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Time-tested Tactics Still Outshine the Bells and Whistles
Paul Robbins

Paul Robbins, president of Paul Robbins Associates, says he undertakes a certain amount of pro bono work each year to assist causes he feels strongly about and keep his name relevant in the marketplace.

Marketing is a multi-faceted business sector that draws from many different disciplines to create results for a wide array of clients. But what about when the advertising gurus must promote themselves? It seems the best courses of action still include some of the oldest tricks in the book, revamped with a focus on today’s diverse marketplace — in other words, practicing what you preach.

There’s an aspect of marketing and advertising that Janet Warren, owner of MarCom Capital in Hatfield, says is unique to the industry.

“You get to be your own guinea pig,” she explained. “As marketers, we are constantly giving advice to our clients, so we routinely test our own advice on ourselves. We have to take a look at what we’re saying to clients — it helps us to be objective and critical, in a positive way, about the advice given to other people.”

Indeed, marketers are business owners, too, and they’re frequently charged with getting their own name and message out to the masses, just as they help position their clients for increased success in the marketplace.

This often means turning their own advice inward, and in turn, this tactic sometimes helps them gauge what’s working and what may be ready for retirement in an increasingly specialized, fast-paced business sector.

“Whether you’re a marketer or not, you need to know what it is about your business that is unique and makes you stand out,” said Warren. “And that process starts with asking questions.”

The Value-based Sale

Some of those questions include ‘what are my strengths?’ ‘how can I best help my clients?’ and ‘which types of clients are the best fit for my set of specialties?’ Further, all of these queries are aimed at one goal: translating the value of a marketer’s services to the most appropriate audience. Warren said it’s the most important aspect of what she calls “value-based selling.”

“It’s really important for marketers to develop a clear, concise message, and to be transparent about what they do,” she said. “Value-based sales sell results: things like our portfolios or case studies of past projects. We have to have results at the ready. They give someone an illustration of what we do, but also help to explain the process.

“The overall idea is that, through value-based selling, clients or potential clients walk away with information they didn’t have before,” she added.

Paul Robbins, president of Paul Robbins Associates in Wilbraham, added that honing in on existing strengths adds even more weight to such presentations, and to advertising one’s own marketing outfit, as it allows firms of all types to speak more directly to the types of clients they can best serve.

“You can be everywhere, or you can be scarce and let your work be your calling card,” he said, likening the difference between the two avenues to the steady stream of guests on a late-night television show. “Johnny Carson used to have guests that were on all the time, but he also had guests that chose to appear only a handful of times who were just as memorable because they chose their appearances very carefully.”

In Western Mass., he added, the marketing and advertising sector is robust, creating healthy competition for work. Some firms choose to be as all-encompassing as possible to thrive in this market, while others choose to hone in on a specific niche. Either way, he said, the focus should always been on quality, not quantity, because a marketer’s most powerful tool is the work they’ve completed.

“Marketers rely heavily on their reputations — letting their projects speak for them,” he said. “If I achieve a successful result, if my client is happy with the work, then that’s an automatic marketing tool for me.”

Warren agreed, adding that this market is one that is also becoming increasingly diverse in a number of creative and technology-related fields. This, she speculated, could signal a shift in the industry toward greater collaboration and subcontracting among firms with various competencies.

“I think one of the reasons that firms have tried do everything in the past is that this is a small market, and there aren’t many companies that can afford to hire a number of experts,” she said. “But what is important is not to be the best marketer, but to do what we do really well, and to link strategy with action steps and coordinate the pieces. There are a lot of really smart marketers in this market — there’s something about each firm that is a forté.”

She said that by differentiating a firm’s services from all others, a marketer can not only better reach clients, but business partners as well. “I focus on strategy, and I work with both small and large companies to pull multiple things together. I am not the most technology-savvy person out there, but I can easily pull in an SEO (search-engine optimization) expert if needed, for example.”

There are some things that all marketers must do, added Robbins, to remain relevant, among them a maintaining a Web presence and rethinking traditional office hours.

“This is a whole new arena for business,” he said. “Clients want to be able to reach me at any time — at noon on a Tuesday, or on a Saturday morning. This still boils down to good customer service and accessibility, but with the Internet and cell phones, the channels have changed. We must engage people in a different way.”

March of the Penguins

But while the industry is evolving, especially through technology, there are still many time-tested tactics that continue to factor greatly into a firm’s success, including the power of word-of-mouth.

“It’s still the single most powerful marketing tool in the world, and that’s true for marketers as much as anyone else,” said Robbins. “If someone receives great service, they’re going to refer me to someone else.”

Lucy Carlson, owner of Carlson Advertising based in Palmer, said word-of-mouth has factored greatly into her business plan, and was also integral in getting her business off the ground two years ago.

“I mostly started getting work by making contacts through the Quaboag Chamber,” she said. “That was really a home run — my first two clients came from that affiliation. From there, I’ve continued to develop relationships. Developing a level of trust and comfort is important, because it increases the clients’ confidence in referring you to other people.”

Carlson said that’s doubly important for smaller firms like her own, which is positioned to offer companies of varying sizes a wide range of marketing services.

“I’m small, so I’m focused on personal, one-on-one service. I want people to see me as their marketing person, handling the things they don’t have time for in their business and to help them stand out by finding their own voice.”

This has become a key aspect of Carlson’s internal advertising. Her firm’s tag line — “In an over-communicated world, how are you going to stand out?” — sends a message to potential clients, but also applies to her own business strategy. A print ad designed for Carlson Advertising by a design firm she often contracts with translated the phrase visually into a sea of penguins, featuring one bird in particular separated from the flock.

“When you see footage or photos of penguins, there are always thousands of them, just walking in the same direction,” said Carlson. “This business can feel like that sometimes, so the idea became, ‘how do I stand out from the crowd?’”

She added that public events such as trade shows have returned positive results as far as getting her company’s name and message out in the region.

“Public events work for me because of the amount of people seeing my work,” she said. “We’re a visual society, so I think that’s why they’re effective. If someone walks by the booth of a client of mine and asks about who handled the design or the copy, I’m getting a benefit, and it’s not even my business on display.”

Front-porch Pitch

Robbins said there are other ways to get a firm’s name out in front of the public eye, including efforts to factor in a certain amount of pro bono work each year.

Robbins completed just such a project recently for the Hatikvah Holocaust Education Center in Springfield, creating a suite of marketing materials to publicize the museum. He calls such jobs “front-porch projects,” because they are as important to the community as they are to raising his firm’s profile.

“I do a fair amount of pro bono work, and personally, I feel strongly about healing racism in America,” he explained. “I try to invest in projects that have that characteristic because, first, it’s important to me, and that adds value to my work. Second, there’s a real benefit when someone picks up a brochure for one of these projects and asks who designed it.”

Warren said that regardless of the project, allowing work to speak for itself is a huge part of any marketer’s self-focused campaign because of the sheer nature of the work at hand.

“We sell abilities,” she said. “Savvy business leaders and entrepreneurs who don’t know marketing particulars understand that they need people to help them translate their message, and in this ‘Web 2.0’ world, things are getting very specialized. What I try to do is be the one person to pull it all together.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

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