By George Foster, CEO, Foster Marketing
Last Sunday at a Christmas morning service the pastor related a story that immediately captured my attention. It was about a business owner (first perk up) … his name was George (second perk up) … and he was the last to leave the office (was he talking about me?).
He then related an inspirational story that had meaning not only for Christmas but also as we sweep out 2011 and welcome 2012.
It was Christmas Eve, and, as usual, George Mason was the last to leave the office. He walked over to a massive safe, spun the dials and swung the heavy door open. Making sure the door would not close behind him, he stepped inside. A square of white cardboard was taped just above the top most row of strong boxes. On the card a few words were written. George Mason stared at those words, remembering …
Exactly one year ago he had entered this self-same vault. And then, behind his back, slowly, noiselessly the ponderous door swung shut. He was trapped — entombed in the sudden and terrifying dark. He hurled himself at the unyielding door, his hoarse cry sounding like an explosion.
Through his mind flashed all the stories he had heard of men found suffocated in time-vaults. No time clock controlled this mechanism; the safe would remain locked until it was opened from the outside. He would have to wait until tomorrow morning. Then the realization hit him. No one would come tomorrow — tomorrow was Christmas.
Once more he flung himself at the door, shouting wildly, until he sank on his knees exhausted. Silence came, high-pitched, singing silence that seemed deafening. More than 36 hours would pass before anyone came, 36 hours in a steel box three feet wide, eight feet long and seven feet high. Would the oxygen last? Perspiring and breathing heavily, he felt his way around the floor.
Then, in the far right-hand corner, just above the floor, he found a small, circular opening. Quickly he thrust his finger into it and felt a faint, but unmistakably, cool current of air. The tension release was so sudden that he burst into tears. But at last he sat up. Surely he would not have to stay trapped for the full 36 hours. Somebody would miss him. But whom?
George was unmarried and lived alone. The maid who cleaned his apartment was just a servant; he had always treated her as such. He had been invited to spend Christmas Eve with his brother’s family, but children got on his nerves, and expected presents. A friend had asked him to go to a home for elderly people on Christmas Day and play the piano since George was a good musician.
But he had made some excuse or other; he had intended to sit at home with a good cigar, listening to some new recordings he was giving himself. George dug his nails into the palms of his hands until the pain balanced the misery in his mind. Nobody would come and let him out. Nobody, nobody.
Miserably the whole of Christmas Day went by, and the succeeding night. On the morning after Christmas the head clerk came into the office at the usual time, opened the safe and then went on into his private office. No one saw George Mason stagger out into the corridor, run to the water cooler and drink great gulps of water. No one paid any attention to him as he left and took a taxi home. There he shaved, changed his wrinkled clothes, ate breakfast and returned to his office, where his employees greeted him casually.
That day he met several acquaintances and talked to his own brother. Grimly, inexorably the truth closed in on George Mason. He had vanished from human society during the great festival of Christian fellowship; no one had missed him at all.
Reluctantly, George began to think about the true meaning of Christmas. Was it possible that he had been blind all these years with selfishness, indifference, pride? Wasn’t giving, after all, the essence of Christmas because it marked to the time God gave His own Son to the world?
All through the year that followed, with little hesitant deeds of kindness, with small, unnoticed acts of unselfishness, George Mason tried to prepare himself. Then, once more, it was Christmas Eve. Slowly he backed out of the safe and closed it. He touched its grim steel face lightly, almost affectionately and left the office.
There he went in his black overcoat and hat, the same George Mason as a year ago, or was he? He walked a few blocks, and then flagged a taxi, anxious not to be late. His nephews were expecting him to help them trim the tree. Afterward, he was taking his brother and his sister-in-law to a Christmas play. Why was he so happy? Why did this jostling against others, laden as he is with bundles, exhilarate and delight him?
Perhaps the card had something to do with it, the card he taped inside his office safe last New Year’s Day. On the card is written, in George Mason’s own hand: “To love people, to be indispensable somewhere, that is the purpose of life. That is the secret of happiness.”
There is a road for anyone who is feeling trapped or stuck. But, before that road can be traveled there must be destruction of the old. The old George Mason had to die before the new George Mason could travel that new road.
Our lives are like that. We want newness but are we willing to bury the old? George Mason was trapped until he rid himself of his indifference and selfishness. Unfortunately it took being locked up in a safe in order for him to see himself as he really was.
We don’t have to spend two days in a safe to travel a new road. There is a new highway for all of us when we are willing to allow our old ones to be destroyed. New relationships, new understandings, new opportunities can all be realized when we let go of the old ones which are keeping us from being fulfilled or experiencing the joy of life.
Happy New Year from Foster Marketing!
Human beings are hardwired to be social — both culturally and physiologically. We Tweet and text. We Like and link up. We blog and banter. Researchers have proven that craving attachment is written into our DNA. So, it is no wonder more people are reaching out to others online.
Just this week, SmartBrief on Social Media noted that Facebook now has 800 million members. Twitter boasts 1 billion Tweets per week. As of August, LinkedIn had more than 120 million registered users in more than 200 locales worldwide.
Of all these connections, not all of them are purely social. According to a study by BtoB Magazine, 93 percent of business-to-business marketers are engaged in social media marketing. (Most of us support “The Big 3” strategy of targeting LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.)
Many companies are becoming more open to the idea of using social media at work, according to a study by PRNewswire. As social media invades the business world, the energy industry is rallying its troops.
Two recent events focusing on social media, a Business Marketing Association forum on social media and World Oil’s Marketing in the Oilfield Conference, offered a fleet of energy industry professionals to share their social marketing experiences. Many in attendance were on fact-finding missions on how to get started or build their networks.
However, there was another hot topic on the minds of many. Although social media bans in the workplace weren’t discussed center stage, it was definitely the buzz in the back of the room.
A recent Robert Half Technology survey found that 51 percent of companies surveyed said they permit employees to use social media for business purposes (up from 19 percent in 2009), more than 1-in-3 companies still prohibit social media at the office.
Put your manager’s hat on and consider the possible arguments for such bans:
- Safeguarding company computers and servers. Maybe.
- Social media decreases productivity. Maybe not.
- Fear of unprofessional online interactions and leaking company secrets. Admittedly, it has happened to a few.
- If we ignore it, this social media craze will just go away. Not a chance. Not even if you hold your breath until you turn Facebook blue. (But if you try this, I can almost guarantee someone will post a video or picture of you online before you regain consciousness).
Let’s look at the individual concerns:
Safeguarding Company Computers
Although there are many offenders out there looking to do damage wherever possible, email seems to be a more likely target for these attacks … and no one is banning that.
Productivity Will Drop
Sadly, there will always be employees who abuse such privileges at work, but these are likely the same people you are talking to about taking too many breaks, not showing up for work and spending all day on personal phone calls — so just add spending hours on YouTube to your list.
On the other hand, according to an AT&T study on social networking technologies, access to social networking sites at work actually increases productivity and efficiency. In the study, employees said access to the rich sources of information on social networks often provided them solutions to problems and inspired them creatively.
Other noteworthy benefits to allowing social media access include:
- Sharing knowledge and information between employees, suppliers and customers.
- Better team building and internal structure in the workplace.
Here’s another issue to consider: A Nielsen survey shows that some younger workers said they were willing to quit their jobs if they were not allowed to access Facebook at work. (Surprising for some of us, but if you are hoping to hire the hottest tech-savvy young graduates, this may be something you will eventually have to consider.)
Still another school of thought says employees allowed to occasionally relax a bit at work will be even more focused and refreshed when they do get back to the job at hand.
Fear of over sharing and inappropriate posting
Admittedly, trust is required when it comes to social media. You must trust your staff to act like adults and use social media at work for business purposes instead of just catching up with friends. You must also be sure employees understand what content is acceptable to be shared and appropriate for your company’s culture.
Having a social media policy — in writing — sets the standard for employees to follow and ensures management and employees are on the same page. A social media policy should include:
- The company’s policy on accessing social media — and other web surfing — at work. Is it only allowed for business use
- What’s the policy on using the company’s name and information in social posts?
- How often are employees expected to contribute to company social media networks?
- If a negative post does pop up, who will respond? Who will decide IF you respond at all?
Social Media Is Here To Stay
Here’s another crazy idea: One energy company presenting at the Marketing in the Oilfield Conference said they actually asked its customers how they should be using social media. Based on customer feedback, the company is planning to use Twitter to send updates when usual forms of communication are down. That’s a powerful social media impact.
The bottom line is that social media usage will continue to expand (you can even get a degree in social media now). And as social media marketing becomes a more vital way to reach customers and prospects, companies will need to consider if they can afford to ban social media in the workplace. At many companies, there are people ready to promote their products and services online, interact with customers, seek out public relations opportunities through industry media and be thought leaders in their fields … if only they had access.
It’s time to banish the bans, embrace social media and start managing it.
Foster Marketing can help you launch and create a plan to maintain your social media presence. We’ll help you determine what content is right for your organization and work with you to create social media policies for your organization.
The Pursuit of Happyness is a 2006 film and true story about a struggling, on-again, off-again homeless salesman who takes care of his 5-year-old son while trying to make something of himself as a stockbroker. In the movie, Will Smith played Christopher Gardner, now a successful stockbroker and entrepreneur.
In a voice over, Gardner describes some of his more troubling times as: “This part of my life … this part right here? This part is called ‘being stupid’.” Later he says, “This part of my life is called ‘internship’ as he learned the investment business; and finally as he succeeded,” he said, “This part of my life … this part right here? This is called ‘happyness’.” In the film, “happiness” is misspelled as “happyness” outside the daycare facility Gardner’s son attends.
Happiness a Hot Topic
These days happiness and its pursuit are hot topics. It seems like every day I see an article on happiness. Titles include: “Surprising Secrets from the World’s Happiest People”, “6 Ways to Feel Happier, Be Healthier”, “Can You Learn to Be Happy?” or, just, “Are You Happy?” And, at church recently, the pastor announced an upcoming series of sermons titled Happy People. Happiness is hot!
How does being happy affect us as marketers, business owners and employees? I’ve always told employees that we want happy campers working for Foster Marketing. Additionally, we want happy clients. Ultimately, however, we can’t make clients and employees happy. We can satisfy them or please them, but happiness comes from within — an inherent quality in ones’ being. It is actually the pursuit of happiness that unconsciously implies that we are not happy and so dissatisfaction with ones’ perceived sense of unhappiness arises.
Research conducted by Harvard professor Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar showed that “happiness largely depends on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account. It depends upon what we choose to focus on (the full or empty part of the glass) and on our interpretation of external events. For example, do we view failure as catastrophic or do we see it as a learning opportunity?”
He goes on to say that, “one of the most common barriers to happiness is the false expectation that one thing — a promotion at work, a prize, a revelation — will bring us external bliss.” Pursuing a list of things/desires that you think will make you happy (something you already are, regardless of whether or not it’s realized) will only provide you with a very temporary sense of pleasure or happiness.
So, What Makes Us Happy?
Dr. Ben-Shahar says “we must first accept that this is it! All there is to life is the day-to-day, the ordinary, the details of the mosaic. We are living a happy life when we derive pleasure and meaning from spending time with our loved ones or learning something new.
“The other significant component of happiness is that helping oneself and helping others are intertwined. The more we help others, the happier we become … and the happier we become, the more inclined we are to help others.”
Don’t Worry, Be Happy!
While happiness comes from within, there are many common things a person can do to improve his or her state of happiness according to the experts:
- Simplify. We try to squeeze more and more activities into less time, says Dr. Ben-Shahar. Dan Buettner, who wrote the book Thrive, spent five years talking to people in areas identified as the world leaders in happiness — Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula; Singapore; Nuevo Leon, Mexico; and San Luis Obispo, Calif. His advice: own one TV, no more; and, stop shopping as the satisfaction we get from buying things wears off in 14 months.
- Get involved. Spend time with family and friends. Make new friends. Each new friend that you make (assuming that they’re upbeat) increases your chance of being happy by 9%, Buettner says. Volunteer and help others as mentioned earlier. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, men and women who volunteer report greater life satisfaction and better physical health than non-volunteers.
- Appreciate life. Head for the great outdoors. Physical exercise and increased stamina associated with being outdoors yield important benefits as people get more sedentary. People in sunnier climates are consistently happier than those who live in northern countries. Finally, keep the faith. Religious people tend to be happier than those without faith.
- Get a pet. Pets provide more than companionship and a warm welcome home. They lend a willing and helpful ear — even if they have fins or feathers instead of fur. An astonishing 97% of dog and cat owners reported they talk to their pets, notes Alan Beck, director of the Center of the Human Animal Bond at Purdue University. “The other 3% lied,” he quips. I can attest to that as I run my newsletters past Billy Ray Cyrus, the Cairn terrier that I rescued last December.
The ideas above can help make the world look better. Add them to your life, and odds are you’ll feel both happier and healthier.
Foster Marketing can help you simplify your life by taking the weight of your marketing efforts off your shoulders. We work as proactive partners with our clients to meet all deadlines and achieve results.
A Guide to Kick Start Your Community Relations Efforts
By Leah Martinez, Public Relations Account Executive for Foster Marketing
With cutting costs and bolstering the bottom line topping the agenda for most companies, the idea of launching a community relations campaign may not be greeted with a flood of enthusiasm at the corporate level. Just the mention of community relations could trigger visions of dollars flying out the door to top executives and financial types.
Mentioned in many mission statements, there is often something about making a difference or serving the community. But how do you make this goal a reality when money is tight?
Investments of the non-monetary variety can help create and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship between a company and its community. Investing time in the communities where you do business builds trust and establishes a reputation of reliability. Plus, it’s just human nature to want to work with those who are doing good things for others.
So, if you could put a price tag on the value of trust, how much would you pay for it? If you are a company that depends on relationship building to make a sale (who doesn’t — particularly in the energy sector), of course you’d pay top dollar.
How you choose to support the community, whether individually or corporately, tells your community and future customers something about the culture and values of your company. Considering this list of questions will help you pinpoint a cause and give you a starting point.
1. What is important to your employees?
Ask employees what matters to them. Choosing a cause that employees want to be a part of can help build a sense of camaraderie and jump start teamwork in the office. If the cause strikes a chord with employees, they will take a vested interest and the initiative to become actively involved.
2. What is important in your community?
Take the time to scope out your local community calendar to get familiar with what is happening around you. Take note of what’s being done and what’s not. Jumping on an already busy bandwagon often leaves other truly needy groups in the dust. Be cognizant that some charities or causes might need your help more than others.
3. How much time can you give?
Create a list of potential local charities and causes and make some calls. Determining how much time you are able to give and the demands of the schedule can help narrow the list.
4. Is this in the budget?
Even if a limited budget doesn’t allow for big donations, use your time and talents to help in the community. Remember, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Consider organizing a drive to collect school supplies, winter coats, items for soldiers or host a blood drive. Don’t rule out the possibility of partnering with other local businesses or a community group. Call your favorite local restaurant or a cooking group. They could share your desire to help and offer to cater an event. If you have a hefty budget set aside for sponsoring community events, hosting a celebrity golf tournament for a charity might be more up your alley.
No stress, just long-term gains
Don’t stress yourself out! Keep in mind why you are getting involved and just have fun! Community service is all about giving back to increase the quality of life for those around you. Investing in your community is like investing in a long-term relationship; the longer you are involved, the more history you create and trust is built.
Beyond feeling good about having an impact in your community, long-term gains in teamwork and employee morale can be realized. Working together to reach goals in a stress-free environment can do wonders for a company’s sense of teamwork.
Volunteering is contagious and volunteers tend to travel in packs. Once a core group of involved employees is in place, you can focus on making the effort enjoyable. Add an element of fun by incorporating a friendly competition. For example, who can collect the most donations or rack up the most volunteer hours? Salute the winner with recognition or a gift card to a local restaurant.
Opportunities to get involved are pretty much limitless and include supporting community cultural efforts; helping the needy; sharing your time with children; providing educational supplies; and much, much more. Now, how you will choose to impact your community?
Through the years Foster Marketing has worked with several companies and organizations to make their community relations efforts a success by providing research, planning, creative resources, event coordination and public relations support to help them succeed.
Foster Marketing employees are networked in all types of organizations, from endowing scholarships to helping kids to supporting athletic programs. The key is to get going. As someone once said, “if you’re going to hunt with the big dogs, you have to get off the porch.”
By George Foster, CEO of Foster Marketing
In June, Foster Marketing employees participated in our 14th Annual Foster Fest summer retreat in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Through the years we’ve taken our staff and significant others to some pretty nice locales. From our first retreat at a plantation home in St. Francisville, La., we’ve now met in Niagara Falls, Chicago, Cozumel, New Orleans and taken numerous cruises out of New Orleans and Galveston.
As our team has grown it has become more expensive for this enterprise and a budget challenge for our President, Tiffany Harris, who plans these meetings. However, I wouldn’t trade these four-day events for anything.
We always talk about spending 50 weeks working in the business, i.e. working on helping our clients grow, but we only spend a couple of weeks working on the business, i.e. helping Foster Marketing get better. On a retreat, you actually work on your business.
Many firms take just their management-level staff on a retreat. I’m a strong believer in taking all the staff – it’s a team. Additionally, we ask every staff member to make a presentation on something of importance to the agency.
Melissa Laughon in a recent blog on www.catchyourlimit.com addressed this very topic To Retreat or Not to Retreat? That is the Question. She listed the top five reasons why firms are not retreating in 2011 and five on why they are. It’s a lengthy post. You can visit her lists, but here would be mine. First, some reasons not to have a retreat:
•We’re too busy.
•They’re too expensive.
•The follow-up is lacking after the retreat.
And then why retreats are essential:
•We need to pause and work on the business.
•It gets everyone involved in the success of the business.
•Great for team building.
•Great spouse/significant other interaction.
•Great recruiting/employee benefit tool.
Laughon says at a retreat the future is in your hands and quotes Peter Drucker, the famous management consultant: “The only way to predict the future is to create it.” My rationale for having a retreat also is based on a Drucker quote: “Adequacy is the enemy of excellence.”
Planning the Retreat
There are many things to think about when planning a retreat, but basically there are five key things to consider – know your purpose, pick a date, select an off-site location, develop an agenda and use what you learn.
At Foster Marketing, we have several goals for our retreats – basically those indicated above on why we have a retreat. To pick one goal in particular, I’d say getting everyone involved in presenting solutions is most important to me. Getting the Office Administrator to discuss HR or our Controller to discuss finances or our Trade Show Coordinator and Public Relations Account Executive to discuss their specialties is exciting.
In addition to our summer retreat, we have quarterly meetings at Foster Marketing, usually at our office in Lafayette and basically with the same goals. However, our summer meeting, or Foster Fest, has historically been off-site and we’ve been blessed to be able to afford taking our staff out of town. It is an expense, but Tiffany Harris does a great job of finding affordable deals whether by land, sea or air. We’ve done ’em all. The ideal meeting spot should provide a comfortable and unique experience, the necessary working space and equipment, facilities and meal options.
For the agenda, we try to have every staff member (now numbering 13) take 30 minutes to present and discuss a pre-determined subject of interest. This is usually a PowerPoint presentation with lots of give and take (many times mine). Invariably, we come out with great ideas.
At Foster Fest in Playa del Carmen, we implemented a concept we had used successfully at a prior Foster Fest. We solicited topics/issues from employees to discuss using the Creative Whack Pack by Roger von Oech. The Creative Whack Pack consists of 64 cards, each featuring a different strategy. Some highlight places to find new information. Others provide techniques to generate new ideas. Some lend decision-making advice. And many give you the “kick” you need to get your ideas into action. We used the cards on each topic/issue. It was a great exercise and we came out with an exceptionally large number of ideas.
Now, the kicker: A retreat can only be effective if you apply what you’ve learned. Our list from our last Foster Fest is long. The proof of the retreat’s success will be in the pudding of results.
Foster Marketing is ready to help energize your marketing programs. Email Jamie Efurd or call 281-448-3435 or 337-235-1848 to schedule a meeting with Foster Marketing to discuss how we can help integrate and enhance your marketing efforts.
READING TIME: Gain perspective on the future of the energy industry in under 2 minutes. (Part Three of a Three-Part Series on the Future.)
By George Foster, CEO of Foster Marketing
The first week in May is always reserved for the Offshore Technology Conference or OTC, the biggest event in the oil and gas industry. Unlike last year when OTC followed the Macondo disaster, this year’s show was full of enthusiasm. Attendance reached a 29-year high with more than 78,000 and the exhibition space of 603,000 square feet was sold out.
And, with oil futures passing $110 per barrel and the government now issuing permits in the Gulf of Mexico, things look promising for the energy industry.
In its latest monthly oil market report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) revised downward its forecast for the 2011 global oil product demand growth as a result of persistent high prices and weaker projections for economic growth in the developed countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. And, global events shape the future of energy. In fact, oil futures dropped immediately following the death of Osama bin Laden.
So “What is the Energy Future?” Or, maybe more importantly, “Which Energy Future?” That was the title of a presentation given by Andy Hines, lecturer and executive-in-residence for the Graduate Program in Future Studies at the University of Houston, last November.
Andy (http://www.andyhinesight.com) was the featured speaker at a meeting I hosted in Lafayette last month on “Thinking [Better] About the Future: A Hands-on Approach to Applying Foresight” (see Part Two of the Future Series).
In his energy presentation, he laid out four energy scenario archetypes: Continuation, New Equilibrium, Transformation and Collapse. Here’s an overview of the first three; don’t want to imagine the latter.
Continuation: The system moves forward along its current trajectory. This is the “official future” and usually considered most likely. Hines forecasts this is less and less likely, and uses “The Long Boom” by Peter Schwartz (http://www.amazon.com/Long-Boom-Peter-Schwartz/dp/0738200743) as a go-by, suggesting that the recession is just a blip in the 25-year boom. Assumptions:
• Recession ends and things “go back to normal”
• Developing markets are more “markets” than competitors
• Global shipping costs manageable
• Resource costs manageable
• Technology continues to advance rapidly
• Mix of modern and post-modern values
New Equilibrium: The system reaches a balance among competing forces that is significantly different from the current balance. In the “double-dip” or “our-turn” scenario, emerging markets rewrite the rules. Assumptions:
• Emerging markets lead the way out of “double dip”
• Reverse “brain drain” helps build emerging market knowledge work force
• Relations with developed world “manageable” to avoid trade wars
• Required sources can be acquired cost-effectively
• Environmental issues “tabled” until later
• Spread of modern values
Transformation: The system is discarded in favor of a new one with a new set of rules, such as the soft energy path as described by Amory Lovins in his 1977 book “Soft Energy Paths: Toward a Durable Peace” (http://www.amazon.com/Soft-Energy-Paths-Towards-Colophon/dp/0060906537/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1304354600&sr=8-1). The soft energy path describes an alternative future where energy efficiency and appropriate renewable energy sources steadily replace a centralized energy system based on fossil and nuclear fuels. Assumptions:
• Recession causes people to “re-think” their consumption
• Grassroots movements and social entrepreneurship flourish
• New measure of government success at all levels of government go beyond the “Triple Bottom Line” of becoming more sustainable
• Alternative energy investment grows and leads to significant breakthroughs
• Local products and services flourish
• Licenses to operate granted by some communities that require organizations to give back to the community
• Rise of post-modern and integral values
Implications of the Scenarios: What do these scenarios mean to those in the energy industry?
|Implications||Long Boom||Soft Path||Our Turn|
|Economic prospects||Developed world economies lead the way||More balanced economic prospects||Emerging markets lead the way|
|Globalization||Continue to increase||Globalization slows with shift to local emphasis||Potential “trade wars” as emerging markets assert power|
|Energy usage||Up steadily and globally||Significantly reduced growth||Huge growth in emerging markets|
|Energy mix||Conventional with some alternative||Alternatives gain significant share||All possible sources exploited, including nuclear push|
|Work force||Knowledgeable worker boom in developed world drives shortages||Shift in energy mix requires new skills||Improving global reach, skills and capabilities|
In conclusion, the Hines presentation provides thought-provoking situations and implications to help energy companies forecast the future. The heavy lifting comes inside the company to evaluate its own future prospects.
Let us help you plan for 2011 and beyond. Email Jamie Efurd or call 281-448-3435 or 337-235-1848 to schedule a meeting with Foster Marketing to discuss how we can help integrate and enhance your marketing efforts.