Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Yellow Pages Arrived Today: The many marketing lessons I learned from the Yellow Pages.

Not many of you know this but I started my career as the Yellow Page Marketing Analyst for Rochester Telephone way back in 1987.  Now given that at the time I was completely clueless how the Yellow Pages were created it was a bit of a challenge, but it really was a learning experience that taught me a great deal about how to do marketing.

My first year my total responsibility was Marketing the Rochester Telephone Yellow Pages, at the time a 25 million dollar revenue stream for the company.  I worked for a woman named Carol who was Assistant Director and was on a team with Mary (who did white pages) and our admin Gilda who was the only person who could actually type anything in our office since we all shared a single Wang Computer.  Having come from Grad School where we all used Macs I was frankly stymied by the Wang, but I had to learn how to use it when it became clear that I needed to generate many reports.  Imagine in those days it would sometimes take a week to do a single memo. Every word would be sweated over, my boss would have to approve it, and they would also be revised 5, 6, 7 or 8 times.  It was a slower paced world. I even lived close enough to work to walk back and forth every day - arriving sharply at 9 and everyone leaving at 5.

From these women I learned many things:

 - To be careful on the details - a typo changing $.50 to $.40 could mean the loss of 1000's of dollars in revenue and huge costs if contracts had to be reprinted because of it. 
 - That you shouldn't always listen to people when they critique your work - they may have been doing it wrong and you are getting it right - so stand up if you believe in something.  I did a business case for a new product that was not only accepted (after being disparaged by one of my peers) but was held up to him as an example of how to write a business case. 
-  That being innovative and trying new things may not always make you money but it can save your business.  We launched the talking yellow pages - one of the first in the country. It made us no money but it actually delayed another competitor from entering our marketspace.
-  Take risks whenever possible.  In later years I created a completely different kind of phone book cover in our Lancaster market with beautiful Amish quilts on the cover. It actually increased our phone book usage - ours was too pretty to put in a drawer.
-  Never keep a vendor just because they've always been there - you can't let the cost of change factor into a decision - in the short run change can cost you money but in the long term it can completely change the game.  Our VP taught us that when we made a proposal and had included those costs.  It was really eye opening.
-  Listen to the customer - if you don't address why they are unhappy you may lose them- something the vendor we let go of was slow to learn.

-  I learned how to take care of your team by how they all treated me. When I broke my foot the three of them rallied around me. Mary drove me to and from work each day, Gilda helped me get my lunch from the cafeteria every day and Carol made it so I could work from home for the first two weeks when my foot was so swollen it had to be elevated above my head.  On a side note - it even justified us getting the very first laptop ever seen at the company.  I can show you the laptop - I saw it at the Tech Museum on exhibit - weighed about 50 lbs I think.

- I also learned something about assumptions. I learned that when setting up a meeting it would be good to brief the CEO on all the participants if you can so that  the CEO won't assume the tall blond 20 something woman  in the back wasn't the wife of one of the male executives but in fact the person doing the detailed financial analysis of their bid.  The CEO of a multi billion dollar company actually asked me if my boss and I were going to enjoy going shopping while the men worked.  I was a bit nonplussed but our VP said no Jerri and Carol need to stay since they are the ones making the decision.  I'd never seen a man go pale quite so quickly before. I'm sure they all wondered if that played into their losing our account.   I'll never tell.

All these memories came flooding back today as I brought in the new AT&T White and Yellow Pages. I was shocked at how thin the book has become. It has about 1/4 the listings the yellow pages had 11 years ago when I first moved here.  Really sad.  It's less than half the size of the first phone book I ever did.  Yes I still have that phone book with me - it represents a lot of marketing lessons for me and I'll treasure it for ever.

One last great joke.  My mom had called while I was working on the book and told me the phone book had arrived.  I asked her if it was a talking yellow pages(meaning a book that had numbers in it that you could call for horoscopes and soap opera updates). There was a long pause then Mom said, "Well I threw it in the closet and it didn't say anything."  And yes I LOL'd.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Women of Vision - the Aftermath

So one of the major things after any event is the PR cleanup. And boy was there a lot of clean up last week.  Let me start by saying Women of Vision was an enormous success.  We had a record breaking number of attendees, all our speakers did a tremendous job and I had the great pleasure of being Arianna Huffington's handler throughout the event. 

I was very glad that in a previous position I had the opportunity to work with celebrities so I was prepared for all the contingencies.  Arianna was lovely to work with - well prepared, charming and so happy to help us with photographs, etc.  Her speech was a crowd pleaser. 

Our three winners were all amazing.  I was a bit stunned that all three chose to wear red and black but it looks great in all the photos.  Arianna had shared her talk's theme of embracing risk prior to the event and I'd notified the three winners.  Each of them talked from her own perspective about embracing risk, and making a difference in the world. 

Post event the work continued. I actually went home and did a final review of the newsletter we were issuing the next day since it was part of the launch of our Anita Borg Top Company for Technical Women Award.  I also fixed a few glitches along the way.

Then Thursday began the work with the press.  We had 11 press people attend Women of Vision. The next day was spent working on our post event press release then issuing it to the 11 press people along with a picture of Arianna and the winners.  The press release itself went out the following morning. The coverage has been amazing - San Jose Mercury News, Forbes, Silicon Valley Watcher all wrote about the event and more are still pending.  We also posted the winners biographical videos on youtube so they could be linked to as well from the press release.

This week the work continues - I'll be editing the footage from the event and getting it back to our editors so we'll be able to launch the videos on Youtube in our next newsletter.  I'm also waiting for the photos to come in so we can distribute them to the media as well as our sponsors, Arianna, the winners, etc.  And of course we're tracking the coverage as it comes in.

I'd like to thank a few people who make my job possible - Megan McKenna from Total Media Group; Denise Nelson from Ventana Public Relations, Dang Le from Jungle Digital Printing and Alex Atkins from Alexander Atkins Design.  These are the folks who make everything possible in doing the marketing for our events. I couldn't do it without them. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Countdown to Women of Vision - T-24

 Well here we are. It is 24 hours until the Anita Borg Women of Vision Awards.  So what are the last minute things a marketing person does the day before a major event.  Here's my list:

1.  A flurry of emails and a confernce call with my PR person, Denise Nelson ofVentana Public Relations. Denise has done an amazing job - we have a dozen journalists from both print and online media attending the event.   She did the reminders to the media and we finished our checklist.  We also crafted our day after press release.  So while the rest of our team takes a well deserved day off, the next day I'll be working with Denise to finish our press release and get our photos out to the news media.  My day off will be Friday.

2. I finished our press kits yesterday - these are handouts for the media that include info on ABI, the press releases and information for them on how to get photographs of the winners and our keynote speaker after the event.

3.  Loading the cars - we spent some time making sure everything on our checklist was packed up and the cars were loaded and went off to the Convention Center.  I made sure the collateral box for our collateral table was fully stuffed and we also made sure the signs, awards and gifts all made it too.

4.  Checked in with our printer - the delivery of our programs and new signs was confirmed for tomorrow morning at 10.  The courier will be there and set up will commence.

5.  Staff meeting this morning included an extended briefing on the event.  I talked about our media presence and instructed our staff what to do if broadcast media appeared. You always want to be sure the soundbyte is given by someone who will have the most impact with the media whenever possible - the CEO, the Keynote, the award winners.

6.  Made sure we are all systems go for uploading all the WOV videos I created with Total Media Group are ready to go up on Facebook on Thursday morning.  Everything is all set up in my computer.

7.  Made sure we were all set with our big announcement for Thursday morning. You'll have to check out our website then for more info.

8.  Finished working with our AV folks on our slides for the event - only 7 but we had to make sure they looked good on the big screen.

Heading home to get a good night's sleep.  Stay tuned for the followup on Thursday.  I'll publish some links then.