watershed moment for me. Not only did I get a primer in back-end data analytics but it earned me more time and opportunity with UpTop to wield the most powerful weapon in their (or any agency’s) arsenal—its client portfolio. I knew the impressive website and app develop work they’d done for Warren Miller Ski Films–and more importantly, the Salt Lake Winter Olympics—would be my calling card to bigger and more lucrative new business. Providentially, this meant chasing after the biggest event within 200 miles of Seattle in the past decade—the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Though I only realized it in hindsight, the Rhapsody project taught me the incalculable value of trusted partnerships that fostered collaboration leading to breakthrough results. This was the big take-away for me, the one I determined to apply to the Vancouver Winter Olympics account–to win it for UpTop. What I learned then about innovation in digital marketing–and am still learning–is that true digital creativity happens most efficiently and sustainably when you saddle up with people who have already blazed technology trails with proven success. In Rhapsody’s case  our dream-team members were Scott Fasser, a seasoned search engine marketer; Scott Simonelli, one of the nation’s pioneers in multi-variate landing page testing; and my company, UpTop, a back-end application development firm that could slice up a page and code it with an infinite array of message and image options. And of course Tom Kelly, RealNetworks’ VP of Rhapsody Music, the master conductor of the project.

If there’s a main reason I’ve enjoyed success as a business development specialist, it’s that I read a lot…perhaps more than most of my friendly competitors, if not all of them. As a daily habit I scan trade periodicals, websites and e-newsletters featuring business trends and industry news. This morning ritual has yielded a treasure trove of leads over the years. And on that fortuitous morning when I read a small piece in the business section of a British Columbia Newspaper on the upcoming Winter Olympics I knew I’d hit the mother lode. I discovered that in preparation for the 2010 Winter Games the Vancouver Olympics Organizing Committee (VANOC) had just been assembled. The article went on to say the committee was in its infancy but would soon be recruiting staff and vendors to help facilitate the logistics of the Games. To me that meant one thing: my company, UpTop, needed to be THE tech firm that brought the logistics together with one massive database solution—our specialty. It’s what we’d done for the Salt Lake 2002 Games years before. So in my mind it was our business to lose. How could we not chase after this with abandon and transfer our database solutions from one Olympic Games to the next? It seemed like a walk in the park.

From that moment on I began the chase. The most important step in this Approach Stage, as I’ve mentioned earlier, was gathering  as much insider information as possible. This meant finding someone within the VANOC organization who could give us a competitive advantage to learn what the SWOT profile was (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and where we could swiftly move in– quietly without any competitors around–to build relationships from within, along with the critical information we needed to present the best solution to our prospect.

As more good fortune unfolded, my first phone call to Canada connected me with the new office manager in Vancouver who had just been awarded the 4-year contract role to manage all administrative aspects of the Games. This included hiring an army of volunteers and paid staff to coordinate traffic, transportation, Olympic village accommodations, security and a million other details. The blessing for me was that she was not only incredibly capable and informative, but extremely warm. We made friends quickly, and over the ensuing dozens of phone calls and emails we established a mutual trust that paid rich dividends. One of the pay-offs was learning that Canadian companies—transportation companies, foodservice providers, construction firms and the like—would be given strong preferential treatment when it came to awarding contracts to bring the Olympics to Vancouver, Canada.

So again I went to digging…this time to explore suitable a British Columbia software development company with whom we could saddle up and fill in the technology expertise we lacked to build a gargantuan database to manage the logistics of the Games—and more importantly, give us the advantage over any and all competitors who wanted a stake in the software infrastructure to organize the Games and the resources to pull them off.

I was thrilled when my research pointed to a small software development firm headquartered in Victoria, BC that had just the chops we needed. They had an impressive portfolio and list of clients, and their leadership team was quite affable and open-handed. Between the many conference calls and trips from Seattle to their Victoria offices we forged a strong, trusting partnership. And in a matter of months…well, the rest became history.

In keeping with this series of Winning Without Pitching, I can’t exactly say we won the business without a few competitors nipping at our heels. In fact, as was my customary way, I sheepishly asked the administrator one day, “Would you mind telling me the names of the other companies in the running for this software development project?” In hindsight I wished I’d never asked. The moment my administrator-turned-new-best-friend mentioned the names of two global technology companies  we were contending with–IBM and Fujitzu Business Solutions—you could hear my bubble of optimism pop like a bomb, then a slow fizzling sound as our “we got this” positivity became a vanishing vapor.

Though chasing projects on the scale of the Olympic Games–with the odds in your favor (including the best team and the best solution) hardly guarantees a win–in this case, shockingly, it did for our UpTop team. We won the business. And we learned later we won handily, with subsequent fees generating well over a million dollars for the agency. I guess that’s why the company was aptly named UpTop.

For me personally, the learnings of the Olympic Games pursuit–and the RealNetworks win–were vast. But to strip it down, here are a few simple take-away points you may be able to apply to your own hunt the next time you see a big piece of new business in your cross-hairs…

  1. Apply successful, relevant experience—In my experience, prospective clients have a difficult time imagining success with your firm if you haven’t shown solid marketing case studies and a portfolio that validates your expertise. No client wants to be a guinea pig.
  2. Be a relentless researcher—Make research a daily habit. In the above illustration I talked about how my research led to landing a big project, then a big job offer. It led me to discover Optimost that was the partner I presented to our client as the best technology partner for testing. We got in on the ground floor of the Olympic Games before any competitor knew about it, and we found the perfect partner to give us the local competitive advantage to help break parity with our rivals.
  3. Speed—In business development, speed is critical. Everyone pays attention when you’re fast with solutions and clear in your communication. It raises the bar for everyone to do their best and keep things moving quickly and efficiently. It’s called professionalism.
  4. Partnerships—You know the saying made famous by Aristotle… “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” That especially applies to team members with expertise far beyond your own capabilities. That goes back to speed and efficiency and professionalism, which is what clients are buying.
  5. Collaboration—When smart and experienced people band together amazing things happen. Ideas from one category or discipline can be cross-pollinated with others from different team members. The result is what everyone should be shooting for…genuine innovation through synergy.
  6. Likability—Very little of the above happens when pitch or implementation teams don’t get along. Common courtesies foster trust and respect. When people are liked and appreciated they do their best work. It’s where the Golden Rule applies in spades.

These tips and tactics may seem rudimentary to most. But it’s taken me two decades to live these principles out with any consistency. If you’ll take these concepts to heart perhaps you can hasten your personal learning cycle and win your pitch–with or without pitching—almost every time.

Winning The Pitch…Without Pitching

Part 1–Introduction

At the height of the frantic, money-grubbing dotcom era, Seattle’s business landscape was littered with tech start-ups and fat digital marketing budgets lining every street from Seattle to Bellevue to Blaine. Venture funding was flowing like freshly corked bottles of Dom Perignon. It was a heavenly moment for entrepreneurs and opportunists. For me and the ad agency pitch teams who chased after them with abandon it was a four star meal ticket to cash in on the region’s new-found prosperity. Or so we all thought.

On January 21, 2001 I uprooted my family from the piney woods of East Texas to stake my claim of fame and fortune in Seattle’s pot of digital marketing gold. I had a heart full of optimism, a head full of modestly successful marketing campaigns and a 20-year resume documenting my experience as the head of business development for Los Angeles and Dallas ad agencies and design firms. I had fire in my belly, fully convinced that hunting for plum new advertising accounts in the emerald green pastures of industry titans like Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon meant one thing. Big bucks.

And it was…until it wasn’t.

As many of us painfully discovered–in the irrefutable trends of macro-economics–what goes up must come down. The dotcom go-go era eventually slowed to a trickle, then bottomed out in 2001—not so fortuitously at the same time I left the comforts of East Texas to assume the reigns of new business for Seattle’s Horton-Lantz-Low marketing agency (arguably the largest and most innovative independent agency in Seattle at the time which unofficially merged with Ascentium in 2010).

Despite the downturn, for me it was a time of enormous challenge, growth and modest success. I learned to pitch business from the very best, in a team environment, competing for some of the richest and most storied advertising and design accounts on the planet—Patagonia, Shimano, Princess Cruises, Phillips Electronics, Microsoft, etc.

Though I brought to HL2 a solid background in account strategy and copywriting, I was hired for one reason: to get in front of prospects. And I did so, with dutiful enthusiasm as the sort of “tip of the spear” big game hunter for the firm.

What I learned could fill a book (which may happen one day). But for the purpose of this blog series I’ll lay the foundation for my learnings and pitch strategy by borrowing the simple but profoundly effective proprietary sales process model from my sales mentor and forever friend, the late Roy Chitwood. In his Max Sacks “Track Selling” training program (www.maxsacks.com – I wrote most of the copy and produced the website) Roy defines the track selling process as follows…

Approach  >  Qualification  >  Agreement of Need  > Sell the company  >  Fill the need  >  Act of commitment  >  Cement the sale

With this groundwork of a brief introduction and sales model laid, we’ll talk next week about that critical first step in the sales process that I’ve discovered, time and again, which separates the men from the boys—the Approach Stage.

Check in next week for Be first, be fast, be fabulous—Part 2

(photo credit courtesy of John Hamm, post Mad Men)

Go Big Or Go Home

taylor swift 2My 19 year old daughter is an aspiring professional singer. As a sophomore vocal performance major she’s often auditioning for a part or performing in a concert.

Every once in awhile she’ll call or text me about a show she’s getting ready to take the stage for. She’s usually looking for a pep talk or reassurance that she won’t biff.

My advice is always the same…

“Go big. Have fun…or stay in your dorm room.” She seems to listen because it apparently pays off.

What does going BIG mean to you? Whether you’re a salesperson or singer, presenter or preacher, in my mind it means tapping into that passion and energy deep within your heart to share a prized gift to your audience.

Since I’m an entertainment marketer I’ll give you a couple of examples. The best is from the King of Pop. If you read my earlier post you watched MJ’s History show in Munich as he floated, stomped, screamed and whispered to the roar of 100,000 ravaging fans.

Let’s face it. Michael was from a different planet, oozing passion and energy from drinking kryptonite or something from distant galaxy. It seemed that from every pore in his body, shoes, even that raw energy electrifying reshaped the sound waves produced from his voice.

The best preachers tap into it when attempting to pierce the hearts of souls they’re seeking to convert. Call it hell fire and brimstone, or whatever. It’s palpable. The late Chris Farley applied it with abandon while sitting in the interview chair on the Late Show with Conan O’brien.  The best pop singers have made it their signature sound (think Christina, Miranda, Adam Levine, etc).

For example, feel the passion, crazy talent playfulness from the biggest star you’ve never heard of…yet:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TwpajZIUxM

Celica Westbrook was all of 15 when this video was shot. Not in front of adoring fans or flanked with hunky dancers, but in a small Nashville studio. Which is an even bigger testament her energy and love for the lyrics and music of Al Green’s People Get Ready.

 When Celica makes her television debut in the next week or so on The Voice (under the expert coaching of Keith Thomas), she’ll hopefully be adding that magic ingredient she projects that can even make a sour note sound heavenly. What’s that? Humor. It’s what a beautiful, energetic, fun-loving high school senior should be doing at the ripe old age of 17…having fun.

Another case in point since we’re on the topic of beautifully talented, golden-yet-light-hearted young women: Taylor Swift. Want to know why this 22 year-old grossed more sales last year–$100 million–than any recording artist on the planet? Take a looks and see for yourself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA4iX5D9Z64.

$100 million. Let me say it again. $100 million.

Love her or hate her, she proves my point: Everything she does…whether videos, arena tours or talk show interviews, she is who she is—oozing passion and playfulness at every turn.

Tomorrow I get my own shot at five minutes of fame. I will be a presenter at Interbike, North America’s largest stage for the bicycle industry. I will be presenting a global marketing campaign for bike shop owners around the world—many of whom need a primer on how to sell electric bikes to their die-hard spandex-and-shaved-legged cycling customers.

So I’ve been thinking…like you should always be thinking…how do I go big?

Since I’m pitching electricity-powered bikes maybe I’ll switch my mic to a 220 volt power supply with a 1,000 watt amp and jolt everyone to attention with my booming voice? For that maybe I’ll need rubber-soled tennis shoes while talking through my PowerPoint slides.

Otherwise my next blog post might be…”Stay Grounded Or Die.”

(originally posted 10.30.13; reposted 2.5.16)

Who Are You Wearing Tonight?

gwyneth

Two of my favorite TV shows are the Grammys and Academy Awards. For a couple of reasons.

One reason is the opening act. The opener always sets the stage for the evening, providing a glimpse of the current quality and state of music and film in the entertainment business.

The other is the red carpet. The appearance of the industry’s biggest successes always leaves me star struck.

When I’m at my kitchen counter cooking or writing and I hear Lara Spencer or Natalie Morales ask that million dollar question “Who are you wearing tonight?” I know it’s time to drop everything, impose a gag order throughout the house and settle in to my front-row recliner.

What I’m about to witness (along with 3 billion other viewers) is humanity at the height of glamour—the stunning, beautiful people, glittery fashions, jewelry, and yes, even the diamond-studded accessories.

But under the lights of center stage, amid the perfect teeth, coiffed hair and sequined gowns shines an even brighter star:

Branding.

Since volumes have been written and broadcast on the topic of branding by marketing stars like Seth Godin and Donny Deutsch I won’t rehash more of the same. Instead, I’d like to take a peek behind the curtain, into a world many consider counter culture (which in this sense is an oxymoron) but in reality defines authentic, classic branding:

Indie music.

There’s no cooler music riding the airwaves today than the rapturous tunes of Eisley, short-listed by Billboard Magazine a few years ago as one of the special “Indie bands to watch”. If you’re not familiar with them (most of us late adapters aren’t) perhaps you will shortly. They’re continually following the path of Coldplay, Switchfoot, and Death Cab, for whom they open shows when not headlining their own. But make no mistake. They are Eisley. No one else.

Eisley-Tour-Banner-LO (2)

As I’ve watched their slow, steady rise to fame I’ve observed their unwavering commitment to be true to their values, style and passions—ultimately, that thing we call brand.

Curiously, the concept of branding (with origins from American West’s pioneer days) that helped define the classic cowboy persona is the same that identifies an indie fan, frequent flyer or Pandora One listener:

Loyalty.

In today’s free-for-all, circus-like marketing world loyalty is everything. Seattle’s Kennedy High School Development Department cultivates “Lazers for Life.” Masterworks, the premier faith-based ad agency chants the mantra “Donors for Life.” Even my own two companies—SmoothStone Partners and SmoothStone Sports + Entertainment Marketing rally to the slogan “Connecting Fans to Bands for Life.”

Smart companies have long since moved their main focus away from single-transaction ROI. Today’s marketing metrics are about projecting lifetime customer values and pro formas based on amortizing and analyzing customer acquisition costs over months and years. And not just original customers. Friends, neighbors, even extended family who become brand loyalists are worth thousands if treated with tender loving care.

It’s no secret in this economy: Differentiate your brand, foster fierce customer loyalty—or die.

eisley girl

One day, if you’re really lucky like Eisley, you can have a photo of People Magazine’s Best Dressed Woman gracing the front page of the London Times fleeing the paparazzi in your company’s cool new t-shirt.

The First Guy Naked Wins

naked
Before you get too excited let’s establish something up front. This post is not going to feed your sexual fantasy. It’s the title of a book my friend David Hazard and are writing on the pandemic of white collar depression, invading the boardroom, bedroom and beyond (a later blog topic).

It’s a title, a subject line that’s intended to tease you, to lure you in. Call it a hook, grabber, tease. But whatever the name, it’s got the power to grab your attention and keep it there until the advertiser, author, publisher or producer can take you to the next step in the sales cycle: consideration.

Since the dawn of man nothing has done this better than the second most popular word or concept in the English language. The magic word?

Sex.

To make a point about how sex is used in entertainment and marketing to capture and keep an audience on the edge of their seat, I give you the wholesome version of this, done tastefully, exceedingly well (Parental and clerical warning: this may not be suitable viewing). Do I have your attention?

Here we go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsMN1ywJkQY.

What’s this video about? Fashion, if you’re a designer. Bras if you work for Maidenform. Heaven or a peculiar glimpse thereof if you’re clergy. John Mayer or J-Zee if you’re a John Mayer or Jay-Zee fan. For a junior in high school boy (or girl for that matter)? You’re getting warmer.

If you’re a Shania fan you’ve already seen this video. If not, feast your eyes on this:  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqFLXayD6e8)

Look into her eye…what is Shania saying to you? “I want you?”
But here’s the problem. You can’t have her. Nor can you have big muscles in 30 days. Or a 32 inch waist at age 40 (25 if you’re a woman). Or a waterfront home. Or a perfect marriage.

Here’s another one: Look at the massive smile on Shania. What’s she saying now?

To set the record straight, in my opinion none of these video images is about cleavage or a suggestive “lie with me” message. They’re simply images of breathtaking beauty and fashion. What’s not to love about that?

Oh, one last thought. What’s the single most powerful word in the dictionary, far surpassing sex?

Free.

It’s lured you and legions of others into watching countless videos and listening to downloaded songs (that 10 years ago would have cost you thousands). But don’t be fooled. Like the free oil check and full service at the gas pump, that’s going away soon, almost as quickly as it entered the mainstream marketplace…my next blog topic.

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Praise For Pandora

pandora 2

In the wake of my last blog post (Beating The Digital Download Devil) I got a flood of emails protesting my position on the evils of digital music. In fairness to my detractors and to balance my indignation over the gobs of money sifted through the hands of hard-working artists, writers and composers and funneled into the pockets of the late Steve Jobs and company, I shine a promising beam of light—a beacon of hope for today’s topsy-turvy music business—on one of my favorite digital music brands.

Pandora.

What’s cool about Pandora? Perhaps the better question is…What’s not cool about Pandora (aside from the increasing proliferation of disruptive ads)? For over 100 million subscribers the notion that we’re beating the “pay for play” system by devouring an uninterrupted stream of free music seems delightfully naughty. Or consider that as subscribers we have instant access to well over a million groovy songs representing over 80,000 artists.

Last year alone Pandora served up over 4 billion music listening hours to aficionados like you and me. To date, they’ve delivered over 50 million mobile app downloads in the us alone. Here’s the best part—they’ve compensated music professionals with over $300 million in cumulative royalties to artists, labels, master copyright owners and the immortal SoundExchange. Sounds like redemption doesn’t it?

Personally, the thing I think is coolest about Pandora is it’s hip founder and CEO Tim Westergren. Aside from the fact that, post- IPO, he’ll never need to work another day in his life, he really loves and understands music. It’s written on his heart, it’s etched into his mind, and he’s devoted his life to making fabulous high fidelity music accessible to the masses. Free of charge, albeit with a few gratuitous ads springs sprinkled in after each music set.

He knows what I want. What’s that? To customize my music intake based on my favorite artists, genres and musical eras. Where else outside the digital world can you listen to a playlist of LMFAO, Katy Perry, Renee Fleming, the Beatles, Eisley, Death Cab, Glenn Miller, Coldplay, Bruno Mars, Ariana Grande and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—in that order, or shuffled, whenever, wherever I want?

Exactly one year ago to the day I received a nice personal email from Matt Nichols, Pandora’s VP of Marketing (and two days later from Tim himself). Both responded gingerly to the constructive criticism I offered after hearing a poorly executed ad.

Here’s what I said…

“I was disappointed to hear an ad that came on during my Beatles Radio Station today while riding my motorcycle up here in Seattle. It was a fabulous ad for Godiva Chocolates and was beautifully timed the day before Valentine’s Day. But the ad failed to include a call to action which you could help every one of your sponsors develop by adding a 10 second tag to EVERY ad from every partner/sponsor, like…to get your exclusive “I Love You” Pandora/Godiva Chocolate Gift Set click on the banner ad now or go to Pandora/Godiva.com and use promo code PAN at check out to redeem your discount and get three free months of Pandora One (credit card required).”

Then the PS.

“Sorry if I sound pushy and maybe I am a bit. It’s only because I love Pandora and the whole notion of the music genome project—that of profiling music, dissecting and categorizing sound and style elements within—is incredibly technologically innovative. Your marketing should be every bit as innovative. Even more so. And that means continually testing, validating and rolling out new messages and offers that optimally engage and activate your listeners. My two cents anyway.”

Want to know their reply?

You’ll have to log onto my upcoming post “Trouble In Tech Paradise For Entertainment Companies” for more ups and downs in digital music for the likes of Rhapsody, Spotify, GrooveShark/TinyShark, Slacker and other category leaders.

In the meantime, keep filling your head and heart with great music. BTW, do check out Spotify when you get a free minute. It’s one of my other favorite music portals.