Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How hard is your newsletter working for you?

It's been a while since my last blog. I just finished up with the Idaho Hoops Preview, a project that I've done each of the last four years. Check it out by CLICKING HERE

This post is about some research I did around email marketing. Specifically our electronic newsletter. A big part of Idaho Select's relationship building is through our newsletter. Producing it is not easy, requiring several hours each week. To make sure that my efforts in email marketing campaigns are maximized, I dug into the newsletters that we've sent out since August. My goal was to find what worked best and what wasn't working. 

The following analysis is based on seven newsletters sent out every second and fourth week of the month (CLICK HERE to learn a bit more about the newsletter). I use Constant Contact to track my emails. I can see who is opening them, where they are clicking, etc. It's not rocket science and never 100% accurate but the results do help me gauge how the campaigns are doing.

Any successful newsletter knows its readership and builds trust. The Idaho Select Newsletter is finishing up year number two so we've been building that trust for a while now. The results presented here are based only on our numbers.

How does our newsletter measure up to others? There is no true apple to apple comparison with industries since calculations and definitions vary. And, Idaho Select doesn't nicely fall into a standard category such as an accounting company or a law firm. But, we are in the top 20% of most standard categories, no matter which one you look at. You can look at your own industry by clicking here for Mail Chimp and here for Constant Contact. If I was forced to put us in a category, we probably fit best in Sports & Recreation or Marketing/Event Planning.

Getting more people to open your email
Headline vs. Sender vs. Timing

When I started the newsletter two years ago, the data that was out there all suggested you send emails Tuesday-Thursday between 8:30am-11:30am to get the most people to open them. This seems pretty accurate except for the time of day. All of the emails were sent on either Tuesday or Wednesday between 9:30am-3:30pm. There was no real difference in open rates based on day or time.

The next factor was the subject line. All of them had "Newsletter" in them along with other details. This didn't seem to factor into open rates either. The lowest rate we got was when we used the word "free" and "Twitter". Likely "free" activated spam blockers. I'm not sure on "Twitter" other than it appears my subscription list just isn't interested in that form of social media.

The one big factor appears to be who the email was from. In an effort to make the newsletter scalable, I switched the From: line to newsletter@idahoselect.org from vince@idahoselect.org. This long term strategy hurt the open rate initially, dropping it nearly 7%. I believe that the new address triggered spam filters and wasn't recognized by our readers as a worthwhile open. Though we have continued to get better open rates (the latest was 28.5%) we still haven't gotten back to anything over 30%.

Call to action
The Idaho Select Newsletter has two basic goals: create credibility and drive traffic to our website. The credibility comes through the consistent delivery of relevant content. We create web traffic by peaking interest and providing a link to a page.

Obviously, the more interesting the content the more likely it will be clicked. Here are a couple of things that help in our newsletters.
  1. Make the link a "CLICK HERE" link or a "check it out here" link. It tells them what to do and where to do it.
  2. Using the word "preview", "iconic", "winners" and "rankings" in or near the link drove up the click through rate.
  3. Put the link you most want clicked in the first paragraph. The first link in our newsletter gets clicked on 17.6% of the time. The second drops down to less than 6%.
  4. Build on the popular. Our section "Top 5 Links From The Last Issue" tend to get a great repeat click through rate. These are obviously interesting but I think people are always curious as to what other people are looking at.
  5. Combining any of these methods increases the effectiveness by more than an additive factor. In other words, put a link that has "CLICK HERE for rankings" in the first paragraph and your click through rate jumps way up.
Some things to avoid
  1. Don't just list the URL. For example, http://mysportsaffair.blogspot.com was not obvious enough to get anyone to click on it. They either didn't know it was a link or didn't know what to do with it.
  2. The last link rarely gets any clicks. The last link in our newsletters gets less than a 2% click through rate. There's really nothing you can do about this since one of your links has to be last. Just be aware that unless it's also the first link, it may be lonely.
What I didn't expect
  1. Links to video alone doesn't create a higher click through rate. The only way is if the reader thinks the video connects to them.
  2. Feel good headlines don't appear to move the needle. Those headlines generate about the same click through rate as a coach or player blog, camp or event. Not bad, but also not special.
Now what?
First, future newsletters will reflect the items that work. Second, Constant Contact provides a list of everyone's email that opens each email, who clicks where and who is getting bounced. If I had an intern I would have them track down everyone that was not opening the email or being bounced and find out what was going on. Third, there is a monetary value associated with these stats. They can tell who is going to product pages and sponsor pages. Since these are voluntary clicks they show the value of the newsletter. The goal here is understanding the best way to use them. Can they drive up the value of a sponsorship? Can they be used to determine an ROI on the newsletter? Ultimately, it is the answer to these questions that will determine where Idaho Select goes with the newsletter. When I find out, I'll be sure to post those here as well.

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    How to get the absolute best return on your investment in sports

    It hit me, and anyone else watching Cleveland at Miami on TNT tonight, that there is a simple three step formula to getting the best return on your endoresement investment.

    There is always the verbal power of endorsements. And then there is the action form.

    Step 1: sign a big name to be the spokesperson for your product like Dwyane Wade.

    Step 2: have said spokesman absolutely posterize Anderson Varejao during a broadcast. Let the YouTube video go viral. What this clip didn't show was their close up of the shoe after he did this.

    Step 3: make sure you have a great accountant to count your money

    Yep, its that easy. Somehow, Michael keeps finding a way to win.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    No - the next best answer to yes

    The biggest waste of time in any negotiation is when someone you think is a potential partner turns out to be a "no in waiting". These are the people that keep saying things like, "yeah, that sounds interesting. I'll take a look at that" when what they really mean is, "I'm not interested but I'm afraid that if I say no it will be uncomfortable, you won't like me and it will end our relationship." So, do yourself a favor. Lay it out there from the beginning and put them at ease. Maybe's aren't always genuine and at some point no is the next best answer to yes.

    Lay it out
    The biggest hurdles to getting a no is your ego (you are convinced you can sell everyone) and the prospect's fear of your response (anger, disappointment, resentment, etc). Your ego is your problem. But you can help the prospect get into their comfort zone.

    Assuming that you have qualified the prospect (always the first step), you will get a feel in the first 15 seconds about whether this person is comfortable in their role, especially if they are the decision maker. Uncomfortable people tend to tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear. So lay things out early.

    Some sales people will disagree with this tactic, but I'm a believer. As soon as I sense the person may be avoiding uncomfortable topics like price, terms, etc. I will generally try to put them at ease - with brutal honesty.

    For example, things like sponsorship in Idaho Select Basketball, participating on one of our teams, building our website or producing our jerseys requires a level of honesty and customer service that not everyone can adequately provide. I get this notion in front of the prospect right at the beginning. Because the truth is, if they can't provide what I need (money, quality, honesty, etc.) then we shouldn't be working together.

    But I also let them know that if they can't give me what I need or vice versa, they can tell me no without any risk. It won't change the way I think of them (in fact I'll respect them more), it won't affect any future opportunities and I'm not going to suddenly stop liking them. And, as long as they do it professionally, I mean all of these things.

    Once we establish these ground rules, meetings generally go better and we can make some progress.

    Don't take it personal
    In May 2006, I was in Dallas for some NBA sales training and they brought in a guy named Rubenstein. When he was selling, his goal was to get the prospect to say "I'm not interested" as fast as possible. His philosophy on sales was that at some point, the person you are selling will know they aren't going to buy from you. So why continue to try and sell them if they aren't going to buy? If the person wants to buy, continue. If they don't, get it out of them and move on.

    The fact is, in efficient sales you will likely hear no way more than you will hear yes. That includes the best salespeople. If you take it personally you will end most sales calls a little more beaten down and will become less and less effective. Never take it personally. Like all the great sharp shooters in the NBA, you have to have a short term memory. Forget your last missed shot and get ready to make the next one.

    Lost sales?
    I can hear the comments going through some sales people's heads. "If you are letting them say no, you are leaving money on the table." True, you could twist their arms and make them uncomfortable to the point of submission. But the only benefit is in the short term. And if these are the only people that you can sell to, you should consider expanding your reach.

    I'm writing this from the perspective of someone that is thinking long term and committed to being a great sales person. Your goal is to make the most money for as long as you can. If you knowingly sell the wrong product to someone in exchange for a quick buck, you will never sell them anything again. They won't trust you, your reputation will follow you and eventually you will burn all your bridges. Better to get a no and move on to the next yes.

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    QUICK TIP: Always give an F.U.

    Generally speaking, a good F.U. is a smart move. Sometimes, you might even do it twice.

    Every single one of us is busy, especially those of us in sales. But what about the people that we call on? They are even busier and that's why a F.U. (follow up) is crucial to closing deals.

    Have you ever heard of a "one call close"? You know, you call on a potential client and they agree to a deal the first time you talk. These are incredibly rare. No one closes a substantial deal without establishing trust and this requires more than one interaction. The problem is, no matter how sweet the deal you offer them, you will be forgotten about 10 minutes after you walk out the door. Don't expect a call back - ever. It's nothing personal. Just the way things work.

    This is why you must get aggressive. The second you walk out of your meeting or hang up the phone, schedule your first follow up. Put it in your calendar and then move on to your next sales call. But make sure you follow up.

    Then, after your first follow up (call, appointment, email, etc.) schedule your next one.

    Keith Rosen wrote an interesting article on the follow up. His point is don't just say "Hi, we spoke before. What's up?" He states have a purpose. And while I don't recommend making it as cheesy and scripted as some of the examples, the point is good. I suggest using the follow up to create some urgency.

    Here's my strategy. The first phone call or meeting is just me qualifying the person, making sure I'm not wasting my time. But assuming that there is potential, my first follow up will be about 3 days later with a phone call (this doesn't count the summary email I send immediately following our meeting). At that point I'm trying to answer questions that have come up, addressing any questions they have and trying to get a date to close any deal we might be working on (this includes securing an event, contracting a website or whatever). This simple process continues until one of the following: we close the deal, they tell me no (which is the next best answer to yes) or I decide that this deal will not happen. Regardless of the outcome, it all happens by giving a sincere F.U.

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    The power of endorsements

    Last weekend, I randomly stopped by a cell phone store to pick up a charger for my wife. And in a show of excellent customer service, the guy that helped me went the extra mile to get me what I needed with the support to back it up. So the next day, I posted my experience on Facebook, in case any of my friends were interested. The next thing I know, a buddy of mine that saw the post went to this store and bought two new phones and service plan for himself and his wife. Before he saw the post, he didn't even know the store was there.

    That's the power of an endorsement. Obviously, I'm not famous. But he trusted me and that was enough to at least consider the option.

    We see endorsements all the time, but do they actually work? Consider the following two examples.

    On Thursday,  October 15, I was listening to Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio. His show, The Herd, is a nationally syndicated sports talk show and Cowherd is a humorous host that comes across as genuine. Presumably on a whim (though I guess we never really know what is on the script) he found a YouTube video of a jumbo jet that nearly decapitates a bunch of people on its landing. The video, originally posted April 12, 2008, had amassed 236,040 views and 357 comments prior to October 15, according to YouTube stats. Cowherd talked about the video on his show for about three minutes, offered some search terms and posted a link on the show's website. In less than 24 hours the number of views went up 18.3% (to 279,440) and the comments increased by 20.7%, most of which thanked Colin for pointing out the video or simply promoted his show. The number of views has now passed 307,500, a 30% increase.

    Another example: I was listening to Jim Rome on his sports talk show. Rome is an edgy host and has gained his loyal followers by being a bit more controversial. But he is also considered genuine. Rome mentioned one of his listeners had a Twitter account with only 12 followers. At his urging he drove the number of followers to over 260. While a 248 person increase may not seem like a lot, consider that it could only affect those listeners that happened to hear what was said in those specific 5 seconds AND had a Twitter account AND were sitting at a computer during those 5 seconds. Not bad.

    Strong endorsements come from people that have built up trust. Powerful endorsements combine that trust with some form of celebrity. And while the endorsement may not actually cause an action, it will at least put whatever is being sold into the consideration set.

    If you are thinking about using someone to endorse your product or service, consider the following: are the endorser's fans/listeners/friends in the same market that you are seeking? What is the endorser's reach? And, most importantly, how much is it going to cost you?

    In the case of the cell phone store, it took me very little time to post it on Facebook. In the case of Cowherd and Rome, it cost them a few seconds of their air time. All parties delivered on their promises and even built their trust. And the people that benefited got what they expected and will probably continue to listen.

    By the way, the cell phone store was the Verizon dealer, MyBullFrog.com located at 520 S. Meridian Rd., Suite 100, Meridian, ID. Thanks Brian!

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Sports social networking next phase in communication

    At this point the words Twitter, Facebook and Linked In have become commonplace in our world. If you don't have an account with one of them, you probably know someone that does. But how are these tools being integrated into sports? And, are they achieving any success?

    Social networking is another way of starting conversations. In the case of sports, these conversations revolve around fans and participants to make their experiences better, create awareness and ultimately drive sales.

    With the majors (NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL), starting conversations is fairly simple given their large and strong fan bases. (Here is an article from USA Today about NBA players and Twitter and another one from Yahoo and Ball Don't Lie) But for minor league teams, starting these types of conversations can be more difficult. And, unlike their major league counterparts, they likely don't have the same amount of resources to establish conversations.

    The advantages of using these tools are clear. First, it is cheap. Basic services are free and easy to set up. Second, the work can be done from anywhere and anytime as long as you have internet or a mobile application. Of course, with any tool, the rewards only come when there is a clear strategy and a commitment to use it.

    Minor League Usage
    We spoke with a few minor league teams to see how they are utilizing the social networking tools. The Idaho Steelheads (hockey), Idaho Stampede (basketball) and Boise Hawks (Baseball) are all using social networking in different ways.

    For the Steelheads, the social networking responsibilities appear to be split between marketing and public relations, providing a mix of team news and fan interaction. Their passionate fan base seems to be utilizing the hockey team's offerings based on the number of interactions they receive.

    The Stampede are just getting into this realm. Their goals are to create more awareness and generate fan interactions. In the future, they also indicated that they will explore targeted promotions and experiment with how these tools can expand their in game production.

    Probably the most promising usage is from the Boise Hawks. They definitely have the most well defined social networking strategy and their goals are ambitious. While they use their full time staff to blog, tweet and post to Facebook they also utilize their intern's channels to push out their messages. The next step for the Hawks is exploring Linked In and the potential benefits of that platform. The baseball club is also looking toward the future. They see a demise of more standard current channels and are working to establish themselves as their own media outlet.

    All of the teams agreed that MySpace is no longer a social networking channel that they will continue to pursue.

    Evaluating results
    At this point, there is little agreement about the best way to evaluate social networking success in sports. Without a direct tie to profit teams will need to look at the indirect ties such as content sharing, re-tweets, interactions and increased web traffic. These all give an indication of the depth that fans are digesting the information.

    Some of the tangibles like number of followers, fans, and subscribers are helpful to analyze the reach of awareness but fail to measure the depth of the reach.

    In the end, it appears that these new tools are just that - tools. Like any tool, your success depends on how well you use it. But there are lots of tools in the bag and right now it is hard to tell which one is the best tool to use.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009

    Where does this rank in email promotion?

    I had to share this email. I have my thoughts on it but wanted to put it out there and get your take on it. Is it powerful? Does it motivate? Is it from a bully?

    BACKGROUND: I signed up for a webinar on Social Media about a week ago. The webinar was yesterday. At about 6:30 PM Mountain Time two days prior to the webinar (Monday night), I got the following email:



    I'll cut straight to the chase - in order to attend the "What To Do When You're Overwhelmed with Social Media" webinar hosted by myself and Jon Morrow (from copyblogger.net) you must register at this link:
    [website I've taken out]

    We currently have just over 900 on this list and only 1,000 spots on gotowebinar so definitely sign up now and sign in to the webinar at least 10 minutes early to guarantee your spot.

    Again here are the details:


    "What To Do When You're Overwhelmed with Social Media"

    Date: Wednesday, October 7th (aka this Wednesday!)
    Time: 1pm pacific / 4pm eastern
    Registration Link: [website I've taken out]


    There WILL be a recording made available afterward but if you're interested in Jon's special offer (I bet you can guess what it is by reading here) you'll want to do whatever you can to be there live.

    I'm finalizing what I want to share with you right now and I promise you the content is going to be KILLER - and different from all the party lines you've been fed about social media.

    I'll see you on Wednesday!

    - Laura

    Follow me on twitter at [website I've taken out]

    P.S. If you want to get on my main list to keep up with everything I'm doing and receive a social media marketing how-to every week sign up at [website I've taken out]


    So what do you think? Over the top? Hits the mark? Please share your comments.

    Monday, October 5, 2009

    Give 'em something or take something away

    In event planning, especially for new or young events, a huge challenge is getting players, participants, spectators and sponsors to commit to the event early. Assuming you have a good reason to get them in early (such as the event will be canceled if you don't get people in by a certain date) the challenge is to create a sense of urgency.

    People are funny in that they want everything now but want to pay for it later. In this case, your challenge is to give them a reason to get out of their comfort zone. Revenue or Yield Management sort of addresses this challenge but I summarize it by something one of my boss's once told me. "You either give them something now, or take something away from them tomorrow."

    This is the concept used in early registration discounts, evening rates at golf courses and season ticket packages. Your goal is to maximize your revenue selling the same thing.

    But this also applies to creating urgency. "Buy your family ticket package today and get a free hamburger." "Call in the next 10 minutes and get a free locker room tour." "Don't wait too long or we may run out of Thunder Sticks!" All create urgency by either giving them something or taking something away.

    Monday, September 28, 2009

    Three reasons to love a bad economy

    Like most businesses, the economy has had its effect on Idaho Select. We are still figuring out the best way to move through it and remain successful. And while we don't know what the perfect solution is, there are three specific things that we definitely have learned.

    When things are great, everything works. Nobody asks a lot of questions, your clients pretty much move along like normal and you keep an eye on your competition.

    But when things hit the fan, the little cracks in your company's armor become huge. This is the best time to make progress and learn who your real clients are, what your competition is really like and where the flaws are at in your systems. Introducing the three hidden gems of a bad economy.

    The best clients don't always spend money
    If your company is like ours, your accounts receivable are creeping up and the days past due are getting longer. With everyone struggling to pay their bills, there is no better time to see where you stand on your clients priority list. Take note!

    Are your phone calls being returned? Do you get half-ass excuses on why bills aren't being paid or are you just flat out being lied to? Right now, unfortunately, that is the norm. With these clients, our strategy is to put a plan in motion, remember where we stand with them and try to move on. Because here's the other side of the coin.

    Some of your clients don't owe you anything, actually like you and might be willing to help. They may not need your services but they can provide other valuable intangibles such as feedback, public relations and cross-promotional opportunities. Take advantage of these and reciprocate their offerings. It will build stronger relationships and may help you stay afloat until things get better.

    Who is your real competition?
    The reality about the current economy is that it is going to wipe out a lot of the weaker players. I remember just 5 or 6 years ago I only knew one real estate agent. Suddenly in the boom I could name off 10 agents, 8 lenders and 15 builders. Just about everyone was trying to get in to real estate. Now, things have calmed back down and I'm only seeing those that were truly committed to their craft still in the business.

    This is true in most industries. In sports, even the big leagues are cutting back on staff and expansion. Minor leagues, such as the Arena Football League, arenaleague2 and Continental Basketball Association are suspending their operations. In my business we compete with other leagues, clubs and entertainment options that range from video games to the movies. But as times get tough, we are starting to see who is really committed to what they do and who was trying to make a quick buck.

    It's tough, but you must continue to watch your competition. If they are continuing to survive, try to understand why. If they are starting to sink, get ready to grab their best clients. This might seem brutal but the truth is, if a competitor is going out of business their clients will still need their service or product. It might as well come from you.

    Close the loop holes
    When times get tight, you are almost guaranteed to have your competition and some of your less desirable clients attack you where ever they can. They will take shots at your policies, procedures and methodology. Out of pure desperation some may even challenge you to legal and moral showdowns. And while you are sure to be vulnerable in spots, pay attention and fix them. If you don't, you are going to be attacked again in the future.

    As a guy trying to earn a living, the current environment is unpredictable and scary. But as a competitor I love it! It is challenging and revealing. It brings out the best in us. And I can tell you that we will certainly be focused on these three hidden gems.

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    Customer service is everything - what sports can learn from Verizon

    So the other day I'm having problems receiving emails on my Blackberry. I give Verizon a call to check on the problem and the next thing I know, I've signed up for an extra three months of service...and I feel great about it!

    I love the customer service that Verizon provides. I have been with the cell company for several years and every time I need some help, their technical support people do a great job. They didn't make BusinessWeek's 2009 list of Customer Service Champs (link below) but they do great for me. They listen, give me an update (even if it is simply saying that they are working on it) and then take the opportunity to explore how my experience is going. They turned my problem into an asset. Now that is excellent customer service!

    It got me thinking about how customer service plays a part in the business of sports. In a business primarily built around customer experiences, the service the fans receive is the only thing that you can control. You can't control the wins and losses, the officiating, the weather. But, you can control what the fan (or for event managers, the participant) experiences when they interact with you and your staff.

    Business Week's Customer Service Champs 2009

    In sports, customer service generally starts when a fan inquires about tickets or a sponsorship package and does not end until you or the fan/sponsor completely sever all contact (which may be never). So as an organization you have to consider the ticket purchasing process, sponsor development process, in game experiences and outside fan interactions.

    The Box Office Knowledge Gap

    In the current era of internet marketing and purchasing, fans can now choose to purchase either online or in person/on the phone. Assuming you have a smart web strategy, we'll focus on live interactions for the sake of this posting.

    When a fan makes a phone call or visits a box office, it's usually an independent third party that operates it. This means, especially for a minor league team, that there could be a knowledge gap between what the box office personel knows and what is reality. This can create some poor first impressions, reduce your team's level of customer service and likely lose sales.

    It is the job of the team's director of ticket operations and director of customer service to ensure that the box office is knowledgeable of all ticket matters (pricing, seating location). Plus, they need a high understanding of general information that is not directly related to their job, such as game schedule, start times and even the team's website.

    Want to see how they do? Just call the box office and ask a few questions. Within 15 seconds you'll know if you're in trouble.

    The Sponsor Experience

    If you are selling sponsorship packages, customer service may be the only thing that sells. While it is easy to ramble off number of impressions and activation opportunities, what you are really selling is that you will deliver on your promises. This comes down to trust, which comes down to customer service.

    Do you call them back when you say you will? Are you providing the information they are looking for? Some sponsors may not be familiar with your product, team or event so you have to deliver great service before anything else. (Be sure to see my post on Managing Your First Impression)

    In Event - Whose in Control?

    Obviously each team or event will have a director of operations. Their job is simple: make sure the fan experience is the best it can be. Some teams are lucky enough to have a person or group in charge of sponsor development. But, what if there's a problem? How are you addressing fan's and sponsor's suggestions, complaints, comments and questions?

    It starts with making it easy for them to voice their concerns; knowing where to go or who to call or email. Do you direct them to a particular area in the arena? A person? A website? Where ever they should go, make sure it is very obvious to them.

    This will increase your feedback. Fan and sponsor feedback is the best source of improvement you have. Especially when they care enough to make a complaint. Listen to what they say and pull something out of it. The hardest part, especially with a complaint, is taking the emotion and pride out of it. Even though the comments may seem ludicrous, you can usually learn something. Try and empathize with them. Let them know you've heard them. Let them know of possible solutions. Even if you can't immediately help, at least you've listened to them and possibly kept a client for one more day.

    Be Aggressive, B E Aggressive

    Also known as being proactive. Not all fans and sponsors actively voice their opinions. But don't assume that means everything is OK. Following your event or season, hosting a focus group and doing surveys can prove to be very enlightening.  These can be done expensively (hiring a market research company) or on the cheap (SurveyMonkey.com).

    Be sure to check out "Event Planning Starts the Day After".

    Informal focus groups can provide some of the insight you are seeking. And though this is just a small portion of the group you want to learn more from, it can lead you to the type of questions you should be asking in a survey. A word of caution: creating your own survey can be difficult and may lead to useless or misleading information. Be sure to do some research prior to creating and distributing your survey.

    The bottom line is simply this: the service you provide your customers is the most important thing in the business of sports. Be like Verizon; turn your customers' problems into an asset.

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    Managing your first impression

    The other day, I had breakfast with a great friend of mine. We were talking marketing (he is in real estate) and the topic of image and first impressions came up. We were discussing what is appropriate to wear and how your appearance can affect the image you want to portray.

    Image is a funny thing. The PC thing to say is that image doesn't matter. That it's the substance of the work you do that is important. In an established relationship/partnership this is true but in the initial stages, we all make little assumptions about the people we meet based on how they look and present themselves. And while this may not make or break a particular deal, early on, it can be a factor in how a relationship progresses.

    Any first impression that I make, my goal is simple: show that I'm on the same level as the person I'm meeting and create enough initial trust that we can proceed in our conversation. My ultimate goal is to create an open communication with the person. I don't want to have to overcome an initial impression of any of the following: he is lower than me, he is higher than me, he thinks he is better than me or he is not confident in what he is saying.

    While our breakfast conversation didn't lead to any definite conclusions, we did come up with some basic guidelines, which turned out to be pretty common sense.

    Consider your circumstance
    Most of the time, how you dress depends on what your job is, where you are meeting, when you are meeting and who is going to be there. Sounds pretty obvious, doesn't it? If you are a graphic designer working with a surf shop owner that you've known for years, you would probably dress different than an account executive meeting with a potential client for the first time. While mirroring can come across as fake, insight on whom you are meeting with can be helpful.

    Dress up to dress down
    I remember the first time that I did some customer visits in Texas when I worked for Agilent Technologies. I had a new suit, a great tie, newly shined shoes and felt great! I came in from headquarters to meet with some of our sales team who were going to show us off to some of their top customers.

    I stepped out of our rental car at the sales office and before I could shake our sales people's hands, they told me to lose the jacket and tie before I scared off their clients! There were two valuable lessons here. First, if you know someone that is familiar with the clients you are about to meet, it is always worth the time to do a little extra research. The second lesson is that it is better to scale your attire down then up. Yes, I could have shown up with the jacket and tie in the car and put them on later. But this way, they knew I was taking the visit serious and was ready for whatever.

    Be yourself
    If you are trying to establish long term relationships and want to build credibility, one of the worst things you can do is make promises that you can't or won't keep. That includes the image that you are selling someone about yourself.

    Clearly, you need to consider your circumstance and meet the minimum requirements. But if you are absolutely not a shirt and tie guy, don't do it if you don't have to. If you like to dress up and wear the latest styles, go for it when appropriate. Things like Bluetooth earpieces, jewelry, and sun glasses are generally not required in business meetings. So if they are not your preference don't worry about them. The point is that you don't want to start your relationships off with a lie. If you do, you'll have to continue those lies until either you come clean or get found out!

    When I was with the Idaho Stampede, we did a visit to a Utah Jazz game to go behind the scenes and observe how their game operations worked. Our staff was trying to decide what to wear (casual, business casual, business formal, etc.) One of my colleagues suggested we dress for the job we want. Good advice...just make sure you know what job you want.

    Not everyone is going to like you
    The truth is you can't please everyone. If you think you can, get over it. In fact, I could make an argument that you don't want to please everyone.

    There are such things as undesirable customers. Those are customers that monopolize more time then they should reasonably need. They may negatively promote you or your organization or create additional stress. While you can't avoid this all the time, you can certainly be sure that your first impression doesn't mislead them into undesirable behavior.

    Your first meeting is probably not their first impression
    Finally, keep this in mind. No matter how well you plan, coordinate and tailor your first meeting, the first impression of you probably came before your meeting. It may be from a referral, your website or a Google search. For the most part, you can control these elements but be sure to consider each in your personal marketing plan. Google search yourself and see what's out there. Get some feedback on your website and see how easy it is to use and what people think after they've been there. Being proactive is your best bet here.

    Monday, September 7, 2009

    When 7 + 3 = 6

    Getting your customers to take the action you want can sometimes seem like hitting a moving target. But, when you look at a little theory behind consumer decision making, you see that you can move with the target.

    When we do promotions for Idaho Select and any of our events, one of the goals of our marketing campaigns is to create a purchase. There are six steps that have to occur for someone to purchase, or take any action. We strive to achieve that goal in seven attempts via three media.

    A purchase happens after 1. a person is exposed to a marketing message, 2. a person notices the message, 3. a person understands the message, 4. a person makes a positive association with the message, 5. the person plans to take action from the message and 6. the person actually takes action in the way you intended (from the "Handbook of Social Psychology").

    To get a person through these six steps, we try to connect with them seven times. These efforts are outbound efforts attempting to reach out, as opposed to a website, for example, which is where you may be trying to get people to go as a result of your efforts.

    Creating your campaign is where the fun really begins. Knowing your market and being creative are critical to your campaign's success. Marketing is sometimes seen as a fluffy step that can be skimmed over. And while a planned campaign doesn't need an extraordinary amount of time to execute, a well thought out marketing strategy can make the difference in who and how many people you are able to influence.

    Depending on your budget, it's unlikely that you can try and market to each individual. At the same time, your mass marketing efforts won't connect with everyone. Some of your market will need to see images, some connect to things they hear while others need to read about the information. Our theory is that if you can get a combination of these three methods in front of someone at least seven times, we are more likely to move them through the six steps toworard a purchase.

    There are several ways to do this, all ranging from free to very expensive. We always make use of our free resources first. Community calendars, event booths, Twitter, Facebook and public relations are a few of the free ones we utilize, though our Facebook and PR efforts can be timely to create and execute. Just to be clear on this point, having a Facebook page is not enough. However, because of the ability to push content out to "Friends" and "Fans" you are able to generate attention from your Facebook posts.

    Inexpensive items can be things like newsletters, Facebook and web advertising. With new tracking software that Facebook and other websites provide, you can set a weekly budget and know what you are going to get.

    Some of the more expensive forms of advertising include radio, television and newspapers. Fortunately, we've been able to establish some great partnerships with some of these channels to keep our expenses down.

    The better you get at this process, the more advanced you can get. Often, if you connect with your market in the right way, you can actually move them 2 or 3 steps through the purchase process at once.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    Event planing starts the day after

    Recently, we completed our second annual BAM Jam 3 on 3 charity basketball tournament, www.bamjamboise.com. The feedback was great and as far as we can tell, there were no major incidents. At the end of the day, it was a successful event that grew by almost 40%. Time to take a few months, recharge the batteries, worry about other things and then get ready to go on the 2010 version.

    That is exactly the wrong approach.

    I'm the first person to admit that putting on a great event takes a toll on those that host it. However, if you truly want to improve and make the event better the next time, the last thing you want to do is take time off following its completion.

    The reason you can't do this is valuable information is lost. Have you ever heard the theory that if a homicide is not solved in the first 48 hours, the chances of solving it at all go down by 50%? The reason is people forget things when its not fresh in their minds. They remember things incorrectly. The same is true with events, even sporting events.

    That's why, within a week of BAM Jam, I sit down with Clint, the other director, and we spend hours going over everything from the past year. We grind out a review of the promotions, sponsorship sales and plans, accounting procedures, the website, and the event from set up to tear down. We look at what worked, what failed, where we can improve and what we could add the next time. It's grueling. It's time consuming. And it leads to a good chunk of next year's success.

    But that isn't the end of it. After that, we sit down with all of the unit directors and do the same thing with them. We run past them new ideas and ways of doing things. They tell us what they liked, what they would change and present new ideas to us. Now we are getting close.

    Some of the most important information comes from (you guessed it) our sponsors and participants. We sit down with our sponsors and let them grade our performance. We survey our participants and see what they think. We'll even talk to the local agencies (police, fire department, downtown businesses) to get their input.

    Now we have a more complete picture of where we need to go next year. And we are only 3 weeks removed from the conclusion of this year!

    Could we do all this later when we are more rested? Of course. But you lose some valuable emotional ties to certain things. For example, we got feedback from one team about the registration process (which is a nice way of saying that one mom yelled at several of us for about an hour**). Some of this feedback, though childishly communicated, had valid points. However, if we waited a month or two before discussing the points, the edge would have worn off. It may not have seemed as significant and we could have missed something important. When it's fresh, it's harder to forget.

    **Parents, please note that I am not recommending nor am I in favor of a juvenile berating of grown adults. We prefer calm communication.

    Teams and organizations that are seasonal should consider this review as well. Hockey, football, basketball, baseball and soccer teams as well as college sports should be constantly reviewing their home games.

    Each of these examples has game operations director. Especially at the professional level, the director is writing a game script that includes entertainment, sponsor activities, music, announcements, etc. You control everything other than the players, coaches and referees. That means that every single one of these can be improved.

    When I was directing games at the Idaho Stampede, I always had an idea of how I wanted my games to unfold. I had various goals that I wanted to achieve. We would usually have a three game homestand (Wed, Fri, Sat) and then a break. I found that in between homestands was a great time to review the games...starting Saturday night around 11:00pm. Did we start the game on time? What promotions worked? How was the volume on the music and PA? Did the halftime show take too long? Could we have run the 20 second timeouts better?

    Like any event or game, you are trying to put on a great show for your spectators and participants. So start by asking them questions. One thing I would do differently is interact more with the fans and sponsors, seeking their feedback. The die hard fans will always give you their thoughts. Yet it is the quieter more casual fan that represents the majority of your crowd so find a way to hear from them.

    You can never start planning too early. If you wait, it is probably too late.

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    Opened your eyes? Now they won't close.

    Sports are just like any other business. While trying to put out the best product possible, your revenue has to be more than your expenses. Otherwise, there is no product.

    My eyes were first opened when I took the Public Relations Director position for the Idaho Stampede, then with the Continental Basketball Association (CBA). The managing investor and general manager asked me to go through the pregame set up before the season started. The lights were out, the baskets were hardly visible to shoot on and the music was so loud you could barely concentrate. They asked me what I thought. I told them it was terrible, that no player could warm up in this. Of course, they saw things from the fans' perspectives. "Vince, this isn't basketball anymore. This is entertainment."

    Before you actually work in the industry, especially when you've played the game your whole life, you don't fully grasp everything that goes on with a professional franchise, college team or even club program. As a player, you come to the games and play. As a fan, you walk into the gym or arena to support your team and hope for a good game. You don't think about the set up, the ticketing, the sponsorships surrounding the floor, the t-shirts and hats being sold and the people that are being paid to run the show. But believe me, once your eyes are opened, you'll never see anything else.


    I graduated from the University of Idaho in 2000 ready to make my mark. I took a product management job near San Francisco. My education was in electrical engineering but my passion was in marketing. And sports. And being an entrepreneur. After several attempts to return back to the Treasure Valley with a job in one of the sports franchises (Hawks, Steelheads and Stampede) it became very clear that I needed more education. Which led me to the MBA program at Georgia Tech.

    About the same time, I was invited to coach with Idaho Select Basketball, a high school non-profit program. After a summer I was hooked. I managed to stay involved with the program, even while living in Atlanta. It was a challenge but I saw the bigger picture, at least I hoped there was a bigger picture. I figured I could take my education, gain some more experience and turn Idaho Select into a full on business. I learned what I could in the classroom. And I got out into the Atlanta sports scene, attending as many Yellow Jacket, Falcons, Hawks, Braves and Thrashers games as I could. On a college budget, you sure get creative getting tickets.


    My first full time job after Tech was the PR Director for the Stampede. It was great. I made next to nothing and worked about 80 hours a week but I learned a ton. Not only did I get to see how a franchise ran from the inside, I got to see how a league was run and decisions were made up close and personal (the CBA office was located in Boise).

    The next milestone was the Stampede's move the NBA D-League. What a change! The NBA is so structured and has a policy for almost anything. But the Stampede, along with the other three teams that joined that year, were a new type of minor league franchise. Locally owned and in better touch with their fans, the NBA D-League had to re-write several policies and adjust to the gray area that existed.

    I spent the next year in charge of sales and marketing, eventually ending up as the vice-president. For the first time I got to build and manage my own staff. It meant I could track our success, try new things and apply some of the things I'd learned. It also meant doing one of the hardest things there is, firing people. But it taught me a lot about knowing your personnel, investing and working with them. In one year we were able to increase ticket sales by nearly 10% and group sales went up over 40%.


    Eventually, you have to jump out on your own and take a chance. My time came in September of 2007 when I went full time with Idaho Select. It was exciting and scary to say the least. We now had budgets to set and meet, insurance needs, websites to keep up to date and only one full time employee. Of course, we started with some great coaches which was key. And they knew other great coaches. And they knew people that knew other people.

    Somehow, we made it work. And we're still making it work. The program has grown exponentially over the last few years. We introduce new events each year and continue to improve on the current events.

    Through it all, I've seen some great things. I've worked with great people and learned from some of the best. And I continue to see the bigger picture. I just hope the picture continues to get bigger.