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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Image grafted from

Naming names

We're getting ready to send to the printers the August issues of our Canadian construction newspapers. The lead story, initiated by observations of associations representing general contractors in Ontario, relates to concerns contractors have with extended warranties and what they say are questionable holdbacks improperly tied to the warranties.

Fair enough. Following the usual procedures, I contacted excecutive members of the respective associations for some specific examples. Most deferred -- saying they were busy with their work -- but one proposed sending an email to his association's board members. And that generated an email that, to put it mildly, named names (of two organizations).

As a journalist, I love this type of direct hit, but as a publisher, I receive this kind of information with trepidation. We need every one's advertising support, and I'm not really ready to risk an expensive libel lawsuit (which can happen even if we don't do anything wrong, but the 'offended' organization wants to put a real scare into us -- and drain our bank account with legal bills.

My approach with this type of story is to play it open, and fair. I simply took the email I received, removed the senders name, and sent it to the organizations that the sender had named (I later disclosed the sender's name to the organizations, once I had received his permission). Needless to say, I didn't have to work hard to receive return calls. I received a mouthful from one organization and a very measured (and straightforward) written response from the second.

With this information in hand, my next stage is to write a first draft of the story and send it to everyone. This is unconventional journalistic practice. Journalists are generally not supposed to send 'works in progress' to people affected by the stories for fear that the results will be tainted. But whenever I've done this, I get a much better story. The people involve point out inaccuracies, and tone down sometimes their own remarks,while adding interesting rebuttals to those of their opponents. Coupled with some additional research and interviews, this morning it took only a few minutes to write the revised version of the story. It is now undergoing final review and and editing. I will post the link to it within a day or two, when it is published.

What does this story about the writing process have to do with marketing? In some respects, everything. I've constantly advocated that the best form of marketing is for you to do your job -- to practice your craft, trade or profession -- to the highest of your abilities, and in the process deliver real value to your clients.

We publish construction trade newspapers and magazines. Advertisers give us money because our publications reach qualified readers. Qualified readers read our publications because their is useful content; founded on journalistic excellence; in that sensitive issues are reported with fairness, accuracy and depth. (And indirectly, the people I speak with in writing these stories are key decision-makers and influencers, the kinds of people who can advertise or influence others to advertise.) So the paradox is that the good journalism -- the stuff I enjoy doing the most -- is actually excellent marketing. The same principal most likely applies within your own focuses of expertise and passion.

I'm enjoying this blog by Mike Schultz. Since it isn't a AEC-specific blog, I won't permalink it, but this entry Short-Term and Long-Term Leads is relevant in showing how the AEC sector compares to other industries.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Construction Professionals Network of North Carolina restricts membership by category
The executive leads organization

Some years ago, when I first heard about the Ottawa Executives Association, I grew excited about the business potential of this group. Founded in the Great Depression, it has survived through booms and busts with a powerful formula. Only one member is permitted within any business category, and that member is (supposed to be) the president or senior executive officer of the business.

In our case, the reality of the association did not match my expectations and I dropped out after about a year, but this could be less to do with the association than the nature of our business. Since we earn most of our money selling business-to-business advertising (within the specific construction industry sector), there is relatively little value of our belonging to a closed network that believes relationships are the best ways to find new clients, rather than advertising. Notably some contractors -- including a local electrical contractor -- have remained members for decades -- even though membership requires a weekly (expensive) lunch.

However, there are still problems -- namely, issues such as 'category creep' (should you let a member in who is in a supposedly distinctive but very close area), the awkwardness of competition since many businesses now overlap sectors, and, perhaps more challenging, the erosion of the owner-is-present situation so that you find your business counterparts are salespeople with absolutely no purchasing authority. Certainly these associations are not "quick hit" organizations -- so you need to invest lots of effort at the start -- and continuously --to get any value. I think for some members, in strong categories which provide essential business needs and services, the associations can be highly lucrative; again, they appear to work for trades with a high service orientation.

But since this is the Construction Marketing Ideas blog, I need to reference the potential of this type of group to you since it could be a truly effective source of leads -- especially if you are looking for maintenance-type work and wish to escape the dog-eat-dog "low bid wins the work" competition.

The OXA belongs to a network of similar associations under the International Executives Organization banner.

Today, our North Carolina publisher Bob Kruhm introduced me to a similar type of exclusive organization, but one dedicated to the construction industry only. The Construction Professionals Network of North Carolina currently has three chapters in Charlotte, the Triangle, and Triad. Membership is restricted to avoid duplicating or overlapping membership categories.

Hilti's free lunch
BtoB, a marketing trade magazine, reports on Hilti's "Grassroots efforts to drive preference." The article note that Hilti's problem with the trades was that was perceived as a high-end product; and the construction tools manufacturer sought to let the people who actually use the tools see that they are good for "everyday jobs".
Since the users of these tools are the actual tradespeople, they don't spend too much time reading trade journals or visiting the trade shows, their marketing agency Nicholson Kovac decided.
Research showed that the contractors wanted to see real people in real settings, not staged images.
"Hilti sponsored lunch trucks that served breakfast and lunch at key construction job sites, had Hilti "ambassadors"hand out Hilti-branded water bottles at the sites and hosted National Contractor Days -- complete with radio remote broadcasts and Hilti giveaways -- at local Home Depot stores," the magazine reported.
The magazine did not report on the campaign's cost, but the agency reported a significant increase in business preference -- the agency claims it increased to 28 per cent from 8 per cent, and "11 per cent of new customers said their campaign influenced their decision to buy Hilti tools."
I'm not sure, but suspect the free breakfasts and lunches carried a lot of weight here.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Image from and a special card designed to implement Walt Hailey's N.E.E.R. principals. See this reference: The Famous NEER Referral Card.

About the N.E.E.R.

It's been a few years since I relayed to employees and friends the secrets we discovered at a seminar in the summer of 1995 in Hunt, Texas. The mother of an orthodontist friend of ours had loaned me the book "Breaking the No Barrier" by Walt Hailey, and something clicked. I could see that, accidentally, we were achieving our highest sales volumes by practicing his concepts. What if we built our business model around deliberately using the supply chain principals explained as "Naturally Existing Economic Relations" or N.E.E.R. in short.

Almost broke at the time, working 70 hours a week, I scraped enough money to head with Vivian to Hunt, Texas for the three day "Boot Kamp". (Hunt is in the Hill Country near San Antonio). We found ourselves at a ranch owned by Mr. Hailey, a very short guy who had achieved tremendous success in the insurance business by tapping the cornerstone of relationship business-to-business relationship marketing models.

Hailey's concept utilizes the principal of the "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" but looks at business as a continuing chain; the challenge is to create natural value through the supply chain to build real demand and respect for your product or service.

In its simplest form, his principals are an extension of barter-type relationships. Say you buy a lot of stuff from someone and you have something to sell that the person who buys from you could use. Do you think your chances of getting a foot in the door to make a presentation -- and sale -- are somewhat higher in this situation than a complete stranger?

Of course, the reason for this respect is a combination of access (you aren't going to avoid a call from a good customer) and respect. It is hard to insult someone you do business with as a client and say you will never buy from them.

Hailey realized you could take this principal a step further, to generate a truly incredible stream of referrals. Instead of looking just for your friends and associates, or previous clients, Hailey advocated a systematic referral development system -- look first to the clients of the organization to which you ultimately want to make a sale. Get a referral from them, and then you have an inside track to solid and valid business.

And that is where an insight hit me -- we had published project reports and company profiles before, but I never realized why they worked better than regular advertising. Now I realized the key to the whole thing -- if we encourage a company that we are publicizing to refer its suppliers to advertise, we would not lack for business. And, indeed, when we systematically applied the methods, our sales skyrocketed.

Nothing is perfect; and even the best ideas in the business world evolve over time toward entropy. Our success spawned direct competitors. More importantly, we needed to learn how to respect and nurture these N.E.E.R. referrals-- when an advertiser purchases an ad in a special feature because his client requests it, that advertiser has become our own client, and we should respect the advertiser as much as the company that referred the business to us!

But this business model has practical application for many contractors and sub-trades as well as suppliers, and I'll share an example with you to show how it works.

Say, you are a mechanical contractor looking for more business. You send a few hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to your wholesaler. You might ask the wholesaler's president: "Could you connect me with the businesses in our joint market area from where you purchase your products and services, to introduce them to me as the best plumber in town?"

I'm sure you are thinking of the logical objection here -- your wholesaler after all serves other mechanical contractors. Why should he favour you with this request? Well, this may be a valid question but I am going to base this observation on your being one of the wholesalers' better clients. And I'm also going to speculate that virtually none of your competitors has the insight to even ask the question. You will get the referrals, simply because you ask.

This process can be taken on other levels, depending on where you are in the supply chain and how you relate to your network of vendors; and how the marketplace connects with them. I'll share some other examples in future postings.

Image above from American Sign and Specialty in Florida.

Some truth in advertising and marketing

The post below, at the tail end of a long thread on a forum, relates some interesting and passionate points. It is also disturbing to me. I have removed the reference to the specific organization named in that thread but I suspect if you've been in business any length of time, you've received the 'bad' sales calls related here.

I wish I could help contractors and sub trades avoid some of the mistakes they make in advertising, marketing and lead development. Certainly, larger businesses are developing more sophisticated screening methodologies, but there are still too many times when advertising and marketing services are purchased without proper evaluation or measurement.

Value in marketing and advertising can occur in more ways than one. For example, our printed publications do not claim to have the highest circulation, but we will direct the distribution where it matters the most and -- more importantly, respect that value for our advertisers is more than the ink on paper. This blog, in fact, reflects this philosophy; we believe our clients should have resources and insights so they can achieve overall the best marketing effectiveness, regardless of where they spend their dollars. To this end, I've achieved Society for Marketing Professional Services certification (CSPM) and spend a good part of every day reading, researching, and sharing sound marketing principals with the construction community.

But the fly-by-night boiler room operations are still out there, and you need to beware because you will throw your hard-earned profits down the drain if you purchase their junk

I wrote that book
Hey I used to work for a company that promised contractors insurance claims leads but was really just a directory. Much like (name removed). So I'll give you the inside scoop. They can not give you stats because they don't pay people to gather and monitor that data. Instead they find it cheaper and easier to train their sale people to convince you that you don't need stats or that stats are irrelevant. Now this won't work on a lot of prospects (meaning contractors) but it will work on enough to turn a profit.
Especially if you have a team of stock broker style trained sales people putting in 4 hours of required phone time per day in a boiler room, calling every contractor in the country they can find in phone books and directories kind of like their own. In truth the only difference between them and Craig's list is that Craig's list is free and sometimes works. Just like the sales manager that responded to this thread they are trained to dazzle you with bull sh*t and not answer any real question. They are taught that your questions are not important only the one call close is, and answering your questions only takes up time they could be using cold calling until they find a lay down. The business model is simple: a good enough pitch writer (like I was) can make any idea sound reasonable enough to a big enough margin to make one hell of a profit, and a good enough sales person can think on his feet and come up with a rebuttal to any objection (by objection I mean legitimate question). You give them your money and they will take it..........and give you nothing. Any advertiser who doesn't give stats is a crook. That's why I got out of that kind of advertising. I still sell advertising but if I sell you a t.v. spot I do the research and find out how many gross impressions you'll expect per dollar, if I put a sign in front of your shop It's simply to improve your image and I'll tell you that. If I put up a bill board I do the research and find out roughly how many people will view it per year and so on and so forth. I probably spend about 70 per cent of my time researching advertising and 30 per cent selling it. It's not the most profitable way to do business but it's the most honest way. And when my prospects choose to do business with me they never go anywhere else. So in the long run, maybe the honest way is the best way.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Your best referral: The best client of your potential client

So, you are a subcontractor looking for profitable work. You are fed up with the nickel-and-diming and bidding wars, and would like to win some solid sole-source non-competitive maintenance work, where you can earn a decent profit. How do you find this business?

The answer may simply be to knock on the door of the company you wish to serve -- they may need your services, and will do a deal. But if you want to be more creative, and have a much better chance of success, find someone who is a really good client of that business, and obtain a referred introduction to your target business.

Nothing opens doors more than referral calls -- and nothing has more power (if you wish to be a supplier) than a solid referral (or better yet, more than one referral) from your prospective client's client base.

The key to successful marketing is to put yourself in the right place in business value stream. For more insights on this methodology (which I will elaborate on more in later blog entries), I recommend you read "Breaking the No Barrier" by the late Walter Haily. It is out of print, but used copies are available at

Does this method work? It is one of the key foundations of my business. Find the book on the used book market -- it is simply written, now a little outdated -- but the message may give you the clues for marketing success that you are seeking.

Helping the underdog -- the subcontractor's plight

In journalism, some stories never get out. The truth is buried under conflicting observations and self interest. You need to dig beneath the surface to find out what is happening, and rarely are individual journalists informed enough about the issues -- and free enough from issues of business survival or preservation -- to write the whole story. I'm in one of those situations now, and it is going to test my writing abilities to tell the story without offending potential clients or misrepresenting the situation.
But I can see clearly in the research that the unsung heroes and victims in this story are the subcontractors and suppliers; the people and companies at the bottom of the construction industry pecking order who find themselves battling challenging demands for lower prices, additional service, and risk. They often experience a dog-eat-dog marketing game; you get the business not so much by how well you build your relationships and truly respect and relate to your clients, but how low you can crash your price (or accept onerous terms or conditions that increase your costs); because if you don't, the owners' rep and/or general contractor will say "I'm going somewhere else."

Of course, marketing, as we know it, isn't relevant or well practiced in this silly game of desperate, for want of a better word, "downmanship". You know who your potential clients are in your local community, and you either suck up to them by giving them the price they want (or the added services/costs) or they'll just torpedo you from future jobs.

One time after another, I see the construction industry eco-system is being hammered by pressure; from cost-saving and downloading, through consultants and specialists taking their piece of the pie, while forcing costs and risks further down the chain. The concept of marketing and value get distorted and messed up in this equation; and the subs pay dearly, through their heart, soul, and profit margins.
So, if you are a sub, what answers do you have? I see two, and neither are perfect.

1. Join/participate an association that truly represents your interests to advocate on your behalf.

In the U.S. this is relatively easy to do through the American Subcontractors Association. Its local chapters openly and straightforwardly represent their members interests. In Canada this is presently harder. "Mixed" associations purportedly represent both the sub trades and general contractors (who also have their own associations) with owners and the public. The problem is that while the mixed association works well when the general and and subcontractors interests are aligned, the environment in these associations can be like the fox in the chicken coop if you are a sub -- and the generals are nearby. They may talk the talk about how they support your interests, but sometimes they talk with two faces; and you don't see the other side of the person purportedly speaking on your behalf.

2. Go for the retail market -- the end user -- and market/sell your services directly.

This can be residential work, or commercial maintenance stuff. You cut out the middleman, you are NOT the sub any more -- it is your job, and you set the price, and deal with the true user-customer who actually pays your bills directly. Here, you need to market, rather than rely on someone else to market for you -- and you control (within limits) the universe of relationship and business issues. As well, this approach may give you some important diversification, in case the other side of your market crashes.

I'm sure that some subcontractors advertise in our publications because they feel pressure from their upstream clients; who are effectively downloading their marketing costs onto them. I hope our advertisers realize that we seek to practice what we preach; we advocate that the best form of marketing is to make your current clients truly happy with your service and relationships, and accordingly we support our advertisers with practical, inexpensive (usually free) advice and direction to enhance their business.
Logo at top right is from the American Subcontractors Association of the Carolinas, which is currently leading a campaign with the North Carolina legislature to improve retainage provisions for subcontractors.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Free Lunch

It's a cliche that there no such thing as a free lunch, but I'm sure the meal to entertain and build business is a cornerstone of effective marketing. From the "Lunch and Learn" programs by technology and manufacturer's reps at architectural offices, to the simple visit and lunch out with a potential client, the meal is an often subtle but vital point in the marketing mix.

Recently, a residiential contractor suggested that the free lunch works well for his business, "Dine em and sell em" - resulting in a surprisingly intensive thread on the Contractortalk forum.

Why does the free lunch work?

Robert Greene, in his book The 48 Laws of Power, says the "free lunch" removes power from the recipient because it creates a sense of obligation -- something to be avoided at all costs if you really want to control things (but of course something worthy to offer if you want the control yourself -- obviously relevant in sales and marketing situations. Here is his law:
Despise the free lunch


What is offered for free is dangerous -- it usually involves either a trick or a hidden obligation. What has worth is worth paying for. By paying your own way you stay clear of gratitude, guilt, and deceit. It is also often wise to pay the full price -- there is no cutting corners with excellence. Be lavish with your money and keep it circulating, for generosity is a sign and a magnet for power.

So, I would say Greene is right, but in the context here, I wouldn't "despise" the free lunch -- I admire and appreciate it. Use the free lunch effectively, and your business will thrive.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A new 80/20 rule

Here is a simple 80/20 rule that will virtually assure you success in marketing in the construction industry.
  1. Spend 80 per cent of your marketing resources on your current clients. Treat them well, give them extra value and service, relate and connect with them. You'll win the repeat and referral business -- and vital, positive references and testimonials -- that will get you most of your business (and it will be both profitable and satisfying.)

  2. Spend 80 per cent of the remaining 20 per cent on your Internet presence and media publicity initiatives. Most of this money will actually go to the Internet, since your media publicity will essentially be 'free' except for management time and (if you have the resources) some specialized PR/communications consulting services.

If you would like my assistance in implementing this strategy, email

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Visualization and marketing

Key in "visualization" or "creative visualization" on the Google search engine, and you'll see an incredibly long collection of commercial sites promoting the perspective that you can visualize what you want to be.

These concepts trend in the world of spirituality -- using affirmations, 'positive self talk', mantras, and forming imagery in your own mind of what you want to be, takes you ultimately to your dreams.

Often proponents of creative visualization cite their own personal examples, and in the first draft of this blog entry, I started doing just that. The trouble is, when you start telling your own creative visualization success stories, you risk sounding like someone pushing their religion on others.

In any case, despite the pop-psychology hype associated with creative visualization (and my own experiences) I know only one person who truly applied these methodologies effectively. He had been a bankruptcy lawyer, but wanted to be a published author with an appearance on Oprah, and become a judge. Stanley Kershman and I attended a speech by Wayne Dyer (The Power of Intention) and occasionally we mused on the: "If you believe enough it will be" stuff. His book, "Put your debt on a diet" was published by Wiley in Canada, and last year, he was appointed as a superior court judge.

The question is, outside of the obvious marketing materials promoting this program or that one to achieve your dreams, can you effectively use creative visualization techniques to propel your career and marketing objectives?

Yes, if you frame the visualization with something much more important -- your own passion and drive. If in your heart something is very important, it can happen (within reason -- I'm sure that psychology and self-will are important but I wouldn't lose touch with grounded reality in implementing anything here.) So, yes, visualization -- coupled with a healthy dose of self responsibility and passion -- are important to your marketing success. Just remember, however, that ultimately you have to take action to make it happen.

More blogging lessons

Earlier this week, I extended the use of the blogging idea from a resource tied to our own careers promotions to a service of value to readers in our regional construction markets. The solution is elegantly simple and easy to implement. You can see the first example at Ottawa Construction Careers. We'll soon extend this service to other markets where we have printed publications, and when our overall website design is completed later this year, will implement it across the network.

The lesson I've learned from this experience is that readily available blogging software allows you to create multiple special interest blogs in minutes once you have your basic account set up. When you need a simple resource or web page, the blog is truly effective, inexpensive and easy to administer. The blog model also creates intriguing building-block opportunities for webpages and sites.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Referrals first, Internet second

New homes sales marketing consultant Jerry Rouleau asked a single question: "What is your best way to generate leads?" He reports that out of 275 responses, by far the most effective lead generation method is referrals -- with 25 per cent of the respondents selecting that as a significant resource. "Internet" (9 per cent) and "Website (13 per cent) ranked second, with home/trade shows ranking third at 12 per cent.

Other significant categories include model home (8 per cent), seminar/event (5 per cent), trade magazines and newspapers (4 per cent each) and signage and networking (3 per cent each).

In his executive summary he reports that "responses came from275 individuals representing 12 different sectors of the building industry, including builder/dealers, home producers, developers, Realtors, consultants and suppliers.) The results are broken down by sector.

You can download a copy of the survey at

I find these results significant on a number of levels. First, there isn't a universal lead generation methodology -- referrals rank number 1, but even if you add "networking" to referrals, you still only have 28 per cent or less than a third using the methodology. Clearly the Internet and websites are becoming increasingly important.

Selling without selling -- the natural approach
I detest selling. I hate "calling lists", pushing myself out and trying to get people to buy stuff from me. "I'm a writer," I say, and "Why should I do this work?"
But since I own the business, I need to be able to sell and ultimately have found the way that works best for me. First, obviously, is to employ others as salespeople. It took many years and I still haven't got it 100 perfect, but we now have a recruitment system that works for our business.
But the second solution is more effective on a personal level. I think as both a writer and business person, always respecting the potential clients' needs. Sales happen naturally this way.
Somehow, by putting the clients' interests first, and 'forgetting' that you have something to sell, you actually achieve the sale that you might not otherwise expect to attain.
These attitudes reflect the observations of Tim Klabunde in the SMPS Marketer magazine who advocates that business people should "Network like an Introvert".
His point is that it isn't the number of relationships that matter ; it is their quality and relevance -- certainly true in the high-value AEC sector. By putting aside your needs and thinking in terms of the client; by listening, and then providing ways to help and serve the prospective client's best interests, you attract far more business than forcing your way into the 'sales space'.
In essence, I find I sell the most by not worrying about the "sale" but thinking about how I can best help the person I am speaking with. This does not mean being a pushover or discounting our own service -- it simply means understanding the point that you can't force people to buy anything -- they have to want to do it.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Publicity and control

Yesterday, I sent out an email inviting readers to either share their publicity success stories, or receive some free consultation from me on how to obtain and apply effective publicity methodologies. Among the responses, our business consultant Bill Caswell made these observations:

"In response to your newsletter, I can attest to the success of media publicity. I appeared on radio and TV 35 times in the past year and can attribute at least $100,000 in sales from those appearances.

"The obvious difference between publicity and paid advertising is credibility. No one believes the letter of the ad. There is a feeling of hyperbole and 'they're just trying to sell me something' with advertising. but with publicity there is a feeling of belief and trust as the message appears to be delivered by a third party.

"However, something more basic, even primordial, is happening. People like to be in control of their choices. With advertising, they are not in control the advertising is influencing them on what to buy; with publicity the viewer or reader feels they have control to choose to move forward.

"This might be captured in the expression: Everybody likes to buy but nobody likes to be sold to. Or, put another way -- Assume you experience a fine meal and a good server at a restaurant and contemplate a $10 tip with a great feeling of satisfaction within, and then the waiter appears and says: "Normally, for a meal of this size the tip would be $10."

"Does anything change? Indeed it does. Now the meal has not changed, nor has the service, nor the environment, nor has 99 per cent of the experience. However, what has changed is the choice to decide the amount of the tip no longer is clearly yours.

"That upstart will be lucky to get $5 from you. Yet, all he has done is confirm what you have been thinking anyway. Obviously something terrible has happened -- your freedom of choice is now being influenced. So it is true of advertising where the advertiser is trying to influence your choice; whereas, you remain in complete control when choosing whether to act or not from publicity messages."

I agree largely with Bill's observations but am not entirely sure about the tipping analogy. First, my perceptions from a month's travel is that tipping is a cultural thing, with extremely local influences and values. This can create incongruities, especially for travelers to strange lands. (In Israel, for example, cabbies never expect a tip -- they will happily give change to the final Agora(cent) -- but an Israeli restaurant waiter forcefully reminded me that "service is not included" in the price as I got up to leave without tipping. In other words, for people not familiar with the rules of the game, a waiter would be foolish not to remind the client to provide a tip. (Of course I think this kind of forcefulness works 'short term' but possibly at great long term cost to the waiter's employer -- the client, under pressure, would probably pay the tip as requested, but will never return!)

On a larger scale, however, Bill's points about control touch on the challenge of publicity from the publicity seeker's perspective -- it requires a fair bit of hard work and a willingness to cede control to the reporter/writer. You can engage public relations consultants to help you and give you some control, but you'll almost inevitably find the best results occur when you communicate naturally -- if reporters see the 'flack' (journalist's derogatory slang for a PR person) in your place, they will often be more skeptical and cautious in reporting on your business.

Several websites and blogs report on the John Edwards campaign. This image is from

Politics and business

Paul Herring of Spry Construction in Baton Rouge, LA has observed an interesting and effective association between political volunteerism and marketing.

"I did something tonight that was a marketing activity that I did not see coming," he wrote to me. "My wife is politically active and I (am too) to a lesser degree. She had organized the welcoming party for former U.S. Senator John Edwards when he arrived in our home town tonight to give a keynote address at a large function.
"Among about 70 people who were waiting for the Senator to arrive tonight, we had some discussions about political issues of all sorts," Herring writes. "My profession and business came up in conversation and I ended up staying an hour after the event because people were running me down to talk to me about what we do and how they might contact me.

"I would never really put my politics into my work ...but I realized something . . . Like minded people politically would naturally be attracted to working with a contractor who was like minded. So although this did not start as a marketing opportunity it did indeed end up as a very good one!

"I am sure this thought has hit someone else . . . but it i s a little new to me. It makes me wonder about how I can present myself among those with 'like minds' more often."

Herring's observations are both interesting and important. I think he succeeded here largely because of his wife's (and his) central role in organizing the event -- this put them at the centre of the 'universe' and near the top of the influence hierarchy -- especially among committed Edwards supporters.

I've seen how other businesses link politics, celebrity, and their enterprise to create positive publicity and more importantly positive links between their business and potential clients. The risk of course of doing this is being seen as insincere or overly direct. It isn't a quick hit (though the results can be like that at the key moment).

Voluntary and community service leadership, regardless of the politics, are powerful marketing resources. Plugging into the U.S. presidential election -- in a city very much in the news -- is effectively a marketing home run. If John Edwards wins the presidency, things will go to an entirely different level.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Above: The Red Sea at Eilat, Israel. See the Exploring Israel blog.

The story beneath the story

Somewhere over the Atlantic ocean on Friday night, after watching two movies and being saved from a terrible special-order dinner (the Alitalia flight crew thankfully found a 'regular' meal for me), I started reading Michael Gerber's E-Myth Mastery, a book I purchased just before leaving on vacation.

I skimmed through most of the book -- Gerber advocates systematization and I have previously observed there are both strengths and limits in his approaches -- but stopped to read closely a few passages where he put aside his general observations, or dialogues with his imaginary "Sarah" business owner, and talked about himself, and his real-life experiences.

Most tellingly, he described the crisis he encountered when he supposedly was achieving great success and recognition through his first E-Myth book; when he had set up a franchise organization to market his business consultancy services. After returning from a vacation, when he thought all was well, he discovered the business actually was in deep crisis -- with angry franchisees, angry creditors, and self-serving employees and consultants sucking the life-blood out of his business.

This story, of course, he can only share safely now -- I'm sure when the crisis was 'live' the last thing he wanted to do was let the world know all was indeed not very well -- in fact, he was living through hell. He obviously survived; largely with the help and loyalty of his wife, and through hard work and determination rebuilt his business. This included giving up the franchise concept and bringing the operation back in-house. (This is an interesting point, because Gerber says he obtained his greatest discovery at a MacDonald's franchise; when he saw how systems and organization -- the franchise model -- represented the change that many struggling business owners need to emulate -- they need to put processes and systems in place so that the system, not an individual employee (or group of employees) controls the business destiny.)

Gerber's second insightful remark occurs near the book's beginning. I'm going to stretch the fair comment rules under copyright and quote extensively (then send you over to to buy the book, if you wish). In his early 30s, Gerber had moved from selling encyclopedias to insurance.

"Some time after I said yes to the elegant,white-haired elder of insurance and no to the gentleman in the black shirt and checked jacket, I found myself sitting alone at a counter in a coffee shop somewhere on Webster Street in San Francisco, early on a sun-drenched crystal clear morning, trying to boost myself up to make a warm insurance call at Presbyterian Hospital next door on a doctor who had been referred to me, having a third cup of coffee to get my nerve up, to bolster my complete lack of self-confidence, finding myself in the strange early-morning world of insurance sales rather than the early night of encyclopedia sales that I had grown so perversely accustomed to. Still on straight commission, more visible at this time of day, unable to hide in poetry or my saxophone, and suddenly, just like that, it happened. One moment I was sitting on the stool at the counter and the very next I woke up with my face pressed to the cold hard concrete floor of the coffee shop looking at something that seemed like a guy's shoes planted directly in front out of my face.

I had passed out!


And I came face-to-face with that place that I have found myself in too many times in my life where I've discovered, to my surprise, that a choice I thought that I had already made was really a step towards a collision with the fact that I had not made a choice at all. I had simply done what was apparently next. The choice was still there to be made. And if I made it, the right decision, my life was never going to be the same again.

And that's when the blessed moment occurred.

Right there on the floor, I came to the realization that I was marking time, that I was living in a closet of my own making, a small, tight, breathless closet called My Life, and I had closed the door behind me, thinking at the time that I was living in the real world.

I was living in a closet and I had just run out of air!

And suddenly, G0d opened the door!

That's what it felt like to me. God opened the door and I was called.

Right there on t he cold floor in a coffee shop in San Francisco, I was blessed. First, I wasn't and then I was. Blam. Just like that.

And that's what set me on fire.

In one moment there was no fire, and in the next moment there was.

In one moment I was burned out, and in the next I was burning up.

They told me at the hospital next door that I had had a panic attack.

Get some rest, they told me.

I didn't go home to rest. I didn't need to.

I sold the doctor some insurance instead."

A few paragraphs later, Gerber observes:

"I had the good fortune not too long ago to talk with a rabbi who had read one of my books and was inspired by it. We talked about Judaism and miracles. He offered many, many examples of how the miracles spoken of in the Bible are not just biblical in nature, but happening around us every single day. Our problem, he said, is we just don't see them for what they are. He went on to add, "If the Messiah were to appear on 42nd Street in New York City tomorrow in the plain light of day, it's probable that only a handful of people would even see him! And everyone else would think he was mad!" The rabbi said to me, "I have come to think that the Red Sea has parted for each and every one of us in our own singularly unique and miraculously unpredictable way, over and over again. The tragedy is we don't see it."

"If we saw it, our lives would be transformed."

Miracles happen, the blessing comes, the Red Sea parts, but then it's up to us. Are we ready to see it, are we moved by what just happened, are we open to the possibility, are we ready to catch on fire?

If not -- and my life has shown me in countless, tragic ways how often I'm not open, not available, not willing to let go and jump -- nothing will happen except more of the same. We'll continue to sell our metaphorical encyclopedias. We'll just drag our weary butts up off the coffeehouse floor and go back to doing it, doing it, doing it some more. the insufferably walking dead, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, in a small, airless closet we call Life.

Being available, that changes everything."
Wow. This stuff caught me cold, in part because just a few week's earlier, I had been IN the Red Sea -- in the underwater viewing area at the Eilat marine park, marveling at the biodiversity at that border point between Egypt, Jordan and Israel.

I had decided last December to take the trip to Israel even though we were in a state of business crisis -- just digging out -- and (not surprisingly!) things didn't work 100 per cent perfectly while we were exploring the Negev and Israeli south.

Like Michael Gerber, I've had my own life-changing insights; one when I was 26, in Africa and learned that the greatest constraint in life is fear, often unfounded; the other, 12 years later, at 38, when I realized I would need to be responsible for my own life do what needs to be done to make it right. In both situations -- but especially that first flash of insight, in Tjoloto, Zimbabwe, on Good Friday in 1980 -- I also appreciated the greatness of God and recognized the combination of humility and strength in the Greater Power.

Gerber reminds me that we are truly responsible for our own destiny; we can seek the advice and counsel of others, we can read, we can learn, we can apply common-sense principals and approaches to create new experiences and dreams, but ultimately we need to think for ourselves, and have the courage to act on our convictions, even when they seem uncertain, and things are not 100 per cent perfect.

Think for yourself. Dare to dream. Be prudent, responsible, rational, and thoughtful. Nevertheless, most importantly, don't be afraid to take risks and experience the things you really want in life. You may not be able to see the parting of the Red Sea, but you may be able to dip your toes into the Red Sea itself.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Breaking the rules

A few hours ago, while waiting for the final leg of our flight home, I drafted an email letter. The rule of the game on important correspondence is to 'sleep on it'. The fresh perspective of an extra day almost inevitably results in improvements or avoiding big mistakes.

But the combination of creative energy and impulsiveness got the best of me, so, shortly before boarding, I hit the 'send' button. Rereading the letter, I am not totally disappointed with it -- but I'm sure the message could have been better developed and communicated if I had given it an extra day or two.

Alas, in my rush, I produced a typo -- inviting readers to travel to an 'impossible' blog address. While there is no doubt I should have been more careful about the original letter, the question came to mind: How can I fix the error?

The first 'solution' might have made sense -- sending everyone on the list a correction note -- and could have perhaps increased readership and ultimately the letter's effectiveness. (There is a paradox that the less 'sales message' you can find in a letter, the more effective it is.) But I don't believe in burdening readers with excessive email volumes.

So I implemented the second solution, I created a special 'My mistake' blog with the incorrect web address. Readers who click on the mistaken blog quickly will find their way to the correct one.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Almost home!

We're at JFK Airport today, preparing for a flight to Boston and (tomorrow) our return home. After a few hours to decompress from four weeks overseas, I'll resume the Construction Marketing Ideas blog.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Effective blogging (update)

We've started a new sole-purpose blog for recruiting employees at I'm on vacation, sitting with my laptop in a hotel lounge in Israel as my family sleeps (it is about 6:30 a.m. here) From the time I decided to set up this blog (referenced in our online advertising) to having it "live", the entire process required about 15 minutes of work time. The blog has Google Analytics attached which allows me to track many key elements. As soon as I'm finished this blog entry, I will add to the tracking capacity with links to
Of course, if you are just starting out, you will require some more time and effort to learn how things work and likely will make some mistakes along the way. You might want to delegate this work to an employee or outside service provider -- and I certainly am contracting out anything requiring significant skill or coding. I've also contracted an overall review of our websites and Internet strategy -- yes I've learned much over the last few years but realize that it is essential to have wiser (and in this case younger) eyes outside of my head look at what we are doing, and how we can do it better.
But there are real advantages as well to some do-it-yourself knowledge and experience. Once you've passed the initial learning curve, you'll see how easy it is to adapt and extend the blogging and web marketing tools to your overall marketing strategies, and you'll how much you can accomplish with truly limited efforts.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Black and Gray

It's the last week of this truly long and incredible vacation. Next Saturday, I'll be home -- ready to pick up the pieces and resolve issues during my month away from the office. Things didn't go exactly as planned -- a key employee resigned, and mix-ups in the production process caused some embarrassing mistakes to creep into this month's papers. But, while the story isn't perfect, overall I'm pleased with our progress and glad that I took the time away.

In any case, my trials and tribulations are far less than those of Conrad Black, who yesterday became a convicted felon. He hasn't been jailed yet -- sentencing is set for the end of November and the Chicago judge may let him remain free (with restrictions) until then -- but barring an unlikely appeal success, he is likely to spend at least 10 years behind bars.

This story touches close to my heart. Black is a few years older than me; he built a massively successful publishing empire (at one point he was the third largest newspaper publisher in the world) and he used techniques of power and intimidation that seem to define many of the leaders of business. His ethics were always debatable -- from his private school expulsion for stealing and selling the purloined exam questions to his fellow students, to his corporate manipulations and strategies that brought hardship and ruin to many others.

An example of Black's character -- and the way he manhandled honourable people -- is this story from St. Catharines, Ontario.

Black of course is a complex, extremely intelligent person with incredible energy and talent -- he has written several solid books, including (while awaiting trial) a solid tome on Richard Nixon. He'll probably get somewhere in the range of 10 to 15 years in a U.S. federal prison. This will require significant lifestyle adjustments but when he is out of jail in his 70s, he will spend his golden years, probably, writing more books and seeking vindication.

The real 'evil' in this story gets off light, I think. David Radler seems to have been the penny-pincher, manipulator, and schemer all these years -- when things turned nasty, he turned on his former partner and provided evidence to the prosecutor in exchange for a light plea bargain sentence. (Not that Black is an angel -- I think the jury saw through his defence and realized he really knew and participated in the fraud that might have been conceived and executed by Radler.)

Success and achievement, good and evil, hope and despair, the lofty heights and the crashing pain of defeat -- these are the themes of this story. For me, it is a reminder of values, integrity, and perseverance -- I've achieved many of my important life goals, the most important of which is having a warm and loving family life (represented by the sharing of this wonderful vacation with Vivian and Eric), but have two more to go; to achieve enough success in business that I leave a positive footnote in history and enough money in the bank to write solid and thoughtful books in my 60s and 70s. Then, despite our differences in character, we may indeed be peers. I certainly don't have ambitions to fly in a private jet to Bora Bora, nor the character to land in prison, but I respect intellectual accomplishment and gritty determination and think the final chapter in Black's life will be his redemption and (necessary) discovery of humility.

Next week, I'll be back on topic -- watch for lots of entries to help you in construction marketing objectives.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

An email disaster

The folks at might have a useful conference of relevance to the construction industry (especially in the Washington D.C. area), but they failed in the number one rule of email marketing -- be VERY careful and thoughtful in sending out unsolicited email marketing communications.

I frankly am not sure, even after looking at the site referenced above, what the conference they are promoting is all about -- I think it has to do with military base closures and relocations). But the conference organizers used an 'open' list with dozens of names (including our own), and sent it to everyone on the list.

A few people said "take me off the list". But they hit the 'reply all' button, and so everyone on the list got the 'remove me' email. Then someone sent an email to the entire list telling everyone to be sure to send the 'remove me' note just to the list originator. Guess what, that email provoked several more 'remove me' emails -- to the entire list, including myself.

This is my vacation. I am in Israel. But in the late evening here, I can keep in touch with my own office at home and in fact tonight (Israel time) we are dealing with some important issues. But, no, bing, bing, bing, I get more and more emails relating to this brac thing.

There are simple solutions to effective email marketing; services like Constant Contact do a great job and provide a built in screening and deletion service to avoid just this type of mess -- (and produce graphically effective emails as well).

After I'm done writing this blog, I'll email the list originator and suggest he review his email marketing practices (hopefully next time I won't spend a week deleting unwanted "delete me" emails!)

P.S. Adding to the problem here is the confidentiality issue -- I now have a really large list of email names perfect for spamming -- I won't, but I think at least one of the people on the list may not have similar scruples.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

On Vacation
Our month-long family vacation in Israel continues. You can read the Exploring Israel blog for daily updates.
While on vacation, I'll occasionally post relevant items here, and when we return, the blog will get back to 'normal' -- several posts a day where possible; as we prepare a major redesign and improvements.
In the meantime, if you have questions or requests, please feel free to email