Most businesses have way too many meetings. They last too long. They have too many participants. And they are held in conference rooms with chairs that are too comfortable. Too often our days are defined by these meetings, rather than by the stretches of non-meetingness when the real work gets done.
If you want to solve this problem in your organization, watch more NASCAR. Scratch that. Find yourself a NASCAR Pit Crew Meeting Mentor. In a NASCAR race, the goal is to get to the finish line before anyone else. The more time a driver spends driving the car as fast as he or she can, the better. Calling the driver to a meeting during a race sounds crazy, right? But that’s exactly what happens.
In every NASCAR race, the driver will pull into the pits, and a company meeting breaks out. Attendees typically include the driver, the Gas Man (#snickering), The Jack Man, A couple of Tire Jockeys, and maybe someone to extend some fresh beef jerky to the driver. If you watch a full race you’ll pick up on a few key meeting tips that you can put to work in your place of business.
5 Meeting Tips You Can Learn From A NASCAR Pit Crew.
Go into each meeting with a clear, concise agenda. If you don’t have a clear agenda, clear the meeting off your schedule.
Only invite critical team members. Which means Barney from accounting will be invited to as many meetings this year as he was invited to parties in college.
Meet as quickly as possible and get out. Time your meetings with a stopwatch, not an hourglass.
Meet as infrequently as possible. The more time you spend working alone the better. Just like that business trip when you forgot your deodorant.
The longest team meetings should be in the winner’s circle. And everyone should be wearing confetti and a fizzy beverage.
Meetings are occasionally necessary. When they are, think like a pit crew. Plan the meeting ahead of time. Know how many people need to jump over the wall, and how many tires they should bring. Always make the meetings short and sweet. It’s the best way to ensure you and your team will accomplish more of your long-term goals.
In 2015 I decided to launch a new advertising agency. I already had a vivid image of the agency in my head. So I began mapping, sketching and listing every detail of the company. I considered the business from every angle. I even created a Life Stage chart of the yet unborn business. It was like What to Expect When You Are Expecting. Except I was expecting a bouncing baby business.
The Elevator Pitch
However, there was one detail that start-ups typically obsess over that I skipped entirely: the Elevator Pitch. It is supposed to be the centerpiece of a startup’s marketing efforts. If you’ve never heard of an elevator pitch, the idea is that you have to summarize the essence of who you are, and what you do, in a short statement that you could deliver to a captive hostage on a brief elevator ride. Apparently, lots of entrepreneurs stalk high-powered executives on elevators, thinking it would be a great strategy for winning their affection.
I’m not buying it.
I hate the whole concept of the elevator pitch. I think it is the most overrated, over-discussed element of salesmanship. And entrepreneurship. And elevatorship.
Sure, it is important to be able to succinctly talk about your business. Your Great Aunt Petunia doesn’t have enough time left on Earth to waste it on your full story. But I have never bought anything or hired anyone because of a brief discussion I had on an elevator, escalator or Wonk-avator.
In fact, I have been in business for two years. And not once have I found myself in an elevator with someone who told me I had 10 floors of verticality to perform the sales pitch of a lifetime.
Instead of scripting and performing an elevator monologue to an audience that never shows up, which feels a little like writing an acceptance speech for an award you didn’t win, I take the opposite approach.
The Quiet Game
I play the quiet game. You know, it’s that game where you see how long you can go without talking. I was terrible at the Quiet Game as a child. Scratch that. I was the Cleveland Browns of The Quiet Game. But today, as an entrepreneur, I am quite good at it. When I meet a marketer, I don’t whip out a polished sales pitch and throw it at her. Instead, I listen.
I want to hear what potential clients talk about. I want to hear what challenges they are facing. I want to know where their pain points are. I want to identify their greatest unmet needs. I continue to grow and transform The Weaponry in response to the unmet needs of our clients. Because we are focused on solving client problems, we grow in the direction that our clients’ needs dictate.
If you want to collect more great clients and grow your business, don’t practice your elevator pitch. Practice listening. Play detective. Or doctor. Listen for the discomfort, the bottlenecks, and the solution-less problems your clients and potential clients are facing. Discover their unmet needs. And you’ll have found your next opportunity.
*If you found anything of value in this post, please consider subscribing to this blog. You’ll receive two fresh-baked posts via email each week. Oh, and you may also dig this post I wrote about My Vanilla Ice Philosophy. Vanilla Ice himself liked it. And Tweeted it. And hung it above his bed (ok, that very last part might not be true).
The best part of business is the people. I didn’t know that when I started my career. But over the past two decades I have discovered that businesses aren’t just powerful economic engines. They are the primary source of social interactions among adults. The workplace is dramatically undervalued as a matchmaker of friends, mentors, collaborators and life partners. In fact, I met my wife, Dawn, at work.
On Mother’s Day I got a shocking text from my close friend, Jennifer Hanley, whom I first met when she became a client of mine in 2008. She had bad news. My friend and former client, Steven Schreibman, had passed away the day before. This was totally unexpected. He recently began experiencing severe headaches. Then, on May 7th, he suffered a fall that resulted in a brain injury. He never regained consciousness.
I am truly blessed to have known Steven. But we would have never met had it not been for business. Steven was a fancy pants marketing lead at Nationwide Insurance. I was the creative lead at one of Nationwide’s advertising agencies. And we became fast friends.
Steven’s reputation preceded him. My coworkers would come back from meetings with Nationwide telling stories of this wild, rogue client. I couldn’t wait to meet this mythical marketing creature.
He didn’t disappoint. In fact, Steven Schreibman was such a fantastic character, that even though I am only halfway through my advertising career expectancy, I am declaring that I will never encounter another client or coworker that is more spectacularly unique than Steven.
Today I am reflecting on Steven’s impact on my life. My last 10 years have been much more flavorful thanks to Steven. Here are four of the many things I will never forget about him.
The Steven Schreibman Top 4 List.
1. His Laugh
I love to laugh. But Steven’s laugh made me look like the farmer in American Gothic. His laugh felt like the essence of life itself. His laugh was big and loud, like an alarm. And it never contained an ounce of restraint. Nor did it adhere to any social norms. I would have loved to have gone to church or synagogue or a library with Steven just to see if he could actually put a lid on his impulse to laugh without a hint of inhibition at the hilarity of the world. We should all live and laugh like that.
2. He cared.
Steven engaged with people as if he were a talk show host. Which is probably the job he should have had. In fact, I hope he gets that gig in Heaven. Because me and St. Peter would watch the Steven Schreibman Show every night.
Steven always showed a genuine interest in my life. He was full of questions and remembered everything I ever told him. When we first began working together, my family was small and growing. I have three blonde haired, blue-eyed kids named Ava, Johann and Magnus. Steven would always ask me, ‘How is your little Aryan race coming along?’ I laugh out loud when I think about how completely inappropriate he was, even as he demonstrated how much he cared about me and my family.
3. He Was Eternally Optimistic
Steven was a great client to present creative ideas to, because he recognized the potential in every idea. This is an extremely rare and valuable skill. Everything was Fabulous and Brilliant and Amazing. He loved pushing each idea to see how far it could go. He loved making things bigger, wilder and more attention-getting. He loved making ideas more memorable, and less like everything else. He could have taught a class on getting the most value out of a creative idea. He also could have been the class clown in that very same course.
4. He Was Entertaining
Steven was outlandish, and over-the-top, all of the time. His personality was completely incongruent with that of a large, conservative insurance company. But Steven reveled in being the pot stirrer. He understood his role as the person who could balance out a conservative corporate culture with his total irreverence for all things conservative.
The Master of Shock Value
We should all have a friend who is as endlessly entertaining as Steven was. He was so funny, and so outlandishly unpredictable, that you just wanted to be around him to see and hear what he would do next. There were no ordinary conversations with Steven. I think it would have been a violation of his personal brand to give you a straight answer. Every conversation with Steven was like a box of Cracker Jacks. And I looked forward to the joke, the surprise, or the shocking commentary that was tucked into every exchange.
My First Impression
I first met Steven on a Nationwide commercial shoot, on a 100 degree day in North Carolina. His face was lathered in sunscreen that was barely rubbed in. Which meant that he looked ridiculous. And he loved it. He kept asking if there was something on his face, and he acted oblivious to the white creamy mess he wore like Halloween makeup, just to get a reaction.
The Shirt Incident
One of my favorite Steven memories was from his birthday in 2009. We had a meeting together, and I wore a wild paisley shirt. When the SS waltzed into the meeting he was wearing the exact same shirt! When he spotted me wearing his birthday shirt, his jaw dropped, and he exclaimed, ‘Oh. My. Gawd! We HAVE to sit next to each other!!!!’ So we did. The rest of the meeting felt like a Saturday Night Live skit. It was all just too ridiculous to take anything seriously. As I think about Steven now, I immediate go back to that meeting. We looked like twin clowns. And we loved every minute of it.
Steven was the most engaged reader of this blog. Literally. The insights page on The Perfect Agency Project show that he has provided the most comments on this blog, by far. In fact, Steven has 33% more comments than the next most prolific commenter. This blog will miss him.
I love characters. And Steven was one of the greatest characters I’ve ever known. My conversations with Steven were more provocative and entertaining than the Howard Stern show. Always hilarious. Always inappropriate. And never a bit predictable.
Steven was indeed larger than life. And to those of us whose lives he touched, he is larger than death. Nothing can undo the impact you’ve had on all of us Steven. We will miss you greatly. I can’t wait to hear your laugh again on the other side.
*If you know a friend or family member of Steven’s, please consider sharing this post with them.
I’m heading to the office today. I was there yesterday. And I’ll be there tomorrow too. While this might not seem significant to you, it is to me. This marks the first time since I partied like Prince that I have gone to an office between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
Before I launched my own business I worked at an adverting agency that shut down during this span. Before that, I saved my vacation days to enjoy the entire holiday week off. Before that was 1999, the last year I was in the office. Back then I was worried about the havoc Y2K was going to wreak on my Blockbuster account.
I couldn’t be happier about going to work today. Don’t get me wrong. I love my family and spending time with Dawn (my wife partner) and 3 children. But I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, because I thought it would be the best way to ensure stability for my family. Today, The Weaponry is extremely busy. And I have things to take care of.
This week I have three precious days to focus on The Weaponry’s past, present and future.
We are busy tying a giant red bow on 2017. It looks like we will double our revenue from 2016. But we have financial matters to complete before we arrive at the final numbers. This week we have invoices to send and expenses to expense. We are also investing more in infrastructure before the close of the year. On our shopping list:
Large TV/monitor for our conference room
6 high stools for our recently ordered 48-inch x 96-inch high-top conference room table (it is red!)
Giant signs for 2 walls.
A new printer/copier/fax machine/ smoke signal sender/ Carrier Pigeon launcher
We are very fortunate to have a lot of work going through the agency right now. In fact, we will have four client presentations in the first week of 2018. Here’s a glimpse of what we are working on:
A major website redesign that will launch in early February
Several ads for various print campaigns
Ads for a Facebook paid media campaign
2 completely new brand logos
A new brand name for a client (following a series of major acquisitions)
A brand repositioning project
A fun t-shirt design for a client that we just sent to the screen printer
A choreographed new business dance routine spectacular that we will perform in every new business meeting in 2018 (If you want to see it just invite us to come talk)
While our clients are enjoying a well deserved break, we are stealing some time to finish painting our office. Yesterday we finished painting another individual office. We finished painting our hallway, and started on our conference room. Today we plan to finish the conference room and then hang up the rollers and brushes until we expand into more space.
We are busy preparing for 2018. This is an extremely exciting time for us. Starting on January 1st, The Weaponry will be providing health and dental insurance to full-time employees. I am extremely proud of this milestone and will share more about finding insurance in a future post. We are also considering adding a couple of new people to our team. We are exploring office options for our employees who live outside Milwaukee (specifically in Columbus and Atlanta). I feel very fortunate to have to deal with such issues.
I sincerely appreciate you following this journey by reading The Perfect Agency Project. The readership of this blog doubled from 2015 to 2016. And it doubled again in 2017 thanks to readers like you. To make sure you never miss an update please subscribe to receive each post via email. I’ll even spring for the postage.
Have you heard of the Google? If your answer is yes, then you know that they are one of the smartest, most progressive companies on Google Earth. If you’ve never heard of them I strongly encourage you to google them. I’ll wait while you do.
I’ve been so impressed by this organization that I’ve recently read several books written by a gaggle of Googlers. Including How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg. These cats who run Google have some pretty good ideas. So I’ve stolen them. (Actually, I think they wanted me to steal them. Because they wrote a book about them. Which makes them open-source ideas, right?)
3 Ideas I stole from Google
1. Hire Smart Creatives:
Smart Creatives are people with smart, curious minds. They are dreamers and doers. They are self-propelled. They are constantly coming up with great ideas and acting on them, with or without you. They have lots of interests. And they are hard to find.
When you find a Smart Creative, grab him or her by the intellect, and don’t let go. At my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry this is exactly who we hire. I’m proud to say we are dense with these types. But Smart Creatives are not just found in creative fields. They are in every industry and every category. Find them and they will transform your organization.
2. Keep your people crowded:
Most companies give their people too much space. Business space is like personal space, but at work. We mistakenly think the more business space you have the better. Organizations reward employees with more space as they become more valuable. Because the bigger the office the better, right? Google says no.
When you give your people lots of space the only time they interact with each other is in meetings and in the hallway. Google recommends keeping people close to each other so that interacting and sharing ideas is the norm, not the exception. At The Weaponry we are crowding our people together. It helps us rapidly share and build ideas. It helps build culture and camaraderie. It’s also great for sing-alongs. And I love a good sing-along.
3. Spend 80% of your time on 80% of your revenue:
Google stole this mantra from a guy named Bill Gates. The founder of Microsoft obviously knows something about macro-thinking. After all, he is the richest man in the Seattle metro area. The reason to use this 80-80 rule is that it is easy to get distracted by new ventures, experiments and pet projects.
New things are always fun and exciting. But you have to stay focused on the work that keeps the wi-fi on. This has been especially valuable advice to The Weaponry lately. We have recently moved into new office space. And it is really easy to find cool projects to work on in the new space. But we have reminded ourselves to budget the time we spend on the space according to the 80-80 rule.
How you work
There are a lot of other great ideas in How Google Works. But I’d like to hear from you. What is one thing that you do in your organization that you know contributes to your success?
*If you are in the market for more semi-stolen ideas please consider subscribing to this blog.
Since I was in college I have heard career-minded folk talk about the importance of networking. Which begs the question, What the fruit is networking? Because before college I didn’t network, and I seem to have gotten along just fine.
But starting my freshman year in college, professors, advisors and guest speakers talked about networking as if it twas the key to success beyond college (twas is a word you can only use in December). Then I started my career in advertising and I heard the same thing. Business books and career coaches strongly encourage you to network. I have even attended a few functions called networking events. Oy.
So what the funk does it means to network?
Oh looky here! I found a definition.
Network (verb): interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career.
Ahh. When you put it that way, I understand what you mean. And it kinda makes me want to barf. ‘Interacting with people‘, ‘exchanging information’ and ‘developing contacts’ is something that can be done by a machine. Or a criminal.
What I do.
While other people network, I am still doing what I did before college. Before I was told that networking was the key to advancing my career. Before I was told networking was crucial to successful entrepreneurship.
No. I don’t network.
What does that mean? Well, I just happen to have the definition for you right here:
Befriend (verb): act as a friend to someone by offering help or support.
This is what I do. I learned how to do this when I was in pre-school and it has served me well my entire life. Notice the keys to befriending? You act as a friend. You offer help and support. This is the good stuff. This is what other people really want. This is how you improve life on the big blue marble.
When you dive into the synonyms of befriending you develop an even richer picture:
make friends with
make a friend of
keep an eye on
be of service to
lend a helping hand to
The Take Away
The world would be a better place if we stopped trying to network, and we just tried to make friends. So I encourage you to develop real relationships. Because when you make people the most important thing in your life, everything else magically falls into place. Our relationships, and the positive impact we have on one another, are the only things that really matter. It is true at home. It is true in pre-school. It is true in college. And it is true in business. So if you really want to be a great success, be a great friend. If there is any way I can help, please let me know.
I am not a control freak. I believe there is more than one way to skin a cat. Although most cats I have met strongly prefer not to be skinned at all. I like to hire good people and let them do their jobs. I am very comfortable delegating responsibility. With one notable exception.
When it comes to business travel I become a micromanager. You will never find me handing over my travel planning to an assistant or simply booking what everyone else is booking. Because when I travel for work I always have a hidden agenda… (cue the sinister music).
As the Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, my first priority on every business trip is to take care of business. I call this my Bachman-Turner Overdrive Philosophy. I want to arrive with plenty of time to prepare for the meeting or the shoot, or whatever I’m travel to do. And I build in enough time for a travel backup plan in case anything goes wrong.
But once the work plan is set I always turn my attention to my hidden agenda. It’s not finding great restaurants or a fancy hotel or seeing a great show.
My People Plan
When I travel for work I always think about the people I can see. Business trips offer us all a chance to keep in touch or reconnect with friends and family. I take advantage of this every chance I get. You should too.
The moment I know I need to travel I start working on my people plan. I study the location I am traveling. I look at a map to see who I know within a reasonable radius of my business.
Then I build my itinerary.
The 3 Parts To My People-Seeing Travel Plans.
Flight: I look at flight options that will get me in early enough and allow me to leave late enough to see my people. Often I will take the last flight home on any given day to help open my schedule and improve my odds of connecting.
Lodging: My lodging is always an important part of my plan. I book hotels that make it easy to see my people. This is either because the lodging is centrally located, or because it is in the middle of a pod of my peeps. However, sometimes the lodging is not a hotel at all. I stay with friends or family members whenever they offer to host me. This allows for the best people experience of all.
Car Unless I am staying in Manhattan or a similar car-unfriendly location I rent a car from Hertz. That’s because Hertz has the best cars, the best service and the best loyalty program. A rental car gives me the most flexibility to see my people. And it gives me the greatest people-seeing range. If I am ambitious, which I usually am, a rental car enables me see several people, over a large area, for a fixed price. This is a major advantage that rental cars have over a ride sharing service.
A Recent Example
Last Thursday The Weaponry conducted an all-day branding workshop with a client in Minneapolis. I scheduled a flight that landed in Minneapolis at 5pm on Wednesday afternoon. I picked up my rental car, then Jeanne, our amazing account director and I picked up two of our clients and went to a really enjoyable dinner. (Side note: One of those clients was a friend before she was a client. And the last time I had seen her was on a people-seeing side trip in Atlanta earlier this year.)
Then I dropped off Jeanne and the clients at their hotels before heading to my sister Heather’s house for the night. There I got to see Heather, her husband John, my nephew Addison, and nieces Rebekkah and Rachael.
Thursday was the branding workshop. It was great. Productive, insightful and fun.
Thursday evening I had dinner with Heather’s family at one of our favorite restaurants.
Then I met my friend Tom Burger for after-dinner lemonades. Tom and I were college roommates and track teammates at the University of Wisconsin. It was really great catching up on family, friends and careers.
Friday morning was special. I got up early and drove 70 miles west of Minneapolis to Hutchinson, Minnesota. I went to surprise my 98-year-old Grandma Albrecht. And boy was she surprised. Which made me think that surprises and 98-year-olds may not be a healthy mix.
It had been too long since I saw Grandma. It was a real gift to be able to spend a couple of hours alone with her. This was all the more special because I lost my other grandmother, Grammy Sprau, two months ago at 100 years old.
Then I drove back to Minneapolis and met my friend Mark Setterholm at his production company, Drive Thru. Mark and I had worked together on a fun Ski-Doo project many years ago and have kept in touch ever since. I got to see his latest office space, I reconnected with members of his team, and met new DriveThruvians. Mark and I had lunch, we updated each other on our latest work developments and talked about life in general. It was great.
Then I headed to the airport and home.
In the past two months alone I have had three business trips just like this. All of them were greatly enhanced with friends and family time. By integrating my work and personal life I am able to get the most out of both.
LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram offer us a great way to stay in touch with our friends, family, and business associates. But it is not the same as seeing your people in real life. Take advantage of the opportunities to grow, maintain, rekindle or develop relationships while you are away from home. You’ll be glad you did. Life is short. And nothing matters more than our relationships.