When a Leader Is Causing Conflict, Start by Asking Why

HBR.org
Charles Orr/Getty Images

Not long ago, I received a call from an HR manager at a large corporation seeking an executive coach for one of their senior leaders. He was described as arrogant, tactlessly blunt, and lacking empathy. Despite his challenges, all of which hadn’t improved much despite several previous coaching interventions, the company hadn’t fired him because he was considered one of the industry’s most brilliant engineers, responsible for several of the firm’s most profitable patents. The company simply couldn’t afford to let him go.

How do you coach a leader whom others think is a hopeless case? Sometimes you can’t. The person may well turn out to be a jerk who won’t change their toxic ways. In that case, the company needs to fire the individual. Tolerating destructive behavior will send the signal that it’s ok to mistreat others as long as you get results. But, often, as was the case with my client, the leader who everyone thinks is hopeless is simply being misunderstood and their behavior misdiagnosed.

Whether you are a coach, an HR leader, or an executive trying to help a challenging subordinate, your credibility, and that of the leader you’re trying to help, depends on an accurate understanding of what’s actually going on. Here are three ways you can be sure you’re addressing the right problem with a challenging leader in the right way.

Manage your assumptions and judgements. Without realizing it, those of us in advisory roles often bring our own issues to our work helping others. We make assumptions and judgements based on our own experiences that often have little to do with the leader we’re trying to support. Before I even met this leader, I found myself feeling anxious, dismissive, and judgmental toward him based on what others had said. I imagined how I would respond to his insulting behavior and what I would say if he made an arrogant comment. But my defenses were unwarranted and my assumption that he was a jerk proved wrong. He was engaging, open to learning, and willing to accept his need to improve. When I asked him why he thought he was so harsh toward others, he seemed stumped and genuinely troubled by how others had characterized him.

You and Your Team Series Difficult Conversations
7 Things to Say When a Conversation Turns Negative
Kathleen Kelley Reardon How to Handle Difficult Conversations at Work
Rebecca Knight Create a Culture Where Difficult Conversations Aren’t So Hard
Jim Whitehurst

I’d heard from the company’s HR manager that this executive was especially cruel toward one colleague. Why had he singled out one person to treat in a uniquely nasty way? As we explored this, it became clear that something about the younger engineer triggered the executive’s anger and it eventually clicked: The young engineer reminded him of his older brother, with whom he had a contentious relationship. My client was raised in an excessively achievement-oriented family, that prized blunt candor over tact, and he was regularly sent the message that he was inferior. His brother had been the family’s golden child while he was never good enough. This direct report was a daily reminder of that pain. This back story in no way excused his behavior, but it did explain it. More importantly, it revealed a path forward toward changing it. But I had to set aside my biases and prejudgments to build the trust necessary to access these important insights.

Look past symptoms to contradictions. Determining what lies beneath seemingly destructive behavior requires looking beyond symptoms. My client’s colleagues had described him as mean and insensitive. His previous coaches had focused on various interpersonal techniques, like how to give constructive feedback, work with different personality styles, and delegate effectively. But they’d neglected to probe into the dynamic with that one engineer. To thoroughly diagnose a leader’s behavior, look for breaks in patterns. Are there people this person works especially well or poorly with? Specific circumstances in which they shine or falter? No one is the same all the time, so understanding where people deviate from predictable habits can isolate important clues. In my client’s case, his unique contempt toward one colleague was an important data point. Further, I learned later that his widely regarded technical expertise coupled with his family background made him feel anxiously responsible for the company’s technical reputation. His team members experienced this as micromanagement and dismissive of their expertise. If we’d focused on those symptoms, we wouldn’t have gotten very far. We needed to understand the root cause. It’s not uncommon to inaccurately diagnosis bad leadership behavior. One Arizona State University study found that toxic leadership pathologies are often confused with behaviors that might fall into a normal range of pathology. To avoid confusing common leadership shortfalls with serious pathologies, it’s critical to dig deeper behind symptoms.

Have a broad repertoire of solutions. For many in advisory roles, their diagnostic lens is narrowed to problems they are best equipped to solve. Every hammer looks like a nail, as the saying goes. For example, I’ve seen some consultants whose specialty was team building, so it was no surprise that their findings and recommendations were all around improving team trust. Leadership coaches use their favorite personality instruments to solve everything from poor financial performance to low morale. It’s important to be open-minded to solutions that fall outside your expertise. Ineffective leadership behavior can originate from deep-seated pathologies to problems with organizational culture. Having a repertoire of tools and approaches helps avoid the dangers of applying a one-size-fits-all solution to all situations. And don’t be afraid to refer people to others who have different expertise that may be able to better help your clients with particular issues. In the case of my client, I recommended he also see a therapist to work on his anxiety and unresolved family issues. He and I worked on more effective ways to engage, teach, and empower his team, and how to recognize when his triggers were getting in the way of doing so.

Consistent scholarly research suggests when it comes to empirically measuring the effectiveness of those advising leaders, we fall far short. Mislabeling behavior or a person as beyond help is one way we fail leaders. If you don’t look for contradictions, get to the root cause, and have a range of solutions, you could unwittingly limit someone’s growth or, even worse, derail their career. But if you do those things, with an open mind, you may be able to help save the job of a valuable leader who might otherwise have been let go, and in turn, provide great value to those you serve.


Twenty percent of executives at U.S. companies with artificial intelligence initiatives report that they will roll out AI across their business this year, according to PwC’s 2019 AI Predictions report. These companies expect their AI investment, which is often part of intelligent automation initiatives, to go beyond improving productivity and cutting costs. They see AI as a path to growing profits and revenue in 2019.

However, the executives in the survey said that there are challenges, such as training employees to use AI systems, and security threats remain a concern. Success in leveraging AI will be built on strategies for the organization and the workforce, for creating responsible AI and AI-ready data, for reinventing the business, and for integrating AI with other technologies.

For more practical steps to deliver on your 2019 AI priorities, click here.

 

Marcus Franzen/Getty Images

Attending a conference is a whir of activity — flying to a destination, engaging in several days of nonstop networking, and coming home to an inbox that has spiraled out of control in your absence. Back at work, most of us immediately go into catch-up mode; the last thing on your mind is following up with the people you just met. That’s especially true if you’re an introvert and feel overtaxed by the whole process.

But a small amount of focused effort can reap long-term benefits and ensure the arduous days you spent connecting face-to-face weren’t wasted. Here’s a framework for structuring your post-conference follow up to maximize the chances that your new connections turn into meaningful professional relationships.

First, it’s important to set aside “processing time.” The conference has probably left you with business cards scattered in your briefcase, pockets, and travel bag. Unless you transfer them quickly into whatever database system you use, they’re likely to get lost quickly. The system doesn’t much matter; it’s personal preference whether you use a business card app or add them to a spreadsheet manually.

What matters is capturing the data (including writing down where you met them, so you don’t forget over time), and also making a list of people you spoke with whose cards you didn’t obtain. That may be a substantial number if the conference discourages card exchange (some conferences fear that people trading business cards will make the gathering appear too “salesy”), or if your encounter has been brief, such as a chat in the lunch line. After I spoke at the recent Global Peter Drucker Forum in Vienna, I took close to 45 minutes to go through the program booklet listing conference attendees and circling the names of those I had conversations with. I hadn’t exchanged contact information with most of them, but they were still connections worth maintaining.

Second, for each person you’ve written down, take a moment to identify your goal for that relationship. You can’t invest in all connections equally, of course — so where should you prioritize your time? You may want to discard some connections upfront — for instance, someone who came up to you, handed you their card, and immediately started pitching you to buy their product or service. It’s not worth subjecting yourself to that in the future.

But most new relationships will fall into three categories. Specifically, those are “miscellaneous interesting people,” with whom there’s not an obvious point of connection; people with whom you have a specific reason to follow up; and people you’d like to build a deeper relationship with.

Miscellaneous interesting people. At the Drucker Forum, for instance, I had a nice conversation with a woman who is an executive with the Port of Vienna. My work doesn’t generally overlap with hers, but I’d be glad to keep in touch because it’s always nice to know a diverse set of people. For instance, in the future, I could imagine a hypothetical situation in which I was hired to speak to a shipping company. Having a contact knowledgeable about industry trends would be valuable as a way of understanding what was important to the client. Similarly, there may be unexpected ways I could assist her in the future.

For connections like that, I apply an “ambient awareness” strategy and send a friend request on LinkedIn, so that we can stay in touch through that channel and she may periodically be exposed to my posts in her news feed, and vice versa. Note that it’s important to be aware of national preferences related to social channels. Immediately after Vienna, I headed to Moscow to teach an executive education program and discovered that most Russians don’t have LinkedIn accounts because the service is officially blocked there. I connected with those colleagues on Facebook or Instagram, instead.

A specific reason to follow up. For other conference attendees, my mission is clearer: they mentioned specific business opportunities (an invitation to speak at a university, give a talk for a large company, etc.). I make a point of emailing them them in a timely fashion — within a week is ideal — to remind them of their suggestion and request a follow-up call.

Building a deeper relationship. Finally, you’ll meet some people with whom you’d like to build a long-term connection. Their work may be extremely salient to yours (they’re a VC and you’re an executive coach that works with startups), or you may just have great personal rapport. Either way, you want to develop a strategy to turn a one-time encounter into something more meaningful, as I describe in my e-book, Stand Out Networking. If they live in your city, the options are more plentiful; you can invite them to join you at a future professional event, such as a Chamber of Commerce gathering, a tech meetup, etc., or to a hybrid business/social event (after meeting a theater executive at a conference and hitting it off, he invited me to join him a couple of weeks later at a Broadway show for which he had an extra ticket).

If you live in different cities, you’ll need to develop a more deliberate strategy. Perhaps there are future conferences coming up they might be likely to attend; you could get in touch to inquire if they’ll be there, and if so, plan to meet up in person during the event. If you’re a frequent business traveler, you can also put them on the list of people you ping when you’re in town for visits. Even if it’s unlikely you’ll meet in person again anytime soon, you can be on the lookout for interesting articles to send them, or look for ways to be helpful (for instance, if they mentioned they’re looking for new contributors for the magazine they edit, you could suggest talented colleagues).

Of course, it’s essential to make sure the help you offer is actually helpful; there’s a big difference between connecting an editor actively seeking contributors with great candidates, and connecting an overwhelmed editor with would-be columnists they don’t have the time to deal with. It’s essential to listen to their stated needs, not make assumptions about what might be useful and risk turning yourself into a burden in the process.

Almost every professional attends at least a few conferences per year. By following these strategies, you can make sure the time, effort, and money you spend on them actually turns into true relationships, not just one-time conversations that are quickly forgotten.

McKinsey Insights & Publications
Incumbent companies are finding they have strong hands to play as competition intensifies.
Mexico is among the most profitable markets for corporate and investment banks, and prospects are strong. However, the terms of success are changing.
A next-generation procurement operating model that capitalizes on advances in digital, data, and analytics delivers new levels of performance across the value-creation lifecycle.
The CEO and HR director of Turkey’s largest industrial conglomerate describe how a leadership-development program is preparing the company for a digital future—and shaking up the status quo.
Reusing plastics waste could become an important driver of profitability for chemical companies. Incumbent players need to make the right moves now to tap this opportunity.
The combination of six global megatrends is increasing the stress on Europe’s inclusive growth and the EU social contract.
MIT Sloan Management Review

Today, managers recognize that innovation requires a high level of work autonomy for their employees. This encourages curiosity, enables independent thinking, and provides an environment in which employees can experiment and test new problem-solving approaches with minimal fear of failure. At the same time, top-level management and shareholders expect managers to innovate at an increasingly demanding pace, putting top-down pressure on employees to channel this autonomy into productivity. The challenge for managers becomes figuring out how to balance autonomy and control in order to achieve organizational goals without jeopardizing innovation.

The world of hackathons brings the study of balancing high-speed, creative autonomy and administrative control to bear in many interesting ways. Both the hacking and making cultures are centered around creative autonomy, curiosity-led problem-solving, and freedom to independently build solutions. Managing hackathons requires bringing together myriad technologists, designers, and other professionals and supporting their free exploration while simultaneously helping them finish with working prototypes. In these high-pressure environments, how do hackathon organizers chart a path to success, and what can industry managers learn from them?

In the last three years at New York University’s Stern School of Business, we have studied hackathons up close to find out just that. We participated in more than 10 hackathons across different domains, such as health care technology, finance, machine learning, and assistive technology, carefully observing, shadowing, and interviewing both hackathon participants and organizers. There are many strategies hackathon organizers use that enable self-expression and high performance that translate well to a business environment. While hackathons are time-limited bursts of creative and collective energy that ultimately are very different from day-to-day organizational work life, we found that managers can harness this kind of collective energy and find a balance between desired autonomy and control for their employees.

A key insight from the research is that there is a difference in the way hackathon organizers approach the act of managing. Instead of attempting to manage the innovation process when it happens, they focus on diligently setting the stage, and then they step back. The distinction from traditional management is akin to that between directing actors in film versus theater — in the former arena, directors are expected to control and intervene in the process to perfect the finished project, while in the latter, directors focus on preparation in advance as they accept the uncertainty and improvisation which is integral to the live performance. Like a theater director preparing her cast for opening night, hackathon organizers set the stage and conditions for innovative work, giving tools and guidance at times of need, but they minimize interventions to allow for creative exploration and experimentation.

In this article, we focus on three strategies for setting the stage for innovation that can be implemented in organizations across industries.

Strategy No. 1: Set the Stage for Filling Knowledge Gaps, but Don’t Manage Learning

The Bug: Gaps in know-how. Solving problems with unknown or unclear answers is core to innovation work. In order to find solutions to these kinds of problems, individuals need to quickly synthesize and connect new knowledge and combine information from multiple domains. This often means picking up new skills — for instance, learning new programming languages, operating new machinery, or evaluating cutting-edge scientific research discoveries.

For managers, it’s important to balance the benefits of individual innovation with using what has already been discovered before. It’s important to transfer past knowledge from existing experts and tested solutions, as it is expensive and unnecessary to reinvent the wheel. Moreover, learning on the go may prove more difficult than it seems and end up taking precious time, particularly as professionals become specialized over time.

How can managers support employees’ ability to bridge domains, make new connections, and be empowered by learning experiences while still striving for an efficient and effective innovation process? In a hackathon context, this is an even more critical question. A 72-hour sprint is not the right time to take an online course or try to solve a complex problem alone.

The Hack: Create an accessible expert pool. Successful hackathon organizers set the stage before the hackathon to allow easy access to experts in relevant fields. When setting up the hackathon, they carefully consider the relevant experts needed for each challenge and have them offer support during the hackathon. Then, at the outset of the hackathon, the organizers clearly communicate their expectation that participants will identify knowledge gaps as fast as they can rather than try to learn enough to close those gaps by themselves. Setting this clear expectation is critical and helps participants refrain from trying to solve everything by themselves. Instead, participants can admit their knowledge gaps, and organizers praise those who do so for helping the team move forward faster.

In one of the hackathons, a team worked on designing a visual solution to assist individuals with hearing disabilities. They ran into a challenge in programming a translation of sounds to visuals that would be intelligible. They shared their challenge with the organizers, who quickly thought about other industries that deal with such challenges and matched them with a leading autonomous driving programmer with relevant experience.

Without the time constraint of a hackathon setting, professionals in organizations may feel uncomfortable admitting their knowledge gaps and spend significant amounts of time acquiring knowledge from scratch. Managers should aim to cultivate a culture in which identifying knowledge gaps is a sign of efficiency and not weakness. In parallel, they need to build a strong and accessible network of experts from both inside and outside the organization. This network should be accessible to all the relevant professionals via digital, fast, and open tools, instead of being kept behind managers’ closed doors. Open access to experts gives employees autonomy regarding how, when, and from whom they wish to learn, while making the learning process more efficient. Finally, it is important to champion reciprocity in the resultant network, promoting a genuine knowledge-sharing atmosphere in which peer-to-peer learning is possible and accessible.

Strategy No. 2: Set the Stage for Experimentation, but Don’t Manage Experiments

The Bug: Falling into a creative rut. Innovation feeds on experimentation and trial and error, yet the managerial emphasis on control, deadlines, and cost efficiency often steers employees away from trying anything new. Not only is there no time to experiment, but the physical work environment itself stifles experimentation: Going into the same work environment day in and day out, no matter the environment, becomes dull and does not stimulate new thinking. The same stability and order that the organization thrives on inevitably dampens creativity. Even worse is that organizational hierarchies are often manifested through the physical environment, which further demotivates bottom-up innovation. Finally, as digitization increases and monitored work becomes prevalent, employees literately become “boxed in” by their screens. How can managers encourage an inspiring and dynamic environment for experimentation in an organization that needs order, stability, and efficiency? This is a question that hackathon organizers focus on as they aim to create enticing physical spaces for innovation to happen.

The Hack: Provide “sandbox” experiences. Many hackathon organizers create a “sandbox” — a space that attracts and allows for curiosity and experimentation even when located within a regular work environment. Instead of fully transforming the entire environment, which is costly and sometimes unfeasible, they alter the traditional office design to create a stimulating environment. For instance, they might remove individual tables and chairs and reorganize the space to be more communal. Most important, they fill the space with a combination of cutting-edge gizmos, tech equipment, and crafting tools intended to encourage out-of-the-box ideation and experimentation in a playful environment. In an assistive technologies hackathon, for example, organizers transformed the work environment and decided to mount a 3-D printer on every table, regardless of the specific challenge. As a result, many participants found themselves using the 3-D printer as a brainstorming tool — printing their ideas so that experimenting, failing, and adapting occurred at a much faster pace. In another hackathon, the addition of classic woodworking tools inspired electrical engineers to rethink their complex, motor-powered, and programmed prototype in favor of designing a simplified solution that utilizes low-tech physical components in novel ways.

Many organizations can benefit from dedicating more thinking and resources to creating a stimulating work environment in which employees can freely experiment. Size is not the main issue; the emphasis should be on providing stimulating tools and technologies and a vibrant environment. Such spaces should be located in areas that are accessible to employees but that aren’t monitored. This way, employees can easily move there when stuck on a problem, freely explore their own individual or teams’ ideas, fail and adapt, or simply reenergize and refuel their curiosity. This freedom to experiment and fail without managerial control is critical.

Strategy No. 3: Set the Stage for Early Feedback on New Ideas, but Do Not Supply It Yourself

The Bug: Feedback that deters experimentation. Employees often utilize multiple creative approaches to solving a problem, but they are also prone to the availability bias, or getting “premature closure” on the first idea suggested. Receiving feedback on a creative idea, especially from superiors, can be overwhelming. Many managers provide critical feedback with the best intentions, hoping to improve their employees’ ideas efficiently and make them marketable — asking tough questions, finding faults, and poking holes in suggested ideas. This type of feedback often backfires and deters employees from sharing new ideas in early stages and even exploring such ideas to begin with.

How can managers create a supportive environment for new ideas while maintaining a high level of quality and feasibility? Hackathon organizers face an extreme version of this challenge, as receiving feedback when working under acute time pressure is even harder.

The Hack: Initiate a “first ideas” kickoff. Hackathon organizers promote new ideas by removing themselves from providing feedback and creating a safe environment in which new ideas receive very early peer-to-peer feedback. This is done, in many hackathons, in the form of a first ideas kickoff session. A kickoff allows participants to be “on stage” presenting, articulating, and elaborating on the initial idea they have in mind to solve their challenge. The organizers ask all participants to answer the same set of questions for all new ideas and set a norm for fellow participants to focus only on supportive and constructive criticism. Putting all participants and their ideas on the same playing field helps to create openness and collegiality. This happens early in the hackathon and takes only a few minutes for each team but requires them to prepare, rationalize, and improve the initial solution they have in mind and to answer important questions early in the process. The peer-to-peer feedback is not only easier to accept psychologically but also starts everyone off with a learning mindset that can be preserved during the development process.

This habit of starting to work on a project with peer-to-peer feedback, without managerial intervention, can be very helpful even in organizations that do not hold hackathons, since employees and teams tend to work on an idea for a while before opening it to feedback. Encouraging them to present and put their ideas on stage can help accelerate the innovation process. Creating a safe environment enhances the autonomy that employees feel to follow their curiosity and original thinking, while balancing the need to have an efficient learning and innovation process in the organization.

The strategies suggested above, taken originally from hackathons and adapted for contemporary organizations, allow managers to leverage the creativity of their employees and help them perform at a higher level of engagement while maintaining directorial oversight and general control. These strategies do not, however, fit the stage of execution and operation, when oversight and control are critical.

Companies often struggle to find top talent for innovation but then limit their autonomy, creating a vicious cycle, as firms that do not successfully address the autonomy-control challenge are bound to face difficulties in attracting and retaining the most creative workforce. These strategies can help break this cycle by diligently setting the stage before each innovation process instead of micromanaging it.

Business.com
What's Your Interdepartmental Negotiation Strategy?

Have you noticed that certain departments within your company seem to work at cross purposes? Interdepartmental conflict usually isn't intentional. In fact, department managers understand that their respective units must work together if the company is to achieve its corporate performance objectives.  

Effective, constructive interdepartmental coordination depends on whether the negotiation strategies used by each department comports with and supports the organization's strategic goals.

Organizational and negotiation strategies

Without a doubt, a company's senior managers must determine a firm's overall corporate strategy and performance objectives as a first step before doing anything else. 

After deciding on strategy and performance goals, management can then identify the negotiation strategies which individual departments should use to move the organization closer to achieving its corporate goals. A company's desired market position and marketplace differentiation strategy must be carefully designed to align with shareholder expectations. 

Once the strategic path is set, management must do everything possible to integrate the strategy into the corporate culture. Having a strategy that is achievable, executable and visionary enough to generate passion at all levels of the organization is essential. People must believe in the strategy in order to work together to see strategic goals come to fruition.

Once the corporate strategy is in place, then creating good negotiation strategies at the departmental level should be the next priority. Here is where management needs to be careful.

Creating a departmental negotiation strategy that doesn't agree with the bigger picture can be a recipe for problems, and such problems often materialize. Departments can work with a "silo" mentality, where a department's motivations and goals tend to take precedence over those of other departments, even conflicting with the company's overall strategy. This type of disconnect can lead to damaged relationships, fractured partnerships and overall ineffectiveness. Even the best negotiation training is of limited benefit if individual departments aren't working collaboratively toward shared goals. 

How to achieve alignment

Most departments would do well to have a negotiation strategy in place, even if they deal mainly with internal customers or stakeholders. Sales and purchasing (aka sourcing or procurement) are the main departments to benefit from formulating departmental negotiation strategies as seen in the following scenario:

Consider a company that seeks to be a technology leader known for product innovation. In this case, there wouldn't be much sense in having its purchasing department drive toward lower-cost pricing. When viewed through the lens of an organizational strategy of technological leadership, a cost-saving strategy is counterproductive, since new and evolving technology tends to be expensive at the outset. 

If sales is also trying to negotiate using a low-cost leadership strategy, then distributors could become confused as well. If distributors and customers have bought into your company's brand focus of product innovation and technology leadership, the pursuit of a low-cost negotiation strategy could confuse them and ultimately damage the corporate brand.

Strategic agility is crucial

As the saying goes, "The only thing that is constant is change." Being agile enough to pivot in response to the market is essential to corporate survival and continued competitiveness.  Eastman Kodak, Blockbuster and Sears are examples of companies that didn't quickly adjust their strategies in response to radical market shifts. A company's strategic planning arm must have the ability to quickly pivot as market conditions change. Likewise, a department's negotiation strategy must be quick to change as well.

Summary

A company can only maintain competitive advantage if departmental negotiation strategies align with corporate strategic objectives and performance targets. The added ability to pivot strategically whenever the market dictates can ensure continued success for the organization over time. 

Appropriate negotiation strategies at the departmental level are a must. Negotiation training can be instrumental in equipping department leaders with the tools needed to align negotiation practices with the overall corporate strategy.

Stand Out: 5 Ways to Combine Traditional and Digital Marketing

Now more than ever, consumers research products and services online before purchasing. Even in brick-and-mortar stores, 82 percent of smartphone users look up reviews or information about the product they are about to buy. So it makes sense that 99 percent of businesses plan to increase their digital marketing investment next year. Marketing messages must be online to reach those customers who actively seek information in digital spaces.

But digital marketing isn't the be-all and end-all of marketing and advertising.

While digital marketing tools need to be part of all stages of the buyer's journey, so do traditional marketing tactics. Such outbound marketing can be used for both the awareness and decisions stages of a consumer's journey. Digital and traditional marketing must play well together – after all, if your consumer isn't looking for you, they'll never find you without a mix of both.

When putting together your company's marketing plan, don't give up on traditional marketing. You'll leave leads on the table. The right mix of traditional and digital, placed in the right media and targeted to the right people, can make a world of difference in the way consumers find and interact with your brand. Even better, as the marketing world has turned its focus to digital advertising, many traditional channels have become cheaper, meaning they're more accessible than ever for small businesses with limited budgets.

What's old can be new again

The more places consumers see your ads, the more likely they are to remember your message. But people are getting pounded with messages, and every business is vying for the strongest message on the right platform. Unfortunately, this means that the average consumer sees up to 10,000 advertising and marketing messages each day. With all the noise on digital and ads following consumers' every move, your buyers are uncomfortable.

Traditional marketing is an overlooked medium. This means that if you give it a shot, you're more likely to stand out. With technological integration into these channels, you can find smart, interesting ways to reach consumers through both traditional and innovative marketing strategies – all without breaking the bank.

Here are my five favorite strategies to harness the power of traditional marketing with new innovations.

1. Billboards and geotargeting

Billboards are still one of the top ways to advertise in specific markets, reaching more than 90 percent of the population. For a long time, the high price tag of billboards prohibited smaller business from utilizing them, but the newer digital styles of billboards offer much lower rates (as little as a third of the cost) for virtually the same exposure. To get even more bang for your buck, pair billboards with geotargeted ads to hit the drivers' smartphones with a banner ad after they pass for an extra-strong marketing message.

2. Magazines and digital content

Don't believe that print is dead. The magazine industry is still holding on to its loyal consumers. Because magazines are often geared toward niche audiences, they are prime for reaching specific target markets. Publications focused on special interests such as business, travel, antique cars, diving and investing are excellent media for hyperfocused consumer sections. Consumers turn to magazines for their niche point of view, so brands that partner with magazines often get a boost in trust with the readership. When considering advertising, native advertising, sponsored content or event sponsorships with magazines, make sure to inquire about methods to reach the magazine's digital audiences as well, whether that's through its social media, website or digital editions.

3. Newspapers and online ads

Local publications are getting thinner and thinner, but depending on the audience, there's still a group of people who like to enjoy a cup of morning joe and read the paper. Have you looked at the advertising lately? Some of my advertising clients are home builders, so local newspapers are right up the alley of the target market. The home section of the newspaper used to be competitive – meaning it was expensive and jampacked with other builders. Now, the paper might have two or three advertisers, and the prices have gone way down.

This is great for small businesses with smaller budgets. Not only do you pay less, but you can also get a much larger ad for your money. Most newspapers have online components, and you can always negotiate added value for some banner ads or social media posts on their channels.

4. Television and video ads

It's true that many younger consumers are cutting the cable cord, but marketers don't have to make the choice between cable and streaming, especially because TV advertising has become much cheaper. Lots of consumers still watch the news, for example. Find out what your target audience likes and run a commercial that tells your story. You can run a decent schedule for about $5,000 a month. Producing a TV spot might cost around $10,000 to $25,000, but it's a great investment because you can reuse the content you create for other digital channels.

If cable TV isn't where you want to be (or is still too cost-prohibitive), most cable stations have apps, video channels or even YouTube channels that you can buys ads on, often at lower price points. Make video ads of different lengths – such as six seconds, 15 seconds and 30 seconds – that can be repurposed for social media, digital streaming and your website.

5. Radio and streaming ads

People still have favorite radio stations, and you can get more exposure for your ads when you buy both broadcast and online spots. Hit people during their morning drive when they are looking for traffic reports and local news. Most radio stations will produce your spot for free if you have a tight budget. If it's a great spot, buy additional placement on Pandora, Spotify and YouTube. You can also use the spot to reach people through popular podcasts.

As more and more businesses turn their eyes to digital advertising, they leave more room to play in traditional channels. As long as you uniquely tell your story and find ways to reuse your content to get more value out of your buys, you'll have a strong strategy. So stop believing that traditional advertising tactics are going the way of the dinosaur. By combining these methods with new, digital opportunities, your company will stand out and be seen.

 

Editor's note: Looking for online marketing services to strengthen your traditional marketing efforts? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.

 

 

Here's What You Should Do Once You Secure Funding for Your SMB

Securing a new line of funding is an exciting milestone for any entrepreneur, especially during those formative months or years of a young venture. Having an investor put their faith into your business can be a huge morale booster for an entrepreneur.

Still, failure is a reality for many startups and small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) that manage to secure funding, even after improved financial support from banks, venture capitalists, private equity firms and alternative lending platforms. As many as 50 percent of businesses close shop within five years after launch.

Much of that failure has to do with the myriad challenges businesses face during the post-funding phase. Many entrepreneurs often struggle to reconcile the hype around pre-funding or pre-launch stages with the realities of running a successful business.  

Consequently, there's a need for entrepreneurs to realize the importance of the post-funding phase, including the hurdles they face, and to put in place mechanisms so their business doesn't become just another failed venture. Here are three places to begin that journey.

1. Establish a reporting framework for your investors.

While getting funded allows a business the ability to scale faster, it also comes with significant trade-offs, including sharing equity and the reins of power with your investors. This means keeping them updated on the goings-on within the company on a regular basis.

Reporting generally depends on the investors you've brought in. Many venture capitalists and private equity firms, for instance, typically require quarterly reports detailing different operational elements of the business. Others, like investment banks, may not require reports as regularly, while others may require these reports at shorter intervals, especially if they've taken an active managerial role within the company.

Irrespective of the investor, it's always critical that important documents, including your income statements, balance sheets, cap tables and cash flow statements, are available for audit at a moment's notice. To this end, it's a good idea to use an accounting or project management system that will let you print reports on demand.                   

2. Maintain meticulous books.

Every company, even those not actively seeking investors, must keep accurate books to account for expenses and assets. For businesses seeking investors,  however, maintaining accurate, up-to-date financials is even more important, because they provide critical information about the business's health.

Good bookkeeping practices don't just apply to the prefunding phase. Because there's a good chance you'll need another round of funding down the line and since your current investors will need insight into your financial standing anyway, you need to keep your books spotless.

Good bookkeeping also helps you manage your corporate credit score, something that many investors and lending institutions love to look at. Your corporate/business credit score, which you can get for free every 12 months, is often used as a measure of how your business uses capital. Your credit score is affected by everything, including late or missed payments, tax payments and your business's credit history.

In keeping with good bookkeeping practices, always ensure you only have a single set of accounting books. Operating multiple books of accounting is a popular practice by many businesses that can obscure an investor's view into the business, leading to more questions, trust issues and eventual pullout by the investor.   

You run the risk of operating multiple books of accounting if you operate multiple accounting software applications in your business, your tax preparer is running their own books for your company concurrently, or you're looking to be GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles)-compliant, which requires a second set of accounting books. Try to minimize these factors to help ensure your bookkeeping process is transparent for investors.  

3. Prioritize items on your expense list.

When the first batch of investor funds hit your bank account, the first impulse is to splurge. From the latest tech to fancy office furniture, many of these initial, unnecessary costs can plunge your business into a financial hole and, by extension, land you in hot water with investors.

Even though your expense list will depend on the growth stage of your company, it is vital that you direct funds toward value addition for core functions of your business. One of those core functions usually surrounds hiring, a process that should feature prominently on your expense list. If hiring wasn't done concurrently with your pitching campaigns, those first few days or months after funding should be spent attracting the best talent, especially around the areas of finance/accounting, legal, customer service and branding.

However you spend your new infusion of capital, make sure each expense is in line with your business's goals and objectives. Raising money is only a portion of the work you need to for your new venture; the real work begins during the post-funding phase. Your investors will be looking to you for growth and, eventually, a return on their investment.

No comments