I’m about to out myself. Not that way. Nope, I’m outing myself as a reader of Fortune magazine (and the Financial Times and other media of the ilk).

Big deal, you respond, and rightfully so. Because if you’re a recurring reader of this blog you know that the posts here rarely have much to do with their opening salvos. It’s a trick I learned from watching The Simpsons.

The issue of Fortune in which I most recently indulged — chosen for its cover story about Oprah Winfrey’s incipient cable network — is relevant to marketing and social media thoughts that have do-se-do’d around my head for a few months. And it wasn’t the Oprah piece that got most of the brain cells rubbing together. It was a mere trifle on the last page titled “Big Brother Bot” by Stanley Bing.

In his slim 500-word-or-so piece he takes on our love-hate yet inevitable relationship with online-based data mining and profiling. It’s a cleverly written fable in which the bots take on physical, home-invading qualities. Even when the bots are helpful, their sheer nosiness is disturbing.

His observations dovetailed with some of mine about the difference between data security and data privacy. And by data I mean personal information and preferences. I suspect that people are confusing the two, and that confusion can have some unexpected implications. First, a rough definition of the two concepts:

  • Data security is truly about how shielded your private financial, health and other essential information is from nefarious exploitation. Despite recurring breeches of security, by and large your most sensitive information is being protected by businesses with which you transact. Believe it when your bank or Amazon.com or health care provider say they are protecting that data from malfeasance. However…
  • Data privacy is another matter, and those same companies think about your data differently than you probably do (if you think about it at all). Much of that data is not private at all. It is, in fact, a precious asset to those companies that is being mined, amalgamated, traded and sold (outright or fractionally) within these companies and/or to others. Your likes and dislikes, history, patterns and demographic/psychographic profile are all valuable commodities. Thus, the ability of bots or what-have-yous to target you with further offers and inducements…and invasions of your sense of privacy. Unwanted help that is sometimes downright helpful, however queasy that bot’s knowledge of you might feel.

Quite frankly, there’s little you can do about the privacy of your data. You’ve signed that privacy away in the terms of service agreements you willingly checked when you use a web-based service or simply enter into an economic relationship with a provider of goods or services. You don’t really read them, do you? And even if you did I can’t see any individual getting into a line item negotiation about the provisions. You either take the agreement whole or take a hike.

Sorry to say that I don’t have the definitive list of 5 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO PROTECT YOUR DATA PRIVACY (and the inevitably clichéd tweets that would promote them). There are probably a few things you can do to impede the rate of erosion of privacy. But short of going off the grid, you’re stuck living in a world that knows you a little better than you might have intended.

However, I can point to 5 TRENDS AND DEVELOPMENTS TO WATCH if you find this topic troubling, interesting and/or ripe for exploitation:

  1. Google is rumbling once again about bringing social to search. If they ever get it right, it will be a game-changer. As in, no detail of your life will be too small to track and aggregate for marketing use (or worse).
  2. Platforms like FourSquare and their brethren are facing growing alarm over personal safety issues and will have to overcome significant reticence to become widely adopted and used by individuals.
  3. Facebook, and now many of its gaming partners, have been shown again and again to provide a data-miner’s fantasyland. Read about some alarming issues with its new Groups feature and its recent gaming breach at The Huffington Post: “Facebook Groups Can Jeopardize Privacy.”
  4. Online ad curation tools like AdKeeper could be Trojan horses into consumers’ lives if enough brands choose to deploy the service.
  5. Mobile wars, replete with a race to dominate apps, are in the offing as Android expands, Windows 7 for mobile debuts and Apple expands not only to additional portable devices but also to Verizon.

Postscript: For the avid data miner, this post has revealed several dozen data points about me as a consumer. Some on purpose and some as an artifact of simply writing this for use online. I’d be curious to see what marketing, political and other offers this would generate. Just pondering, though. On second thought, I’d rather not generate any to be honest. But the bots already knew that, didn’t they.

Has Twitter jumped the shark? It’s a fair question if you’ve spent much time with it – enough to go around the block a minimum of three times. Because by the fourth time you’re rounding the second corner you just might be struck with a strong sense of déjà vu.

Now, I don’t mean “jumped the shark” in the sense that it has engaged in an outrageous stunt that’s so off-theme that you know its creators are bereft of new ideas. [Wasn’t that Fonzie on “Happy Days” water skiing over a shark?] I mean that the everyday experience of using it is feeling a bit too by-the-numbers – actually contrary the very innovation on which the concept is based.

I’ll be blunt and say that the stream of tweets I dip into from the 1,000+ users I follow is often lacking in fresh thoughts and insights – not always, but often enough. (I’m no saint on this count, but I make a conscious effort to improve.)

It’s as though Twitter users are handed a set of templates on which to base all of their tweets. Something like this:

  1. Awesome insight! RT @Mashable [fill in topic] [insert bit.ly link]
  2. 5 amazing [insert amazing thing] [insert bit.ly link]
  3. The tweet in which you brag about the challenging yet satisfying work you’re doing today
  4. The tweet in which you offer an inspiring thought without any context
  5. The tweet in which you grumble about a technology glitch you’re experiencing, with no specific call for help from the Twitterverse
  6. The tweets in which you have an extended private exchange in the public time line
  7. 10 ways social media is [insert astounding transformation] [insert bit.ly link]

Yet it’s not Twitter as a platform that has jumped the shark. It’s that many user have – inadvertently or not. So, as an antidote to the templated tweet approach, I offer the following suggestions:

  1. Go ahead and RT that awesome thought, but add some value to it by sharing your own take on the matter.
  2. RT that essential-reading link, too. But please describe what the article is about; don’t just recycle the headline.
  3. Share links and insights from places other than the usual (Mashable, Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, Guy Kawasaki, etc.). There’s a world of intelligent thinkers and thinking that you crisscross every day. Share those yet-to-be-discovered voices with everyone.
  4. Show who you are by sharing ideas, causes, suggestions and knowledge with the world.
  5. We all can engage in a public chat from time to time, but please take it to DM once it’s clear that the chat is going to last a bit.
  6. Don’t apply #3 to live debates; those can be worth following and get fun the more heated they become.
  7. Advance a cause: use Twitter to get something done like getting water to villages in developing countries, or maybe help place a dog or cat needing an emergency foster. Your Twitter presence can be a powerful force for doing good.

Sure, I could try to change my Twitter experience by following different people. I do modify follows regularly – adding and subtracting based on value and interest. But the situation is more widespread than that. So I offer a little stick (snarky pokes) and a little carrot (suggestions for better tweeting) in the hopes that the Twitter experience continuously improves for all of us. I promise to do my part.

I’m going on record here as a person who believes in the wisdom of reasonable gun control laws. Reasonable in that they take into consideration the larger good and public safety over narrow self-interest. That’s all I have to say about this topic here because my views on this issue are actually not the focus of this missive.

However, knowing that I come from this perspective might help you enjoy the irony of a metaphor that occurred to me in considering the relationship between past accomplishments and future successes: ammunition.

Each win, advancement, accomplishment or success we achieve as businesses or individuals is like a precious allotment of ammunition in our arsenals. Just like ammo, these proofs of our worth can be used to good ends or bad.

Ammo merely accumulated and stored is ammo wasted. Over time, it loses its potency and with that its impact. Even worse, ammo stored poorly can become unstable and cause unintended harm. Analogous metaphor: resting on your laurels. I’m sorry to report that in my industry — marketing, advertising and media — what you or your company did five years ago, let alone ten, often is of little interest or relevance to what you can do today. In fact, I’d give any accomplishment a mere two-year shelf life for future leverage unless said accomplishment was a genuine game-changer for your company, a client or the industry in which you achieved it. Fair isn’t part of the discussion; it’s just so.

Likewise, ammunition spent willy-nilly shooting for new business, a next job or whatever advancement you happen to desire is equally wasted more often than not. A lucky shot gets you only so far; it takes a steady string of hits to build a case for how good you really are you. Analogous metaphor: one-hit wonder. The only way to ensure hit after hit is to be focused yet flexible, aware of the changing environment and willing to hold fire when the target is off-focus or the cost of taking the shot outweighs the benefits of hitting the target. Know what’s worth aiming for and what it costs to achieve; then calculate its real value before taking action.

Savor your accomplishments and use them for the next win? By all means. Takes risks? Oh, yeah. Just be sure to keep a clear vision of the future in sight and mind at all times.

It was Plato who declared that necessity is the mother of invention.

To be precise his actual words, from The Republic, are “Necessity, who is the mother of invention.”

Necessity has been not only mother but also taskmaster to countless people in the past several years as their Plan A careers, usually in the employ of others, has been diverted, cut short and even unceremoniously dumped. The options? Find another Plan A perch on which to sit. Resort to cowering. Or launch a Plan B.

This is an ode to friends and colleagues – upbeatniks all – for whom the loss or declining velocity of a Plan A job has spurred their necessary forays into Plan B courage and creativity. Rather than tell their stories for them, please visit evidence of their new dreams online:

Not all Plan B-ers have abandoned their day jobs, or the hopes of landing one. Even this inspiring lot has among it a handful of folks who would like nothing more than a plum job offer. Yet for some Plan A is dead. Or at least it’s no longer their be-all and end-all.

To whatever role it plays in their lives, long live Plan B and cheers to the brave souls who pursue it!

I’ll admit it. I’ve been grumpy about social media lately. A little backlash-y, if you will. Some early adopter friends and I were even sending mocking tweets one evening over beers.

But those beers, along with a sultry summer breeze on the patio of an Irish pub, lubricated our brains just enough to have a constructive conversation about what we’re experiencing among our marketing and communication peers vis-à- vis social media.

There’s a lot of hype, misunderstanding and miscommunication that makes brands cautious and turns social media into a private club that scares people away.

Here are five things to consider that might keep the skeptical from being grumpy about social media, insights that social media cheerleaders might want to consider as well:

  1. Social media is not a place; it is a way to get people to places (in ways literal and virtual but nonetheless real). Strategy comes first and must address content, distribution and engagement.
  2. Social media as most people think of it – by Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, MySpace, Gowalla, etc. – is not a collective medium but a collection of tools or platforms, many of which become media destinations.
  3. The quality of the discussions you have in social media forums depends on the quality of those with which you engage. If you don’t like the banter you’re experiencing: (a) find a new set of people to follow and/or (b) contribute to the dialogue in ways that will elevate it.
  4. Remember that social media does not supplant other forms of communication and engagement. No silver bullet here, despite statements from some of those social media hyper-ventilators. Keep a balanced perspective because traditional and established digital media are not dead or disabled, and can be just as valid as they have been before.
  5. If you’re tired of hearing people hyper-ventilate about how wonderful social media is (and how wonderful they are for saying so), then DO something with social media that is worth sharing.

As a self-proclaimed dot-connector and value-builder in business development and business in general, I strive for situations that are beneficial to my prospects, clients, team members and “the management.” That’s rather than looking for my own advantage first and wedging the needs of others into that.

In my world view, all boats float when you take care of others. (Not to my own disadvantage, mind you. I’m not a chump.) This style is service-oriented, open-ended and focused on mutual benefit. Think of it as doing well by doing good.

Beneficent as that might make me feel, I’ve learned that not everyone responds to that approach. In fact, there are those who are left befuddled because they expect and even want to be sold to. For those people – and I suspect there are more of them than not – there can be a comfort in conventionally defined roles, clear choices and directness. There is no shame in wanting that, nor is there any shame in you responding to that need.

There’s an old saw that goes something like this: People want to buy things, not have things sold to them. Sometimes that’s true, but don’t make the mistake of believing it all the time. Adaptability is a core skill to master if you want to be successful at new business, client management and organizational effectiveness, and that means adjusting your approach to the circumstances at hand.

The signals aren’t that hard to read. If you approach an opportunity from an open-ended, exploratory  perspective and get blank stares or an “I’m-not-understanding-this” response, there’s a good chance your audience expects a more conventional approach. If so, take the cue and shift tactics by:

  • Making it clear why you’re in front of them and what you’d like them to consider or do
  • Being more direct, suggesting a specific solution, for example, and allowing your audience to edit, push back on or even reject it
  • Offering clear go/no-go options if the situation is appropriate

This dovetails neatly with an earlier post about the difference between sales and business development. That post prompted a spirited debate in LinkedIn groups in which I posed the issue. Debate was so spirited, in fact, that I was all but ignored by the combatants, who went at each other with amazing force. Clearly, the topic touched a nerve.

My supplemental two cents on that topic, with the shading of this post in mind, is to draw some added functional (but not qualitative) distinctions between the two approaches:

  • Traditional sales interactions tends to be more structured and close-ended. That serves a purpose when the prospect allows bandwidth for a sales discussion but not a full consultation
  • Classic business development is inherently more consultative and therefore more open-ended. As observed, that’s not a universal recipe for success

All interactions that involve persuasion need to be two-way, but there are different ways to play that out. When your audience wants to be sold to, then it becomes your job to both present and listen.

If you give your audience, customer or colleague the experience they expect in the beginning, you can use those early interactions to build trust and gradually shift the style of the conversation to that mutually beneficial sweet spot.

In the job interview: “We’re looking for a candidate who is passionate about his/her work.”

In the job itself: “We want you to be passionate about your clients, their brands and our company.”

In the sales meeting: “Let success be your passion.”

In the boardroom: “Growth and innovation must be our passion.”

All this passion has me fatigued. And I’m even finding it a little dangerous, what with “crimes of passion” being a real threat. There is so much exhortation about passion in business anymore, it’s a characteristic that has lost any real meaning. It’s become trite, and that’s a shame when some authentic passion well-applied can be a good thing.

Likewise, a little indifference goes a long way in the workplace and marketplace to keeping balance. When people takes things too seriously, they also tend to take them too personally. And that’s a recipe for losing perspective.

So, here’s a call for pragmatic indifference. It goes like this: You are NOT your company or your clients or even the work you do. You bring yourself to each of them – talents, eccentricities and all. But to be truly successful you need to separate what you do from who you are.

For example, you passionately advance your big strategic idea and it doesn’t make the cut. Are you a loser? Was the idea bad? Not necessarily, it just might not have been the right idea for the circumstances. With a little indifference you can feel satisfied that you rose to the occasion, made your contribution and quite possibly even inspired or influenced the direction that ultimately was chosen.

No need to sulk back at your desk and trash the team or the client or the bosses over a perceived loss. You came, you contributed and you will be called on to contribute yet again.

Interestingly, younger professionals tend to take these presumed losses harder even though they have years and years ahead of them to win the day. A maturity thing, I suppose. Even seasoned professionals need to see the momentary setback in the larger scope of their careers. Is it the only shot you ever had? Probably not. And even you will have more chances at bat in the future.

So be as passionate as you want, but try to keep a balance by cultivating just enough indifference to get through another day in your long career.

NOTE: I’m pleased to report that this post was selected to run in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin on Monday, August 2, 2010. I encourage you to read Blog Cabin regularly.

It’s said that art imitates life. Whether or not that’s true, it’s certain that popular art forms mirror, mock and amplify what happens in our day-to-day existences.

Like relationships.

“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” is the title of a long-running Off-Broadway play, the conceit of which is the contradictory condition of romantic relationships: attraction, pursuit, unconditional acceptance, growing dissatisfaction, meddling, nagging…and so on.

Funny thing is, life can imitate art’s send-up of a real situation, too. Take business relationships, for instance, and more specifically advertising-marketing agency relationships with their clients.

Clients and agencies enter into relationships typically through tortured processes of flirtation, wooing, proof of worthiness and seemingly endless talks. Then fingers brush, sparks fly and full romance blooms. “This is going to be the best relationship ever,” both parties vow. “We can grow together. Laugh together. Change the world together.”

At that moment, each party is likely to believe that the other is perfect. Love takes root. Then comes the inexorable compulsion to change the other party’s ways.

Agencies, of course, believe they have been specifically retained to change their clients’ imperfections. The nexus of the relationship for the agency is the presumed role as rescuer. The magical thinking is that the agency will easily have its way. Like a review and approval process that ignores the client’s lack of capacity to respond as quickly as the agency wants. Or even more absurdly, that the client will choose strategic and creative direction absent any internal politics, inscrutable priority shifting, and differing perceptions of what works.

The fact is, like any relationship that succeeds there has to be both give and take. The agency might indeed be in the vanguard of what’s best for the client’s needs in the marketplace, but also just like a relationship people are involved. And the involvement of people in relationships makes them inherently complicated.

So, to keep the romance strong and hold onto a rewarding relationship over time, I offer these partner dancing tips from a Wikipedia. While the wording is a bit studied, these are apt metaphors.

  • Obstruction avoidance: A general rule is that both lead and follow watch each other’s back in a dance hall situation. Collision avoidance is one of the cases when the follow is required to “backlead” or at least to communicate about the danger to the lead. In traveling dances, such as waltz, common follow signals of danger are an unusual resistance to the lead, or a slight tap by the shoulder. In open-position dances, such as swing or Latin dances, maintaining eye contact with the partner is an important safety communication link.
  • Recovery from miscommunication: Sometimes a miscommunication is possible between the lead and follow. A general rule here is do not wrestle and never stop dancing.

“Closing the sale” is a concept at once desired and reviled by many creative agency leaders. Desired because it brings in fresh revenue and maybe even prestige if the new client is right. Reviled because it is about sales, and that’s often treated like a dirty word among folks who feel that strategy and creative are higher callings.

But close you must, even though closing a sale is one of the most challenging applications of hard and soft business abilities.

The folks at RSW/US, which provides business development consulting services to creative agencies, have some insights into what it takes to close a new-client sale. And out of the goodness of their hearts – and good business development practices of their own – will share those insights at a free webinar on July 20.

Here is registration information about the next – and subsequent – RSW/US Agency Business Development 2010 Webinar Series sessions:

  • July 20: Check the Box – Counsel on Closing. Mark Sneider, RSW/US owner/president, offers insights and recommendations on preparing for pitch meetings, follow-up how to craft responses to RFPs and RFIs. Click here to register.
  • August 10: Social/Digital Media – Marketer and Agency Perspective. How to be successful long-term in the social/digital universe. What marketers want and what you’re giving them might be two very different things. Click here to register.
  • September 7: Agency New Business. What it takes to create a successful new business development program within the four walls of your agency. Get marketer perspectives on their needs. Click here to register.

———-

Full disclosure: Agency Babylon and RSW/US have a nominal business alliance around endorsement of the webinars. However, I can assure you that I’d recommend them even if we didn’t.

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