Every other week or so, I facilitate a conference call with Senior VP-level folks at seven big financial-services companies who are serious competitors. The task is generally unremarkable. But every once in awhile, I get a brief nice note like this (even if a little over-stated). From this no-nonsense crowd, it’s probably no small praise. I pause and indulge feeling good for a second. Then I get back to work. (Names removed to protect privacy.)
Summit Daily, the great and high-energy news outlet of the mountain community where Kinkennon Communications (KC) is now “headquartered,” just did a story focuses on some of my closely held professional / personal philosophies. In that way, it’s certainly revealing. Check it out.
This is kind of fun. A blog for entrepreneurial CEOs called “CEO Blog Nation” included me in a new little feature called “Experienced marketing warriors and entrepreneurs give tips on how they make a dent.” Check it out.
A colleague recently encouraged me to answer a question posed by CEO Blog Nation: “How do you market your business?.” My initial reaction was to take a pass, not sure I had much if anything interesting to say. But I forced myself to take a cut. And wouldn’t you know, I’m doing a little more marketing of Kinkennon Communications than I thought, in my own little way.
Here’s what I came up with:
“The primary market for my boutique national communications-strategy consultancy is people who I already know – former clients and coworkers from back when we were in our 20s at daily happy hours. Today they have gone on to be VPs and presidents of things. I stay in touch directly and personally, dropping into cities here and there to meet for coffee, drinks and dinner. But really, it’s social media channels – my personal and company Facebook timelines and corporate blog, for instance – where the “marketing” of Kinkennon Communications happens. There, by being personal, purposeful and authentic, I remind these folks of my shop’s values – being quirky, being creative, being energetic, working with great people, and working on important things. It’s resulted in a brand with a fairly distinct identity in this niche marketplace. But at the end of the day, my company’s best marketing is the fact that we do fantastic work. The referrals almost take care of themselves.”
A great and quirky drama is unfolding on Independence Ave in Washington. Starting today, there is no more fried food in the cafeterias of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) building. It’s a great little parable about the pain of putting our money where our mouth is. See the article in today’s Washington Post.
USDA oversees the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Most of us associate that with the “food pyramid,” which is now the “My Plate.” The agency decided last year that as long as fried catfish is one of the most popular items on its cafeteria menus, being nutrition nanny number one could be tough. The result? The organization’s two main cafeterias, which serve more than 40,000 people per month, opened their doors this morning with no more deep fryers, gone for good.
It’s great when organizations don’t merely talk, but actually do. That principle is perhaps Kinkennon Communications’ most common refrain when talking to new clients. Kudos, USDA! We are an obese nation, and it’s costing us a gazillion dollars. The primary stewards of America’s dietary standards should be walking the talk.
But the fun of this story is the reveal of just how tough “getting right” can be. The contractor that operates the USDA cafeterias specializes in Asian fusion. Its chefs are grappling with how to reengineer its traditionally deep-fried dishes. Executives worry that cafeteria patrons will simply seek out their fried fix elsewhere, resulting in loss of revenue. And some employees are just plain grumbling. They might argue the benefits of simply having a choice.
The American Dietetic Association says there is no such thing as bad foods. There are only bad choices. To me, altogether removing deep fryers definitely says bad foods. I get and celebrate the move. At the same time, the thought of disappearing fried catfish pains my southern genes. Will USDA employees ultimately get on board in recognition of the role that USDA plays in the world? Or will they succumb to a less noble calling, the sizzle of potatoes frying to a golden crisp?
Around our house, we eat healthily. But you can be sure that every few weeks, the cast iron pot comes out, gets filled with peanut oil, and … well, you know …
Back in the year 2000, a new coworker for me at the time, who is the best salesperson I know, explained to me in a mentorship fashion (and I paraphrase):
A great sales guy can sit in a meeting full of people and quickly identify the power structure in the room. Often, it has nothing to do with titles and the organizational chart. It has to do with figuring out who’s actually influential, who’s persuasive related to the topic on the table, and who can really make something happen.
On Facebook recently, that same friend — the wonderful Carla Harmon — drew my attention to a fascinating article about the way in which body language fundamentally shapes who we are and how we are perceived.
To be influential, the piece argues, some of us need to be very purposeful about utilizing our body language to project strength and competence – even if we’re in a room alone. According to a study, practicing “dominant” body language (chin lifted, elbows out, posture expansive) for a mere 120 seconds a day is enough to spark a 20 percent increase in testosterone and a 25 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. “Adopting these postures makes a person feel more powerful,” social psychologist Amy Cuddy explains in a Ted Talk on the topic.
But don’t get carried away. Cuddy cautions that aspiring leaders often make a mistake, which is trying too hard to demonstrate competence and power, which comes at the expense of demonstrating warmth. “Too many people try to be the smartest guy in the room — the alpha,” she writes. “And that’s not actually how you become persuasive or become a good leader. It’s a mistake. People judge trustworthiness before competence.”
Instantly, I thought of the insight Carla Harmon provided me years ago. Some people are really great at figuring out the informal power structure in a room. I’ve chalked that up to intuition. But maybe Cuddy’s work provides a more scientific explanation: they’re simply responding to body language.
More importantly, I love the lesson that Cuddy offers: projecting strength and competence will actually make us feel better and more in charge, and that’s good. But if we really want to be influential, assuming we can project a basic level of strength and competence, projecting warmth and trustworthiness is the way to go.
The view from Kinkennon Communications’ new digs is quite nice. And the second photo is me just above the trailhead that’s around the block.
A recent days, backpackers scored a whopping 50 percent better on a creativity test. How handy for people who rely on creativity to get their work done.
So I’m pretty thrilled about our new place, my fantastic new home office, and our amazing surroundings. Maybe I’ll hit the trail for a few minutes during lunch …
It’s tough for me to grasp the idea of anyone other than a brave PR person in charge of social media management. In the nonprofit, trade association, issue advocacy realms, social media engagement often wouldn’t happen AT ALL if it weren’t for some poor communications person cheerleading for it.
Yet I see posts like this one regularly, and they’re always interesting. At big companies and other large organizations, responsibility for social media management doesn’t automatically fall on PR. This particular post makes a great case for why, of course, it should. Communications people should be ultimately accountable for their organizations’ social media presence, collaborating across the organization with areas like marketing and customer service.
On the note of customer service, there are some great examples out there of big consumer brands that are treating social media like the customer-service outlet that it is. But to me, the strategy is nonetheless clearly owned by PR. You bitch about Product X on Twitter, the company’s customer-service monitoring picks up your rant and helps you directly, essentially heading you off at the pass before you do more public damage.
A few years ago, I posted this somewhat petulant rant as my elderly mom sat trapped at an airport. About 15 minutes after I highlighted the post to my 1,500 or so Twitter followers, an American Airlines gate agent sought out my mom in her chair and quietly upgraded her to first class. Great if reactionary customer service. Even better PR – it did in fact shut me up.
A couple of months ago, my partner Dennis and I quietly put in motion a plan we’ve been considering for some time. That plan will culminate at the end of next week when we move out of our house in Denver to the town of Dillon.
Dillon is about 1.5 hours west of Denver. It’s in Summit County, home to some of Colorado’s top winter resorts. It has a bustling economy. And it’s an outdoor person’s dream. Nearby will be the paved path that circumnavigates Lake Dillon; the bus stop for the shuttle to Keystone, Breckenridge, and (my favorite!!) A-Basin; and trailheads for mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. Of course, what will be most interesting to friends, family, and colleagues is that there will be ample crash space at the new pad.
I can run Kinkennon Communications (KC) from pretty much anywhere, and Dennis can do his corporate job from pretty much anywhere. So we’re taking advantage of the flexibility and going someplace that’s not far but pretty amazing.
I’ll still make my appearances in Denver and DC – it’ll be a straight shot for me to both downtown Denver and DIA. Of course, I learned long ago that no one cares where I am. More recently, I figured out that the more fun I have, the better KC seems to do.
Coincidentally, the move will come at the same time that I’m winding down some pro bono commitments. (Some, but not all. I’ll still be involved in my little trail-advocacy and economic-development campaign in Bailey, CO.) More time for KC, and more time for fun! I’ve never been more enthusiastic about what’s in store for my consulting shop or our family-and-friends life.
Stay tuned for occasional updates on our new perspective from where the air is thin and clear. We decided: we only live once. Let’s get to it.