Two Big Thinkers Raise the Bar for the Rest of Us

There’s a really good post on Associations Now today by Ernie Smith headlined Email Marketing: Time to Rethink What’s Possible. He leads with an example from legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk who apparently faked riding a Back-to-the-Future-ish hoverboard and had to apologize to people who believed it. Then he learned that there actually is such a prototype called the Hendo Hover.

Smith’s point: Don’t think small; he wants you to imagine big and new. He might also argue that if New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had never imagined and then practiced catching the ball with one hand at crazy angles, he wouldn’t have made one of the game’s greatest catches ever Sunday night. (An interesting NYT article yesterday interviews the photographers who caught the catch.)

But Beckham thought new. Stacy-Marie Ishmael (pictured here) is all about new. She has been hired by BuzzFeed away from the Financial Times to be editorial lead for their forthcoming news app. At FT she helped start one of their first blogs, Alphaville, and as VP of communities, worked closely with FT Live which hosts some 200 conferences a year—new stuff at the time for a publisher.

Ishmael did a Q&A last week with Caroline O’Donovan for Nieman Lab. “I think for a long time, news organizations have struggled with figuring out how to create great experiences in digital,” she said. “…If the best ideas are coming from dating apps, we should try those. If the best ideas are coming from physical design and 3D printing, we should see what we can learn from that as well. I don’t think that only looking at things that other media organizations are doing is where you’re going to get most of your inspiration.”

Ishmael spoke about building an environment that allows for those new ideas, “where people feel simultaneously supported and challenged. The kinds of people who opt into working on products that don’t exist in a crowded marketplace at a super fast-growing technology company tend to have self-selecting personalities. It’s really easy for those teams to get obsessed with a particular problem, or take it really hard if they feel like they’re not making progress. It’s the responsibility of the people leading those teams to help people grow and learn and understand that we’re not going to get everything right the first time, and that’s okay.”

Smith’s column posited 4 new directions for email marketing:

1. Building email with a human voice out front: “…Some of the most successful emails out there—like Dave Pell’s NextDraft and Rusty Foster’s Today In Tabs—have put the focus on the individual voice.”

2. Moving away from old-school designs: “Our users are on mobile more than ever, and our focus should start with them.”

3. Rethinking nature of email: “Quite often, we use emails to focus on messaging, to tell…about news relevant to the industry, or to simply remind people that we exist. But what if other strategies might be more effective…?” Focus on the progress instead of the ask, he wrote, pointing to startups iDoneThis and Launch Ticker.

4. Embracing newer tools: “What if the strategy we’ve used to turn emails into well-oiled machines made us miss some better strategies along the way? For example, I could see a lot of folks accustomed to hand-coding HTML looking at the Pocket-like email curator GoodBits and thinking … whoa. What if something like the dead-simple email service TinyLetter made sense in certain contexts?”

Ishmael said that she’s been obsessed with email for a long time and strongly believes in a notification strategy for it. “Your notifications could be direct from your app, they could be tying into IFTTT, it could be getting into email. I’ve been watching with interest what Evernote is doing…where, if you’re editing a note in Evernote Business, you’re going to see relevant things from Factiva and Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal. It’s about: How do you get into people’s workflows in a way that doesn’t feel obtrusive and that is actually totally relevant to whatever they’re doing at that time?”

Think new—sounds like a good early-resolution.

To subscribe to the SIPAlert Daily, go to the SIIA website.

Ronn LevineRonn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.

SIIA Releases First Behind the Data Report on the U.S. PreK-12 Testing and Assessment Market

The Education Division of the SIIA, today released the first report in a new series of Behind the Data publications. This report is an extension of SIIA’s annual vendor survey reports on the PreK-12 U.S. Education Technology Market, which contain vital data for companies and the education community at large.

Testing and assessment sales have experienced such significant growth that it is now the largest single category of educational technology sales – defined as software, digital content, and related digital services – reported by vendors responding to the SIIA annual U.S. Education Technology Market: PreK-12 survey.  Sales in this category have increased a dramatic 57 percent over the last three years of the survey. For the 2012-2013 school year, sales in the testing and assessment category represented almost $2.5 billion.

“In looking carefully at the data for SIIA’s annual report, we saw the growth of testing and assessment as a trend that prompted further questions about the reasons for thisgrowth, and the need for this report,” said Dr. John Richards, president of Consulting Services for Education (CS4Ed). “We’re pleased that 20 companies provided the further information to us.”

Participants almost universally identified four key factors affecting the recent growth of the digital testing and assessment market segment:

1. The Common Core State Standards are Changing Curricula

2. The Rollout of Common Core Assessments is Galvanizing Activity

3. There is Widespread Demand for More and Better Formative Assessments

4. Testing and Assessment is Leading the Transition from Print to Digital

We view the growth of the PreK-12 testing and assessment market segment over the last several years even more remarkable, given that it has occurred in difficult economic times during an overall PreK-12 budget and spending decline.

To access the Executive Summary of the report click here.

Karen Billings Karen Billings is Vice President for the Education Division at SIIA. Follow the SIIA Education Team on Twitter  at @SIIAEducation

Reilly lists what made company transformation work

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”
—Lao Tzu

Brent Reilly, president of Randall-Reilly, the Tuscaloosa-Ala.-based company serving the trucking and construction industries, put that quote up early in his Day 2 keynote talk at BIMS 10 days ago. He then went on to address their transformation to a digitally-focused data, publishing and events company—from a print-centric publisher.

“If you’re leading a transformation, you have to make the personal transformation yourself.” Reilly said. “We had to stop deferring our own insecurities. It was time to step up and lead the change.” The main realignment was from a product-focused company to a client-focused one.

Since their transformation in 2009, Randall-Reilly has grown 115%. In 2007, they were 56% print, 16% data, 6% events, 6% custom, 1% digital and 15% other. Now they are 36% digital, 28% print (10% direct response), 23% data, 6% events, 5% custom and 2% other. “What did we learn?” Reilly asked. “We’re never going to stop transforming.”

Here are 8 lessons they learned from the process:

1. Don’t fall in love. Reilly wants you to be open to different outcomes than the one you might have had in mind. Your vision going in may not be how it ends up, but that’s fine, he said. “As long as you’re still making progress, then you’re okay.”

2. “Don’t protect your ideas—open them up for criticism; you’ll get more buy-in and better participation.” Reilly said that the broken silos led to expanded expertise. That plus the newly forced collaboration created space for leadership changes.

3. Ideas are creative, iterative and messy, and that’s fine. Pathways change. Be okay in the gray areas. Make the “same decisions until we have enough data to tell us to change.”

4. Get the right team and demand 100% buy-in to the vision. You have to have a great top-leadership team.

5. Promote for results over experience. The team mindset is vital. One aspect of this had to do with ad sales. Reilly said that centralizing their ad sales paid immediate dividends. “Customers had been begging for centralized sales reps.” Because of the fast turnover of those reps, customers were getting besieged. “It was a step in the right direction that clients appreciated.” He also said that he tells clients to “please let us know when we’re falling short. Call me if you ever feel that someone is pitching you. Here’s my cell phone number.”

6. Go all in—you can’t steal second with a foot on first. When it came to the investors, Reilly admitted that it was a tough time, especially with the downturn in the economy. “We tried to be as open and honest as possible,” he said. “There were problems but also potential for successes. I just didn’t want them to be surprised.”

7. Make the difficult decisions fast and don’t look back. You can’t second guess yourself. The worst thing to do would be to get caught in a rundown.

8. Have fun (Reilly emphasized he was serious about that). Change is hard. To do it well you have to foster creativity, elicit passion from people. You have to create an environment where people get up and want to come to work. You have to have fun.

To subscribe to the SIPAlert Daily, go to the SIIA website.

Ronn LevineRonn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.

How does the retirement of the postmaster general affect the B2B info industry?

The postmaster general of the United States, Patrick R. Donahoe, will retire on Feb. 1, as announced by the United States Postal Service on Nov. 14. The current USPS COO, Megan Brennan, a 28-year veteran with the agency, will step up to the CEO and postmaster general role. For the business-to-business take on the news, as well as on other current topics regarding the postal service, ABM turned to ABM/SIIA postal counsel Jack Widener.12-8-15JackWidener

Why is the postmaster general retiring?

The reason Donahoe offered is that labor negotiations are approaching, and he does not want to negotiate those discussions only to have his successor dealing with the outcomes. But part of the reason is also possibly that he felt Congress would not be passing any legislation in the near future, and he grew weary of waiting for that to occur. Postal reform legislation would have been the final piece that would have allowed him to complete his restructuring plan for the Postal Service. If that had occurred, with four years as PMG and 39 total years in the Postal Service, he would have achieved his major goal as PMG and could retire on a high note. But it appears Congress has no immediate plans to move forward with comprehensive legislation and, in fact, may add limitations on the Postal Service’s ability to reduce operational costs (see Legislative and Network Rationalization topics, below).

Perhaps Pat Donahoe’s greatest achievement is his leadership in restructuring operational functions within the Postal Service, which has resulted in billions of dollars in savings annually. As described above, his greatest disappointment, and ours too, is not being able to convince Congress of the need to pass comprehensive postal legislation to control costs. He needed legislation to change health care coverage plans, eliminate or reduce the retiree health benefits payment of about $5.7 billion annually and lower the Federal Employee Retirement System payments. He also needed legislation to change delivery from six to five days.

So the end of 2014 is a good ending point for Mr. Donahoe, and it ia an interesting time for an incoming PMG to take up the reins of the Postal Service.

Is Megan Brennan a good choice?

I believe she is an excellent choice. As COO, she has been the person who led the group that identified and implemented the operational cost reductions that have taken place. Many of us have known her for years and appreciate her willingness to go out and talk with customers, listen to criticism of the organization, respond honestly and follow up. We may not always agree with her decisions, but she has earned a high level of trust and respect from industry. She has always been a friend to publications, especially in these times when those revenues continue to decrease.

As an alternative, the Board of Governors could have gone outside the Postal Service for a replacement, and we have supported that at times in the past. It has not always meant greater success, though, and at this point in time it may be a wise decision to transition to someone from within, especially with the credentials Megan brings to the table.

What do the USPS’ finances look like for fiscal year 2014?

The Postal Service presented a summary for fiscal year 2014, which ended in September, at the Board of Governors meeting today.

  • The net loss was $5.5 billion and includes a $5.7 billion payment due for retiree health care benefits which they again defaulted on paying.
  • Operating revenue increased $569 Million from 2013.
  • Operating expenses decreased by about $41 billion.
  • Total Mail volume decreased by 1.8%.
  • What are the current hot topics on the legislative front?

In summary, nothing positive is happening on Capitol Hill heading into a new Congress. There was some hope that legislation might be brought forward in the lame duck Congress, but the various disagreements have led Senate leadership with no hopes of brokering consensus on reform legislation.

That said, it is a possibility that legislation could pass to place a moratorium on closing postal facilities (see network rationalization below). This would not be a stand-alone piece of legislation, but rather a rider on an appropriations bill providing direction to the Postal Service. SIIA/ABM oppose such a moratorium, but it could prove to be politically popular enough to pass.

What about network rationalization?

The Postal Service implemented a plan in 2011 to close about 230 processing facilities, not local post offices, as a result of decreasing mail volume and revenues. In 2012 and 2013 they closed about 141 facilities and determined the savings were $865 million annually. In 2014 they froze the process hoping legislation would be enacted. Congress as a group is sensitive to closings so the Postal Service wanted to avoid any distractions as they were working on postal legislation.

In July of this year they announced they would complete the 82 consolidations in 2015 with a projected savings of $750 million annually.

How does this affect ABM/SIIA members?

On the positive side, network rationalization has the potential to take $750 million in costs out of the system. That helps in avoiding more exigent rate increases and will have a positive, but small, benefit on periodical cost coverage.

On the negative side, there will likely be some disruption in service as the changes are made and the potential of permanent disruptions due to having fewer processing facilities. However, if history is an indicator from the previous closings, there will be negligible problems.

Are we supporting this effort?

ABM/SIIA’s position has been supportive of these measures in the past, and we continue to think it would be a net positive for members. Even though there are risks to service levels, we feel we must support the Postal Service in its efforts to “right-size” based on decreasing mail volume and runaway costs facing the UPSP. This has become even more important as Congress is not likely to take any legislative actions that would take additional costs out of the system. Short of legislation, this is one of the last options available to reduce costs and reduce the pressure on rate increases.

What other service considerations should we know about?

Periodicals: As part of network rationalization critical entry times (CET) are changing for Periodicals. A critical entry time is the time when you have to arrive at a postal facility to receive the service standard for the zip code your mail is going to. These CETs are changing to earlier in the day, from 4 p.m. (bundle sort required) and 5 p.m. (no bundle sort required) to 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. respectively. This means to receive the same service you will have to arrive at the facility before the new CETs.

First Class: According to the Postal Service there should be very little changes in the delivery of First Class Mail.

Why are the CETs changing?

The principal benefit of the new CET’s is that they will allow the Postal Service to expand its nightly processing window, smoothing out the peak volume load over more of the workday, thereby reducing the number of processing locations needed in the network.

‘To Get My Money Today, a Magazine Company Has to Do This Better Than Us’

This article is written by Matt Kinsman, ABM’s head of content.

Using a motto of “Content-Contact-Cash,” Rick Short, director of marketing communications at Indium Corp., has developed an aggressive content marketing strategy that turned Indium engineers into bloggers, video stars and influencers. The approach is very publisher-like: Indium develops its own editorial calendar and content, and manages its own audience database. The results? A 600% increase in sales leads and 10,000 new opt-in, self-qualified, sales leads each year.

“The digital world has allowed me to bypass the process [of working with media and agencies],” said Short, speaking at an event called Content Marketing 360 in B2B—From Soup to Nuts. Hosted by ABM’s Advertising & Marketing Services Council and the Institute for the Study of Business Markets, it brought together publishers, b2b brands and agencies.

“To get my money today, a magazine company has to do this better than us. I’d love someone to walk in and say, ‘We can do this cheaper, faster, better. And we will teach you new stuff at the same time.’”

Content marketing is hot; we see it everywhere. But how is it really any different from “custom content” or “branded content” strategies that have existed for years? The difference lies in what content marketing can accomplish, thanks to digital delivery and social media, customer understanding via audience data and modeling, and the fulfillment of lead generation.

The opportunity for publishers is huge—59% of brands expected to boost their content marketing budget in 2014, the largest lift for any marketing tactic other than digital advertising, according to Forrester Research. With their expertise in creating content and aggregating audience, publishers are natural partners for brands. At BIMS earlier this month, Penton CEO David Kieslestein said that marketing services are his company’s fastest growing business line.

However—as the Indium example points out—the danger of content marketing for publishers is brands keeping their dollars in-house. Here’s what Short thinks that they’re doing better in this manner:

1. What gets measured gets managed. For each content marketing effort, Indium establishes specific metrics in advance that are easy to report and implement, and are understood by its marketing team, which has access to metrics 24/7. Among the metrics Indium collects are how many contacts they gather, what type of information they request and what channels they explore (white papers, live-person chats, etc.).

2. Do-it-yourself solutions. Short developed the marketing tools himself, hires and manages the programmers, qualifies the leads, provides reporting and output, manages the CRM, and analyzes and upgrades. “The process from third parties was always complicated and expensive,” he said.

3. Comprehensive branding. IBM surveyed every corporate blog in the world and found that 80% had just five posts. Compare that to Indium, which did 163 blog posts over the past year and more than 1,000 social media posts across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Vine. Also generated by Indium’s in-house content marketing team: 88 presentations at 45 trade shows; 20 videos, 202 pieces of literature (including newsletters and white papers), 25 Internet landing pages and 128 paid ads.

Short assured publishers in attendance that he knows they have the capability to do this, but he has never been approached for a “thought-leader” conversation. “I know publishers say we can do this, and I don’t doubt that you can,” said Short. “But I don’t hear from you. I hear from your junior people. It’s always someone 16 layers below you who approaches me.”

Today’s Sales Reps Need to Be Empowered, Information Gatherers

“Let him sell ads on commission. That will knock his ears back.”

I heard that line recently in a 1938 film titled A Yankee in Oxford starring Robert Taylor, Maureen O’Sullivan and Vivian Leigh. Taylor’s father (Lionel Barrymore) owns a local newspaper, and the advertisers will abandon him if he insists on delaying the paper to get his son’s athletic exploits in the next edition. Then, when Barrymore asks the cranky banker for money to send his son to Oxford, he refuses and utters the above line.

Wow, that was 76 years ago! It was almost a familiar refrain at a recent conference when the question of salary for sales reps came up. Both Lexie Gross of BVR and Bobby Edgil of BLR are not fans of large base salaries for sales reps. In one sense, sales hasn’t changed that much. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Kelly Richmond Pope, founder of Helios Digital Learning, wrote about selling girl scout cookies. She cherishes the days when girls had to go door-to-door with parents or make the tough phone calls rather than having Mom and Dad bring the order sheet to their offices.

“A few weeks ago, I received a phone call. It was my friend’s 7-year-old daughter with her Girl Scout Cookies sales pitch. Not only was she poised and professional, she closed the deal by asking for the names of friends who might be interested in purchasing cookies. I…ordered three boxes of Thin Mints.”

But in most other ways, sales has changed. My colleague Patrick Angell in London recently posted a great interview with Raoul Monks of Flume Training about selling and hiring. Monks spoke about how the skill sets for sales managers have changed and thus so has what you must look for.

“Sales people need to act as trusted advisors and be prepared to challenge conventional client-thinking in a collaborative and authentic way that achieves client results,” Monks said. “However many sales teams are simply not doing this and the problem often lies with the fact that they are not empowered to do so.

“Today’s sales manager needs to enable their sales team to act and perform in the way that will make them stand out in the right way. This means taking a different approach to sales management—one that is more focused on helping the sales team behave in the right way and have the right drivers, rather than just looking at short-term results.”

Ryan Stillwell, COO of Vantage Production – a UCG company – expounded on this a little while ago in his member profile. He would like to see his sales reps get as much information as possible from customers.

“Take buying a car,” Stillwell began. “There are multiple types of cars. From a sales perspective, you start out knowing nothing [about the customer] besides the fact that they need a form of transportation. However, you don’t know if they have five kids or are single. Do they have a long commute to work? Is this for their occupation or leisure? Are you a beach bum, do you want 4-wheel drive? We need to cut through that stuff. Sometimes it’s easier to say we have different types of vehicles on our lot; which could you see yourself getting the most value out of? This allows for the discussion to get narrowed down quicker. This is what we try to teach our sales reps.”

How long before little girls are checking LinkedIn, Facebook or Pinterest to see the dessert preferences, exercise regimen, or potential buying power of their neighbors? (Although Richmond Pope does mention knowing the “easy sells” in her cookie-selling days.) Stillwell also gave interesting thoughts for hiring good salespeople:

“It’s tough to evaluate who to hire—it’s not like you can easily gauge what motivation a person has to succeed. I like to try and understand what a person has gone through, evaluating the adversity they faced. How long did they have to continue to follow up in order to be successful? Did he or she have to do follow-up presentations, face-to-face sales, cold calling? How many people did they reach out to in a day? Etc.”

Again, not that different from Richmond Pope’s treatise. “I learned never to set unrealistic sales goals; to always take responsibility for my work; and that if someone says ’no’, have confidence because another will say ’yes.’” she wrote. And steady those ears.

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