Metra’s brand would fly higher with tech upgrades

Blessed to be in a city with solid public transportation, not a week goes by that I don’t use a bus, El and Metra train to get me from Point A to Point B. And while you have to put up with the usual annoyances (Exhibit A: Man talking on cell phone at ridiculous decibels), I’ve found that the CTA is doing a good job of meeting expectations in forecasting the arrival/departure times on buses and El trains – in fact, technology has made it about as smooth an experience as you can expect in a city as big as ours. We can tap a Chicago Card to a designated payment area and we’re on our way. We can look down on our mobile devices and see thanks to apps like Buster, the 156 really will be here in 4 minutes. Things are indeed getting better. Not perfect, but better.

But when Metra asked for a 30% rate hike, I had to give pause. The mode of transportation that has billed itself as the “Way to Really Fly,” for as long as I can remember needs to justify the hike by making improvements that not only make the transportation experience more enjoyable but still enables Metra to live by that tagline. I’m getting a little tired in this economy of people saying that they need more money or else without clearly explaining what they intend to do with it. After all, Metra’s passengers aren’t made of money either. So just being able to continue service isn’t good enough.

First, unless you get a special express train with fewer stops, you’re not flying on Metra. It makes a stop every few minutes and many of them at that. The advantage of Metra is not dealing with sitting in traffic on the Eisenhower. But it’s not like we’re talking about a bullet train here. Only so much that can be done about that logistically speaking, which brings us to point #2, something that can be implemented.

Metra is losing money partially due to its own inefficiencies. In other words, if Metra is going to come to a Board saying, “we need to hike rates 30%,” they’d better have some upgrades too in order to make boarding and ticket processing “The Way to Really Fly.” For example, when 15,000 Millennials descended on Grant Park earlier this summer from the suburbs to see an outdoor concert, Metra had to take their tickets manually. This meant the old standby of asking each passenger where they were going, taking their money, giving them change and giving them their ticket. On to the next person. On a completely packed train of people that don’t have simple monthly/weekly passes, that means you’re going to miss getting the tickets of some people by the time it gets to the station in Chicago. That can be 5, 6, 7 dollars or more with each person missed. 

I have literally watched conductors try to remember whose ticket fare they collected and whose they didn’t. The system just doesn’t work well. Apparently Metra has taken to hiring “observers” to discreetly ride trains to ensure fares are being collected when conductors happen to miss them, but is this really the most cost-efficient way to monitor the situation? No.

On the other hand, if the conductors had an electronic swiping device that enabled people to not only pay by credit card but also pay by Chicago Card by tapping it to a conductor’s device, I’d say you cut the transaction time by 5-10 seconds per person. That may not sound like a lot until you calculate multiple train cars on a Saturday, when half of Chicagoland is heading to museums, sporting events, concerts and more.

I may not know all the details of I.T. needed to bring this into reality, but I have to believe that if it can be this easy on a bus or El train, Metra needs to bring itself in line with those modes of transportation too. Because the whole providing a paper ticket and punching it thing is more than a little dated, if not wasteful environmentally-speaking. With card processing technologies like Square, it becomes all the more easier. Or here’s a not-so-radical thought – take a page from airline boarding procedures and have an electronic processing terminal(s) at each station with one agent per terminal who takes a ticket, scans it and lets the person on board. No conductor has to rack his brains remembering whose ticket fare he collected and didn’t collect.

One more note to Metra CEO Alex Clifford, who said recently that details of the rate hike were still being ironed out – I’m sure the hike is a necessarily evil in these times and although people won’t like it (who does?), transparency of how you’re spending these new dollars is critical. So remember the places online where you can communicate that message clearly and often – i.e., your website, Facebook Page and Twitter account for starters.

Fewer missed fares, more in Metra’s pocket, easier experience for conductor and passenger alike. Now your brand has got a way to genuinely and really, fly.

1st Gen E-mail Is Over – Does Your Marketing Reflect It?

“Wait – what do you mean? Are you saying e-mail is going away? No way does e-mail go away. Everyone uses e-mail.”

I figure that’s the response I’d get from a headline like the one above. But e-mail marketing in its 1st generation form should be history. E-mail in its next generation form is where we should be thinking and how we should be acting in our marketing efforts already. Right now.

Why? Spammers and Yammer.

1) Spammers are ruining e-mail as we know it for the good marketers who have valuable messages the recipient can benefit from. The filters of unsolicited mail will only get stronger so we have to make our messaging more simple to identify with, customized as well as equipped with subscription and link mechanisms so people can continue the relationship if they so choose.

2) People won’t need internal e-mail as much with services that enable them to communicate in real-time formats like Yammer. The speed of how we connect within the company is ramping up quickly. In this internal context, regular e-mail with its lag time and ability to clog in boxes looks like a dinosaur.

Knowing this, what do we do as marketers? First, we relax. Second, we adapt to this development by equipping our e-mails and e-newsletters with springboards. In other words, we stop doing e-mail that doesn’t give people anywhere to logically go from there. Otherwise what you’re sending out there is a lot like the direct mail issue I mentioned earlier. No links to more info? No landing page or blog? No place to channel the conversation further toward an appointment and hopefully a sale? No ways to become a Fan, Follower or Connection from there? No pictures they can share or video they can watch?

Then I don’t get it.

Closing a customer when the e-mail starts and ends with that message is hard to do. Even if you’re designing it as something to be read in 60 seconds or less, you’re doing so with the intent that the person subscribe to get more of those e-tidbits. Yet, strangely, some things get sent out without them.

We should incorporate RSS Feeds into our content, giving people the ability to subscribe to us or providing even the option to choose certain sections of content that’s relevant to their world. And while we have e-mail and people use it, we need e-mail subscription sign-ups. It means we have to be more visible than ever before when it comes to producing great blogs, great videos, great e-books, great social interactions that aren’t just about how we’re having 3 for 1 Bud Light Specials tonight.

If we’re going to do e-mail, let’s do e-mail that respects the person’s time by getting in and out of the person’s life in a reasonable period. If they want to spend more time than that with us, they’ll Like, Follow, Connect, Subscribe and Download. The first interaction should not be a company’s life story nor should next steps be just about only a phone call or e-mail. That’s done as far as I’m concerned.

If all this sounds like it’s only going to get harder for you as a marketer, well, you’re right. But I see this as a good thing. People still crave answers to their challenges as much as they ever did. We just have to get smarter and more sophisticated how we pave the road from them back to our solution. We can’t blast away at them with nothing but ads that have virtually no response mechanisms or only “old school” methods like dialing a phone number. We have to create online and offline channels that enable them to learn more about us and understand our offerings – on their terms.

TV adapted. Radio adapted. Newspapers and magazines tried to adapt but aren’t doing a bang-up job of it. Now it’s direct mail and e-mail’s turn at bat.

The way we market through the mail, both in direct and electronic form, needs to change. Or it won’t matter how many days the Postal Service trims from its schedule because we won’t be effective or appreciated in any of them.

How has your brand been adapting? Or have you not yet? 

There’s A Brand Waiting For You In Your Office.

A new Accenture survey of global marketers yielded some results that at first, may not seem that extraordinary. Among them, marketers said the three most important business issues were improving customer retention and loyalty, acquiring new sales and increasing sales to current customers. The survey went on to say that in the coming year, marketes expect to see their marketing budgets flatline or decline.

OK, that’s probably not a shock to hear. But CMOs also expect to see company sales grow in the coming year. Is this a mixed message? Not necessarily. The translation I see is that in order to move forward, marketers will be expected to do more with less. This is not necessarily as bad as it might seem. How?

Think about the most precious internal resource you have to be developed and most of us will arrive at an answer made of flesh and bone, not machine.

Yes, we have to get routinely smarter about what our customers want and using analytics will help with that. But we also have to get smarter about what our employees want – and that’s the side of the equation that I believe gets missed all too often.

If you have ever worked in an environment where employees are an afterthought, you know this. It’s seen in “meet these deliverables or else” career plans that managers don’t like doing and employees dread. It’s career planning as punishment rather than collaboration. Mass layoffs and severance offers are the routine answer to cost cutting rather than brainstorming on what we can do better to show more value or entice greater referrals. Employees see themselves as being there just to do a job – nothing more, nothing less.

The question we must ask is this: We work so hard to brand ourselves to the outside world but how often do we brand ourselves to our own people? What do they genuinely feel about us and can we be honest with ourselves to hear it? You can’t fake enthusiasm for your own workplace. It’s readily apparent and genuine or you’ll see forced smiles and sarcasm if not outright complaints.

Where does the enthusiasm come from? For one thing, a company that treats its people as investments rather than role fillers. Managers who are passionate about understanding what makes their people tick personally, not just professionally. What do they like to do in their spare time? How can you reward them with more of that thing they love? It’s time to look beyond the annual reviews and raises but instead think about your people’s lives on a regular basis.

This isn’t just touchy feely stuff. In fact, here’s how it can benefit your brand.

Just picture how that enthusiasm can positively affect customer retention and loyalty. Let’s say your customer calls up with a technical question and he’s not happy. Your patient employee takes the time to carefully walk the customer through the question like anyone else, but in the course of helping that person, also learns the person is a New York Jets fan. The person is sent a handwritten thank you card for calling with a Jets hat, wishing his team best of luck on the upcoming season.

Who’s going to forget that? Who’s not going to tell someone else about that? I think you get where I’m going with this. An investment in training that employee might just have led to a better customer service experience and in the larger picture, a tremendous feeling about the brand. Or perhaps they felt such an investment and support from the company for their own personal/professional goals that such a positive desired result came naturally – they’re not just doing their job. They’ve bought into a mantra. A mission. A purpose.

Think about your top 5 competitors. Are their technological differences between you all that different? I’ll wager the answer is no. You’ll invest in technology and so will they.

The true difference is your workforce. Your people with their various talents and skills are the differentiators. They are the people on the front lines who often have to deal with customers face-to-face. And even if they don’t, shouldn’t we treat them as the walking, talking representations of the overall brand they are anyway? After all, they do leave the office and associate with others, you know.

“Yes, but what happens when they leave the company? Won’t our differentiator leave with them?” I expect to hear this a bit. It’s natural for people to come and go. The question is how much and how often they’re leaving. Obviously if half the company walks out the door within a year, you need to take a hard look at your own management practices and communication style.

When it’s hard for them to move on to a new opportunity because the culture is so terrific and tears are shed on all sides, something that is special is happening – really. Because it’s a family-like atmosphere at that point.

Is it possible that we could do more with less by looking inward to the brand in front of our faces that we haven’t developed? And in doing so, could we find our outside sales and customer loyalty rising as a result of our internal investment?

One thing’s for certain. It’s a heck of a great place to start.

 

What types of initiatives is your company using to build the internal brand? Is it helping result in a better customer service experience, happier employees, etc.? Share if you’re comfortable doing so.

The Daily Herald Betting Far More Than $20 Per Reader

Newspapers need a new pricing model that reflects the online age of readership.
I’ve got 3 ideas on how to help.

The front page of the suburban The Daily Herald, penned by the Editor, shouted the newspaper’s stance loud and clear: “Why our digital news cannot be free.

The 139-year-old newspaper has officially made the decision to charge for most content from the paper online. If you want to read The Daily Herald online from now on, you’re going to have to pony up $19.99 a month to do so. And by the way, no other paper in Chicagoland is charging digital readers on this kind of scale.

On paper – no pun intended – it seems to make sense that people should pay for digital content. We pay for books on news, we pay for TV and radio on news, so we should pay for papers that provide news, right?

Well…it’s not quite that simple as some would make it out to be.

Journalists and Editors say their content has value and needs to be paid for, because advertising isn’t bringing in enough revenue. Readers say the minute they’re charged money to read online content that they’ll go elsewhere to find it.

How does it all shake out?

The answer comes down to this: Is the content exclusive and original?

I have nothing against paying to read outstanding, exclusive content I can’t find anywhere else. But I have plenty against paying to read decent content that I can find elsewhere.

If a reader can get that content elsewhere from a source that isn’t charging for it, that’s where they’re going to go. So the paper has to provide content that’s spectacular and can’t be found anywhere else. Is the Herald’s content spectacular? It certainly has good columnists. But can I find solid reporting and opinions of the issues elsewhere? Honestly, much of the time the answer is yes.

The New York Times can get away with charging people a decent monthly flat rate for its digital version because it’s The New York Times. Let’s be honest. Is such a price worth it for unique reporting on the news of Bolingbrook and Hinsdale? I’m not trying to be rude here, but I’m wondering if local news reported on DuPage County is worth that investment to people these days.

Let’s look at the issue from a different medium – radio. When Howard Stern went to Sirius Satellite Radio several years back, people wondered if we’d hear the last of him as a result. Well, like him or hate him, Mr. Stern has a loyal, passionate fan base who know they can’t get Howard Stern or anything close to him anywhere else. The investment is a no-brainer for them because the content is original and exclusive. Is it working? Did you not see the gigantic contract he signed for more years on the air at Sirius?

For the same reason, like him or hate him, this is why I think Glenn Beck probably made a good move in asking people to pay for his content too.

So here are 3 ideas that might make more sense for smaller newspapers like The Daily Herald:

  • Subscribe by Columnist
    My suggestion is simple. If the columnist is good, people can pay through a Newspaper App Store to subscribe to that columnist. If the columnist is ordinary, they don’t. So there’s no waste in subscribing to a newspaper or magazine full of other stories I don’t want to read. On the other hand, if it’s a Chuck Goudie or Mike Imrem, they read who they want. Why force people to read a person who doesn’t have value in their eyes?
  • Subscribe by Story
    Come on. How much of that paper do you end up throwing away because you haven’t read the whole thing? And how many of us read the whole thing anyway? Enable us to subscribe by certain topics (or even possibly keywords) that ensure greater value for the readership because we stand a greater chance of reading what we want, when we want it.
  • Preview, then Pay
    Each story is previewed with 50-100 words, which then means the reader has the option to pay for the rest of that story if they want. I’ve certainly seen this strategy employed by other websites and if the content is powerful enough, I’ve paid to read the rest.

If structured correctly and reasonably, the newspaper actually has the ability to make more money through these methods than a flat rate. Plus, they’ll know which columnists bring more value to the paper through the quality of their stories being purchased. While it might not be free, the win here for readers is that they pay only for what they’re interested in reading.
If they don’t explore these alternatives, what you will find with the Daily Herald and other papers like them will be a smaller, more concentrated readership of people who value the content. The question of their survival will be how small that readership becomes. The paper has to go through growing pains of potentially trimming staff and printing fewer papers, but this is a natural progression of where the world is going. Bottom line: Do I see charging people $20 a month across the board to read online content as a good growth strategy? No.

To be clear, there’s still room in this world for the information put forth from journalists. No doubt about it. But newspapers have to create subscription plans that reflect readership habits of an online world, not a print one.

What’s your take? Do you agree with The Daily Herald charging $20 a month for online reading? What about charging for online readership in general? What are some examples of online content that’s worth paying for, in your opinion?

 

Cubs, Sox Looking Up at Teams in Social Media Standings Too

The San Francisco Giants are the world champions of social media. Oh, and I suppose they deserve that World Series trophy too.

Let me explain. I began to write this as a Cubs vs. Sox comparison of social media usage – and I do speak to this. But I also wanted to show the whole picture of how both the North Siders and South Siders compare against other teams in baseball. Plus, I didn’t want Sox fans to think I was trying to intentionally be biased against their team as I fully disclose my passion for Cubdom.

There may be Cubs Nation, Yankees Nation and Red Sox Nation, but in my view, the Giants are the best all-around baseball team in terms of being truly “social.”

And what’s crazy is that it primarily comes down to effort, not technology.

Some will say, “that figures because they’re in Silicon Valley and there’s a lot of tech people out there.” No, no, no. You and I both know that we’re talking about interaction, not building microchips. It involves maintenance and consistency but being a social media marketer doesn’t require hardcore engineering. So take that thought and smack it out of the stadium of your mind.

To arrive at this finding, I took a look at Sports Fan Graph from Coyle Media, Klout, Social Media Today and my own analysis of teams’ social media channels.

Now, let’s discuss some of those categories in greater detail:

Twitter Interactivity

I don’t judge too much by number of followers because obviously that favors the big cities vs. the smaller ones. Plus, I don’t believe that should be the most heavily weighted piece of criteria when measuring social media influence anyway. Instead, I looked at whether teams were actually conversing with followers or they were just using Twitter as an outlet for broadcasting.

Using this measurement, the Giants top off around 33 follower responses in a 24-hour span alone. That may or may not sound like a lot, until you consider what both of our teams did combined.

Cubs: Within a 72-hour span @Cubs acknowledged and responded to zero followers. The front office Tweeter at @CubsInsider was a little better – one follower in 72 hours. All the rest of their tweets were broadcasts.

White Sox: In the same 72-hour timeframe, @whitesox had the same result – zero responses to any followers.

 

Frequency of Tweets

Even with sharing play-by-play, scores and interviews, you can only tweet so much when it’s one-sided. The Giants are masters of pumping out tweets that are frequent and varied. As noted, they know how to give and receive feedback. At this point, they tally nearly 15,000 tweets.

By comparison, the Cubs and White Sox combined total a little less than half that many tweets. That’s a little embarrassing when you consider these teams have a fan base that’s much larger than, say, the Blue Jays or Rangers – just a couple of the teams out-Tweeting the Cubs and Sox.

 

Facebook Pages           

It’s almost a given that size of city will play an influence on size of Facebook Page, so it’s not terribly surprising that the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs have the largest amount of Fans on their Facebook Pages. Yet this is what makes the Giants’ showing of the 4th overall Facebook Page all the more respectable, considering San Francisco is in a market behind New York, L.A., Chicago, Houston, Philly and several others.

The White Sox aren’t terrible overall in terms of Facebook Page volume (11th), but they certainly shouldn’t be losing out to anyone within their division – and Detroit’s Facebook Page is nudging it out by 20,000 Fans.


Check-Ins

More check-ins occur at AT&T Park, home of the Giants, than any other baseball stadium, according to Social Media Today. As of right now, their fans have checked in on Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places 284,854 times.

The Dodgers are second (233,008) and the Cubs are third (233,008). Not terribly surprising considering the beauty of the Friendly Confines but this is nonetheless a bright spot for the Cubs as they’ve nudged past those checking in at Yankee Stadium.

I don’t mean to pick on the White Sox here, but the number of check-ins at US Cellular Field are dead last in baseball (24,285). That’s pathetic. And you can’t put that all on the fans either. If they had enough incentive to check-in through certain promotions, they’d do it. So let’s see the front office do something in this area so the Sox can at least pass up the check-ins by Houston fans at Minute Maid Park, which deserves to relegated to last for its stupid hill in center field.


Conclusion

Some teams can rest on their laurels and get a sizeable fan base, but you’ve got to admire when a team becomes Avis-like and tries harder because it knows it has to. The Giants are in a smaller city and even have to compete with a team across the Bay to a degree. Yet there’s nothing preventing many other teams from doing the things the Giants are doing – they’re just hustling a lot more when it comes to posting, tweeting and interacting. Who knows? Maybe that’s a mandate from the front office there – hustle on the field and off of it.

As far as the Cubs and White Sox, there’s room for improvement overall. From a social media perspective with all factors considered, both teams are looking up at the Giants, Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies. And when it comes to Twitter, they’re behind the Phillies, Yankees, Giants, Braves, Dodgers and Blue Jays. If you believe in Klout scores, add the Mets and Rangers above them.

I can understand being behind the Yankees. But the Braves, Rangers and Blue Jays?

Wait until next year, I guess.

How about your thoughts on how your team can be a little more social? To spur ideas, check out this article in Fast Company that talks about the “6 Things Sports Teams Can Do With Social Media To Engage Fans.”

What happens when your leader IS your brand?

Most of us have bosses. Some of us have great CEOs. And a very precious few of us have what can only be referred to as a legend – the kind of iconic visionary who is responsible for making the brand what it is today in the eyes of many.

Of course, nobody is immortal. Time ensures we all move on, whether it is due to a new job, retirement or (not to be morbid), expiring. The challenge Apple faces today in the wake of Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO (but he is staying on as Chairman) is no different than what Chrysler had to face in the post-Iacocca era, Ogilvy had to face without David Ogilvy, Disney without Walt or what Virgin will face when Richard Branson steps away someday. These are imaginative, charismatic, exciting people who not only shaped the foundation of their companies but have had influence far beyond it for managers in all kinds of industries. They are not just people associated with the brand. They ARE the brand.

What do you tell the world when they aren’t around on a daily basis anymore? Do you regret having linked to one person so strongly? Do you pretend it’s business as usual and no big deal?

It’s not a catastrophe as long as you remember a few key fundamentals before, during and after that transition for the good of your brand.

1. You don’t replace genius.
The world knows that. You’re not fooling anyone when you pretend that the person no longer involved in your company is no big deal. “Oh, yeah, he left but we’re humming along.” Give me a break. It’s about saying, “You don’t replace someone like him. He was remarkable. Fortunately, we’re a better positioned company today because of everything he’s done.” You don’t have to say you’re devastated and don’t know how you’re going to go on either. Which leads us to #2.

2. Show what the legacy has brought to your business and culture.
The Chicago Bulls couldn’t replace Michael Jordan. Hockey itself couldn’t replace Wayne Gretzky. But as a testament to their influence, they had disciples and students of their genius and skill. Steve Jobs has had the same and I’m sure Apple will take great steps to show how Jobs’ principles are alive and well even as he pulls back from responsibilities at the company. For example, Jobs was a master of stripping away technical elements that the consumer didn’t necessarily need – I doubt that Apple will suddenly become a company of unwieldy designed products now. They’ll keep this legacy strong if they can continue to show how they produce not just great products but magical feelings that make people salivate over what’s next. Great leaders have great influence and great respect long after they’re gone – how often do we hear architects and city planners in Chicago invoke the name of early 1900’s architect Daniel Burnham in an effort to stay true to his vision of the city today?

But again you ask, “isn’t Steve Jobs the primary person who triggers the emotion behind Apple with every introduction?” Yes. But that leads us to point #3.

3. Terrific leaders don’t leave the skill set cupboard bare when they leave.
If you believe Steve Jobs is a great leader – which I do – you know that he has been preparing his internal team for a moment when he was going to step away for some time now. And if you have ever studied the succession plans of companies that tend to do well in transition, fortune tends to favor those who select leaders from within who have understood the culture for quite some time – not a hard and fast rule, but a trend. In that context, can you imagine anyone better prepared to take on this responsibility than Tim Cook, a man who has been at Apple for over a decade and has already had to step in for Jobs once before? What about the talented people who have an eye not just for technological greatness but artistic beauty in what they create for Apple? Steve Jobs is a great thinker but to say he was the one and only visionary behind the iPad, iPhone or iCloud is doing his team a disservice.

4. Perception is reality. Think about experiences and emotions, not just dollars and cents.
You can talk about dollars, cents and profitability until the cows come home. But there’s an immeasurable quality of captivating customers like the past leader did that should be your goal just as much as earning revenue. People who take their eye off that function of branding and try to say that the company is in an even better place are fooling themselves. And I’m not just speaking externally – what’s the chemistry of your culture post-iconic leader? Is it just as fun of a place to be? If you used to be a magical place to work and have become just a profitable place to work, something is lost. Sure, technology must evolve and ways of doing business must evolve. But the spirit and vision that is the company’s reason for being must be just as inspiring to its people from one leader to the next. If you don’t have that, the promise of what your brand is all about rings a bit more hollow. I don’t think Mr. Cook will make the mistake at the next big Apple event of presenting just about profit and loss instead of trying to excite people for what’s next. I sure hope not.

5. With consistency and focus, you ensure the iconic leader leaves his mark on the brand forever.
None of us may live forever, but the more our successors can use our principles as a guiding force for why they do what they do, the more they honor us. More importantly, they keep the brand strong. If those principles fade because some new CEO from the outside wants to put his own stamp on things and forget all the good things done in the past, well, chances are the company probably loses its shine as well.

Most of us may never know what it’s like to work for a person so iconic that they become synonymous with the brand. But their leaving isn’t the tragedy – forgetting how they made the company great in the first place is.

Can you think of instances of where greatness transpired from one leader to the next? What about stumbles that could have been avoided? Of course, if you have a bold prediction for Apple’s future in the wake of Steve Jobs stepping back, I’d love to hear that too.

What the cabbie and Southwest Airlines taught me about agency efficiency

Today’s post skews a bit toward agency management but team productivity is good for all types of managers to think about.

The other day I was taking a cab from the north side of Chicago to downtown. Usually, there are several different ways you can go to get to your destination. And every time, the cabbie asks, “Which way would you like me to go?” For the passenger, it’s like a game of chance. Why should I have to decide this? Shouldn’t he know which way is fastest? Yet, even when I say, “whichever way you think is quickest,” I invariably can’t help but feel I’ve been taken for a ride in a bad way.

But this time, the cabbie did something that surprised me. He took me down a route that nobody else had where he didn’t even have to ask me which way I wanted to go – he just took me. And the way he took was absolutely the fastest and cheapest fare I had ever paid. Amazed, I said, “Why thank you. I’ve never gone this way and to be honest, it’s the lowest amount of money I’ve ever had to pay.”

He replied, “I know. What most cabs don’t get is that the faster I get you there, the faster I get to the next fare. They try to draw out fares by going the long way and taking more time but it never works out in their favor like my way.

Sometimes agencies act like those other cabs my newfound friend was referring to – they draw out each assignment over more time rather than less for the purpose of giving themselves a nice steady feed of work. Hey, we all want steady work in times like these. But if we try to draw out each project as much as possible, we’re only hurting ourselves. If we do a great job and get paid sooner, we’ll come out ahead by either that client giving us additional work or hopefully that client referring us to another potential client.

Note that I’m not advocating speed. I’m advocating efficiency. Agencies routinely confuse the two. If we know a project should be done in a certain amount of time, we shouldn’t milk it for all it’s worth for so much extra time than we need to. It becomes almost an issue of ethics and honesty at that point. So let’s look at this from the positive angle – if we say it will be done in 3 months but actually get it done in 2, we’re opening ourselves to begin new projects with that same client vs. sitting around and collecting money on work that’s already been done.

Southwest Airlines does an excellent job of managing time and expectations. Over the last several years, I have made dozens of trips on Southwest to different parts of the country. Almost every time, a person comes on and says, “I’m sorry Ladies and Gentlemen, but we’ll be taking off a few minutes later than we’d like.” Lo and behold, by the end of the trip, they not only make up the time but actually get there several minutes early. Every. Single. Time. As if they planned to do that all along. Which they probably did.

What will you do with the extra time? Be proactive (a common complaint people tend to have about agencies) and do some brainstorming on additional ways you can help the client’s business without them asking you to. Then you can potentially upsell your client on that work or at the very least, demonstrate how you think outside of what’s requested. Don’t tell me you won’t do this until you get paid for it. That relegates you to “order taker” status and makes you less of a proactive thinker.

Or let’s turn the focus inward. Fill the time with additional new business efforts. Use it to work on your own agency’s self-promotion, which is never, EVER considered slacking off.

Remember, it’s not about speed. If you’re feeling like your team has no margin for error as you’re churning and burning, that’s not efficiency. That’s about speed and turning your agency into a factory. I don’t think there’s much value in being the speed demon of agencies. But there is tremendous value in being the agency of doing things smarter to achieve financial goals faster – even if it’s a matter of hours. I’m talking about understanding what you absolutely need to deliver the kind of product you and the client can be happy with in the most sensible amount of time.

For example, I once told a client that we’d have the ads done to her by “end of day.” But her end of day was different from my end of day. Her end of day was around 3:00pm because she had family obligations at home. To make her happy and meet our goals, we needed to adjust by about four hours to buffer in time for her to review the work and make any possible revisions. She didn’t need to sit with it forever. By getting that work done and wrapped well before 3:00pm, it allowed our managers to think about new business tactics, our designers to check out inspirational websites, even for us to take a break for darts. So you never know the positives that can impact not only your client relations but internal relations.

Point being that if you act like that cabbie who surprised me and choose the route of efficiency over milking each project, you may get your client faster to where they want to go and get yourself onto the next project that much faster. If you’re worried about how you’re going to fill the space with work, that’s a new business issue you needed to address a long time ago anyway. In that event, maybe you ought to give someone like Steve Congdon at Thunderclap a call. If it’s an operational flow issue, that would be Rob Jager at HedgeHog Consulting.

What other excuses do you have for not getting to your best ideas more efficiently?