Confirmation or Action

Lessons learned over tea with ____ _____.

  • 1-year plans may as well be no year plans.
  • You can’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
  • You can’t start, finish or change fast enough.
  • Identify scarcity. Provide value.
  • 5-ball juggling is as difficult as MMA.

An hour with a mentor is a cryptic, Russian nesting doll experience. The answers are there, but they were there before you started to talk. Listening in these circumstances forks off into: Are you are looking for confirmation to get you through the day/week/year/event or are you declaring that you are ready for action? Being open to change is very different than looking for someone to hand you an answer – especially one that you may or may not use.

Before you hire an agency or consultant, ask yourself:

  • “Am I looking for confirmation or action?” – Do I want someone to agree with me or help me effect real change?
  • “If I do get the confirmation I was looking for, am I willing to do what it takes to put something into action?” – A new coat of rusty paint is rarely good for your organization or for an agency/consultants reel.

Doing nothing is always an option, but in my case I’m likely to not get invited over to chat again unless I take action and do something amazing. In your case, customers will simply go somewhere else — somewhere where action takes precedence over confirmation of a problem you both see clear as day.

I’m excited for the challenge and primed for action. How about you?

-Ian

More or Less Content

More and more I hear the following two phrases from customers on consult calls. Both tactics (not strategies) are complex because they require other tactics and strategies to succeed.

 

“We want to create more content.” —  Very often the organizations who want to create more content have unchecked brand > product > CX/UX issues.

The advice I often give –

Do: Create more content if the experience of engaging with the content is good and your intended outcome is clear.

Don’t: Create more content before you optimize your product or service.

 

“I don’t want to have to create a lot of content.”— Usually small/medium sized businesses with tremendous stories and bold, unstated insights make this statement.

The advice I often give –

Do: Create more content once you’ve nailed what makes you different and you commit to communicating it clearly.

Don’t: Create a little content here and there and expect the needle to move.

 

—Ian

 

 

Fiefdoms Corrupt Systems (and donuts).

When I was 17 I had a weekend job making the donuts (cue the jokes). Actually, I didn’t “make” the donuts so much as fill them. The baker would come in around 3am and make them, and I showed up at 5:30am to fill and frost them. Sleepy-eyed, I entered the donut shop through the back door, never speaking to customers or other employees and followed a list that went something like this:

50 Jelly
40 Bavarian
90 Choc covered
120 Honeytops
90 Choc honey
40 Lemon

The job was supposed to take 4 hours – I got it down to 2.5. It was without question the stickiest job I ever had, but it paid cash and cash paid the rent. This despite the fact that I didn’t eat donuts, and still don’t.

Specialization Quickly Loses Context

Every Sunday after I was finished, I helped the owner load a special delivery into his black Trans Am (cue more jokes) and got my cash ($50 for Saturday and $55 for Sunday). I never knew where the delivery went, or even if the donuts were any good. As I said, I’ve just never been a donut guy, and I assumed a donut was a donut was a donut.

One morning I came in and saw the baker was still there making the donuts. He looked shaky and weird, but I left anyway and came back an hour later. I remember the donuts were flatter and harder to fill but I knew nothing about baking—it wasn’t my department. During my first week of training I had asked the baker to show me. He said, “I make ’em. You fill ’em.” And that had been that. Baking clearly was not supposed to be my department—I was the filling and frosting expert. One week later, I found out that he had been putting unmentionables in the donuts. People got sick and another week later, the store was closed—for good. Eight people lost their jobs and the neighborhood (deservedly) lost a meeting place.

The baker. The employees. The owner. The customers. Separate entities, unconnected but for the donut. Looking back, I wish I had taken the initiative to test every donut. No matter how foul the donuts may have been that Saturday, I wish I’d tasted them. I wish I’d broken rank and learned how to do the job that came before and after mine. Not to take over that job but to understand contextually the import of the bigger picture.

Your role is your role. But your job is to make sure you’ve got the best damn donut in town.

—Ian

EAT opens office in NYC/SOHO

Today is great day for our team. It marks the opening of our NYC office in SOHO and ushers in a new phase of  Eat Media.

Announcing Eat Media v3.0

1 – Our new HQ. We have moved 30 miles down the Hudson River to Wooster Street in SOHO. The current office in Hastings-on-Hudson office is being taken over by Britta’s new venture  — Year Of the Book.

2 – Our name. Eat Media, is migrating to the shortened “EAT”.  The “For the Content Hungry” is being dropped and our new focus is revealed in the EAT letters — “Evolve and Transcend”.

3 – Our focus. For the past 7+ years we have been content-first (design,development and creative) and over the course of hundreds of projects, some large, some medium and some small  — we’ve hit our stride and are ready to specialize.  Over the coming weeks rebranding will begin and a concentration around service design and project sustainability will be unveiled. Helping clients address and solve operational, systemic issues is unique challenge that our team enjoys solving. Design, code and content strategy is now coupled with a more fertile environment for future creative.  This methodology makes for better projects and more healthy companies. We invite you to level up with us in this new environment that requires organizations to be both nimble and creative.

Thanks to everyone that helped us get here.

 

—Ian

Now Serving: Customers and Business Goals

Whatever your business is, you exist to service two groups:

-The customer

-The business

To make the customer happy you must

Make the experience of finding, researching, purchasing, using, fixing, upgrading and explaining your product amazing.

 

To make the business happy you must

Create a culture that inspires top talent to join. Push for action over politics. Establish an infrastructure that can pivot quickly. Push marketing dollars to product/service improvement dollars.

 

 

—Ian

Eat Media: Top 5 Mistakes I made in 2011


MISTAKE #1

Committing to Content Strategy without a Brand Strategy  When a client is not established yet, or in startup mode, brand strategy is part aspiration and part adventure — these are exciting times. But when you are working with an established company the rules are bit different and excitement is tempered by the stakes being much higher. Early this year we entered into a lengthy content strategy engagement with a large company that admitted it did not have a brand strategy in place — we’re “working on it,” they said. While we did a lot right: conducted internal interviews that identified disconnects in a +$1mm content strategy process, established baseline communication guidelines and fixed huge holes in a supposed “Agile” process — we never got over the hurdle of brand clarity. It nipped at us during every turn because we had no baseline to build on. Throughout the process of establishing and tuning the strategy we inevitably kept asking –  Does this fulfill the brand promise? Is this message on brand? We never had an answer. So…we never had an answer.

Lesson learned: Brand needs strategy and strategy needs brand.
Tip: Get 5 min of (non-marketing) C-suite time and discuss brand. Ensure this resonates with your stakeholder’s version of brand 
and buy this Four Steps to the Epiphany


 

MISTAKE #2

When you think small. You stay small. When we started the business 5+ years ago I had an imaginary number of 11 as a perfect head count. We had good reason for the smallish number (so we thought) 2 children under 2, experience managing/working with smaller teams and some (now transparent) quality of life requirements Tim Ferriss sold us. When you’re small you need to hire yourself (the owner) to do many things you wouldn’t otherwise hire yourself for if there was someone else more qualified. Sometimes this is challenging in a good way, like: Our mobile strategy work with Weendy. Other times it is challenging in a bad way, like: stuffing boxes when you should be wireframing. I now realize that establishing a business based on head count is crazy talk. We need to be the “size of amazing” and that number might be 5, 500 or 5,000. Whatever size is required to provide the best customer experience for our clients and our client’s clients, that’s our goal. Of note we are growing and looking to hire a Sr. Strategist. Now!

Lesson learned: We are our people.  Not the # of desks we have.
Tip: read this Minimum Viable Personnel article from Inc. 

 

 

MISTAKE #3

You can’t do everything, at once. Historically I’ve successfully* been able to break this rule, but time catches up, luck runs out and magnification points out flaws. During Q4 I put some ridiculous deadlines on my team and myself. (So ridiculous I’m embarrassed to list them out here.) It took attending Seth Godin’s Medicine Ball event and a LeanStartup event (on the same weekend) to realize I was pushing too hard. Specifically I realized that it was unfair to my family, friends, employees and investors for us not to be operating at optimal efficiency on every project. In our case, that means moving forward we are only taking on client projects that I am 100% committed to and if they are internal projects they need to have the ability to go big. If I don’t follow these rules I’m not just wasting my time but the time of those most important to me: family, friends and co-workers. Somewhere in a book, or on the Twitters, I picked up the line – “Do fewer things extraordinarily.” It’s a hard transition for someone infinitely fascinated in possibilities but it’s the right direction to take for 2012. (As of 3 weeks ago I stopped working on 3 pet projects and turned away 2 smaller jobs that would strain the team.)

Lesson learned: Not every good idea has a viable market. Having a great idea and bringing a great idea to life are two very different commitments with two very different responsibilities.
Tip: 2+2+2 = If you had 2 people that could work on 2 projects for 2 months each, every year, would you choose this project to be one of them? Ask yourself this whenever you are wondering whether or not to dedicate time to pet projects.

*Example: Rebuild house while living in it, while having a newborn and launching a business and coaching basketball. 

 

 

MISTAKE #4

Hiding behind email.  There is a strange device on my desk that gets less attention each year despite its power — the phone.  Three proposals last year with potential clients totaled over 400 emails. Let’s write that out in check format – Four Hundred Emails and Zero Sense. I should have trusted my intuition as well heeded last years #2 rule. Notwithstanding that flub-up I should have just picked up the phone and said, “Hey, let’s nail this down, on this call.” Instead, I wasted 33 hours on email (400 emails x 5 min).  Emails are great for binary decision making but not so much for back and forth conversations. You lose the nuances, pauses, concatenated thoughts and the process becomes less of a playing field and more like a race track.

Lesson learned: Pick up the damn phone! Emails rarely clarify things and almost always lead to more emails.
Tip: If you find yourself substantively rewriting an email — call instead.

 

MISTAKE #5

Not Celebrating.  The founders of Eat Media (that would be Britta and Ian) tend to be a fairly serious duo. Not Accenture Consulting, Brooks Brother suit serious but intense and focused serious — like Janáček – we tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves, to a fault. When we land a new account we tend to get right into solution mode, before the ink dries on the contract. Internally the team deserves to celebrate a win and too often we skip that part.  On the external/marketing side of things we tend to believe in that old adage of “great gets found”.  I think great “used to get found;” now what gets found is what gets heralded. Under promise, over deliver. Get paid a dollar, do a dollar-fifty worth of work. Great building blocks and inspirational bullet points, but announcing a win and celebrating that win with others gets both internal and external teams excited for you and with you.

Lesson learned: Lunch on the boss is not celebrating. Celebration is active and necessary.
Tip: Go a little crazy every once in awhile.

 

These are my confessions of a growing agency. What were your 2011 mistakes?

—Ian

@eatmedia

Like this article? Check out the Top 5 Mistakes I made in 2009, and 2010.

 


The Internet is a Playground*

Every day nascent web startups gather buckets of funding with unproven concepts (see Color.) Unquestionably some startups need the money to move the next level. But others, armed with a product that goes WHZZZZ instead of Whzzzhz, simply desire the money while it’s still available. (See – 1999) Most startup founders do not start out as Jobsian geniuses with a fanatical vision of perfection and changing the world. This evolution and maturation usually requires time and patience. But founders are often just workers in a system tilted towards going to market too quickly. A system that seems to have an inherent lack of respect for 3 key items: theory(ists), true value creation (with value extraction factored in), and a general lack of understanding about what creating a minimum viable product entails.

The Food Chain is Eating Itself
We are witnessing a trend of big “startups” purchasing little “startups” solely to extract talent – dumping products on the side of the road – truncating talent from code bases and passion from purpose. We also have lost the etiquette of thieves, highlighted by the rampant poaching of talent – sometimes from as close as across the hall – turning “community” into to a dog-eat-dog competition of preferred stock options and flavor-of-the-week.

The early Internet was a top-heavy system full of theorists and inventors. It wasn’t perfect but passion and payout seemed to have more healthy balance than today. The 2nd Internet phase (e-commerce) consisted mostly of early monetizers and a few stylists. The 3rd Internet phase (social) has many stylists,  more how-to-ers and a blur of monetizers. The Web Worker food chain is a delicate ecosystem that requires an adherence to stages. But the pressure to monetize before and after every stage is upsetting that balance–our current lack of qualified developer/designer talent is but one symptom.

The Web Workers Hierarchy
Stage 1: (Web) Theorists are traditionally ahead of curves, way ahead.
Stage 2: (Web) Inventors are tactile theorists.
Stage 3: (Web) Stylists are practitioners who found a method that worked for them, shared that methodology and initialized distribution to the masses.
Stage 4: (Web) How-to-ers are documentarians who show users/practitioners how to use the work that stylists have manifest.
Stage 5: (Web) Monetizers support all of the stages above to differing degrees. (And historically have always worked with and through stages 1-4.)

(Web) Theorists
Provide value by opening the doors of invention and triggering possibilities.
Example: Marshall McLuhan – “the medium is the message.”
Extract value when they succombe to, promote monetization too early.

(Web) Inventors
Provide value by bringing possibilities to life. Placing theories into real world scenarios.
Example: Håkon Wium Lie inventor of CSS
Extract value by accepting capital for unproven concepts or moving to distribution prematurely.

(Web) Stylists
Provide value by optimizing the experience of service/product.
Example: Aaron Walter author of Designing for Emotion
Extract value by providing one size fits all solutions as a possibility for user/practitioner. (Not their intent.)

(Web) How-to-ers
Provide value by popularizing an experience
Example: David Scott Meerman author of New Rules of PR and Marketing
Extract value by providing one size fits all solutions as a possibility for user/practitioner. (Uninformed intent.)

(Web) Monetizers
Provide value by moving a product/service into the arena of solvency
Example: Fred Wilson managing partner at Union Square Ventures
Extract value by forcing theorists and inventors to productize and go to market too early. (How they make money.)

I’d be remiss not to note that theorists, and organizations that historically supported theorists, have always had a relationship with a capitalist bent. Universities have wings dedicated to corporations, Bell labs = for profit, IBM labs = R&D and most recently we got a peak at Google Labs = convert product development.  Innovation is wonderful and so is making money. The friction resides in needing money to innovate and/or being more interested in making money than innovating.  And it is the distance between these poles that abandons the current web worker somewhere between these two quotes

 

My goal wasn’t to make a ton of money. It was to build good computers. – Steve Wozniak

 

The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” —Fred Wilson

 

Amazing is birthed at the top of the web worker food chain by theorists and inventors — people who play with possibilities. I see too many of these people being extracted, or self-extracting, and no longer pushing envelopes but instead settling to sell paper goods. Somehow we need to ensure that world class talent stays at the top of the food chain and continues to be inspired by the possibility vs. the payout.  Else, we reinvent Foursquare 30 different ways without making it any better, rewrite practitioner books for glory instead of education, and watch “amazing” dwindle into “just fine.” Potential – the fuzzy “what if”- that inspires us, is a requirement for all successes from Post-it notes to Packet switching. I’m not saying startups shouldn’t take VC/Angel funding, but rather that we should invest in our Web Worker future by supporting theorists and inventors to the same degree we do stylists and how-to-ers.

Making money is generally fairly easy, making a difference is tough and getting tougher, especially as we look to monetize everything right out of the gate.

 

—Ian

*Disclaimer: The Internet is a Playground is the title of a very funny book by David Thorne. You can buy that book here. This post has very little to do with the book.

Content Calculator in Beta

We’ll do a formal intro to this project in the next few weeks. For now I welcome you to take a look. We’re open to any and all feedback you have. Please use the user voice feedback tab on the right of the site or email me directly ian@eatmedia.net

calculator.eatmedia.net

 

INTERVIEW WITH SELF

What inspired you to make the Content Calculator?

1- We had a client who requested we break down content costs by piece but the hard cost of a word rate or per finished minute rate didn’t factor in their excessive stakeholder review cycle and training users on their new CMS.

2- The Time is Money Clock

3- Unruly excel spreadsheets

4- Umair Haque’s book – The New Capitalist Manifesto

 

I noticed that in some cases creating less content is more expensive. What’s up with that?

In some cases, like copywriting, it is harder and therefore more expensive to create less content.

 

Are these numbers for real?

Yes.

 

Didn’t you start this this awhile ago?

Yes.

 

Why should I care about soft costs?

So you can make more informed decisions related to content?

 

What are the calculations based on?

Our 5 years of experience estimating content strategy/creation/management projects.

 

Can I enter my own numbers and variables?

It’s coming.


What should I do with this information?

Make a smaller site? Invest in a content-first solution? Streamline your operations? Gosh, the opportunities are endless.

 

Are you still tweaking the tool?

Yes, that’s why we need your feedback :)

 

—Ian