Si vis pacem, para bellum

Be Prepared for Business Wars Like A Samurai
Si vis pacem, para bellum, translated  “if you want peace, prepare for war” is an exceptional mantra to adopt in both your personal and business lives.  While it sounds like something that would come from Sun Tzu’s Art of War. It does not.  Rather, the phrase comes from book three of De Re Militari by Latin author Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus. A first-of-its-kind war manual for Roman troops.

Business management is often looked at as a militaristic endeavor.  We have the war room, wear suits that dictate our prestige in the company, and even give marching orders. As such, we naturally gravitate to the military leadership and wisdom from war-tested individuals such as Tzu and Renatus.

It is important to note that when you read these manuals you will notice that much of the works are devoted to preserving life and, especially in Tzu’s work, avoiding a battle until absolutely necessary. As he points out, actual battle is costly – you lose both life and wealth in the process.  Tzu is consistent in his message of continually analyzing your opponent, the battlefield, and your position relative to both so that when the opportunity or need for war arises. You are better prepared to end the matter quickly and efficiently.

This is exactly the same in business. As a leader, you should always know what is going on in your battlefield.  Is a long-time supplier suddenly providing materials to a competitor?  Are there signs of your market shrinking… expanding… or disappearing altogether? Are your employees showing signs of complacency? Perhaps, your customers are discussing other options under their collective breath? These are all items a general should not only know but constantly analyze and calculate against the firm’s Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s).

These suggestions are not meant to create paranoid leaders. Rather, they are to remind said boardroom generals that peace in business is not achieved because you defeated a competitor. You will always have new competitors, fleeting customers, changing regulations, and world events that will impact your bottom line. Peace comes from accepting those fates and doing everything in your power to prepare for the wars that may come, so your army can win the battle quickly and efficiently.

 

 

 

The Simpsons-Curating Strategy Genius of FX

The Simpsons Curating Strategy

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT!

If you have cable, you can use the FXNow App and watch every single Simpsons episode right now.

 

What could be better?

 

There is a “random” button you can hit.

 

This is the future!

*****

No, I am serious about this. FX is doing something unique with TV. They are altering the viewing behavior. So, while other services invest billions in product procurement. FX is using a different strategy. They have licensed a well known and powerful brand with 618 episodes over 28 seasons.

 

That is a LOT of content.

 

There is a HUGE chance that, unless you are the most adamant Simpsons fan, you have missed a few episodes…maybe even a few seasons.  The result – hit that random button. If that wasn’t enough, they have numerous Playlists including every Treehouse of Horror, Classic Ralph Moments, Valentine and Christmas episodes among others.

 

Sure, this takes a lot of curating and back-end work to support. However, and I am not offering ANY proof. These costs must be less than developing just one new season of Game of Thrones.  And they are only doing eight of those.

 

Kudos FX Networks for using a curating strategy to sneak in a competitive edge in a very tough market. Kudos.

 

 

There is Some Truth in “Fake” News.

Fake Reporters

 

Early on in my career, I worked for a Pulitzer Prize winning editor. This was before the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet. Howard James was a brutal boss for his reporters, because he demanded perfection and absolute impartiality in our reporting – core tenants of the prize he earned. While working for Howard, I watched the news industry radically change as we ushered in the use of computers, digital film, and eventually the internet.  With the introduction of this technology, we watched the news-cycle speed up to the point that decisions constantly needed to be made regarding the balance between thoroughly vetting a story versus “scooping the competition.” This problem continued to compound with the rise of 24-hour news stations and fast-moving online and social sources. In addition, the low barriers to entry for online participants led to increased competition looking to upend established news brands, which has led to organizations looking for other competitive advantages such as focusing on, and adjusting their messaging towards, targeted demographics.

 

Over-time this has led to nearly all news organizations adjusting their messages to appeal to the particular demographic they seek to capture. Put simply, all sources of news are biased in one form or another, so, yes, “fake news” does exist and you cannot escape it.

 

To survive, news outlets must make money and that money comes from advertising. Advertisers pay to reach a specific target demographic and are willing to pay more for the more viewers within those characteristics that agency can provide. This is the lifeblood of any news organization (even NPR, but in a different income model). As such and to remain relevant, the business will put in place persons to adjust its programming to grab as many persons as they can in a targeted demographic. This leads to two forms of bias.  Number one is the “voice” of the organization. E.g. Fox News skews right while CNN swings left. The second comes from “speed bias” where competing stations seek to break a story first. This is nothing new in the news business.  However, the speed at which we disseminate information today is so rapid that it requires many organizations to break stories without all the facts and, perhaps more importantly, without thoroughly investigating the opposing view. Why would they anyway? It could alienate their core demographic (e.g. their purse).  

 

Ultimately, this means that we are typically only getting half the story at any given time no matter how much each organization touts their “unbiased” views. The current economics of the news industry prevent that, so take a note from this old reporter. Always, and I repeat ALWAYS, get both sides of the picture before you make your judgment. For you Fox folks, that means watching some CNN and for you CNN folks. Watch some Fox news. Just like Howard James taught me, you must remain impartial. More than ever, it is up to the consumer to investigate the information being presented and cast their own final judgment with the understanding that their preferred source does contain, at least some, bias.

Underpromise….Overdeliver.

Forecasting For Business Can be Tough

 

Forecasting a prospective market can be quite tough. Especially if you are a small business that lacks the resources to acquire and use costly third-party database results and analytical software. In some niche markets, data can be even harder to uncover even with these resources at your disposal.  For instance, I focus on the drum industry and even though there are a “crap ton of drummer’s out there” –words from an SEO consultant I worked with. It is tough to get empirical evidence on their behaviors. Luckily, I had developed my own forecasting model in grad school and was able to use that when working on my business plan for Spirit and Groove™.

My model follows a four-step process that creates a funnel from a 100% total market through a potential audience to the final stage of prospective buyers. The last step is a calculation I call the “gut metric” that allows me to adjust the data based on a “gut” feeling. Some would argue the use of this step, but I disagree for two reasons.

Number one, data is both qualitative and quantitative. Analytical software rarely includes the qualitative metrics. Algorithms are great, but there is a reason even Google and Facebook continue to seek out ways to model the “human” perspective. Number two, having run my own company, worked for firms of all sizes, and studied the business plans of countless publicly traded brands during my MBA studies, I have a refined understanding of what is actually possible when you have that empirical evidence in your hands and I am able to sift out marketing “pipe-dreams” from that data.

Perhaps the most important, my model aligns with the concept of “underpromise…overdeliver” – a theory I learned with one of the world’s top brands.

While working as a retail specialist and store mentor with Apple, I witnessed firsthand just how powerful this corporate mantra can be. Apple doesn’t simply include it in their employee manual and call it good. No, they drill it into the corporate-wide psyche. As a retail specialist, it is a concept you learn in your initial training before you are introduced to any of their coveted i-products. At Apple, you are taught to always tell the customer their iPhone would be fixed in 30 minutes, even if you are sure it will only take 10. This way, you are able to increase the consumer’s buy-in when you do deliver ahead of schedule, and that is just the tip of their underpromise…overdeliver iceberg.

If you follow the tech giant in the news, especially when earning’s statements come out. You will notice that (somehow) Job’s brainchild regularly outperforms their own corporate estimates. There is no doubt in my mind that part of this phenom lies in a brand-wide “underpromise/overdeliver” mentality.

Business owners and managers often “over-assume” their results will beat expectations. Managers see the glass as half full because their bonuses and growth-potential are directly related to those results. Owners usually adopt the same ideal, but for different reasons. They are emotionally attached to the brand, see things others may not have in their field of vision, and have much more on the line, which forces them to hope for better-than-expected results.

Neither of these are good ways to engage in business. Yes, overhyping serves a purpose in specific sections of the marketing mix. However, overhyping your forecasts with owners can be detrimental. Imagine what an investor would think if you told them you would hit 1,000,000 units sold in the first quarter of 2018, but you only hit half. Now imagine, that happens every quarter. Soon you will lose their confidence…then their support.  Now instead, flip the coin. You forecast that you plan to sell 500,000 units in the first quarter of 2018 and you end up selling just over 10% of those figures. To you, it may look like slight gains (maybe even losses, because through your rose colored glasses you were hoping for one-million). However, to that investor you now over-performed. If you continued this method for future quarters and witnessed similar results. Your investor’s confidence would grow exponentially and with that, your opportunity for explosive future growth would be solidified via their willingness to spend more on your ideas.

Remember, the underpromise/overdeliver concept is rooted in marketing and not finance. It is not designed to “cook the books” or to “sell a lemon.” Rather, it is a mantra that your entire team should adopt, so that it will become part of your overall corporate culture and brand. When properly instituted it impacts both sides of the ball. Your customers will constantly be “surprised” by your service while your investors will continue to experience a responsible and growing company worthy of continued investment.

 

 

The Dangers of Over-negotiation and Increasing Perceived Risk

Striking a Balance When Negotiating

 

When negotiating, be careful not to go too far. This week, I was negotiating a small sale with someone…. let’s say. Not that experienced in deals. We had both made our demands and concessions and it was clear a balance had been struck. When it came time to close, he made another demand that would have brought us back to square one. I researched my market, my position, and kindly told him of other persons selling a similar item. However, if he still wanted my product. He could get it for market price.

My ultimate position was not enacted due to emotion. Rather, this customer’s final action increased my perceived risk of the deal. The concessions he initially earned, were judged on my risk analysis that he could pony up the funds, close, and wouldn’t return a vintage item that could be harmed with further shipments. Remember, risk is part of the deal. We learn it with car insurance, health care, and mortgages. It should be a part of any decision.

Communicate Right or Get Lost in the Shuffle

Don't Get Lost in the Shuffle When Sending Emails to Grab Gigs and business

 

I get a lot of emails every day. I mean – a FREEKIN’ LOT! However, my inbox doesn’t compare with some of the people I work with. Case in point, I was having lunch with a colleague for a major cruise brand and during our hour together, he received 35 emails, a bunch of texts, and a few calls.

 

It may be difficult to understand just how complex email management can become if you have never worked in an environment based on group decisions with partners in multiple time zones that require written communication to audit deals being made. This is exactly the case for booking agents, concert buyers, and entertainment managers. In our business, the cc (and sometimes bcc) are commonplace, which quickly converts one email into double digit chains plaguing our inboxes.

 

Of course, there are programs and protocols one can follow to better manage their inbox. However, each of these emails (or at the very least the subject) needs to be read and, if warranted, investigated and responded to.

 

So, why is this entertainment blogger discussing the woes of our email management. Well, the answer is to help artists looking for work to better communicate with us, so you don’t get lost in the shuffle.  Here are a few pieces of advice I want to give.

 

  1. Keep it simple.  Remember grade school and how they taught you to outline your paragraph in the first line by dictating the who, what, where, when, and why? Follow that rule. Don’t bury the story.  Provide us with your website and video links upfront along with what you are looking for and what your act brings to the table.  We don’t need to hear your life story. How you learned to play the guitar at six. How you met John Mayer that one time and he dug your tune. Let us know what you are going to do for us.
  2. Keep it to email if possible. Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels are great, but they are not the best place to solicit a new client.  For one, if the company is huge like a cruise line. The person reading those messages probably has nothing to do with entertainment, so you are relying on them to forward your message to the right person. If the company is smaller, the person handling those messages is probably wearing 100 different hats and will likely look at your message and forget about it until they are managing the site again in the future. When you send an email, it at least ends up in the correct inbox…barring spam filter interference.
  3. Better than email… the website form. If the agency or venue has a form “specific for entertainment applicants” use that. They did this for a reason. For instance, the company I work for, Mike Moloney Entertainment, put a web application form that forwards all applicants to the email accounts of five agents.  I know for a fact that many larger cruise companies have their online forms set-up in a similar fashion.  In all instances, the forms are designed to capture the data we need to make a decision and (hopefully) a deal. Do yourself a favor and follow our lead.
  4. Don’t spam!
  5. Don’t spam! See what I did there?  This one is so important, I put it in twice.  NOBODY likes spam, so don’t be that person. Now, there are many ways you can spam a prospect through email. Sending the same message to every email address you can find within the intended agency. Including them on your mailing list without asking. Emailing them every day. Emailing, then messaging on all available social channels are all ways you become a spammer and it generally doesn’t work in your favor.
  6. Do some research on who you are emailing. Does the booking agent work in your genre of music? Are you applying to a cruise agency, but you get sea-sick? Is the booker outside of your drawing ability? It doesn’t hurt to do a little research to focus your pitch, and with so much information at your finger tips it is rather easy to be properly prepared.

As an agent, I can attest that most of us are always hungry to find the next great act for our venues. However, that is only a small percentage of our business. The largest chunk of our time is spent putting the deal together and then executing it on show day. A lot of artists feel that the “squeaky wheel will get the grease” and in some instances that is true.  However, if the driver can’t hear that squeak. Nobody will be getting to their destination. Follow these steps to increase the probability that we will hear you.