Sunday, March 22, 2009

Selling Fear: How to Frighten Americans and Make Money

I'm feeling good.

At the Tattered Cover Bookstore the other day, a certain book title grabbed my attention: The Great Depression Ahead: How to Prosper in the Crash Following the Greatest Boom in History by Harry Dent. Searching for similarly inspiring titles later on, I found these lovely little nuggets: Game Over: How You Can Prosper in a Shattered Economy by Stephen Leeb and The Wall Street Journal Guide to the End of Wall Street as We Know It: What You Need to Know about the Greatest Financial Crisis of our Time--and How to Survive It by Dave Kansas.

Reading the book jacket of The Great Depression Ahead, Mr. Dent predicts apocalypse (well, maybe I'm being slightly hyperbolic). However, IF you buy his book, he says, he will provide helpful advice for how you and your family can thrive in the midst of troubled times. And then yesterday, after Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner put forth a plan to purchase toxic assets from banks that set the markets soaring, this is what Mr. Leeb, above-mentioned author and President at Leeb Capital Management, had to say on "The plan is a rehash of what we've seen before and it still doesn't resolve the issue of how to value the bad assets."

He does have have a point about valuing assets; it still is one of the unresolved challenges facing a government that wants to flush out the banks, recapitalize them and restore faith in the markets. I wonder, though, whether Mr. Leeb might also be concerned that if Americans start showing such optimism and confidence as they did yesterday, his book sales may go the way of the Dow Jones last October. Was yesterday an opportunity for him to renew the call for fear and uncertainty?

Fear is a ball bouncing around the wreckage that is our economy today and it took Larry Summers on March 13 to say enough is enough. "It is this transition from an excess of greed to an excess of fear that President Roosevelt had in mind when he famously observed that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself," he was quoted as saying.

Americans have always looked for an easy way to earn easy money or assets: first, the VC crowd was sure it was doing right when it overcapitalized the dot-coms a decade ago. Whoops. Next came the subprime gurus who offered to give...I mean sell you a house without your actually having to pay for it. What we're seeing now is the emergence of fearmongers to tap into people's emotions and there is no emotion like fear to drive people to action.

Insightful salesmen recognize that...and they will take advantage of it. Don't let the books scare you; let's face it, if Warren Buffet can't get through these tough times without taking a hit then neither will you or I, no matter what anyone tells you. And great salesmen can, as the saying goes, sell dirt to a farmer, so it's worth being careful when people get up on their boxes and start telling us the end is nigh. But I actually think, in one way, that this phenomenon of promoting fear for profit is a good sign: it shows that, however much we as American are changing as a result of this crisis, in some ways we are still the same.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sustaining your reputation on Twitter

At a breakfast meeting of PR and marketing communications professionals in Broomfield, CO yesterday, five of us discussed how a social media tool such as Twitter can be used to reach customers and convince them to make purchases.

That question, by itself, has a simple answer: it can't. However, utilizing Twitter as one tool of a broader marketing mix of tactics can help position your product or service for greater exposure among audiences that otherwise might not know what you offer--and you get that at no cost. Assumedly, your tweets have been customized to reach the right tweeple (I loved writing that!) and include links to a web site or blog with more information about that product/service.

In one sense, Twitter is just another channel to deliver a message to a targeted audience. But in another sense, being on Twitter has a perceived value (real or not) that helps sustain the communicator's reputation and potentially the product or service. Sustain a reputation? Don't you mean enhance it?

Not really. Nowadays, everyone is on Twitter, Facebook and/or LinkedIn (MySpace is definitely yesterday's papers) and we feel compelled to participate in the social media conversation. It's an unspoken contract and what's more important is that a growing number of our customers expect communicators, in particular, to participate even if they don't know why.

So when it comes to measuring the impact of tweeting about your product or service, the question is one about quality more than quantity. It's not what you gain by doing it. It's about what you stand to lose--being perceived as out of touch, uninformed, not up-to-date--if you're NOT tweeting. And if you're out of touch, what does that say about your product or service? (As an aside, evaluating the success of your marketing tactics is always important and Aaron Uhrmacher has a helpful blog post called How to Measure Social Media ROI for Business.)

Twitter has brought us all back in time to high school where you absolutely must be fashionable. I suppose I'm willing to go along with it, just as long as they don't bring back big hair and mullets.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Getting Started - Week Two of the Job Search

Beginning a job search is a challenge any time. In late 2007, when people were scratching their heads and wondering how the subprime mortgage collapse might impact the broader economy, I was looking for work in Denver. Now, only a year and a half later, after Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Fannie Mae, GM and Chrysler, we KNOW the impact. And I'm now at it again. A couple thoughts follow from my short time as a jobless Denverite:

1. Don't panic! Thanks to Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for this nifty bit of wisdom. We're in the middle of a recession and lots of people are losing their jobs. This week's cover story in the Economist is The Jobs Crisis. While some of us may have helpful support mechanisms (e.g. savings, family support or lotto winnings), which makes this advice easier to pursue, panicking won't move you to your next job or the next phase of your life. If you don't know what resources you have at your disposal, a skills audit or reassessment may be helpful. It also may be time to discover your inner entrepreneur. Remember that this isn't happening to you. This is happening to the country and the globe.

2. Prepare. Where to start? Somewhere. Polish your resume. Scan the job boards. Read some career advice articles or, if you're in Denver (or even if you're not), listen to Andrew Hudson on Channel 4's "Beat the Recession" webcast. Better yet, take a few days off to give yourself the mental and emotional space you need to absorb what just happened. Just over a week after the dust settled from my job loss, I went to see the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Denver. Seeing Darth Vader wave improbably to everyone (he should have worn a green suit) was just what I needed! Focusing yourself also can keep you from your thoughts spinning in a million different unhealthy directions.

3. Prepare to be distracted. There may be more involved in the job search than you realize, but that's not a bad thing. It's also an opportunity to learn new skills. Yesterday morning, I had a couple items on my bulleted list of job-search activities that included a quick scan of the Career Experts Q&A page on PRSA's web site. It turns out I found two great articles on developing a professional portfolio with insights that went well beyond what I'd ever completed in the past in developing one. My bulleted list went out the window and I spent the next 3.5 hours integrating material from my last job into my portfolio and thinking seriously about how I could effectively present it to potential employers in the future. Getting sidetracked isn't always a bad thing.

4. Take Baby Steps. I sent out two resumes last week. Only two. Not a whole lot. But I also did some great networking, learned about a number of professional resources and an upcoming job fair. It could be that I still haven't been out of the labor market long enough to understand the desperation of other job seekers I hear about who are sending out tons of resumes. I concede that point, and my day may come. But my current philosophy is to generate a few small victories by finding and applying for job postings that look exciting (consider looking around the country to broaden your opportunities). First of all, take time to understand who you are and what you offer--then take action.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Considering the freelance option in today's down economy

The New York Times has been covering the movement of newly unemployed professionals to freelancing at "In Hard Times, Freelancers Turn to the Web" and "Weary of Looking for Work, Some Create Their Own". Becoming a successful entrepreneur typically takes discipline, persistence, self-motivation, a positive spirit and sufficient skills to develop and implement a solid business plan. But of course it can be done. I wonder if the lack of sufficient employment opportunities these days will urge professionals with time on their hands to discover their inner entrepreneur. PRSA's ComPRehension blog had a recent post along similar lines. Definitely a sign of the times.

Starting from Scratch

A scratch presumes an itch. And right now I'm itching to take the next step in my public relations career following a corporate restructuring that is about to leave me unemployed. First, let me say I am grateful for all I have learned and accomplished over the past year or more. Secondly, it is daunting to begin blogging without having done so before, which leaves one uncertain about one's own voice..."Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience..."