Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How to Interact with People at Conferences

I meant to highlight this when I saw it, but better late than never. This was actually posted several weeks ago on Techcrunch, right after they had their TechCrunch50.

Greetings by Michael Arrington
It’s time for a quick primer on the proper way to interact at conferences and other business events. Since I just came back from one of those types of events, this is on top of mind for me.

What’s surprising is how few people get it right and move a conversation towards their business goals. The rest let ego and sloppiness get in the way, usually leaving people on both sides of the conversation frustrated. I’m here to help.
It's definitely worth a read. Check it out.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Job Boards Have Started To Roll

Note: I first started this post back at the beginning of September. Since that time, I've continued to see increased activity on the job boards, plus whispers from contacts that suggest things are starting to turn around again.

Starting around the beginning of September, postings on the job boards seemed to start ramping up. Economic confidence appears to be showing more signs of confidence. Of course, being on the front end of this wave can be a mixed blessing.

If you're unemployed, any fish on the line is a good thing -- sometimes it's just a question of how good. For job seekers, problems arise when tight markets and limited opportunities force you to deal with those companies that look at a struggling labor market as an opportunity to exploit. Some companies approach the labor market like the stock market -- buy low, sell high. These companies attempt to leverage employee (or potential employee) desperation to save some money on salary-based operating expenses. Carried to the extreme, some use economic events to cull their ranks of expensive talent, replacing them with new, 'more desperate' staff as the hiring market transitions -- think pro sports and the salary cap.

When times have been tough and you're at the front end of the ramp back up, companies may try to leverage your despair to undercut your salary negotiation position. The funny thing about this is that, while this approach may make sense on a by-the-numbers strategy, it overlooks the fact that 'human capital' is not equal to traditional corporate assets. A key factor in your performance is psychology. When was the last time an enterprise software or a manufacturing tool went through a period of reduced performance because it was sad, frustrated, or felt exploited?

This corporate strategy starts with the idea that anyone can be replaced with little overall difference in the operation of the business. Want to fall on your sword? Big deal, there are thousands of marketing pros out there, just waiting in line to take your underpaid, overworked place. It's the worker-turned-factory-production-equipment concept applied broadly across all parts of the business.

While it's easy to hate the 'exploiter' strategy, businesses can find a lot to like about it. The Exploiter mindset is often an institutionalized value. So even if you hate it, don't go in expecting it to change. Unless you're stepping into a senior executive role where you have the ability to shape culture, you're probably not going to be able to change it directly. For most exploited employees, change usually means finding work with a new, less exploitative employer. And for potential employees, that means that a focus of your new job will be looking for a new job.


So what's the take-away from all of this? Back in this post that I wrote in July, I noted an article talking about recruiters looking for "soft candidates", candidates who already had a job and were less interested in changing jobs. To that end, keep in mind that whenever you get into negotiations for a new job, no matter how desperate your current situation feels and how good the new job looks -- always approach the deal with the idea that you can walk away, that there is another opportunity waiting just around the corner. Ultimately, there is only one you and whatever you sign on for is going to eat a big chunk of your life.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Nice Post on Advertising and CPM

This afternoon on Techcrunch, there's a nice post from guest author Shelby Bonnie, the CEO of Whiskey Media. The post, Let's Kill the CPM, goes into why we should reform the traditional method for measuring many aspects of advertising, Cost per Impression.

While I find the post to be an interesting read and I agree with the weaknesses of CPM-based advertising strategies, I think that the real answer to advertising strategy requires a much more thought-out approach than simply hanging ads on a site. Unfortunately, that's the way that many organizations approach their marketing, and it's so closely modeled to traditional advertising that the practice requires little justification within the traditional business structure.

The ugly truth is that One-Size-Fits-All is a poor formula for any advertising strategy. While I'm a big fan of CPC advertising and Adwords, I also know that as a blog operator, while running Adwords is convenient and easy, the idea that anyone will be driven here by my content and then click through one of the Adwords ads is almost funny. Meanwhile, over on the SV Fashionistas blog that JJSakura has put together, some of the affiliate banners are actually producing click-throughs and purchases. As noted in Kill the CPM post: "All Impressions Are Not Created Equally".

Anyway, it's worth a read.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

In Defense of Eric Cantor's Use of His Blackberry

One topic that arose from the President's health care reform speech was a furor surrounding Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va, Minority Whip) and his Blackberry. Rep. Cantor was caught on video, eyes down, focused on the screen of his phone and not "paying attention" during the President's speech. Across a spectrum of media that I tuned into yesterday, there were repeated comments about his behavior. Most of the commentary that I heard ranged from disappointment to exasperation, with a general consensus that the behavior was rude.

The entire incident reminded me of an earlier post I did on how age and demographics affected perceptions of using a Blackberry or a laptop during a meeting. In this case, it appears that the media has tapped into that demographic that is uncomfortable with this kind of behavior.

While I suspect that it's unlikely to find me defending a political position that Rep. Cantor holds and it normally wouldn't bother me to see him swimming in bad press, in this case I feel inclined to defend him. While I understand that for some, it probably isn't good formal meeting etiquette to text or check email during a meeting, short of presenting the illusion of an enraptured audience for the video cameras, what was the harm here?

It's not like he was driving a moving vehicle or operating heavy machinery. He wasn't being asked to make quick decisions on-the-fly. Realistically, he didn't really have to do anything other than sit, quietly (for the most part). It wasn't like his phone rang or he was talking during the meeting (I gave a couple of presentations at a conference in Beijing where the audience members talked on their phones during the presentation). It's not even like this was a dimly lit theater, where the glow from his phone would distract from the movie or the stage performance.

This was a presentation, not a conversation. It wasn't like the President was running through a list of statistics and formulas, where absorbing every moment and every data point were critical. Theoretically, if that were the case, you would expect that he could get a detailed review following the speech, either from the transcripts or through notes taken by his aides.

What's more, who knows what he was using his Blackberry for. Maybe he was looking up the history behind one of the medical cases sited by the President during his speech. Perhaps he was sending a note to his staff to pull all of the data relevant to a specific point in the presentation. Or maybe what he was doing wasn't related -- perhaps planning a secret romantic encounter or he might have just been looking at NFL news and planning for his upcoming fantasy football season. He might even have been doing several of those things during the speech.

Meanwhile, take the guy four seats to the right or to the left of Cantor. What do you think is on his mind? Medical cases? Instructions for his staff? Romantic encounters? Football? Some of this is all about the illusion of attention and behavior; simply put, acting for the camera. In many ways, it's similar to the note pads that candidates use to write on during the televised debates. The purpose of 'taking notes' is not the notes, it's to manage the candidates' appearance during 'off-screen' camera shots -- within the context of an event that is structured like a conversation.

For me, the bottom line is that I don't think that Rep. Cantor's behavior with his Blackberry was inappropriate. Put into a different context, if the speech was that exciting, the content was that compelling, or the event was that engaging, he would have put down his phone. Or not picked it up in the first place. All too often we are asked to pretend to listen politely to bad speakers and lame content -- or people format their presentation content to follow a predictable structure that alienates their audience on technique alone. It's like the pre-flight safety presentation -- is there anyone on the plane who isn't already familiar with the basic content presented, and if there were a change to the content, do you really expect anyone to hear it since you've already lost them by using the same old script?

Imagine if Rep. Cantor Had an iPhone
What if, instead of having a Blackberry, Rep. Cantor had an iPhone? While he might have been texting, browsing the web, or looking up his favorite section of the Constitution (there's an app for that), what would have happened if he were using it to play a game, tipping the phone back and forth or moving it in 3D space? I would say that, if you're behavior is such that you stand out more than the presenter, then etiquette dictates that you've crossed a line. Perhaps, somewhere in there, we can offer some etiquette guidelines for when and how it's okay to use your phone in a meeting and when it isn't.

When You Should Avoid Using Your Phone (for texting, not voice calls)
  • When the glow from your phone display is the brightest light in the meeting (not including dim participants), you might consider refraining from using your phone.
  • When you're engaged in a direct conversation.
  • When you're in a meeting where somebody asks you a question and you need to have the question repeated.
  • When you're participating in a social network where the other people in the meeting are linked to you but expecting you to be focused on the meeting.
  • When you haven't turned your volume off.
When It Should Be Okay to Use Your Phone (for texting, not voice calls)
  • When the other meeting participants bring a phone or laptop to the meeting.
  • If you get a text from another meeting participant.
  • When you the one who sets the meeting agenda and rules.
  • When it's a large, boring meeting, and you are not the center of attention.
  • When you want to show off your techno-nerd chops.
  • When you want to look like you have something more important to think about.