Start Thinking Outside the Box and Stop the Cliche Madness!

Clichés are defined as overused phrases or ideas. The do have their place in business and professional writing. They are not always a bad thing because sometimes they just – work.
In Advertising, saying a lot with a little tends to work best. So, we use clichés to quickly communicate a common idea.
But, when phrases become so over used, they not only begin to lose their meaning and emphasis, but can actually become white noise or worse – a distraction.
Avoiding the worst of the worst clichés helps your creative to stay fresh, contemporary and meaningful. With that in mind, here are some examples of the most troublesome offenders I see most often.
“Outside the box.”
In reality, thinking outside the box is like being inside a black hole of the universe. It is a vacuum with nothing to feed creativity. If you want your client to know you for your original thinking, Seth Godin has a great idea to think on the edges of the box. If you are on the edges of the box, you can see the clutter inside the box and the unexplored area outside the box.
“This is a 360-degree campaign.”
You do realize that when you do a 360, you wind up right where you started? Even if you say the campaign will result in a 180 degree turn, you are only stating that they will be headed in the opposite direction from where they are now.
If your intent is to tell the client the campaign is designed to increase their sales, say that.
“We wanted to do something impactful.”
Let’s consult Urban Dictionary on “impactful”: “a nonexistent word coined by corporate advertising, marketing and business drones to make their work sound far more useful, exciting and beneficial to humanity than it really is.”
Is this really the kind of impact you are trying to make? You may find you have more impact if you choose a better – and real – word!

“One-stop shop”

One-stop shop began in the United States in the 1920 – 1930’s. It’s purpose is to describe a business as the only place shoppers need to visit to fulfill all of their purchasing needs. In the Advertising world, it has become a way to identify a shop as full service – offering all aspects of the advertising world. These shops offer graphic design, public relations, web design, social and traditional media, and on and on.
I think we have evolved over the past century and understand that we cannot be great at everything. Focus your business on what you excel at and then let the world know what you offer!
“Paradigm shift.”

This reminds me of my last ‘real job’ almost 20 years ago. I had just finished reading “The Dilbert Principle” that discussed the overuse of the word “paradigm” that has begun in the world of academia. During a company-wide meeting with all of the big-wigs and head-haunchos, the word was mentioned by five of our leaders at least 20 times. I couldn’t help but laugh knowing that they were already being cliché – and again, that was almost 20 years ago.

“Results-oriented or results-driven.”
What to say instead?  Anything else. Because who wants to work with a company who offers anything less?
Clichés are defined as overused phrases or ideas. The do have their place in business and professional writing. They are not always a bad thing because sometimes they just – work.
While cliches have a place and benefits, they are not always the best choice.
Share your favorite Cliche you Love to Hate!

4 Changes To Get Out Of Your Rut

It doesn’t rain often in Phoenix – the city I call home. The remnants of a Pacific hurricane made its way to our city. And it rained. The kind of cloudy, drizzle that kicks off Fall and makes you want to curl up with a good book – not work. That particular day, I found myself working on a tight deadline. The weather was so distracting that I found myself looking out the window more that I worked on my project.
I began to search for ways I could improve my focus and productivity even while staring distraction in the face.
While my mind wondered, I thought about a conference I went to several years ago where Erik Wahl, an artist, and motivational speaker spoke. In this particular presentation, he mentioned he practices something he calls “Crazy Daddy Day” with his children. The idea was that when their life got in a rut, he would unexpectedly put Crazy Daddy Day into effect. The only rule for the day is that everything happens backward including eating. Dessert first, then working their way into the spaghetti and meatballs and finishing with the salad and soup.
Last week, Aleksander Olic published a post entitled A Different Kind of a Productivity Hack suggesting something similar. The post recommends doing things differently when you need a boost in your productivity.
The concept behind both of these is change. By doing things differently – mixing things up -makes it easier and faster to accomplish your task.
Here are some ways I use to get motivated. I share them to help inspire your creativity and get you out of a rut.
1. Go for a walk – or have walking meetings

Nilofer Merchant’s TED talk made a strong case for this type of one-on-one meeting style. Meetings taken out of the office have been shown to increase employees’ creativity and focus. Why?
Perhaps just getting out of the office takes you out of the box, creating the environment for out-of-the-box thinking. It may be just getting the blood flowing to the brain or the change of scenery, but it does work.
Merchant points out that we now sit for 9.3 hours each day which is more than the 7.7 hours we sleep each day. This sedentary lifestyle has been shown to cause blood clots and linked to some types of cancer and heart disease.

2. Implement No Meeting Days

Taking a day off from meeting gives everyone a guilt-free opportunity to get their actual work done, the ability to focus, and encouragement to start more ambitious projects. Just knowing that your day will not be interrupted by a meeting provides more mental focus. And, when your mind knows that the day will not be broken up, it naturally wants to focus on more daunting and challenging projects that require mental concentration and focus.
Your agency won’t be alone if you implement this practice. You will be joining Facebook, Asana, and Kiva all of which have no meeting days in effect and have experienced a significant productivity boost.

3. Mix up your Mix

Sometimes, just changing the type of music you are listening to will change your way of thinking. When you hit the afternoon “I need a nap” frame of mind, pick up the beat. Higher beats per minute will increase your energy level. Also, classical music has been proven to increase brain function and improve performance. Another study showed that playing nature sounds in an office environment could improve your thinking skills and mood. Mix them all together and you end up with something I’m coining ‘Classirapture’! Or, better known as noise!

4. Lego of Stress

We all love to play with stuff, so why not bring the stuff into the workplace. Lego is the perfect addition for any office because it is a low-cost creativity booster. There are those who may think Lego’s are childish and have no place in the work environment. Adding them to the environment has proven to help with problem solving and searching to solve problems.
They are fun and inexpensive and can help with storytelling or to describe problems. These little blocks can deflect a lot of pressure and move your brain back to a more playful state. Creating physical models help people visually think about problem-solving. It is safe to say Lego itself is more stimulating and creative than a PowerPoint presentation or a spreadsheet.

We often associate change with slowing us down due to learning curves and getting used to new processes or places. It is interesting that sometimes change can make us more creative and productive!
We all have our secrets and tips that work for us.
What works for you?

5 Simple Changes to Improve Communications

Remember when the BlackBerry was such a hot item? So much so, it earned the nickname “CrackBerry”. The company’s stock peaked in 2007 at $236 per share. It has started this week at less than $ 7.50 per share.
The reason for its loss of value was not because mobile phones or devices were a passing fad. In fact, there are 7 BILLION smartphones in use today across the globe. That is one per living person in the world! This number contrasts sharply with only 122.3 million in 2007 when BlackBerry hit its highest stock price.

So what caused this once behemoth to fall from being the pioneer and leader of its industry and losing 95% of its value in less than a decade?

The answer: ineffective communication.

Ironically, leaders at Research In Motion (RIM) – BlackBerry’s parent company – could not sustain open and honest lines of communication with their internal teams. The employees did not raise any red flags as deadlines were repeatedly missed. This lack of information prevented the powers that be from solving the problem – let alone even knowing of the issue.
painters-houseIt is like the old sayings: “The painter’s house is never painted” and “The cobbler’s son never has shoes.” We are in the communications industry – as much if not more than BlackBerry – and yet we are the worst communicators. If you find that your agency could improve communications, here are five easy ways to improve your communication skills.

  1. Have a ‘Stand-Up Meeting’ every morning. This meeting should be no more than 10 – 15 minutes and no one sits down to ensure its brevity. Use this time with your team to talk about what is on their plate for the day. It is a great opportunity for everyone to get on the same page and identify any issues with deadlines or workload problems. It is also a way to keep everyone accountable for their commitments.
  2. Document communications. Do not document to “CYA” (cover your assets), but it serves as a reminder to everyone,the discussion that took place. How many times have you committed to something when you pass someone in the hall? Then, by the time you get back to your desk, you have already forgotten it. Having a centralized place everyone can access to record these commitments not only reminds you of your obligation but also keeps everyone in the loop.
  3. Assess your current communication methods. While email and messaging have their place, they may not always be the best means of communication. For one thing, this opposes # 2 on this list in documenting the conversation. Also, some personalities are not prone to read a lot of emails – and those personalities tend to dominate the creative industry. Additionally, they are not accessible to everyone who may need access to that information. It is imperative to implement a tool that allows you to communicate easily with each other, document those communications, organize the communications in a logical and easy to understand way, and allows easy access to the communication history.
  4. Do not attempt to have your systems replace all communications. The biggest reason for the failure of implementing systems that I have observed is when the shop tries to replace face-to-face communications with a system. A system is a tool. Use the tools to help you communicate and to document those communications. Continuing to discuss one-on-one allows the sharing of the emotions and tone of the conversation.personality-type
  5. Know your personality types. This industry consists of every possible personality type. Add to that the stressors we face each day, and you have a time bomb just waiting to explode. Knowing what personality you are communicating with makes it easier to understand how to connect with them. Assessments such as the DISC Personality Profile are tools that can help your team better understand how to communicate and work together more effectively. If you are interested in having the DISC Personality Profile conducted for your team, Agency ADvisor can help.

Most important is that your shop doesn’t lose its core value and the culture that makes it unique. There are many tools out there which can help with communication. Excellent communication is a quality that successful businesses have. It is worth the time and effort spent improving communication to keep the great talent that makes your shop who and what you are. I promise – this is an investment you cannot afford to pass up!

Meet John Smith

Traveling has taught me many things. Like how to pack the most into the smallest space. How to sleep on planes. How to speed pack. However, I just experienced something that we all need reminding of … How to talk on cell phones in public.

This is not a story complaining about the ‘Chatty Cathy’ types of cell phone users. But a story about how using your cell phone can give

many strangers a lot of information about yourself and your business.

Today, I met John Smith. He doesn’t know that we met, but in the airport, he was on his cell phone giving out his name. I also now know his street address and that he lives in the same zip code as I do. He also has a Bank of America credit card, which, if I had wanted to, I could have keyed his account number into my cell phone.

 I know that John is not happy with Bank of America and that he was contacted repeatedly by the banks representatives about, ironically enough, their identity theft protection package. I know that John declined the package (he apparently doesn’t need anyone helping him protect his privacy. I am now aware that his charge card statement reflects the cost for the identity theft protection, and that charge was for $90.

While learning a great deal about John Smith that I don’t need nor want to know, I had to think about how many times I have been on my cell phone in public. Sometimes, I am discussing my dealings with someone in an airport or some public place swarming with strangers within ear shot of my conversation.

John taught me a valuable message and I am passing this along to you. Remember when using your cell phone in public places to be aware that there are people around you. Individuals who may be the type to key in your credit card number for later use of their own. Those who may be friends of your ‘client from Hell.’ People who might work at a competing shop and just need to hear a little bit of your dirty laundry to take your big client away.

Five general rules to follow when talking in public places.

  1. Don’t use names (both company and person) when having conversations in public places. If you need to do so, find a private area before making the call.
  2. Don’t discuss any financial information. In addition to account numbers, don’t talk about billing rates, cost rates, salaries, or sales figures.
  3. If you need to introduce yourself with first and last name, find a private place before you make the call.
  4. If you are calling about a topic that makes you agitated, be sure to keep a gauge on your volume. Just because you are frustrated with the company/person/situation, doesn’t mean that everyone around you needs to know about it. Save that for social media!
  5. Finally, don’t discuss work problems in public places (on or off the phone). Recently I was at lunch with an Agency Owner who was venting his frustrations about one of his employees. Since I had never met this employee, we were both surprised when the employee had been sitting right behind him the entire time.

I would like to thank John Smith for teaching me this lesson. Maybe I should stop by his house and share the lesson with him.

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