30 April 2007

Cutting costs

A good pal of mine says that "Any fool can cut costs, it's reducing the cost base without reducing organisational capability that's the tricky part." That's been brought home to me during the last few weeks as I've been doing an operational review for a fairly large sized organisation which has been through a series of cost reduction exercises over the last 5 years.

What I have been doing is to establish the organisation's current capability in a number of dimensions and the answers have been occasionally bleak. Some of these cost reduction exercises have limited the organisation's ability to create value which has created a rather damaging spiral of decline.

The moral: think hard and make sure that it's just costs that you are cutting.

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28 April 2007

It's just like Pinnochio's nose

At the end of January, I reported that Feedburner's stats showed that over time 51 different types of feed readers, aggregators and bots had accessed the blog.

Today that figure is 61, including three cutely named and highly memorable visitors: ocgnpaCs4eCrcdamsfuu4c4n ggp, tctnbtkw9yoj9 x ps oxcpvajmNrtx and eapjsi dm f vtv ei0x all of which appear in the feed reader and aggregator area.

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Here I am, where are you?

I got an email from someone the other day which said, more or less, "Here I am, where are you?", it then went on to describe some work that the writer wanted me to do.

The email was from the Managing Director of a high street brand that I had done some work for a couple of years ago. I had facilitated a 2 day workshop for a cross-functional management team and although I had excellent feedback from them, nothing seemed to happen as a result. I followed up several times over the next 3 months but it went very quiet.

The moral of the story has to be, don't bore people to death with follow-ups but have patience. If they really liked what you did then you won't be forgotten.

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Salary sacrifice

I'm working with a team at the moment which provides a range of services associated with salary sacrifice programmes. Salary sacrifice involves deductions made from an employee's monthly pay which are hypothecated for a specific purpose and are free from income tax and national insurance. It's an interesting idea as a business:
  • it provides a win-win for everyone (employees [who can make savings against specific, government approved purchases] and employers [who make a net overall saving on their payroll costs even after the management fees charged by the service company]
  • after selling in the initial programme, the service company can use its relationship with the employer to offer additional programmes so there are great opportunities to deepen the relationships within the existing customer base
  • it's fast growing - the number of approved programmes is increasing all the time and as more and more employees find out about the savings they can make, they are pressing their employers to set up their own programmes which drives demand for the service companies' expertise
  • almost best of all - the group of employees who stand to benefit most from this are higher rate tax payers - the group that the employer least wants to lose, so employers tend to respond relatively quickly once the idea takes hold

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Lorem Ipsum

If you have ever been involved in the design of any collateral then you have almost certainly seen the dummy text which is used to provide an impression of how the text would appear in the design layout without allowing the reader to become overly distracted by the content.

I had assumed that this material was garbage pseudo Latin, but it seems that I was wrong. It has a distinguished provenance. According to Richard McClintock, a Latin professor in Virginia, it comes from sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of "de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum" (The Extremes of Good and Evil) by Cicero, written in 45 BC. It seems that I have been exposed to historic literature far more frequently than I had thought. If you would like to learn more, then Lorem Ipsum has a more detailed description of the source text with translations by Rackham. It also has a true Lorem Ipsum generator which it claims is unique since it does not rely on the repetition of text blocks and contains no padding text from other languages.

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11 April 2007

Copywriting the Halbert way

Having noted the death of Gary Halbert in a previous post, I thought that it might be worthwhile to reflect on why his style of copywriting worked. Halbert himself didn't think it was much to do with the quality of his writing. He said that it was the quality of the ideas that was important and he used to spend at least 90% of his time on thinking about what he was supposed to be selling and less than 10% on the writing itself. On that basis, Halbert should probably be revered as a marketeer or a super salesman rather than a copywriter.

The thing that he looked for was a hungry audience. He didn't mean people who were literally hungry of course, he meant a group of buyers who were desperate for the product or service he was promoting. If he could identify that audience then he knew that he could sell. His gift was very often to identify an aspect of a product which had been overlooked by other people which could confer real benefits to that hungry audience. He was, in his own words "an ideas man" who could generate value for a business both on the top line and the gross margin. Read some of his newsletters to get a flavour of how he helped to redefine business models for some of his clients.

He appeared to be a robust character who enjoyed telling the unvarnished truth, but that was probably a persona for public rather than private consumption. He was obviously a complex man who straddled the old and the new and tied them together by understanding that, at root, the buyer was untouched by the technology. His ability to tie in an advertisement to that buyer was what made him famous. His influence is significant and I have no doubt that many of his ideas will be stolen and used again and again.

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A sale is a very fragile thing

The headline is a quote from Gary Halbert who died on Easter Sunday. Halbert was internationally respected as a copywriter and managed the later years of his life as a mentor and trainer of people trying to develop their own skills.

Like many people, I became aware of him through the Gary Halbert letter which contains several hundred newsletters, begun by him during the 1980s and selling at that stage for about $185 per year. A lifetime subscription to the newsletter sold for about $2800. The point is that people paid over that money willingly because they admired the content, but also the style. Halbert's sales letters are masterpieces of carefully drawn, highly effective prose. If you want to look at a master writer developing a variety of themes then this is a great place to start.

The thing that makes Halbert stand apart as a copywriter in recent years was in his understanding of reach and channels - he knew that for the copy to do its job, it had to find its audience, and he was very inventive at getting his copy in front of plenty of eyeballs. A talented writer and one well worth celebrating.

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