Saturday, April 28, 2007

Communication World (CW) Tests The Virtual Waters

I was excited to receive May- June issue of CW, IABC’s magazine for communications management. Executive editor Natasha Nicholson got it spot on, the potential phenomena of Second Life, the realities of the collaborative discussions taking place in virtual world has changed the way we communicate. Revolutionised it really.

I found Slivia Cambie interview with Malaysian born writer Yang–May Ooi particularly relevant. In the article, A Novel Approach, Ooi discusses how she moved from the solitary process of writing two novels to the interactive world of daily blogging, an activity that opened up a whole new set of relationships and created new opportunities . “On line communications has led to real world connections,” says Ooi, “I speak at book events in Malaysia. I’ve been commissioned to write articles for the UK writer’s journal … and contribute to a book of essays on Malaysia…”

Her comments tacked back to questions that both my friend Karel Mc Intosh and my assistant Jamila Bannister asked me this week about the purpose of this blog (I am in the process of transitioning to a hosted, better designed blog). For me the success of this blog comed with the relationships that I build and the views that I help to change.

Like Ooi, writing is a fluid process. I channel my thoughts and I get to find a new way of reflecting on topics that are buried deep inside. Call it excavation. But writing has always done that for me. Blogging is just adding a new medium. If it helps the site to win top billings with some search engine. Great! But I am more concerned with a more fundamental principle: did I connect

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What a minimum wage paying job taught me.

My first job was a model /slash sales girl in a Canadian store called “Units”. It was the kind of store where you couldn't figure out what was sold. The clothes were easy knits, colourful, with no tight elastic band. They were stacked in cubicle and wrapped in plastic with cardboard backing so they could keep their form. The only time the customers knew the nature of the product was from a ramp stationed in the middle of the store on which - more frequently at the mall's busy hours- a bunch of sales associates would walk . If was a lot of fun! I was 19, it was a minimum wage paying job. I got no more than CDN $5.25 per hour. Still, we had some serious sales targets to meet. What follows are the three key lessons I learnt from the time I worked for minimum wages.

1. A Good Boss Will Notice Your Worth.
I was a West Indian in a foreign culture. You can bet that I didn't want to mess up. I was always the first to arrive and the last to fold the clothes back into their plastic wrappings. I treated customers, my boss and my colleagues respectfully but with a lot of Caribbean warmth. I took out trash even though it was not in my job description and was told that my personality caused the team to bond in ways they did not before.
After a few months, my boss called me into his office for my first performance review. He said that I had done well and that $.10 was the average raise for his employees. He asked what I thought I deserved. I replied that since I had done no more or less than what others did, I deserved the standard.
"Why" my boss pressed.
"Because what I am doing is not hard, you can easily find someone to replace me."

My boss increased my salary by $1.00 raise per hour. I was astounded. "I need to make sure you stay with us a few years more” he said, “so that the store across the street never has the opportunity to grab you.”

Lesson: Even when you think no one notices, someone always does

2. Sometimes a Few Good People Is All It Takes.

During the mall's busiest hours we had to make sure we were on the ramp constantly. The busyness of that activity generated the interest and sales peaked according to the activity on the ramp. But the effort required coordination between the girls showing the clothes and the sales assistants on the ground. Each model was assigned an assistant to help seal the deal. One day I was on the ramp and noticed that my sales assistant was overwhelmed with a surprising influx of customers So I picked up some of the slack. During my sets, I walked off the ramp, greeted customers, showed them the clothes, heightened their interest, sealed the deal before passing the sale on to the assistant. She was grateful and did the same for me several times over. We made an unbeatable team.

Lesson: By seeking solutions for the team and going the distance you win a tremendous amount of support and respect.

3. Connect With What You Are Doing and Do What You Love
I enjoy working hard doing things that I love. I was nineteen, I was around fashion, design, and working in another country. Who was I to complain about the wage. I know some people are prone to think: ‘I am not going to work hard given the pay I get’, instead they prefer to wait until they 'higher' position before taking on more. I never did, money never was my motivator, learning was.

Looking back, that minimum wage job taught me a lot. Now that I have my own communications firm, I practice what I learnt straight from the lessons of my youth, earning a minimum wage in Canada.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I bet you’ve seen them in the magazines. The young entrepreneurs, usually about 25. Bright. Converse on their feet. Cocky. At the height of the Internet bubble, they were the toast of the Valley and world. They possessed a certain bravado and were determined to make millions before they turned thirty. Some of them did. Most didn’t. But the ones who survived, like the creators of Google, helped turn living-room startups into billion-dollar companies. They amassed enough wealth to retire without a worry and decide what kind of life they want at 30.

These entrepreneurs defy the statistics; the research that states only the top quartile of entrepreneurs make more wages than their corporate-employed counterparts and that 75% of business owners would be better off financially with a good old regular job. Still, it is not the ability to make enormous sums of money that I marvel at, but the ages at which they begin. These entrepreneurs are 'mother’s-milk-in-my-face still young', and it raises a whole set of questions for many as to when is a good time to start a business.

I started my own branding and communications firms at age 29, and I will tell you if I knew back then the necessities for starting-up, I may not have taken my leap of faith. I didn’t have a network. Certainly no real business experience and no wealth of any kind to bootstrap my business. The only thing I had was optimism and the ability to live like a minimalist, with Crix and coffee at every single meal.

I subsequently read the best predictor of entrepreneurship is not age, not income, not wealth, it is ability. Oddly enough, think of a U shaped curve. People with very low and very high in ability tend to start companies. The middle usually stays put. Here’s what I read from a research paper on the issue:

We hypothesize that individuals with very low ability are more likely to take up self employment. These individuals may simply lack the discipline to work under someone else's authority, or in teams. They may also compare their low positions in their organizations and their low remunerations with those of higher ability individuals with similar human capital, and feel frustrated at the difference. They would thus be tempted to strike it out on their own. It is an empirical question whether their self-employment income would be higher than their paid employment income. On the other hand, individuals with very high ability are those with high energy levels, who get things done, who have strong interpersonal skills, and who are creative problem solvers. These individuals may feel that, in spite of their above average remuneration, they can do better on their own. This is because they have to share with their principals a substantial percentage of the value they contribute to their organizations. Finally, individuals of average ability are likely to be compensated in line with their human capital - they are therefore less likely to search for self-employment opportunities.

I knew on what side of the curve I stood from very early on, what I didn’t know was age can bring:

Money - It helps to have assets.

Connections - By the time you are 38, your friends and co-workers will have switched companies, changed jobs, and moved up the corporate ladder so there is easier access to decision makers and the people neded to help you get your business off the ground.

Wisdom - You don't have to learn or invent many of the standard processes .

Patience - You learn how to wait for the pitch that is in your business' capacity.

Still, as I grow older in the business and trade one set of skill sets for another, I recognise that age has less to do with success in business than opportunity and perseverance. Spend some time looking for the right opportunity to hitch your entrepreneurial star and watch your chances of success improve.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Will an MBA serve me well?

Truth is, when I delivered the opening remarks at the International Association of Business Communicators career day at UWI, St. Augustine and told some 100 students that they needed to find fresh ways of connecting the same old dots, I was in fact doing some soul searching of my own. As it stands, a mere two years before hitting the big 40, I too have been thinking about what next. What’s the next step in my career? The next score in my entrepreneurial goal post? The next big thing. And for a few shrill moments I considered a MBA.

I became fascinated with images of smiling graduates from the business schools that advertised the benefits of its acquisition. Principals at these schools crowed the benefits. My network, I was assured, would open up to the local powerful and influential (this was attractive since I earned my first Masters degree from a Boston university). Naturally, there was the curriculum, business schools had massaged their content. UWI had advertised for a lecturer in entrepreneurial studies. MBA students were spending time in other countries, combining their field of studies with languages. They were tackling interdisciplinary exercises with macro themes like globalisation and environmental sustainability. More importantly, perhaps more seductively, I was being influenced by my peers. It seemed that just about every professional communicator was going after a MBA. Anna Maria Garcia Brooks, the GM of marketing communications, and a recently minted MBA said to a group of professionals in her field that being elevated to executive management, "we as communicators, would, through sheer necessity, have to adopt a more general approach to our business. ….Continuous learning, beyond the field of Communications is crucial to making you more relevant, and in taking the profession center stage."

These were the benefits and like all they would accrue to me. Me. Me. But in all the analysis, there was one thing that was missing. You see, the thought of doing an MBA failed to excite me. When I told people about my ruminations it excited them. Their eyes sparkled. They were impressed. They pressed me more about my expectations and I began to wonder if I was considering getting the degree just to elicit that sparkle, to be part of that elite crowd that wore the MBA badge of honour. And then I had to write that speech for the group of one hundred 20-year olds ( a few were older and mature students) and in it, I wrote that "the learning experience was simply a journey into the discovery of who we really are." As I wrote it and when I said it, a veil was removed from my consciousness.

You see every day I study for my MBA. I begin my studies every day and at 4 a.m. every morning when I head to POS to run my communications and PR firm. I practice all the marketing theories as I contemplate how to position and price and promote our new software. I consider the human resource element as I grapple with attracting and keeping the right talent. I look at process mapping, benchmarking. Everyday, I get to be a leader. Mostly, I succeed but sometimes I fail and it is in those failures that I learn the very real lessons of management.

Author Henry Mintzberg, in his ‘Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development,’ was speaking directly to me when he said, "that when it comes to starting companies, the stumbling--not the studying--is what counts. " Bona fide entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates and Apple's Steve Jobs typically shunned M.B.A. programs because they're too anxious to work on their own ideas, says Mintzberg.Well an MBA work? For others, maybe, but not for me. I have applied for an MFA in creative writing. I think it is a good complement to my MSc which is marketing communications. It is also a good strategic fit, one of my employees loves publishing and editorial and I am hoping that she will be encouraged to further develop that arm of our business. My degree will add the creative element. Also my degree is portable, I can write and make money from anywhere in the world.

But for all that strategic talk about its fit with my current business model, there is an important factor that I failed to mention. The MFA excites me. And for all the wine in Tuscany, it is something that an MBA could never do.

Judette Coward Puglisi is the Managing Director of Mango Media Caribbean a strategic PR firm that measures the return on investment in communications and PR projects. She is the founder and current president of the International Association of Business Communicators

Monday, April 23, 2007

New Viral Media Culture Dethrones King Of Talk

Take a good look at my picture. Go ahead. See. I wear a full set of ‘nappy hair’ on my head. Frankly, that gives me the full right to be grateful that the overbearing Don Imus was fired and that the subsequent public outcry assures that if he ever lands in front of a microphone again, his language will not be so inflammatory.

Don Imus was the king of talk radio. When I lived in Boston in the late eighties to mid-nineties, his off-the-cuff remarks were a the first thing people discussed as they waited in line at the donut and coffee shop at Boylston Street. I could never understand the fascination. Slurs on race and gender were all too common. Were they funny? No. For me, it was bigotry at its worst being passed as comedy and that cut closely to the very essence of my identity.

Still, what was fascinating for me last week was not only the issue of censorship, language and the media but also the power of our new viral media culture. It was this that fanned the blaze of anger that eventually toppled Don Imus.

Here is how it was reportedly played out. A 26-year old from the liberal group Media Matters posts a video clip of Imus’ remarks on the group’s web site and also puts it up on You Tube.

Media Matters also sent emails to journalists and women’s groups. Young black journalists were among the first to demand that the 68-year old be ousted. They were quickly joined by women’s groups who sent out action alerts encouraging the public to flood CBS and NBC with a ‘Dump Don,’ message.

As Newsweek reported, Imus, armed only with a microphone, a relic from another age, could not keep with the new technology. In the end, WOMM (word of mouth marketing) won.