Why Wait To Unload?

Posted on April 21, 2014

constructive criticism1Making the case for ongoing employee feedback: good, bad or ugly.

I’m fortunate in my position as CEO within a privately held direct response company to be in a position that affords me the privilege of being candid and honest with my staff.

I communicate with no hidden agenda or the need to play games (unless you unless you consider negotiation to include restraining myself from lunging across the table and wanting to choke someone who is acting dumb…or using all the techniques I learned in Acting 101 to invoke a sincere stare at someone demonstrating their incredible sense of denial, game playing.)

I can also be candid and honest at my ripe old age by claiming the “older and wiser” card.

On another note, I firmly believe that negative events, conflicts with staff, conflicts with clients, conflicts with suppliers and even conflicts with friends and family are ALWAYS AN OPPORTUNITY TO IMPROVE and even strengthen RELATIONSHIPS…an opportunity to engage in, and not run from that which can be constructive.

Taking this position in life by turning conflict into opportunities brings me to the point of today’s post.

It strikes me as odd that those managers and others who serve as role models and mentors to others do not see opportunities day-to-day, week-to-week to provide constructive criticism and to cite improvement opportunities incrementally, so that there is NOT what I call “annual review log-jam.”

It’s unfortunate having to observe the hand wringing, the anguish, the unneeded stress of a manager who anticipates an annual review with their subordinate, that they would rather avoid . An even greater travesty is the review that may not be particularly negative, but one that may be uneventful or simply satisfactory; you know, neither bad nor incredible (much to the disappointment of the subordinate).

It’s unfortunate to see the look of shell shock from a staffer whose annual review came nowhere close to their expectation. Right?

Ugh.

People you steward and mentor need to be provided constant and ongoing feedback at every juncture, when each opportunity presents itself.

You know, that moment at the end of the day or after a tough meeting when people are closing up. Or when people are just beginning their day.

Take a couple of minutes to let them know where they may have fallen short on something or where they excelled in something.

Do it weekly, if not daily. Do it with a positive attitude…in bits and pieces…and be ready to listen and maybe question.

Little doses of good and maybe some bad…but ongoing.

So, why wait to unload?

With a constant helping hand and an eye for that quiet moment or sense of timing to engage, one can save oneself so much awkwardness and disappointment at the quarterly, bi-annual or annual review.

Most importantly, you will save yourself from surprises (dunno about you, but I hate surprises).

Ongoing input presented in a constructive way is the hallmark of a real leader/mentor. Rocking people’s worlds with shock and awe should be reserved for soldiers on the battlefield.

 

CEO, Production Solutions

CEO, Production Solutions

George Lizama, a founder of Production Solutions and its CEO and chief marketing officer, has spent over 30 years in production management. A recognized leader in the fundraising industry, George served as president of the Direct Marketing Association of Washington (DMAW) in 2010 and received its Distinguished Achievement Award in 2006. In 2008, he received a Washington Business Journal Philanthropy Award for CEO Leadership, partly in recognition of his longtime support of Northern Virginia Family Service, of which he is a director.

Thank New Donors Properly if You Want That Second Gift

Posted on April 2, 2014

EfficientVSEffective.

Roger Craver and I were talking recently about the focus on retention in his blog, The Agitator, which led me to kick this idea around with my own team here at Production Solutions. We wondered how many clients have an active acknowledgment program in place and if they do, is it focused on personalization or timing?

Roger offered to guest blog for Production Interrupted on this conundrum, in order to stimulate dialogue from my readers.

Do you find that thanking new donors immediately after they make that first gift is the impetus that leads to that second gift? Or is it the “personal touch” that makes all the difference? Read on to find out what Roger advises and then please share your thoughts and/or experiences below.

- George

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

It’s axiomatic that success in winning a second gift as soon after acquisition as possible will go a long way toward guaranteeing higher retention rates and higher lifetime value.

Unfortunately, few fundraisers understand or follow the process essential for second gift success. Here are some tips.

What you do upon receipt of the first gift will largely determine whether or not you get the second gift. This is why a prompt and proper acknowledgment and thank you process is so critically important.failure vs success

And it continues to amaze me that so many fundraisers view the task of properly thanking new donors as a “cost center.” Talk about penny wise and pound-foolish!

When it comes to acknowledging and thanking donors, an infinite amount of advice abounds in our sector. Some claim a highly personal thank you is essential. Others argue that “personal” isn’t nearly as important as getting something to the donor as quickly as possible.

In our studies, we’ve found donors themselves put a premium on timely thank yous. A slight majority define “timely” as a thank you note arriving within 48 hours, while the vast majority indicated they wanted their gift acknowledged no more than a week after it was received.

Efficiency-is-doing-things-rightA caveat on “timeliness.” Mechanical, mass-produced thank yous that go out fast are generally the norm, or so-called “best practice” in many direct response-driven organizations. The result? “Efficiency” in getting the thank yous is achieved at the expense of “effectiveness,” because timeliness in now pretty much a commodity- common denominator that no longer distinguishes one organization from another, as it once did.

To distinguish or differentiate your organization, I suggest you focus more on the “acknowledgment” aspect of the communication and all that word suggests: communicating why the gift is appreciated, why it matters and how it was put to work.

Please also remember the importance of consistency in building relationships. Your “thank you” should reflect the issue, the project and the purpose to which the donor contributed. So if you’re an environmental organization and bring in a new donor with a message about whales, don’t acknowledge that first gift with a message about the dangers of nuclear proliferation.

Because thanking donors is critical to getting that second gift and to longer-term retention, you’ll likely need to make some changes and compromises within your organization.

For example, if your policy is to have the CEO personalize and sign all the thank yous and the stack is piling up on her desk, then you’ve probably placed your bet on the wrong horse.

Strategically and operationally any organization sacrificing timeliness for personalization (and vice-versa) should change course and figure out how to do both.

Roger Craver

Roger Craver

A pioneer in direct response fundraising in the 60’s…Telemarketing in the ‘70s…Online information services in the ’80…and online fundraising in the ’90s, Roger Craver continues to press for innovation and “positive disruption” in nonprofit fundraising and advocacy.  He is a long time friend and colleague of George Lizama’s and is one of the most prudent, provocative and pragmatic thought leaders in the industry.

 

CEO, Production Solutions

George Lizama, CEO, Production Solutions

George Lizama, a founder of Production Solutions and its CEO/ Chief Marketing Officer, has spent over 30 years in production management. A recognized leader in the fundraising industry, George served as president of the Direct Marketing Association of Washington (DMAW) in 2010 and received its Distinguished Achievement Award in 2006. In 2008, he received a Washington Business Journal Philanthropy Award for CEO Leadership, partly in recognition of his longtime support of Northern Virginia Family Service, of which he is a director.

Let Me Repeat…The Name of My Blog is Production Interrupted

Posted on March 5, 2014

Direct Marketing Production Management Pioneer Reveals Why He Blogs, but Warns Not to Expect It to Be a “Tell-All” Book

Production Interrupted: I named it so, because of my 30-year background in direct response procurement and implementation and the fact that I helped build one successful fundraising agency and went on to co-found Production Solutions, a long-running master direct marketing production management firm.

Welcome to my little soap box.

Welcome to my little soap box.

All of this is to say that I felt compelled to write about my experience and thoughts regarding the direct response industry: sales, organizational development, inward and outward relationship cultivation in a “cray cray,” humorous and sometimes emotional way.

Some of my writings are about awful things (and awful bosses or people) I have experienced in the past that I want to share, in hopes of helping others to avoid said things and said personality-types.

Some of my writings are about sales and marketing inside and outside my organization where I will share tools and events that will help you to grow as a marketer, as well as help you and your company stay relevant in this ever-changing and challenging industry of direct response (thank you very much struggling USPS and the advance of the digital world!).

My blog from time to time will have a guest blogger…possibly a veteran direct response copy writer, supplier, strategist, designer, fundraiser or advertiser who can also add to the “dish” about the industry.

I hope the many readers I have right now stay on board and that I will one day have to tackle the best problem to have: a rush of new readers.

And for some of you…STOP trying to find out if some of my examples are people or work you know!

This is an op/ed, my friends – the first amendment at its best…it is my “soap box” called Production Interrupted…it is not a “tell-all” book!

Thank you for your continued interest in Production Interrupted. I love writing it…I hope you like reading it. Please, any and all feedback and candid feelings on any topics are always welcomed.

CEO, Production Solutions

CEO, Production Solutions

George Lizama, a founder of Production Solutions and its CEO and chief marketing officer, has spent over 30 years in production management. A recognized leader in the fundraising industry, George served as president of the Direct Marketing Association of Washington (DMAW) in 2010 and received its Distinguished Achievement Award in 2006. In 2008, he received a Washington Business Journal Philanthropy Award for CEO Leadership, partly in recognition of his longtime support of Northern Virginia Family Service, of which he is a director.

How Best to Groom Future Leaders in Your Organization

Posted on February 19, 2014

Professionally Speaking, ”Feed Your Head!”

As the CEO of Production Solutions/PSDigital, I continue to work at identifying and cultivating new leadership from within.

Books Feed Your Head

READ, READ, READ: Gladwell, Collins…and Lizama (this blog)!

Of course it’s the best thing for an organization to take those who show that they can “lead up,” understand the difference between tactical and strategic decisions and have cross functional experience within the company, and groom them to take over different aspects of the company.

Mining for those “jewels” from within is not easy and is not always possible, so we have to also look outwardly and recruit from outside the company.

However, when you find leaders from within, commit to providing them with the tools to succeed by investing time and money on their executive management development.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to provide formal training, in addition to on-the-job training these future leaders have received from you.  In fact, they cannot and probably will not succeed if they don’t receive SOME kind of formal training.

Without some higher and outside source of executive development, you will not foster free thinking, good communication and the ability to positively “manipulate” others. (Manipulation is not a bad word…as long as it’s positive!)

More importantly, outsourced executive development will provide that special “diamond in the rough” with the improved ability to amplify the positive aspects of your corporate culture and help them grow not only as leaders, but as thought leaders in your industry.  What you should NOT want is one to simply mimic what you have established already.  That leads to stagnation.

Along with that formal training, I believe in the need to READ for any of us aspiring to lead.

“I believe in the need to READ for any of us aspiring to lead.”

- George Lizama

READ, READ, READ…and enter the minds of great leaders with great challenges arriving at great solutions.

Good, steadfast leadership benefits greatly from experience and formal professional development, but must also have the self-awareness, the need and the self-initiative to improve upon their own abilities.

I am an advocate of reading self-help, business management and communication books with the goal of making learning a continual, lifelong process, not to mention self-education and enhancing our capacity to understand/implement new leadership perspectives and views.

Personally, I read an average of one book every ninety days.  I just finished one that I thought was a complete waste of time.  However, I arrived at that opinion AFTER reading the book.

The point is not that everything you read is going to be worthwhile…but that you are continually reading to learn what to do and, sometimes what not to do.

The point is to READ!

To me, the need to read is more important than anything other than experience when it comes to professional development.

In my opinion, you can’t get ahead if you don’t read and continually learn.  You are robbing yourself as a business person if you’re not, at least, periodically reading business advice books.

Nothing is more rewarding to me than to see staff reading first, anything, and second, if they’re reading Malcolm Gladwell or Jim Collins.

Reading on your own shows me that you have initiative, that you have a hunger to learn and that you have the confidence to learn about your strengths and weaknesses and how you might improve upon them.

So, to all my friends who are C-Level executives and middle managers out there…continue to read, continue to learn from executive coaches, encourage your staffs to professionally “feed their heads” by reading…or do what a group of PS employees recently did: form a book club around a couple of those educational books and talk them through…you’d be surprised at what you may learn from your own colleagues.

So, when is the last time you “fed your head” by reading a great management or self-help book?  What did you read?  Let me know…I’ll order it on Amazon today!

CEO, Production Solutions

CEO, Production Solutions

George Lizama, a founder of Production Solutions and its CEO and chief marketing officer, has spent over 30 years in production management. A recognized leader in the fundraising industry, George served as president of the Direct Marketing Association of Washington (DMAW) in 2010 and received its Distinguished Achievement Award in 2006. In 2008, he received a Washington Business Journal Philanthropy Award for CEO Leadership, partly in recognition of his longtime support of Northern Virginia Family Service, of which he is a director.

Does Quality Copy Still Matter?

Posted on February 5, 2014

If “content is king”…the king is dead. Long live the king!

Nonprofit marketers: don't kill the "king!"

Nonprofit marketers: don’t kill the “king!”

Fred Vallejo and I got to talking recently about the quality of direct mail nowadays.  Gone are the days where a letter might bring tears to your donors’ eyes upon reading the printed words – not just by looking at the heart-tugging photos. After hearing his thought-provoking arguments for reviving the “dead king” (a.k.a. content), I asked him to be a guest blogger for Production Interrupted this week. Fred, a seasoned direct mail wordsmith, shares with us his frustration about what is being passed off these days as compelling fundraising copy, when it is, in fact, the polar opposite.  

There was a time in the direct response business when “copy was king.”

Copywriters were admired for their ability to devise creative direct response “hooks,” write teasers so compelling that the reader had no choice but to open the envelope, and craft emotionally evocative copy that pushed the reader on, on, on to the action required.

From all indications these days, the king is dead.  And that’s a sad turn of events.

More than at any other time I can remember – and my days in the direct response world began in the 1980s – copy has been devalued and “commoditized.”  Copywriters find themselves just another vendor caught up in the ever-spinning wheel of project deadlines and production schedules. Everywhere I turn it seems that agency principals are writing copy, agency account reps are writing copy, even clients (with little or no prior experience) are writing copy.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that much of the copy hyperventilates, employs hollow scare tactics, or resorts to using ask after ask – as if a blunt instrument – to beat the reader into submission.  Forget savvy organizational positioning and quality messaging.

In many instances, copy has become utterly formulaic.  It’s writing by checklist.  Outer envelope: teaser copy of any sort … check.  Paragraph three: first, quick ask … check.  Paragraph eight: indent, bold, and formalize the “ask” … check.  P.S.: reference enclosure and repeat call to action … check.

One letter reads like the next.  The names of the organizations may change, but that’s about it. Copy fails to challenge the reader’s thinking or touch their heart.  And as for trying anything different, new, or risky – not a chance. Go without a teaser?  You must be crazy!  Leave off a P.S.?  Impossible!  Place the first ask on page four?  No one will see it or give!

And all this comes at a time when response rates have dropped, retention rates have sunk, and revenues have fallen.  Could there be a logical connection between poorer results and lackluster, paint-by-number copy?  Draw your own conclusions.

To hear agencies and clients tell it, the economics of the direct response business have become so challenging that they look to save costs at any turn – and the “creative budget” (copy and art) is an easy target, even though copy fees are lower than they were 20 years ago and despite the fact that those fees are a small percentage of the overall cost of a mailing (after factoring in paper, postage, and printing).

So let’s cut to the chase.  What makes professional copywriters worth hiring?

First, they’ve been trained in the art of copywriting – and I use the word “art” advisedly. They know when to keep the rules and when to break them to best advantage. These are gut feelings.  Judgment calls.  But they’re based on years of experience.

Second, they know which words – nouns, verbs, and adjectives/adverbs – pack the most punch and elicit the desired reaction. For example, “I think” is generally considered a statement of superficial conclusion while “I believe” indicates a more deeply held position.  As Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Third, professional copywriters know how to listen.  Sometimes I’m accused of being “quiet” on a conference call.  It’s not laziness, it’s wisdom in practice.  Talk less, listen more.  Understand the nuances of your client’s issues.  Learn about their donors and strive to understand what matters from their point of view.  By paying close attention and listening hard the writer can produce copy that not only accurately reflects an organization’s core identity but comes across as fresh, honest, and credible.

Fourth, copywriting pros know that every sentence you write must, ideally, make your reader want to read the next sentence.  The teaser is written to get the reader inside the package; that’s the one-and-only reason for a teaser.  The first sentence exists only to get the second sentence read.  The second to get the third sentence read and so on, pulling the reader through the copy, answering their objections, motivating them to take the desired action.

I don’t know that copy will ever be king again – at least not the way it once was.  Still, I  look forward to the day when so-called creative meetings no longer focus on the latest “hot” technique, gimmick, or premium but on messaging that captures and distills an organization’s unique nature, makes it relevant to today’s donor, and convinces them to say a resounding “Yes!” to that organization’s important mission.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Fred Vallejo

Fred Vallejo

For more than 25 years now, Fred Vallejo has been a nationally known, award-winning freelance direct marketing copywriter and creative consultant. Many thanks to Fred for sharing his provocative insights with Production Interrupted.

 

 

CEO, Production Solutions

CEO, Production Solutions

George Lizama, a founder of Production Solutions and its CEO/ Chief Marketing Officer, has spent over 30 years in production management. A recognized leader in the fundraising industry, George served as president of the Direct Marketing Association of Washington (DMAW) in 2010 and received its Distinguished Achievement Award in 2006. In 2008, he received a Washington Business Journal Philanthropy Award for CEO Leadership, partly in recognition of his longtime support of Northern Virginia Family Service, of which he is a director.