Thursday, November 5, 2015

Open the bag – Get ready to make a sale

I recently attended the 87th Bi-Annual Book & Author Luncheon in Livonia, MI. I expected it to provide networking opportunities as well as a chance to meet some really cool authors: Bonnie Jo Campbell, Jason Gay, John Katzenbach, David Maraniss and Lily Tuck.

When I walked into the reception room with elegant, cloth-clad tables with coffee, tea and some nibbles, I realized that I was one of the younger ones there. And the group was 90 percent women. I recognized that this multitude of retired women would not be a good networking group – so I disabused myself of that notion.

I did have a pleasant chat with two women who were sitting next to me along a wall lined with chairs. They had been to nearly all of the book and author luncheons in the last 10 to 15 years. They asked what author I had come to see. I mentioned David Maraniss, who wrote “Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story” and Jason Gay, author of “Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living.” I believe they mentioned Lily Tuck as their favorite.

The vast reception room had eight tables set up in a square pattern with two tables on each side. In the center were displays and boxes of books that the authors had written. If you couldn't make a sale here, chances are your book didn't have much of a chance. I had not come intending to buy a book; isn't that what libraries are for? However, when I approached one of the booksellers tables, manned by matronly females and avid book lovers, I was drawn in.

I thought, let me see if any of these are worth buying. As I picked up a book, an 80-year-old woman on the seller's side picked up a purple bag and waited. I fingered through the “Little Victories” book, but stopped myself, knowing that I'm a sucker for these types of books that aren't really a story but more of a compilation of tips for living a good life. Been there. Read that. My life is pretty darn good.

When turning the pages of David's book, I recalled the interviews and reviews that I had read. This seemed like the genuine article – while it wasn't Osh Kosh, it did focus on a period of time in Detroit's history in which Motown, the Civil Rights Movement and a thriving auto industry were at their peak. The contents of the book was intriguing. As I perused the book, the matronly woman holding the purple bag started to open the bag. Consciously or subconsciously, that act – opening the purple bag in anticipation of selling a book – actually triggered me to buy the book.

As a bonus, I got my book signed by David after the luncheon, with the inscription: “To Liz, A fellow Detroiter!”

The event was handled with panache. I was impressed by how much these book-lover book sellers want others to share in the joy of a good book, and also help the author earn money for a craft they do so well.

The lesson this event teaches is that to be a good marketer/seller, you must be eager for the sale. Open the bag - whether it's purple, black, blue or clear - it's only a metaphor. Be patient...let the buyer check out the goods. Explain the product if you are asked. Get excited about selling the item to the buyer – not just for the money taken in but also for the joy of the exchange. In this case, the bookseller gets some green and the buyer gets the goods – all the research, creativity, knowledge and editing that went into writing the book. Selling goods that the buyer desires is the real treasure – no matter what business you are in.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

ArtPrize gets it right

"Intersections" by Anila Quayyum Aghawon
won the people's vote and split the juried vote.
(Ignore the purple light - that was an inartistic
side effect of the camera flash.)
This was the sixth year that I’ve been to Art Prize in Grand Rapids. Artists from around the world enter their artwork for a chance to win the $200,000 top prize voted on by the public. In total, about 1,500 are accepted into the event and hundreds of thousands of people walk the city to see this fantastic array of art: from steel structures of beasts to intricate woodcarvings and plant-based artwork.
With each year of this masterful exhibit, the “way finding” gets easier. It’s not just because I’ve been there before, it’s also because the printed maps of the exhibits are getting better.
Isn’t it amazing how good organization can make a special event even more special? It’s easier to find the works of art. There is less getting lost or wandering to places where not much is showing. With about 15 miles worth of walking to see the whole show, it is extremely helpful to know where you are going with an idea of what you will see.
One of the best maps this year was a two-sided piece that showed the top 20 artworks on the front with a key of where each was located. It helped that some of the larger buildings hosted more than one “top 20.” While I wish that I had produced that map with my graphic design team, I know that it took brainstorming and many renditions to get it right.
What this good organization meant to me is that my friend and I saw nearly the entire top 20 in about four hours – a long afternoon. In the past, another friend and I wandered around trying to find the top artwork as we consulted a map that was far less graphic and detailed.
I am an organized person. There were times when I thought that being organized was boring. Wouldn’t it be more exciting to shake things up and try to find things as if one were in a road rally? Not really. Being organized makes things run smoother.

Good organization for printed materials and websites can mean a tremendous difference in the user experience. Being able to find things easily and drill down into the subsets of an item take you where you want to go – seemingly effortlessly. That’s because all of the effort was put in at the front-end to keep things flowing smoothly and easy to find for the user.
Think about that the next time you are tasked with a big, audacious, voluminous job – whether it’s a website, a report, an info-graphic, or a map. Breaking it down into an organized fashion can be done with some fairly easy grouping measures.
Here are 5 ways to produce an organized, effective marketing piece for print or websites:
1. Color-code groups of similar items or locations, so users can see them at a glance.
2. Group related items together – e.g. indoor art on one side of the flier and outdoor art on the other (this was done on an ArtPrize postcard that served as a guide)
3. Don’t just bullet-point items, number them. Remember how easy it is to order from a Chinese menu when you can say, “I’ll have #22.”
4. Drill down. Have an umbrella term for an item and group related items in that category. For example, when I work on a project, I’ve got individual electronic folders for background information, interviews, drafts and final copy – all tucked into a master folder with the name of the project. Use this tactic for website subheads.
5. Be intuitive where you place items in print or in a website. Just like you might hang a key hook by your back door, it helps to put items where people typically look for them. If you’ve got a detailed file on one page with symbols linked to a key, don’t make readers turn the page to find the key. Group them together, so it’s a simple glance up and down on the page. Think of road maps and how the legend is on the same side as the map.

What are your tricks for staying organized in print, websites or online projects? Another item to think about – can you recall an event that you attended that was easy to navigate due to the signage, graphics or way-finding maps or fliers? (Think zoos, museums, parks and concerts.) And lastly, if you attended ArtPrize, what did you enjoy most about it?

Photos by Liz Cezat. Art by some amazingly talented artists.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Enjoy the wealth of making a connection

Making connections comes naturally for people who belong to Toastmasters,
including Ray Metz and Harold Vroman. Photo by Liz Cezat.

One of the most pleasing aspects of life is to make a genuine connection with the people around you. No matter what your circumstances – rich, poor, sick, healthy, young, old or middle-aged – if you can relate to people in a humane and compassionate manner, you are golden and so are the people you come in contact with.
The connections go beyond words; they encompass actions and attitudes. It could be an 80-year-old grandmother, whose eyes crinkle with delight when you tell her how pretty she looks in her pink sweater. Or an infant just 8 days old, whose tiny fingers grasp yours as you bend down close and gaze into her eyes. It could be a janitor at a shopping mall who is listening to a Tigers’ game that prompts you to comment about the team’s winning streak – bringing a wide smile to his face. It could be an agency intern doing on-site work at your corporate location who appears to lack confidence; yet when you tell her that you appreciate her efforts, there’s a glow of delighted surprise on her face as she stands up taller.
My grand daughter Ellie being held for the
first time by fellow grand parent Mike Schultz.
Photo by Liz Cezat.

These are small interactions yet they allow us the opportunity to practice kindness and courtesy, and show genuine love for each other.
Take a moment to really interact with people in your life. Not just family and friends, but strangers – people who seemingly are totally different than you. I think you will find that when you reach out and touch someone: with kind words, holding a door open for them to pass through, or simply smiling, you will find real treasure.
Give it a try and report back on your experience. Don’t let shyness or being introverted stop you – seek to make a connection with real people today and every day.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Would you like some art with your message?

Maybe it’s the art lover in me, but I respond much better to a message or article when accompanied by a graphic image or photograph. The interplay between words and images is a compelling combination. Each reinforces the other.

Graphics and photos add dazzle and depth to brochures. They make marketing postcards pop. Photos especially bring a story to life in annual reports. Graphics on websites underscore the intent and draw the reader in. It’s an immersive experience. Imagine you are walking into a forest. You see the trees (the copy) yet you also see the canopy (the art that frames the message).

Recently, I saw a special exhibit at the National Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. It was by Andrew Wyeth, an American artist (1917-2009) whom I wasn’t familiar with. I was with a friend who had taken art history in college and knew a lot about the artist (see accompanying photo.) I learned much from her shared history.

I relish looking at paintings and trying to discover the artist’s intent. Yet, I find it helpful to have a bit of lore to enhance my appreciation. Viewing the artwork and reading about it are both visual actions, yet combined they become a multi-sensory experience.

Andrew Wyeth, special exhibit: National Gallery of Art
As a communications consultant, I thrive when working on projects that require me to tell a story; reveal someone’s personality and passion through a profile; explain the benefits and features of a service; or make the case for a worthy cause that compels donors to support the vision. Much of these projects are copy intensive; yet there are ways to add an image (photos or graphics) that deepens the message.

Think of what these art elements (aka: visual information) could do for your next white paper. Many people don’t gravitate toward white papers because there’s all that ink on white paper. Yes, you’ll learn something but it also tends to be a rather tedious experience. My team and I can make white papers more compelling with imagery that reinforces the message.

Graphics alone: think logos, are pure visual communication. Yet, when graphics need to be paired with their partner: words, my designers are masters at adding perception to your message, stories and corporate reports.

Please share your experience about how the interplay between words and graphics motivated you or prompted you to take action.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ramp up your business etiquette

From my experience as a business owner of marketing, writing and design services, I believe that business professionals in southeastern Michigan need to ramp up their Northern charm and Midwestern good manners when it comes to returning phone calls and replying to e-mails.
Small business owners and entrepreneurs are heralded as the job creators and courageous warriors of commerce, yet the treatment that we receive from many prospects is not conducive to business.
I implore those of you who ignore phone calls and delete e-mails that have a legitimate request behind them (aka: not spam) to ramp up your business etiquette. Practice common courtesy when it comes to replying to phone calls and e-mails from those who don’t work in your company and are asking for your business, a referral or a favor.
Too many professionals leave callers and e-mail inquiries hanging. If it’s a legitimate call – even if it’s a cold call for business – please have the courtesy of at least sending an e-mail saying: 1.) I’m interested, please call; 2.) I might be interested, check back (state a day/time) or 3.) I’m not interested, but thanks for asking.
Most astute cold callers for professional services will include an e-mail and website so you can check out the company before responding.
My clients, trusted associates and best prospects are not included in this diatribe. I treasure them for their business, assistance and ongoing support and kindness.
Those with high-powered jobs think they are in the driver’s seat. Yet, it often takes just one business cycle downturn, incompatible boss or market shake-up to be out of a job. The tables could be turned. What if you were looking for a job or business leads and no one took your call or responded to your e-mail?
I’ve already preached the Golden Rule to my kids – Treat others the way you want to be treated.  Now I have to remind the business community that it applies to their human interactions as well.
Rules of thumb for response time:
Primarily for VPs, directors, managers and those who need a refresher.
E-mail pitch for your business: If you have the time and interest, set up a phone call to learn more about the service. Based on those results, if you have an immediate or pending need for the service, set up a personal interview. If the caller (perhaps a business owner or associate) is convincing and the online presence is solid, hire the company to take on a smaller job to gauge the working relationship and results.
After a job interview: Respond to the interviewee’s personal thank-you note within one week (e-mail acknowledgement is fine). Respond to phone calls within three to five days, even if you don’t know whether the interviewee has made it to the second round. If in doubt, have your HR department call or e-mail the interviewee.
• Request for an interview for a publication: Respond within three to five business days, and set up the interview as soon as possible, keeping in mind that you may receive copy to review before publication (for non-commercial media).
Job in progress with business owner or associate: Don’t let two to three days go by without responding to a job in progress. If you are dealing with a major personal or work crisis, or are out of the country, try to send a short e-mail or text noting that fact.

• Proposal in the works: It takes time to listen to the prospects’ concerns and write up a proposal for consideration. The courtesy of a response (“yes,” “no” or even “maybe”) is necessary to move ahead with the project, amend it or table it. Being decisive is an admirable business trait.
If you have pet peeves about business etiquette, please share them so we can all improve our game.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Can your internal team handle the project?

In the professional services arena, there are times when a major project you are asked to handle begins with the attitude, “I can do that – no problem.” But, over time the project morphs into a huge gorilla that dominates your thoughts. As a result, you can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you spend too many hours worrying about the project. It’s almost as if that big project is stalking you. Maybe it’s a website. It could be a major report designed to bring in new business or obtain additional funding. Perhaps it’s a marketing event or seminar – where content and branding must align. Maybe your staff needs to be trained in using social media to reflect well on your business or organization. 
Consider your team when starting a project.
Photo by Liz Cezat. Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ

There could be several reasons for fear (or inaction) related to the project:
1.     It’s beyond your scope of expertise.
2.     You have the skills to do it, but don’t have time to complete it.
3.     You are a team of one, and you need the right people on board to make it happen.
4.     You have no interest in doing it. It’s outside your comfort zone of capability and you don’t have the time or patience for the learning curve.
5.     You’ve done it so many times, you want “fresh eyes” on the project. That way, you can take on new projects that do excite you.

To determine how you should approach this project, ask yourself these questions:
1. Do I have the right tools?
       2. Do I have people with the right skills to successfully complete the project?
       3. Have I set a realistic timeline for completion?
       4. Have I outlined the essential action steps from beginning to end?
       5. Do I have a realistic budget for this project?
       6. Once I complete the project, what benefits will my business or organization gain
           from it?
These are the essential questions that can put you in control when assessing whether to take on the project in-house or outsource it.
Above all, be realistic in what you can achieve. The right approach along with the right attitude can put you miles ahead in getting the project accomplished.
You can rely on the services of Cezat Creative Resources, Inc. to handle projects without the need for a retainer. We don’t rest on our laurels. Each project brings out our creative genius. We typically bill by the project, and welcome projects that are used for marketing, sales, training, fund-raising and overall communication. Our professional team handles writing and editing, graphic design, photography, website development and presentations. Take the first step:

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Do what you are “best at” for happiness and fulfillment

Photo by Liz Cezat.
The end of a year and beginning of a New Year is often a time of reflection and resolutions. When thinking about what to write for this special blog post, I had no inspirational magic bullet. Yet, lately I’ve been thinking about Ed King and his practical yet profound advice to small business owners such as myself.
King is a retired Wayne State University Small Business adviser who remains a mentor and champion for multitudes of small business owners. I took an evening course of his and it has guided me for years. During the course, he insisted that we, as entrepreneurs, spend the majority of our time at work doing what we are best at. He used an example: Dr. Michael DeBakey, the famed heart surgeon who invented a device that led to the heart-lung machine, which paved the way for open-heart surgery, and who was a pioneer in heart transplantation – to name a few of his Texas-sized accomplishments.

What King found most impressive about the late Dr. DeBakey was that he went into surgery and only performed the portion of the surgery that he did best. He had directed other surgeons – associates or residents - to do other parts of the surgery, such as opening and closing the surgical site. This permitted Dr. DeBakey to perform thousands more surgeries. In the process, he saved many lives.
In the business world, King related this example to that of a coffee shop owner who worked best in her coffee shop interacting with customers and creating new coffee blends. Over time, she became immersed in the ancillary tasks, such as running errands and schlepping big bags of coffee beans. As a result, the business suffered and she wasn’t finding personal fulfillment either. The reason: she wasn’t doing what she was best at. She needed to direct her employees to do the heavy lifting so she could spend the bulk of her time interacting with customers and making great coffee.
Think about how this relates to you and your life. Are you doing the things that you are "best at" in your work world – whether you own a business or work as a director, manager or employee? If you’re not doing what you love to do and do well, think about transitioning in the next year to work that you love. It might even mean reorganizing your work to spend more time doing what you like and delegating what you aren’t so good at – preferably to someone who is good at the task and enjoys doing it. See the win-win here?
What I love to do and do best is to write, conduct interviews and do the project management – whether it’s for print, the web or presentations. This versatile skill set is well suited to marketing, public relations, fund raising and sales. This year, I’ve discovered it’s also good for sharing knowledge with others by being a trainer. I plan to do more training in the New Year.
In recent months, I’ve been working with a collaborative team on an Internet project. There’s a real need for a good writer who can organize a website, write snappy headlines and succinct copy, and keep tabs on all the moving parts and the people – working together to create new programs. The driving force for me is not only to work with creative professionals who are doing what they are “best at,” it’s also knowing how the end product will be used.
What I’m discovering is that maybe it’s not enough to do what you are “best at” but also to find the reason behind your desire for using that skill. You might find that there is a person or people behind your drive - because that’s often the true motivator for wanting to use one’s best talents to bring new things to light.
For Dr. DeBakey, it was saving patients' lives. For the coffee shop owner, it was sharing her knowledge and love of coffee with customers. For Ed King, it was helping business owners become successful. For me, it’s about communicating effectively to inspire, teach, influence and motivate people to take actions that will either improve their lives or the lives of others.
As we roll into a New Year, I have a sense of pride about my professional skills and my ability to deploy these skills to make a good living. Here’s something for you to think about: if you are doing work that you love, how can you make it even better? If you’re not doing what you love, isn’t it time to head in that direction?