The headline of this blog post is a quote from Abraham Lincoln. I came across it after the movie about his life last year. Stories about Lincoln’s life came out of the woodwork. One article that caught my attention was a listing of his top 15 most popular quotes.
“The best way to predict your future is to create it,” was actually No. 12 on the list. I think ranking these is a relative thing driven largely by one’s personal experience. For me, this quote would rank near the top. It is incredibly relevant for most people. And most companies. Our company here, Ascend Integrated Media, is no exception.
Writing here as humbly as I can, with my vested interests and all, Ascend has been doing some amazing things over the last two or three years in order to “predict its own future.” Frankly, we’re doing things we never even dreamed of four or five years ago. More than most professionals, other than those in the R&D labs of communications and technology companies, had even imagined just scant years ago.
How are we evolving? Let me count the ways:
Technology: Ascend has been fortunate in attracting an extremely talented team of digital and mobile media experts. We are experts now but were on the cutting edge of mobile apps, delivering our first for clients more than four years ago. Now, we’re on the cutting edge of tablet publishing. Check out some of our work developing books in tablet form in both English and Spanish for American Heart Association.
Creative content: Besides our core business of creating and publishing show dailies for 35 to 40 trade shows each year, as well as another 100+ exhibit guides, directories, planners and programs, the team has branched out to create amazing content for magazine and newspaper advertising, billboards, radio, video production and digital newsletters. Plus, Ascend now serves as a turnkey outsource custom magazine publisher for half a dozen clients.
Sales: Our team of 11 inside media sales specialists has moved light years beyond selling print ads in print publications. While that remains a critical staple of the business, the team has done amazing thing as we’ve helped our customers move to a deeply integrated media sales approach. The team has sold several million dollars in sponsorships for clients, several million dollars in digital advertising and nearly $5 million in exhibit booth sales for a half dozen customers. Just three years ago, we weren’t doing any of this.
New product development: Perhaps the most compelling way Ascend is predicting its own future is reflected in the research, development and launch of a totally new media brand called Ascend’s Golden Guide. This brand is owned and operated by Ascend’s talented team members. Check us out on Facebook and on the Web at www.ascendsgoldenguide.com today. Our magazine just made its debut in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area, and the tablet version will launch in the next few weeks. Soon, this brand will be coming soon to a city near you.
At Ascend, we have met the future and it is us. What an exciting time and place to be.
A special shout out from our Ascend team members and a thank you to our many customers, clients and friends who have allowed us to grow and develop alongside you, as your partner.
Great ideas are born out of necessity. Many of us here at Ascend Integrated Media have recently felt a tremendous need for easily accessible, reliable and authoritative information and resources as we have faced caring for our aging parents. In fact, the number of us Ascend Baby Boomers and the level of our need within the last calendar year has escalated and raised our awareness to critical. The fact that we, as a custom publisher, could do something to fill this obvious void made this need our mission.
Let me tell you my story. I’m a 50+ boomer with aging parents. Until recently, I was blessed with two octogenarian parents who were in amazing health and living life with vitality. Divorced for years and both single, my mother lives the metropolitan area and my father lives two hours north of Kansas City in a rural community.
By freakish bad luck, both became seriously ill within the same week. My mother was hospitalized with some critical internal issues, while my father suffered a semi-debilitating stroke. Happily, both survived and recovered over several months … several long, difficult, arduous months.
To achieve full recovery, my siblings and I suddenly found ourselves scrambling to find and prepare for our parents’ post-hospital needs. Their needs included home health care, physical therapy, rehabilitation, medical equipment, transportation, home safety products, fall/emergency alert systems, house cleaning and food service, to name a few.
We needed information and we needed it fast so we could make the right decisions. We found ourselves frustrated because there was no readily identifiable, much less easy-to-use reference source, guidance or directory of products, tips, how-to information and services. It was compounded by the fact that our family had no prior experience dealing with these matters. We didn’t know what to even look for, where to turn or who to ask.
Although there were bits and pieces here and there on websites or in government brochures, there was nothing comprehensive or easy to use. Too often, the content we found was generic and not relevant to our community. Making matters worse, many websites were only interested in turning me into a lead that they could sell to someone.
As we worked through our needs and began to research how others are dealing with aging parent care challenges, we discovered that we are by no means alone. There’s a profound need for family help. Many of the stories are heart-wrenching. We conducted focus group research about aging information and resources, which brought tears to our eyes.
We concluded there is a need that is both wide and deep for all information related to caring for aging family members. And, equally important, as a planning tool for us Baby Boomers as we near retirement age.
So, we introduce Ascend’s Golden Guide.
This is the authoritative resource for metro-specific directory information and education. The print, digital and mobile platforms are designed to provide one-stop, how-to resource information as seniors and their family members make life transition decisions.
Stay tuned for the website’s launch in late February.
1. Augment an overloaded internal content and/or sales team to complete a project or start a new project.
2. Monetize one or more projects to generate additional revenue or reduce costs.
3. Reduce the number of disparate vendors to improve project management and to maximize an integrated communications approach.
4. Complete a project within a tight timeframe to meet goals.
5. Create new ways to engage the target audience to strengthen branding, engagement and revenue.
6. Replace a nonoptimal vendor or internal staff/team to deliver needed results.
7. Create products to help an event become more “green.”
Perhaps one or more of the seven items listed above are among your 2013 goals. If so, let’s chat. We’re really good listeners. And, if we have a solution for you, a great partnership is born — partnerships, such as those that have generated these types of results by our team:
Too many channels, too little time. It has never been harder to create, coordinate, manage and monetize media surrounding trade shows.
There’s pre-show, during-show and post-show communications. Worse, it has to all be available in print, digital and mobile media. And now there are tablets too.
It requires military precision in planning, scheduling and management. Otherwise, it can easily get out of control. No continuity; miss-timed delivery; reader confusion due to inconsistent messaging, look, feel and style across media channels.
The good news is, you don’t have to face it alone. Ascend Integrated Media is a unique custom content agency that has specialized in working with trade shows, events and associations for 30 years. Ascend creates, manages and delivers fully integrated event communications programs. Everything our 55 employees develop for our more than 50 association clients can and is delivered in print, digital and mobile media.
We do it every day, executing more than 500 client projects each year including more than 100 editions of show daily newspapers with live daily news.
Ascend Integrated Media delivers award-winning content when your customer and attendees want it, where they want it and how they want it. Count on it.
Find out what our partners like PCMA, American Thoracic Society, National Association of Convenience Stores and Produce Marketing Association already know. Call today to learn how we can partner with you to integrate and even monetize your communications programs.
By Eric Jacobson, Vice President, Media Development
The annual PCMA (Professional Convention Management Association) Education Conference in San Antonio last month was a real eye-opener for me. And, a wake-up call. You could have only left that conference knowing that the need for change within associations and at their events is perhaps greater than it’s ever been.
Here are my lessons learned, insights gained and trends noted:
• Many associations are struggling to attract potential younger members who don’t see the value of membership.
• At this meeting, as at many meetings now, there were no printed workshop/session handouts (all were only available for online download).
• Meetings should always offer at least three new things each year to keep their meeting relevant with their attendees/audience.
• 75 percent of the workforce will be Gen X and Millennials by 2525 (it’s currently 24 percent). And, this group of individuals will have grown up with social media as an integral part of their life.
• Associations will remain relevant as long as they offer their members content and community (and community can be enhanced via social media).
• Internet connectivity at a meeting can be expensive for live streaming.
• When live streaming, be sure the speakers/emcees are engaging the online attendees as well as the in-person attendees.
• One-third or more of the attendees had their iPads at the keynote sessions and workshops/seminars — using them to take notes and engage socially.
• Research shows attendees want to know what’s new from exhibitors and exhibitors need to be sure that’s blatantly obvious in their booths.
• There was lots of talk about the increasing need to connect with attendees digitally.
• Buzz surrounded holding hybrid and virtual events (and the combo of live conference, virtual conference/live streaming, post-conference webcasts, and session rebroadcasts, which also are four different revenue streams for associations).
• Meetings are setting up rooms for industry bloggers in additional to providing traditional pressrooms.
• Meetings are using YouTube exhibitor testimonials to generate interest from potential exhibitors for their future meetings.
• Some meetings are holding mini “virtual events” before the live meeting to generate interest and excitement for attendees coming to the live meeting.
I recently attended the annual PCMA Education Conference in San Antonio. The conference was filled, as usual, with networking, top-flight education and fabulous food. (PCMA knows how to host their meeting planner constituency!) It also offered some excellent general session speakers who knew how to inspire.
One of these was Mark Scharenbroich, a National Speakers Hall of Fame member and Emmy Award winner. When Mark first started speaking, no one at my table was sure what to think of his blend of self-deprecating Minnesotan humor and comic physicality. It could have gone entirely wrong, to be sure, in front of this discerning group of meeting professionals. He even admitted — onstage — that for him, this was a big-time engagement, and that he was more than a little nervous to be presenting.
But soon after, he drew us in with his authentic stories of average people deepening their human connections. And really, isn’t that what we all want? Because when we connect with others, it makes us feel more connected and valued.
Mark formulated his “nice bike” principal when, quite by accident in August 2003, he drove by the Harley-Davidson 100th anniversary in Milwaukee. From his totally unhip beige rental car, he observed the interactions between bikers. He noticed that two words really connected rider to rider that day: “Nice bike.”
More than flattery, he believed that this simple phrase was emblematic of something deeper: an authentic and validating human connection. Throughout his presentation, and in his book, Nice Bike, he gives example after example of people doing simple acts of kindness or service for one another that acknowledges the other person, honors them and connects with them. From teachers showing little kindnesses to students to CEOs knowing something about every team member in their company to veterans sharing an amazing positive attitude in the face of terrible injury, the Nice Bike principal inspired listeners to make purposeful connections in an isolating and technology-driven world.
He reminded attendees to start with your oldest friendships and reclaim them through reconnection. How many of us get so bogged down with living our day-to-day life that we neglect what is oldest, truest and most important to us — our longtime friendships and family relationships? He told a wonderful story of reconnecting with his father, a crusty war veteran who never said “I love you” when Mark was growing up. Through asking questions to learn more about his father’s life, Mark was able to understand him better in his later years. And Mark was able to witness his father’s authentic connection with a group of Vietnam vets during a special trip to D.C. together. Mark got to see his father put into practice — naturally and beautifully — the “Nice Bike” philosophy in a meaningful way.
All of us wish for authentic, meaningful connections with our family and friends, peers, customers and employees. Nice Bike is a way to consciously work to acknowledge, honor and connect with others around us. You can find out more about Mark Scharenbroich at www.nicebike.com
The headline for this blog post is a quote. Surprisingly, a quote from a rap musician — Usher, to be specific. I heard him make this statement on a television show and it impressed me. A pretty smart guy, I think.
His quote and, really I think, his life philosophy, is certainly appropriate in our world here at Ascend. That is, the world of custom content, content marketing, event media and the related creative arts.
This company will celebrate its 30th anniversary in business in July of this year. And, it has seen a dramatic evolution, to say the least.
The company started its life as an ad agency. Within a year or so, it published its first trade show newspaper. Word spread rapidly and within a couple more years, the business had evolved into a trade show daily newspaper publisher. It was called Atwood, named after its founding couple, Wayne and Linette.
The evolution continued as association and event clients began asking them to produce exhibit guides, membership directories, programs, maps and other ancillary print material.
Time moved on and we, the current generation of Ascend team members, have proudly continued the evolution. Primarily in the digital realm. First came Ascend’s proprietary and highly effective “e365”landing page website for events. Following closely after came the company’s interactive database-driven exhibit guides and buyers’ guides with a tremendous degree of flexibility and searchability.
Print magazines, directories and newspapers then began to move to digital form as well and Ascend was early on the scene with flipbook versions. One of our first was for the Miss Universe Pageant in Las Vegas. It was a beauty, so to speak!
We also are proud to say that we were early pioneers in the mobile arena with one of the industry’s first event mobile apps. Can you believe that launching a mobile product in just early 2009 makes one a pioneer in that field? Today, I have a list of 67 companies that claim to make some type of event mobile app. While many try, we’ve evolved through at least four generations of mobile event apps and will soon be able to provide a sophisticated new show floor geo-location technology that is not GPS-dependent. Stay tuned.
We then saw the trend in a new lead-generation tool called “QR codes” and we immediately began offering this new technology to our clients. We first demonstrated its capabilities at the annual Healthcare Exhibitors Association Show several years ago.
In the area of SMS text messaging, Ascend also has been offering that technology solutions to our more than 50 event and trade show clients for three years now. We sometimes euphemistically call it “mobile herding” because it can be such an effective tool to move people around a trade show. Even today, text messaging is an increasingly effective and accepted means of communicating with attendees and constituents.
We are now, of course, heavily into creating and delivering tablet versions of publications in both iPad and Android tablet formats. We’ve produced proof of concept work for The American Heart Association, the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and, most recently, for Sam Lippman’sECEF conference program book delivered to more than 200 association and event senior executives.
Beyond that, we now offer a Virtual Totebag for exhibitors and associations to effectively and efficiently distribute their trade show literature to attendees. Plus, in late June 2012, we will debut our new AscendStreaming technology at this year’s (HCEA) Healthcare Exhibitors Association trade show in Orlando.
If all that is not enough, coming real soon will be version 2.0 of our interactive digital exhibit guides and buyers guides with some amazing new functionality and improved user navigation.
With all of that technology, we still produce a staggering variety and volume (more than 400 pieces per year) of print products, not the least of which are some 40 or more show daily newspaper projects averaging two to three days of live news each. That’s easily more than 100 issues per year, now totaling well over 2,200 issues for nearly 800 trade shows in our 30-year history.
Ascend strives to offer a fully integrated communications solution so that readers and users can access and use information with the same look, feel, style, tone and format regardless of what media they are using — print, digital, mobile or any combination.
Even though we continue to work aggressively to evolve to serve the needs of our clients, our goal of providing content for users “when they want it, where they want it and how they want it” remains the same.
Please come and join us as a partner, client or employee as we continue on this evolutionary trail in custom content.
Bundling has become a popular word in our vernacular. If you’re like me you’ve seen or heard the term used the most in the countless number of mailers, television, radio and Internet ads where utilities are offering to “bundle” your various forms of communication into one monthly package. Yes, I need my mobile. Yes, I need speedy Internet. Yes, I have to have cable. Put them all together to save me money and reduce the number of companies I have to deal with — that makes for a very BIG YES.
I’ve found more than a few recent examples where an organization has many different vendors and/or departments providing piece parts of the services required to publish their member periodical. Content may be created internally and then that content is sent out for editing. From there it could be sent out for design/layout and then returned for final review. Now it goes to the printer. Quite possibly the printer doesn’t have the capability for mailing so from the printer the publications are sent to a mail house for final distribution. Who’s providing the digital component for the publication? You add in a separate firm to sell, track and invoice for the advertising and you’ve got quite a lot to manage.
Ascend provides a complete staff of publishing professionals that successfully handle and execute all facets in the periodical publishing process. We’re quite unique in that we have a seasoned and experienced sales team (which delivered more than 4.5 million in royalties to our clients in 2011) to go along with a talented group of editors, designers, digital programmers, production and printing specialists that deliver publications on time and on budget. The expertise of the entire team working together in one location provides a bundling experience that is both financially and efficiently rewarding for our clients.
So, if you’re responsible for publishing your association’s magazine and you have a number of internal and external resources providing various services to get that publication in your members’ hands, via print and/or digital, ask yourself: What can bundling do for me?
Over the course of the last three years or so, the media and event industries have taken a major beating due to a combination of the economic downturn and the paradigm shift occurring from changes and uncertainties created by the Internet.
It was particularly interesting and telling last year when the U.S. government’s debt was downgraded. Ascend has a team of 10 media sales specialists who sell print and digital advertising, event and trade show sponsorships and exhibit booth space for many of our 60+ clients. Quite literally, within 10 days of the U.S. credit downgrade, they began to detect a very material shift in tone, confidence and media spend as they had discussions with hundreds of clients and prospects. This virtual sea change in demeanor occurred across all 20 of the B2B, health care and consumer market sectors that Ascend’s clients represent.
Since Ascend largely sells from two to six months in advance for its clients’ projects, the broad-based decrease in business and consumer confidence really impacted fourth quarter business last year. The net affect was a client base and an Ascend team member and customer base that largely began 2011 with a cautiously optimistic tenor, a pretty good start on the year and then ended the year rather discouraged.
But then, a new day dawned as we entered 2012. Several new clients came on board for the year after months of discussions and planning. (Welcome IMEX, EnergyWorks KC, American Heart Association exhibit booth sales, American Society for Public Administration, Alzheimers Association, Professional Convention Management Association, National Indian Gaming Association, World Mining Expo, Bizbash, Association of Change Management Professionals and CalPers!)
Projects for clients suddenly began to not just hit goals but consistently over-deliver. And exceed goals, they have indeed. Some results have just been off-the-charts successful. Take our work for American Heart Association’s annual Stroke Meeting. Sales results for this event were more than double last year’s, as well as being an all-time revenue record.
Following closely on the heels of the Stroke meeting came the American Academy of Dermatology. While we’ve broken many revenue records for this client over the 20 or so years we’ve partnered with them, 2012 was an all-time record high. Off-the-charts performance for one of our top five largest meeting clients.
Suddenly, around the office, we could see a change in tone and energy and confidence. There is a level of excitement and enthusiasm and optimism that most likely, most media companies and agencies haven’t experienced for years.
So, suddenly, hey, this business is a lot of fun! Things are growing, business is moving, new ideas are launching. There’s a vibrant energy that continues to build on itself.
No better example could be made than our current work for another long-term partner client, the AmericanThoracicSociety. Our work selling print and digital advertising as well as their sponsorship inventory is nothing short of fantastic. With a May meeting and weeks to go before all media and sponsorship inventory is closed, this event is already at 121 percent of last year’s all-time record.
For both our Ascend team members and our partner clients, the icing on the cake is the fact that, across the board, media sales and repping work for our custom magazine and journal publishing clients is following a very similar increasing trend. Two repping clients already are seeing bookings at 60 percent to 80 percent of last year’s total business.
It’s just more proof that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Hey, this is fun. Why not climb on board the Ascend ship and rise with us?
By Eric Jacobson, Vice President, Media Development
It takes more strength to ask for help than it does to not ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s a sign of knowing when to seek assistance to help you become more effective and successful.
Athletes seek out trainers. Professionals of all ages engage with mentors. Budding actors work with acting coaches.
And, in nearly every case, the associations with whom we partner had the strength to ask for our help. Each had pain. Communication pain. Decreasing meeting attendance pain. Poor vendor performance pain. Workload pain.
Rather than ignore and struggle along with that pain, they asked for help — sometimes reaching out to us, sometimes opening up during a call or meeting initiated by us.
Having worked with dozens of associations for the past 30 years, we are good at listening to the pain an organization is experiencing and then recommending options and possible solutions. Those recommendations include the best practices we witness every day as we create custom print, digital and mobile content designed to engage audiences, increase meeting attendance and build membership.
Here’s a list of the most common pain points we hear from associations. Which ones match up with your pain points?
1. Our internal staff doesn’t have time to sell ads into our print and digital products.
2. Our exhibit sales vendor isn’t communicating effectively with us.
3. We need to make our meeting more eco-friendly.
4. Our staff has been reduced and we no longer have the ability to create content in-house.
5. We don’t have internal expert medical writers.
6. We need to generate more revenue by better monetizing our journals, meetings and special events.
7. We have too many vendors and our projects feel disjointed.
8. We need to communicate more effectively with our members via texting, apps, tablets and other electronic channels.
9. My Board wants a whole new approach for our marketing and communications.
Perhaps not surprising, many of the associations who shared their pain with us recently needed assistance increasing their revenue. Then, by listening to their needs, strategizing with them, understanding their competition and fully immersing our sales team, we have produced these types of results:
• 139 percent of the goal/expectation for the first quarter of 2012, and already at 129 percent of goal for the first half of 2012 in less than two months of effort.
• 127 percent growth in number of advertisers in an association’s publications in 2011 versus 2010 when a different vendor worked on the project.
• Increased advertising revenue by 30 percent between 2010 versus 2009.
• Increased sales by 16 percent in 2011 versus 2010.
The first step when you have a pain point is to acknowledge that pain. Then, share that pain with someone you know likely can be of help. Ask for help. Listen to the options offered to you.
What are your pain points? What is preventing you from asking for help?
Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching and we long to hear those three little words: “Here’s some chocolate.” Or even better, “I love you.”
With Cupid’s arrow, candy hearts and red roses plastered on every advertisement we see, we are constantly reminded to express our love to those that mean the most to us. Personally. But how does that translate in business? Awkwardly?
No, fostering business relationships is critically important too. Client retention is arguably equally important to building new client relationships. Taking a moment to personally thank clients, customers, vendors and suppliers goes incredibly far in the business world. “Developing and growing business relationships makes us all better,” says one of my clients, Stephanie Batson at the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). "We communicate more efficiently, we problem-solve creatively and in the end, our projects improve. I place value on our partners who acknowledge our support and are genuinely grateful for our business.”
We all work at hyper speed: multi-tasking, texting while teleconferencing — have you ever held two phones up to your ears? All hail the mute button! But this time of year, I am reminded of the benefits of slowing down and returning to the basics. A simple “thank you” can solidify a partnership for years to come, and can improve you and your company’s reputation. We are all human and we have few basic needs. Being loved, even in the business world, is paramount.
I’m taking this Valentine’s Day to say “I love you” — or more appropriately, to say “I thank you” — to each of my clients. I work hard each day to earn your business and I’m grateful for your partnership.
Social media, whose intent originally was meant to enhance online social engagements and exchanges, has now become a core element of association and company marketing. It no is longer enough to have an eye-catching logo, name and robust website.
With the ongoing evolution of social media, organizations have new ways to communicate and interface with their constituents. And, likewise, social media also provides a new platform for members to communicate with their association.
Social media can become a powerful means for publicizing and leveraging an organizations’ brand.
Social media is the new frontier — and it is wise to consider the legal matters that can pop up in these uncharted waters. There are some basic social media “facts of life.” For starters, from defamation to copyright infringement, there are legal issues that social media misuse can trigger.
Koback reminds organizations that what you say — and who says it — on social media sites matters. As an example, “Comparisons, whether it be about product or services — must be objective and truthful, and you must be able to back them up. The FTC’s truth-in-advertising rules apply,” he offers.
Copyright and intellectual property rules apply as well. “The law is very clear that the employer has no right to control what employees put on their private (social media) accounts,” Koback shares. That said, it absolutely is necessary for organizations to have rules about who speaks online for the company. Koback recommends a policy memo.
The social media-use policy is important because what may seem like business basics to company executives, may be foreign concepts to employees. Even if your organization does not use social media, remember the vast majority of your employees do. Some examples of what you need to consider include: Can your employees post information about your organization or company? Can they post about other organizations? Does it matter whether they do this during business hours or from home after hours?
Another social media legal expert, Lisa Callaway, recommends that you train your people. Your policy should make it clear that “only employees designated and authorized by the employer” can post, edit or delete content on the company’s social media, and that the business’ ‘“anti-harassment and EEO policies apply to the use of social media in the workplace,” she explains. “Employers must be careful about what they put out there.”
Bottom line, it would make sense to review your company’s liability insurance, as social media coverage is not always included.
So, embrace the marketing and branding opportunity social media offers. But consider first, if you have not already, what makes up your social media use policy?
It certainly is no secret that methods and patterns of consumption of content are in a complete state of transition. Yet surprisingly, there are many otherwise educated business professionals who have yet to recognize — or accept — the need for cross-platform or fully integrated media and communications strategies. We even recently experienced a situation in which a prospective client told us that digital media simply was not important to them as a means of communicating with their customers, even though they are a well-educated, digitally savvy group.
So, more and more, I find myself preaching the religion of being platform-agnostic with the religious fervor of a traveling revival minister.
It is simply no longer OK to be a print-only business or a digital-only business or a mobile-only business. Or, worse, to rely on only one medium to deliver a message.
The empirical data is overwhelming for each medium. There are countless statistically valid studies that prove the readership and value of print, no matter what the form. There are an increasing array of similar studies with equal validity and compelling facts that detail the merits and value of digital media and, more recently, mobile media.
Most people really don’t think about why they are reading what they are reading in the medium they are reading it. They just want the information in the quickest, easiest and most convenient form. And that form — or platform — changes fast and often based on needs, circumstances and location.
If you don’t prepare and deliver your brand, marketing and/or communications message in the platform your customers want it to be in at the time they want to read it, you lose. And, you can lose doubly if you don’t plan for cross-platform communications in an integrated manner that captures and maintains a consistency in look, feel and tone.
What platforms does your business need add to its communications channel?
“I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
This is a quote attributed to Michelangelo. For some reason, it was only quite recently that I ran across it in something I was reading. Unfortunately, I can’t say where I read it. I find that I read so much these days and in so many different media — print (yes, I still read a ton of print!); computer-based web or email; tablet-based web, email or app; or smartphone-based web, app, email or text. Then, did it come from a news feed, LinkedIn or Facebook? Who knows — I am just happy to remember the information with some semblance of knowing that it came from a credible source.
But, I digress. I was stopped in my tracks by the Michelangelo quote above. Because of the impression this statement made on me, I did a little quick research. He also is attributed with saying, “In every block of marble, I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”
Michelangelo’s philosophy here impresses me on both a personal and business level. On a personal level, I am a bit of a painter. Acrylics on canvas only — no formal training and all abstracts. I don’t claim to be good or even mediocre, but I do enjoy it. It’s something that I discovered just a few years ago. The thing is, with his quote, I discovered that I do at least one thing the same way he did it. I feel like now there is hope for me. I have found that I actually have to complete the painting in my head before I ever put paint on canvas. Sadly, I’ve been working on a painting in my head now for at least a year. That’s not the point, however. The point is: It’s all about the vision thing. You can’t start without a vision of where you are headed.
Thus, the relevance to business. Here at Ascend Integrated Media, we have two visions. One for our business — the direction we are headed and the goals we want to achieve. And one for each of our many valued clients.
For our company, our vision is to continue to build a creative custom-media agency that provides thoroughly integrated and highly creative work that helps our clients solve problems and achieve their goals. The great thing here is that this really is a lifelong or at least career-long journey and, so far, it’s been successful and very cool.
For our clients, we begin our solution-based conversations by gaining an understanding of their vision and, in many cases, helping them to formulate and formalize that vision when it has not already been clearly developed and documented. This helps us to establish a vision for the tools, techniques and content solutions we will create to fulfill that vision. Understanding vision helps our creative team deliver optimum creativity, which has been totally validated by the 28 national and international media awards they’ve been recognized with in just the last year or so.
We love and find great satisfaction in the win/win scenario of executing the “vision thing” on multiple levels and turning that block of marble into an effective print/digital/mobile integrated media solution.
How has having a vision helped you achieve your goals?
Recently, our company was asked to participate in a formal, RFP process. The prospective client is large, prestigious and the bid required a multifaceted, fully integrated communications solution. Print, digital and mobile media channels were to be used to reach a diverse audience who expect to have instant access to relevant information when they want it, where they want it and in the medium they want to read it.
After an extensive analysis of the client’s requirements, challenges and audience, we went to work as a team to identify compelling ways to achieve the goals outlined by the prospective client.
This process took many weeks of work, and the presentation and proposal each went through countless revisions, edits and format changes. That doesn’t count scripting and rehearsal.
Finally, the time came for the formal client presentation. We took a team of nine to present and reflect the level of knowledge and expertise that each represents in his/her business specialty.
As I sat there preparing to make opening remarks before turning over the real presentation work to our team, it struck me as to just how much time and effort had gone into the strategy and tactics of this presentation. And, how many people throughout our team of 58 employees had actually touched and contributed to this presentation and proposal in one form or another.
In this day and age, with the degree of complexity, moving parts and rigid deadlines of a fully integrated communications plan that may use as many as a dozen print pieces, numerous eNewsletters and eBlasts, websites, mobile apps, text messaging, social media management, QR code implementation, mobile research or polling and reporting of audience metrics, it truly does take a village. A full team of passionate and dedicated professionals with unique yet complimentary skill sets.
There have been countless articles and blog posts written over the last year about what to look for in a custom content/marketing services agency. I’d say first and foremost, if you require an innovative approach to a fully integrated, cross-platform communications solution, make sure your agency has a village full of talent that will be at your disposal.
How has your company worked as a village in the recent months?
Maintaining standards of excellence is a common theme across many organizations — particularly in today’s highly competitive market.
Developing a simple plan to achieve excellence is not easy. Achieving excellence and maintaining it — and then constantly improving up on it — is an even bigger task. Jim Collin’s books, Good to Great and Built to Last, address this subject so well. To build a culture that is geared to always improve is a key component.
It begins with having the right people on board — people whose internal mechanisms are disciplined, self-motivated and whose work ethic includes doing their best — always.
There isn’t a miracle formula. Rather, it really boils down to a somewhat mundane but consistent set of practices that create and maintain a consciousness — whether it be in your staff or your customer. It happens in baby steps. There is no big, “Eureka!”
A protocol of directive questioning, which creates a new awareness or clarity in terms of what is and isn’t working, is an important component of best practices. There are mini “aha” moments as the answers to the questions indicate what needs to be done. This involves teaching people how to interpret the answers to the questions in order to modify the game plan day in and day out. The reflex of maintaining an open mind while constantly realigning, rethinking and reviewing the game plan on the fly is what this practice can achieve.
Do this with your staff as you strive to maintain excellence in the practices that deliver best products and customer service. It can be valuable to have your staff develop the questions — what makes the products or services good, competitive and valuable in the eyes of the customer, and what other facets of products/services should the customer be thinking about? Taking time to do this gives clarity to what a group is doing that is already very good — providing specific language they can use among themselves, with customers and the outside world regarding the organization superior. This builds a “winning spirit” within the enterprise.
This exercise also gives everyone a voice, and through that, makes them accountable, instilling the feeling of being part of something that is moving, improving and winning. If you are thinking, “This is not rocket science,” you are right. The “magic” lies in maintaining the discipline — the steady practice of this drumbeat. People always perform better when they have a clear sense of purpose and when they know what the guidelines are.
When teams embrace this approach, it fosters collaboration and reduces, if not eliminates, “silos” within an organization. Individual egos are reigned in and aligned, and as milestones are met, a greater sense of individual and team fulfillment is achieved. That consistent stream of accomplishment and fulfillment is important, as there will be no single moment of “we have won the war” — but rather an ongoing acknowledgement and celebration of the milestones along the way that maintain excellence. That is worthy of acknowledgement and celebration. Those tiny epiphanies give clarity in terms of what is being achieved, and clarity feeds excellence.
What will you do today to begin the process of achieving and maintaining excellence within your organization?
When I was a youngster, fresh out of college, I started my first job as an advertising copywriter for a small B2B magazine publisher. My job was to write brochures and mailers and media kits to promote the magazines. Of course, the end result was to help the sales staff sell more advertising.
In the advertising program at J-School, we didn’t really spend much time talking about B2B magazines and no time talking about things like media kits. This created a bit of a dilemma for me as a copywriter on my first job. I really had no idea what I was writing about and no clue as to what a media kit was.
Needless to say, my early days there were a bit rough as I reported to a really cranky old man who’d been in the business for nearly 50 years and who also happened to be an extremely good copywriter. It was nothing for me to get yelled at as my yellow copy paper (going way back here to the days of typewriters!) would come flying back across the desk covered in bright-red edits. Many lines were underlined several times for added emphasis on just how bad my writing really was. Seven to 10 rewrites was not uncommon.
One day, when he found one of my ideas particularly unimaginative and came storming over to my desk, he asked me if I had an idea file — or swipe file, as he liked to call it. When I told him I had no idea what a swipe file was, he fumed even more. Since he was an old Irishman with a pallid complexion, this fuming would invariably also involve turning various shades of red. When he calmed down enough that his ability to speak returned, he actually explained to me that every copywriter should have a file full of really good ideas and concepts to refer to and use as a brainstorming tool when it was time to create a new concept. Then, he turned and walked off in disgust.
As he walked away, he muttered to me that I needed to become a student of the business.
I took this advice to heart as it seemed like the thing to do if one wanted to survive the wrath of Emmett. So, I began to study ads and identify strong headlines and well-turned phrases, no matter what the industry. And I began to read all nine of the magazines that we published every month to best understand what each did for its readers and advertisers. Implement & Tractor was the main magazine, and to this day, I still am quite conversant on the topic of tractors.
Equally important, I would read every one of the advertising and publishing trade journals available at that time, such as Folio: Magazine, Ad Age, Adweek, Industrial Marketing (now called BtoB magazine), Direct Marketing and Target Marketing.
I didn’t just read them. I would tear out key articles and catalog them in a file as a reference tool. I had my idea file and my reference file. I rapidly became a student of the business and kept those files for years.
Being a student of the business is a practice that I still follow to this day. One should never stop learning. To stay abreast today, I subscribe to The Wall Street Journal and at least a dozen eNewsletters, such as “Tech Crunch,” MediaBistro and Joe Pulizzi’s “Junta42” and “Content Marketing Institute,” and magazines like Content magazine from the Custom Content Council, BtoB, Folio: Magazine, Publishing Executive, MIN, Media Post, eMarketer Daily News, PCMA’s Convene, Association & Media Publishing’s Signature, ASAE’s Associations Now, Expo Magazine and Trade Show Executive. There are even more, but you get the idea.
And when I interview candidates for any position in the company, I always am interested to know what they read and if they — at the very least — have become a student of the business as well as for the type of work they perform, whether that be accounting, sales or content creation.
Becoming a student of your business and profession is mind-expanding and career-enhancing.
What industry publications do you find invaluable?
Several years ago, the American Business Media association sponsored the development of a hardbound book on the centennial anniversary of something to do with the publishing industry. One of the final chapters was dedicated to prognostications about the future of publishing and media. The typical kind of stuff about when print will be dead, how everything will go to the Internet, etc. (This was long before anyone was really forecasting the incredible growth in mobile.)
At that time, I was a member of the board of directors of ABM, so I was one of the select few who got to play visionary, look into our crystal balls and forecast the future.
My thought and quote for the book focused on the future of the U.S. Postal Service and their problems remaining viable. Not much has changed as they still, to this day, continue to have their heads in the sand and refuse to make the tough decisions and change to reflect the mail volume and cost structure of the times.
The essence of my position on their need for change was the fact that the Postal Service was, at that time, about to announce another ridiculous double-digit rate increase. It became clear to me that the laws of economics would prevail at some point. People would find creative and alternative ways to communicate and reach other people and businesses when it simply became too cost-prohibitive to use the public mail system. Volume would decrease, so the Postal Service executives, in their infinite wisdom, would continue to raise rates to offset the declining volume and thus create a self-fulfilling prophecy as they spiraled downward towards nonexistence.
My flashback to this book and my quote was triggered by an intriguing story in the spring 2011 issue of the Custom Content Council’s magazine, Content. The article provides highlights on a new research study that was conducted for the association by ContentWise magazine about the growing trends in custom content and custom publishing. More companies are using more of their marketing budgets for custom content. And they are doing so for very good reasons: To educate or retain customers and/or for brand loyalty. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, print remains the dominant medium for these media-based efforts to connect with customers.
And that’s where the irony and connection with the good old Postal Service comes in to play. Some wise person once said that every weakness can be a strength. Dramatic drops in paper mail — at least that is what I am experiencing — have reduced our daily mail clutter whether at home and work. Therefore, the competition for reader attention has been reduced — a lot. That leaves a huge opportunity for custom content to gain increased exposure and readership and to really stand out. The post office’s failings have created an opportunity for custom content in general, and print in particular, to become an exceptional value for marketers.
Do you plan on using print in your custom marketing efforts? How do you plan on reaching your customers?
Last year, we produced mobile apps for 18 major trade shows. For this year, we expect that to increase exponentially. Increased understanding of the value of mobile communications and the fact that we are working with a new technology partner, Sherpa Solutions, will drive our growth. Also, the fact that the Sherpa event-focused app is absolutely state-of-the art in both functionality and features.
I can characterize the Sherpa app in this manner because I have spent countless hours over the last four months searching out and evaluating event-related mobile apps. Based on my research and analysis, I’ve come to the conclusion that mobile apps are in gold-rush phase. It’s like the wild, wild West out there. Or, perhaps more relevant, mobile is like the Internet in the pre-dotcom-bubble period. By my count, there are at least 55 companies that claim to have a mobile app for events. I have a list.
Now, here’s the thing. Everyone looking to pick a mobile app vendor tends to focus on the obvious questions. Is the app a WAP or a true native app? And what functions can it perform? Buyers simply are not asking what is perhaps the most important question: Is the company financially viable? Show owners need to be certain that, come show time, their app provider will still be in business.
The simple but hard fact is that the vast majority of app builders will go out of business because there are just too many of them and not much money can be made from these apps right now. It would take a whole bunch of event apps to make a viable business at today’s market rates, which range from $2,000 to about $20,000. Companies that provide an event app as just one part of a much broader product line and those who have been in business for more than six months to a year are a far safer choice.
Growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money. We bought shoes only when we had seriously outgrown them. And there were no Nikes. We mostly wore dress shoes — the ones that had to be polished regularly. During the school week, those shoes took a beating on the playground as well as during after-school rough housing. Come Sunday, the shoes would stick out like a sore thumb in our go-to-church clothes unless they had a good shine to cover the week’s scuffs and other flotsam and jetsam picked up by a grade-schooler. To our mother, this step was mandatory. And so it came to be one of life’s essential weekly routines
When I started travelling extensively for business, I began to notice the shoeshine stands in airports and along city streets — in New York City and San Francisco in particular. There used to be a great shoeshine stand just across the street from the side entrance to the St. Francis Hotel in downtown San Fran.
A real professional shoeshine became one of my little luxuries and one that I could truly enjoy after years of shining my own shoes. There is an art to shoe shining that not only includes the waxes and other chemicals needed to achieve maximum shine, but the shiner’s individual artistic flair. I appreciate the workmanship, pride and attention to detail that these professionals put into their work. Day in and day out, these folks consistently deliver a top-quality service.
Several weeks ago, I was in Denver attending the American Academy of Family Physicians national meeting. The Denver airport still has a great shoeshine stand. I, of course, could not resist. So, while marveling at a true master shiner at work, I began to sense a real commonality between the shoe shiner and the work of our team here at Ascend Integrated Media. Like clockwork, day in and day out, our team of journalism, graphic design, digital gurus, production experts and sales pros take pride in their work and deliver high-quality products so consistently you could darn near set your watch by their ability to hit deadlines. Plus, like the best shiners, we’ve been creating custom media products now for decades — more than 29 years.
Like the shoeshine, where the proof of the quality of their work is immediately apparent in the luster of the shoe, our team’s proof of quality lies in the 25 national and international awards we’ve won in the last 12 months. Better yet, our team has been recognized by their peers for writing, reporting, graphic design, website development, mobile app creation and multimedia product creation. These national and international awards are broad in scope, ranging from the prestigious Custom Content Council’s Pearl Awards (three awards) to Graphic Design USA magazine (five awards), American Society of Business Publication Editors’ Azbee Awards (two awards) and the Apex Award of Excellence (two awards), among numerous others.
The loyalty of our many clients — some who have been with us from 10 to 25 years — should be proof enough of the quality of our work. Still, recognition from peers is always a nice validation, much like the generous tip given to a master of shoe shines — once he has admired his reflection in the toe of a shoe.
Based on attendance at a recent workshop held by the Association Forum of Chicagolandinterest in integrated media is huge. Integrating traditional print content across digital and mobile platforms is of increasing importance as organizations see their audience accessing information in different ways at different times.
A number of attendees were either not familiar with or concerned that they lacked the real-time content-management systems robust enough to serve content across print, digital and mobile platforms. However, the recent data on the increased usage of mobile devices, generated much interest in the discussion of delivering content via mobile devices and specifically in mobile apps.
Three important reasons why mobile is crucial to your communication plans:
1. 85 percent of the U.S. population has a cell phone today and 100 percent will have one by 2013. – Pew Research
2. 126 million people or 39.5 percent of the population will be accessing the web via mobile browser by 2013. – eMarketer
3. Mobile ad revenues are up 80 percent in 2010 to $743 million and should top $1.1 billion in 2011 and $2.4 billion by 2014. – eMarketer
Top five things to know before you take your content mobile:
Not all app developers can build an app to work and look the same across all cell phone platforms. Make sure they can build apps for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, iPad and Windows OS platforms. Ask the developer to demonstrate the apps so you can see how they look on each device.
There are true native apps, browser-based WAPS and hybrids of the two. Know the differences; the pros and cons, so you know what would work best for you; and what you are getting for your investment.
Make sure there is a marketing plan around the app — you can’t just “build it and they will come.” Know who is responsible for creating the plan, executing the details and measuring the outcomes.
Clarify who will create and manage the content that will reside on the app. It is a great deal of work to have constantly updated content, especially during an event. Make sure you have appointed someone to be in charge of this, and that he or she has the knowledge and manpower to do it.
Know whether there is sponsorship/advertising real estate within the app, who will sell it and how revenue will be shared.
What is your biggest hurdle when considering entering the mobile arena with your content?
Some experts think this quote is an ancient Chinese curse, others have attributed it to John F. Kennedy or Hunter S. Thompson. Since Thompson was among my favorite authors back in the 1970s (Boys on the Bus), I’ll attribute it to him.
With proper sourcing complete, I must say that I find great truth in the saying today. The constant and unending pace of technology as it relates to information and the means to disseminate it is relentless. And fascinating. And challenging. And interesting.
But at the end of the day, I think it’s important to remember that technology is simply a device, a delivery tool. Content remains vital in making the technology relevant. Technology can blind us to the fact that sometimes, what is old is new again. Joe Pulizzi of Junta42 in a recent blog post even had the audacity to suggest that not only is print not dead, but in certain uses and cases, print is experiencing a relevancy resurgence. A concept that is surely heresy to many. But, something that’s okay with me.
One of the content trends that technology can arguably take credit for is the desire to connect via all channels of social media. Perhaps, like print, with social media, what is old is new again. Weren’t we networking socially via the land line telephone in the pre-digital world? Remember the 1980’s Bell ad slogan “reach out and touch someone?”
One thing is clear, whether it’s print or digital, people have an insatiable need for information. There is a boundless desire for learning and more importantly, for establishing and building emotional connections and relationships.
That desire for connections is where the beauty of this growing trend in custom publishing and custom content creation comes into play. Long form content allows companies to do far more than simply brand a product—although that remains a critical component within a successful marketing strategy. Long form content allows companies to establish an emotional connection, a two-way dialogue, a relationship with customers and constituents. Recent national research from the Custom Content Council fully validates this trend.
People today use technology to consume content and establish those connections in different ways, at different times and with an unprecedented sense of immediacy. Providing that content in a multi-platform environment is fundamental to success in communicating with target audiences today. I can see the truth to these trends just by looking at my own content consumption patterns. I still like to read print on airplanes or at home while relaxing and multi-tasking with the TV. I am almost exclusively computer based when at the office. And finally, my mobile device has become my tool of choice while on the go—in cars, airports, trade shows, restaurants, events, etc. I am amazed at how utterly reliant I have become on my smart phone.
What channels, methods and tools are you using to engage your audience and how are you adapting to deliver content in new ways?