Kitchens and Communicators: Same Knives

A food critic friend of mine posted this piece from the site Fine Dining Lovers and I thought it was excellent. I also thought that it’s not necessarily only germane to commercial kitchens. I think it’s also quite relevant to practitioners of both the culinary and the communication arts.

Here’s a short version with my take. Read the entire piece at the link above.

There is no excuse for this. It does happen and the finger should be pointed at both the individual line cook and the chef. Well-designed prep sheets based on sound projections, a sense of urgency on the part of the line cook, and chef oversight throughout the prep window will all help to rectify this problem.
MRB: Yep. If you don’t have all of your planning done; if you don’t have all the tools you need, the likelihood of  project failure increases exponentially.
MRB: Fairly self-evident, this. Always train your staff. And, if you can, always hire smarter than yourself. You’ll be glad you did.
Cooks depend on their tools working well. Ovens must be calibrated, burners must work well, fryer temperatures must be true, pans must be seasoned …
MRB: I learned this wisdom a long time ago from a boss who always insisted that the communications staff have the latest equipment possible and put the office on a strict replacement schedule. We also all had machines that were the same so that we could all talk to one another whenever we needed to. This is smart stuff — and hard to get past the bean-counters in lean years — but it’s absolutely essential. I swear by it.
Even the best prep and mental preparedness will fail if the front of the house fails to manage and pace the door and door reservations for smooth service.
MRB: Your jobs are not “one-offs.” You have to be cognizant of what else you have on your plate when you assign deadlines and due dates. If you don’t factor in “the other,” you’re always going to be scrambling, always going to be behind and you’ll end up with a poor reputation — and that’s something much harder to fix than learning how to calendarize projects.
Cooks need to be in the right mental state to function at peak efficiency. Chefs need to help to manage this.
MRB: Yes, a thousand times, yes! Make sure your staff is operating as best as they can. You can help them by providing them with an invigorating, well-run workplace or simply a shoulder to cry on. Give staff a chance to stretch in their roles and turn mistakes into learning experiences, not opportunities to always rebuke and belittle. Helping them focus will increase creativity across the board.
It is never sufficient to be satisfied that you are ready for the rush if the rest of the team is not. Every cook’s readiness is every cook’s responsibility. Observation and communication will help teams survive and thrive.
MRB: Nothing to add here. Build a team that helps one another thrive.
Constant communication between cooks, between the chef and cooks, between the dining room manager and the chef, and effective dialogue between service staff and cooks will keep everyone on track and will help to minimise the surprises that bring a restaurant down.
MRB: Ditto the above. Always keep talking. Let managers know of potential impending crises and let management assist in easing pressure in certain areas in order to get things done. Sometimes it’s as simple as someone feeling that they can say to their supervisor, “I’m swamped. I have three projects due today and I can’t get them all done,” and having the supervisor answer, “That’s okay. I’ll give one to Mary. Thanks for letting me know.”
The menu is the key control device in a kitchen. Planning a menu is certainly an art, but it is also a science.
MRB: And ultimately, this is the foundation upon which all of the above is built. If you promise to be all things to all people, you’re not going to make it. Tighten your offerings, limit your services to those that you know your staff are capable of and make sure you can deliver the goods on time and on budget.
It’s not rocket science, but it is good management — and no matter what your industry, good management is good management. 

Branding and Other Nonsense

As the Quakers say, “My friend speaks my mind.” In this case, my friend is Gerry McGovern. And he’s never wrong.

Here’s the full text of is latest New Thinking E-Newsletter. It’s absolutely worth a read and a ponder.


Image: Andreas Praefcke/Wikimedia Commons


The origin of the word branding comes from the branding of cattle. Let’s travel back in time 100 years and listen in to a branding conversation by two cattlemen.

“Very impressive brand, Tom. It has a wonderful aesthetic feel to it.”
“Do you think so, John? We did think very deeply about the colors to choose. And we did have an intense debate about whether to use Athelas or Freight Text Pro. We decided to go with Athelas. It has that certain je ne sais quoi.”

“Absolutely! Superb choice. It will bring the customer on an emotional journey. Listen, the reason for my visit, Tom, is that I’d like your advice. We’re thinking of doing a rebranding.”

“Why is that, John?”

“Well, you know, the last couple of years have not been so good for the brand. We’ve had a drought, got hit by some diseases. The meat quality on the cattle is not great. So, I thought that if we refreshed the brand we could capture back some of our old market share.”

“What a fantastic idea, John! I know just the branding agency for you. They understand bull better than anyone I know.

“It’s amazing, Tom, isn’t it. Take the same old scrawny tough-as-nails meat, put some nice packaging and branding on it, and it just flies out of the store.”
“Those branding guys are magicians, John. They truly understand human emotion and are so brilliant at manipulating it. With the right brand you can sell any sort of bull.”

“And to think, Tom, when I was a kid we had such a limited understanding of what branding was. We thought it was just a unique mark we made on the cattle so that we would know who owned what. When I was a young, foolish teenager, I was under the mistaken impression that what mattered was the meat itself.”

At this stage John laughed. Tom laughed too. They both found the idea that the meat was more important than the brand absolutely hilarious.

“Some idiots say, Tom,” John said in between gushes of laughter, “that the meat is the brand!” Tom looked at him for a moment and then literally rolled around the floor laughing.

Where do people get these crazy ideas from? Don’t they know that coming up with meaningless, interchangeable taglines like: “Live life at a faster pace” is much more important than the quality of the product or service? Haven’t they learned from the magicians of marketing and branding that it’s all about coming up with a compelling story? That the right font and the right color are the quickest way to a customer’s credit card?

Branding is bull, and that’s a fact. Branding in practice is the manipulation of human emotion, the targeting of human weaknesses, the wrapping of the product in an image that has got nothing to do with the product itself. The gushing, smiling faces of actors pretending to be customers. Branding is the mark of the establishment. The opposite of authenticity.

Yes, we humans are fools and we have long fallen for branding and the whole school of psychological manipulation that goes behind it. But there is a reaction underway. Many of us are getting tired of being fools and being fooled. We go to the Web now, to search, to research, to check the facts, to read up on what people like us who have bought the product have experienced.

Gerry McGovern

I encourage you to follow McGovern. On Twitter, he’s @gerrymcgovern.

Subscribe to his newsletter at:

College Changes Name Again: I Told You This Was a Mistake!

Do you ever have those days when you feel vindicated and can say to the world, “I told you so?” I’m having one of those days today!

Back in August, 2012, I first weighed in on a controversial name change of a university in Georgia. The short version is that two schools were merging, branding recommendations were made and the regents of the university system discounted the facts and renamed the university what they wanted it to be called.

At the time, I said, “I’ll be interested to see how this plays out. If, in fact, the Georgia regents did go against research when choosing the name of the combined university, they’ll be in trouble. This never works out well.” [emphasis added]

And guess what? They are now changing the name again. To what the top choice was then.

Millions of dollars were spent on this campaign before they surrendered to the inevitable. When will they ever learn, eh?

Monkey See



This was my visual aid at today’s staff meeting.

In case you are not familiar with Polish, it translates to “Not my circus, not my monkey.”

I’ve been working my fingers to the bone for the last six months to try to get a group of very capable, creative, intelligent people to coalesce as a team and it occurred to me that part of the problem is this “not my circus, not my monkey” syndrome. In other words: not doing that, it’s not my job.

But the flip-side of that is, we work in a highly collaborative industry. Marketing and communications require you to reach across the aisle, to blur barriers, to bring in new voices, to challenge long-held perceptions, so sometimes when you are working on a highly-detailed deadline-driven project, maybe you should step back and ask, “is this my monkey or someone else’s?”

If the answer is someone else’s, then please, for the love of God, let them do their own job. Fixing their problem before they know it’s a problem may seem like a good idea, but it does not allow them to learn to do it right.

Part of working as a team is jumping in when you are needed and knowing when not to.

Good Experience: The Key to Consumer Interaction

Excellent report here from Marketing Charts which shares the results of a global survey of the ideal customer experience. I find the results more than a little intriguing. Also, before you run out and change your customer engagement strategy, I would caution you to note the worldwide nature of the study: only 8% of respondents were from the U.S.

EIU-Elements-Ideal-Customer-Experience-Apr2015Still, that doesn’t mean it’s bad data. What it means is that the numbers might skew a bit differently if these were U.S.-only numbers.

I find this interesting:

Overall, 71% of respondents said their typical response to a bad experience is to stop doing business with the company. A slight majority (55%) typically tell friends and family about it in person or by email, while 42% said they complain to the company and 26% post a comment on social media.

Now, that should tell you something. The impact of bad experiences with your business or organization is a game changer. Or at least it should be. If just under three-quarters of the people who have a bad experience with you leave and don’t come back — and tell a friend about it — you soon won’t have any customers left.

The curious thing is that the numbers for outstanding experiences show that slightly less people will share if they are happy. In other words, you’ll know when someone is pissed!

Last year, I had two online retail experiences of note. I had never dealt with either company before. The first was for a big ticket item. The second was for a very minor purchase. The first experience was the worst experience I have ever had and I will never, ever use this company again. The second was the polar opposite: they sent me a new product, on their dime, with expedited shipping. And then called me to make sure it was okay. I am quite sure that they lost money on that transaction.

But here’s the thing, they had no idea that I would ever be able to share those feelings or encourage others to purchase from them (LampsUSA).

As for the other (Cymax), one can’t say enough bad words. Stay away.

For the survey, H/T Gerry McGovern.

Open E-Mail Much?

I think that I can speak for every single one of us when I say, “We get too damn much e-mail.” And yet, today’s workplace would grind to an absolute halt without it. Sometimes, though, it seems that the workday grinds to a halt because of it.

Don’t you self-filter? Even if you don’t set up folders and filters and tracks and every other slotting and sorting device for your e-mail. What do you choose to open?

Here’s a very interesting piece about personalization and how important it is to boost your open rates. I am ever-frustrated with those in my workplace who don’t see the benefits of electronic communication and even worse, those who don’t understand why it’s important to get people to open the e-mail.

Read this. Experiment. Let me know how your next personalized campaign ran.

Content Marketing: Everything Old is New Again

Content Marketing. What the hell is that? Well, that’s a 2015 buzzword — “content marketing” — but what it really means is engaging your audience by providing interesting and informative content surrounding your particular core brand/institution/performance piece/school/breed of dog/type of frozen juice/political party. What. Ever.

I’m old enough to have lived through several iterations of this being the hot thing. The problem is, people forget and move on to something different and then a new generation, understanding that something is wrong, discovers content again, has a Eureka! moment, and brings it back into the spotlight.

With the exception of platform, i.e., the web, there’s not a damn bit of this that I wasn’t doing *choke* two decades ago. And for the record, most of my peers thought I was NUTS … until I started getting results that they could only dream of.

Here’s a link to a good short bit on Good Monster about content marketing. All the info is good. Use it.

While I was scrolling through the video embedded in that link, another one caught my eye. It’s below. And it’s just bang on the money. Give that man a gold star.

Now, one last word about content marketing. It is not enough to have good content on your site. You must make it easy to access on your easy-to-navigate website. I don’t need to see a beautiful big picture of a tree; just give me the damn story, well told.

3 Ways Colleges Use Snapchat Yes, Snapchat – Wired Campus – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education

3 Ways Colleges Use Snapchat Yes, Snapchat – Wired Campus – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Maybe it’s just me — oh, wait, it’s not, I read the comments — but this seems like much ado about nothing. Are you REALLY going to spend your marketing dollars on Snapchat? Really? You think that being on Snapchat is going to make you seem hip and trendy?

Here’s a tip: when it’s reported about in the Chronicle of Higher Education, forget it, it ain’t trendy any longer.

Find the next big thing and use it for a bit; maybe that will up your trendiness factor. OTHERWISE, tell a good story about your students instead of wondering about how cool you can appear on Snapchat tomorrow.

Crowdfunding Do’s and Don’ts: Fundraising and Word-of-Mouth in the Digital Age

Before heading back to the set to film season two of his Web series, EastSiders, actor/director/writer/producer Kit Williamson put on another one of his myriad hats, that of digital marketing guru, and hit the road doling out tips doing crowdfunding correctly.

kickstarterWilliamson is a crowdfunding disciple with good reason: he’s raised a lot of money with Kickstarter to fund his own creative endeavors. And he’s figured out a few things along the way.

And what he’s figured out is the way to do in today’s digital landscape the same things some of us figured out how to do in the analog landscapes of yore. What I love about crowdfunding is that it’s relying on the exact same principles that have been used to drive word-of-mouth conversions for, well, forever.

61h4NxKAjXLIf you do crowdfunding well — or you want to crowdfund successfully — I would suggest that you read two olde timey books. The first is Gladwell’s seminal The Tipping Point.

(I remember distinctly making a very theatrical statement — I was given to very theatrical statements at the time! — involving my approach to marketing an organization which was at odds with what a particular Board member thought I should be doing. I said I was right. She said, “Prove it,” and I threw the first edition of Gladwell’s book down on her desk and told her to read it and get back with me if she had any questions. I think the only reason I didn’t get fired more was that I turned in good results. Really good results.)

51JtorwzipL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The second book on my reading list is Tom Peters’ 1994 think piece, The Pursuit of WOW!. Read them back-to-back and then if you are really into it, reach back through the mists of time and find a copy of David Ogilvy’s masterwork, Ogilvy on Advertising. These three books will save you thousands on a Master’s in marketing. (Test me on this: go get an MBA or the equivalent and find me something tangible that you learned that was not in one of these three books. Go on. Go.)

But, back to where we began. In an recent interview with NBC Chicago, Williamson outlined his own four-point-plan for kickstarting a kickstarter.



And here’s what I think: numbers 1 and 4 are absolutely essential. Unless you hook them in the video, you can hang it up. It’s the video stage that gets people to sit up, pay attention, open their wallets and hand over those all-important 16 digits on the Visa card. Everything that Gladwell and Peters outline in their books has to be in that all-important first video.

And, man oh man, if you don’t follow up with the information for the backers and sincerely thank them for taking a risk on you/your project, well, you might make your goal but I can assure you, you won’t be able to do it again.

Finally, here’s a few interesting little stats: Kickstarter self-reports that approximately 44% of all projects successfully meet their fundraising targets. And of those projects that fail, most do not make 20% of their originally stated goal across all product categories. But, according to the numbers released by Kickstarter, 80% of those that do make 20%, will finish successfully.

So, are using crowdfunding? Are you thinking about how you might? Even if you don’t, I think it behooves those of us involved in developing audiences, expanding emerging markets and looking at new ways of opening revenue streams to think about how we can use the essential building blocks of crowdfunding in our own organizations.

And while looking for the links below, I thought I’d snip this from a post from back in January. It was about something entirely different, but if you want a few more reasons why Kit Williamson’s numbers 1 and 4 resonate, here they are:

As I think about this, I have always found that this idea of popular and best rather curious. I am immediately reminded of a time a few years back when I received a “significant award” for news writing. I couldn’t believe the story that was picked won. I had written much, much better stories that year, I thought.

What I learned about best, popular and the fickle nature of audiences I learned by developing audiences for the theatre. These things translate:

1. Treat all assignments equally.

2. Always do your best work.

3. Be proud of your efforts.

4. Say “thank you” and mean it.

5. Be grateful and a little bit humble.

6. Never, ever believe your own P.R.

If you think that those things have nothing to do with popularity, you’d be wrong.

A couple of recent ramblings on crowdfunding from my other blog:

Why I’m Supporting EastSiders…

A Grand Time for Singing

Williamson’s website:

Go Team Entertainment

An Open Letter About Tuition – And What it Says About Marketing

Tickld – Spread Laughter and Cure Boredom.

This is a great letter. Likely phony as all hell. The best part are the incensed comments. Everybody has an opinion on the relative value of an education.

I mean, is it worth it to go into debt — lots of debt — and pay a full sticker price of tens of thousands of dollars a year to get a Master’s degree in, oh, I don’t know, Elizabethan Poetry?

I don’t know. I don’t know how you feel about Elizabethan Poetry. Or working at Starbucks. Or whether any of that matters.

No debt, home ownership, degrees that get you a job … those things are like Manifest Destiny and the Domino Theory: something to be disproved at a later date.

You can’t put an arbitrary value on someone else’s education. You can’t say that they paid too much and therefore are stupid. You don’t know. It’s not about you.

What I can tell you is this: if that’s a real letter from an actual alum, then his or her college’s alumni marketing department is filled to the brim with fail. You have to know what your former students are doing. Sending them a blanket flashy “gimme” piece is something you may have done two decades ago, but it’s certainly not how you interact today.

And, yes, your tuition is too damn high. Yes, the financial aid process is broken in this country. Yes, it’s hard to find a good job. Sometimes it’s even hard to find a bad job. Instead of wasting your money on flashy brochures, why don’t you invest in employment counseling or services for your alums? And Mr. or Ms. Letter Writer: get over yourself just a little bit, yeah?