Wednesday, May 09, 2007

BOOTSTRAPPING A NEW IDEA. Judette Coward-Puglisi

Selling our new software that measures the ROI on communication and PR campaigns has not been as hard as I expected. This week my company, Mango Media Caribbean tied up some loose sales ends with a public sector organisation and a multinational firm working in the oil and gas sector. We also expect a financial services company to sign up for a 12 month contract in the next four weeks. We made these crucial sales after three months of client prospecting and some long hours of doing our homework. In these months we looked at some of the best practices in some of the large corporations.

You see large companies that sell to other businesses have a massive advantage, an entire team that takes a pulse rate of the market sometimes by posing a singular question: "What do you want?" Once the need has been ascertained, another department takes over to make the deal happen.

At Mango Media Caribbean we are small but no less ambitious. Having determined what the corporate communications market was missing in Trinidad and Tobago, we spent months researching and analysing the new software acquisition. We developed a survey to make sure that we were not investing in something that no one wanted to buy. We took pains with the selection of our software developer and we decided who would be the clients most likely to buy into our new suite of services. Once we discovered who they were we then pre-sold them on the idea.

Why would a company be willing to buy into an idea? Our research indicated that while our clients- corporate communicators - were very interested in or PR measurement services, they didn't necessarily want to add this function to their already overtaxed list of things to do. If we could meet a need that no one else could, they were willing to fund the development of our new ROI communication services.

Be warned though, this is a very difficult strategy. It isn't easy to find scenarios where a big client has an unmet need that they a)realize is a need and b)haven't found a solution for. If you do find one, then you have the challenge of convincing the company that you have the expertise to develop and deliver a working product/service.. It helped that some of these clients were existing customers with whom we had a history and credibility.

Please don't get me wrong, if I am enjoying success with this it is only because I failed at it several times before. Like any entrepreneurial endeavor bootstrapping a business is incredibly hard work. But if you want a strategy that makes money from the beginning, this is one to look at.

The lesson here is that once you sell the idea/prototype, you have revenue that is somewhat guaranteed. Finding new customers thereafter becomes less painstaking.

Judette Coward Puglisi is the founder and managing director of a strategic comunications, brand development firm in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Visit her corporate website at

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Brand building without deep pockets…A retailer’s experience

If you take as a given –and I do- that in today’s new economy a company can only remain competitive if it engages in strong brand building, then the next staggering question you might ask is: How? With the high cost of advertising, an increasingly fragmented media market and the advent of social media which allows consumers to talk directly to each other and bypass the traditional methods of getting information, many small business owners are forced to come up with increasingly creative ways to build their brand. While this has its challenges, it also presents a great opportunity to think creatively as one Caribbean based luxury goods store found out after its brand was re-energised without a massive dent in its pocket.

This company had long enjoyed a sterling reputation for its branded luxury goods from Europe and the United States. Its niche market were the high-end users of luxury items. But within the last decade the store had lagging sales. The brand had become diluted, poor management, poor merchandising and a lack of customer relationship management drove many of the store’s clients’ away and the company found itself in the black.

A new CEO was hired and as she examined the company and her role, she knew that one of the cornerstones to move the company into a position of profitability was to focus on the company’s linkage to its client base. From the outset three things were clear: 1) the new CEO had to make brand building part of the strategic plan, 2) the company had no money and could not rely heavily on mass media to promote their brand and 3) all the alternative approaches to brand building had to be integrated into an overall concept of the stores’ identity.

These were daunting tasks. But the 42-year-old female executive-who had arrived fresh from a top-level merchandising job in New York was not the faint-hearted type. Her first task was to get rid of her ad agency. Although the agency had served them moderately well, the directors of the luxury good store were not satisfied with the alternatives they presented for their media strategies.
“ I didn’t want to spend large sums of money on ads that reached no one. Clearly we had lost focus, we needed to recreate our lost luster, reach out to clients who had no longer identified with us. We had to start from scratch with only a name that had some residual good will.”

Clearly this was a woman who knew her stuff and instead of an agency she decided she would work closely with a brand consultant.. When they met the consultant was struck by the CEOs glamour, sense of style and knowledge of the high end market. “You are the epitomy of your brand,” she declared. The brand expert decided to increase the director’s visibility and suggested a series of personality profiles in the press (free publicity), a weekly lifestyle column and a radio ad where the CEO talked about lifestyles.

The executive was becoming her brand’s champion because the consultant felt she possessed the authority and the ability to ensure that her company’s brand identity was being delivered in a way that rang true.

The strategy worked; former customers like what they read and heard. They identified with the new CEO and because they wanted the lifestyle she eschewed they came in to the stores in droves. The stores were starting to become relevant to its audience once again.

There were other strategies employed, additional approaches to fuel word of mouth communications included placement of the store’s personal care line of products at elite and selective fitness centers. The company also started sponsoring women friendly events. Under much media hype, they launched a Fund to assist women with the cost of their cervical cancer operations. They also co- sponsored a large commercial bank’s 5k Breast Cancer Awareness Run. Sponsorship was viewed as a way of bolstering the brand’s image among concentrated groups of potential customers.
“Our aim was not to create visibility for visibility’s sake; without exception our efforts were directed at supporting the client’s brand identity,” says the consultant.

With sales on the rise and brand awareness increased, the CEO, who was now into her second year, felt that the time had come to involve her customers more intimately in the brand . She created events that would create a personal experience between the brand and the client. And therein was born free sampling days, customer appreciation nights, customer loyalty programmes. And once again sales soared.

The CEO inherited many liabilities when she joined her new firm but the liabilities forced her to think creatively. It didn’t happen in a New York minute. Developing alternative approaches to brand building is never easy but with dedication and commitment from those at the top, finding alternatives to mass media advertising can be worth the time and personal investment.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Independent thinking required for successful entrepreneurship

Independence. That’s why a majority of employees strike out on their own. Or so says a recent US survey put out by that country’s labour department. According to the survey there are more than 15 million self-employed people in America with independents representing one of the fastest growing sectors in that economy.
There is something glorious about being in charge of a small independent firm. The downfall is that sometimes the size of a small firm can preclude its effective exploitation of new markets; the advantage comes from knowing that your size allows for energetic experimentation.

Consider the growth of Elaine Singh, owner of a copywriting agency, “I believe that the reason for my success is that I have been able to align myself with some of the biggest advertising agencies in the business and created a win/win situation for us both,” said Singh. The 37-year-old is able to offer her specialised skills for a very reasonable price, the larger agencies embrace her because they can lower their employment and wage bill by cutting back on their health care, pension and other responsibilities.

Because of her firm’s size- Singh has one full time assistant and a part time accountant- she is able to continuously reinvent herself. She recently added photography and design to her list of services by forming strategic partnerships with other small firms. Singh is a believer in reinvention as the key to entrepreneurial success. “Reinvention is not about changing what is, but about creating what isn’t.” At the heart of Singh’s statement is perhaps a realisation that small companies in the new era need not be around forever and what matters most is the burst they may have in values creation rather than any dramatic claim of being around for 100 years.

Perhaps this may be the fundamental difference between the new enterprise and the old. Between the old firm and the new. The old enterprise viewed permanence as good. And set up vast building with glossy atriums to prove it. The glossier the atrium, well, the better the business. Atrium envy ruled. In the new enterprise there is no such envy because there are no such buildings. People are connected in wired quadrants that allows them to communicate, work and mange themselves in offices without walls and borderless communities. The size of the atrium is irrelevant, how high the mind can soar and what it can create in a short period of time are the determining factors.

In the new enterprise entrepreneurs like Singh recognises the need for a new reality, which does not surround exclusive bottom line issues. “If I focus on the bottom line and profits only I won’t be happy, instead I look around at other small business models and I would like to emulate those that place emphasis on their human community. Profits are vital but so too is the connectivity and the network.”
There are thousands like Singh running small firms, forming strategic alliances and setting their own strategies on how to function in the corporate world. There is no other alternative for Singh. “The idea of being a salaried worker in an organisation is unpalatable for me. There is just something about working for myself; I really, truly do love what I do.”

Leadership Challenges

Leadership is sometimes difficult especially when your work involves volunteers. Unlike a corporation, members of a volunteer organisation are not motivated by monetary rewards but by individual and personal aspirations. Some use it to test their mettle, others to win friends and develop skills while others look to build influence and their careers. All are to be encouraged, as a leader of several volunteer projects, committees and associations, I have learnt over the years that volunteers are to be supported and their individual needs met, but it ought to be done within a group context.

I had reason to ponder this lately when an individual member of the Association of which I am President took it upon herself to secure an appointment from our International Office without informing the local board, in fact, board members only learnt about it when it was announced in an email that went out to all other members, This went against one of the Association’s fundamental rules of email engagement for which the volunteer was privy too.

Members of the board called, upset. Frankly they had every reason to be. The board members’, all senior communicators, felt that basic protocol was breached.

It was a difficult position to be in, the volunteer is young, at the start of her career in communications, eager and a terrific member of the Association. But I had a responsibility to the group and so I told her that while she should go ahead and pursue opportunities presented to her she needed to be aware of the respect that must be paid to the local board and the process of communications. We are a communication association, communications is at the heart of what we do, at a basic level members need to get that at least right.

I also reminded the volunteer about the need to be inclusive, an absolute requirement in volunteerism since no matter what your individual goals I have found that in both volunteer and non-volunteer organisations, relationships are the key. It is relationships that cause members to ask constantly: "How can I help?” rather than, “What’s in it for me.”