Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Murdochs: Dressed for Success

Blue is the color of trust and the three Murdochs, appearing before the select British Parliamentary committee investigating the phone hacking scandal, obviously wanted to be trusted. Rebekah Brooks, too.

The men wore navy suits, the proper high-contrast white shirts and blue ties. Mrs. Murdoch wore a medium-range blue blouse peeking from beneath her pink jacket. Trust, trust, trust.

Mrs. Murdoch's pink jacket was an inspired choice. Pink is a calming color which might help lessen any anger against her and/or her husband or even dispel envy. Pink is also a fabulous color for delivering bad news. With the level of ill-will against News Corp. and her husband, the bad news here is: my husband just might be innocent.

As fabulous as the choice of pink was for Mrs. Murdoch, it would not have been a good choice for Rebekah Brooks. The two women had very different roles and were appearing in different capacities. And Rebekah Brooks' muted navy unstructured silk suit projected a brilliant melange of messages combining the credibility, authority and approachability that the embattled former editor needed.

Foremost was the same blue - for trust - that her bosses wore. The color and the matched suit established credibility. The single, monochromatic color of the outfit signaled authority. The flowing fabric and the unstructured nature of the suit added cordiality and gentleness, a touch that might help soften the animosity towards her.

While the ultimate verdict has not been rendered, the three Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks did everything they could to have their clothes establish their messages and plead their nonverbal cases before and while they spoke the verbal.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Winning Pitch - Step One: Speak to the Client's Culture

You know how to sell your prospect’s customer, but what about your prospect?

In these challenging economic times, new business is more crucial than ever. A sometimes-overlooked fact: in a pitch, prospects must buy you first. Only then can they hear your plans for reaching their customer. And if you are depending on your presentation to seal the deal, that is way, way, WAY too late.

The persuasion starts – and often ends – in a two-second blink. The most creative, strategic, polished content is worth nothing if you turn them off before you shake their hands.

In an hour meeting, it takes two seconds to form a first impression, two minutes to test that hunch and the remaining 57+ minutes to justify that gut reaction. The two-second thin slice comprises 63% appearance and 35% body language, including tone of voice. Words account for only seven percent.

Leveraging those magic two seconds requires strategic packaging, clothing choices that speak to the prospect’s culture to establish a subliminal visual connection convincingly, viscerally, in a blink. Listening from this space the client can “hear.”

The presentation, contrary to accepted wisdom, is merely the icing on the cake. The right clothes “present your presentation” before the flash drive hits the port.

If you think this is fluff – that you know what to wear – please stay with me.

Successful clothing projects professionalism symbolically and winning choices always require research and thought. For a pitch, that process must be even more precise, razor sharp.

Fashion, personal preference and comfort, though they may factor into your final choices, shouldn’t lead. You didn’t copy your creative from the artistic fashion du jour. Comfort wasn’t the benchmark for your strategy. And you didn’t rehearse because you “felt like it.” Neither should you choose your clothes by these criteria.

The winning dress code, one that persuades before you speak, is a four part equation. Research the possibilities as thoroughly as you did your prospect’s customer. Your prospect is, after all, your target.

1. 30%: Reflect your agency

Visually establish your agency brand immediately. And let your team members’ style subtly – or boldly – announce you as a cohesive group. Clients have enough chaos.

To reflect your agency, you must know your culture and what you bring to the table. Some agencies know. Others need culture analysis and soul searching.

This is the foundation. But it is not the end.

2. 20%: Let the prospect’s culture inform, not dictate, your dress.

Don’t look like a client clone. This is especially crucial when presenting to creative prospects. While adding creative touches is entirely appropriate – building that bridge, creating comfort, signaling comprehension – you do not want to abandon the core you to appear as hip as the prospect. They want a partner, not a twin.

3. 40%: Signal your job – and your rank – in the agency.

Prospects feel comfortable when they know who does what. Account people should not look like creatives should not look like the strategy team should not look like the CEO. Everyone should be in the “uniform” of his or her discipline.

Furthermore, you want the prospect to know from sight – in that blink – who is senior, who is junior. Who, in short, is on their level. Be sure to include enough authority markers in your ensemble.

4. 10%: Signal yourself. (Creatives can be 15% or, perhaps, a little more.)
As is often said when teaching manners, we are the least important people in the room. We add only a hint of us.

Your homework: find the visual clues to your target’s culture. But where? A good start is with their industry profile: is it Corporate, Communicator, Creative or Casual/Labor?

Then, as Cleve Langton suggests, study CEO speeches and the company's annual report, two great sources. As a Corporate Culture Profiler, I also look at bios and any available visuals filtering these through tone-of-voice information I gather from live conference calls to detect any discrepancies.

Some of the questions you might ask: Are they formal or casual? Elegant, sporty, daring or classic? A blue-based culture or brown-based? Do they wear bright or subdued colors? Solids or patterns? And who wears what? If the CEO wears navy, structured suits and the CMO bright print dresses, your corresponding agency personnel might subtly mirror these choices.

Insights gleaned from this culture research will not only focus your clothes choices, but can also guide your presentation style, visuals and even your response to the RFP. Which can lead to that Winning Pitch.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why the hot new bags are rarely for me

The "it" bags: The hardware. The hanging “stuff.” The volume. The cache. As trendy as they are ... usually not for me.

Why not? First you need to know what I want in a handbag.

I do not like changing handbags or maintaining a stable of handbags. I’d rather be talking to a friend, reading Vogue or Inc., or even watching NCIS. And, when I used to change bags to go with each outfit, I would inevitably leave something crucial in the last used bag. So today I have only 3 handbags: one leather, one fabric (for summer), and one evening.

With such editing, each bag must meet stringent criteria. Each must be versatile, simple, classic, stylish, top opening, small enough to fit into my briefcase but large enough to carry everything I need.

To be versatile enough to carry with everything, it must be simple. The first problem with the “it” bags. They’ve got so much “stuff” on them that one’s wardrobe must be very, very simple or there will be visual chaos in one’s costume. I’d rather carry a simple handbag and allow for variety in my clothes.

Carrying only one handbag for the whole season also means the color must go with everything in one’s wardrobe. This usually, but not always, means a neutral color. For 99% of my accessories I go with black. It goes with everything: brown, colors, grey – and even navy. (While navy and black fabrics next to each other always makes one or the other look dead, black leather does not have this problem.)

You can, especially for summer, use a color that will go with everything, but this is tricky for a couple of reasons. First, you will probably need to look for a color you don’t wear often. Why? Because rarely are two reds the same or two purples or two pinks, etc. Second, colors, especially light ones, show marks and dirt more easily. Many is the expensive white, light or colored bag I have seen a client’s closet soiled with a blotch that won’t come out. And there they sit, ruined, but so new and expensive the client can’t bear to part with them. Chaos. Clutter. Heartbreak. I don’t do that to myself.

Why classic? The only thing I hate more than changing handbags is shopping for handbags. Buying classic means I only have to go through this ordeal every few years.

That said, I am always on the look out for handbags. I can’t wait until the bag is ruined to start shopping because, with all these criteria, it takes awhile to find one that’s right.

Why top opening? For business – and actually for most things – I only carry one bag. The look of two or three totes strapped from a girl’s shoulder with a handbag to boot is not attractive. Or efficient. Or professional. So I make sure my daily handbag fits into my briefcase or tote. And, if one is to use if from one’s briefcase or tote, a top opening makes it easy and elegant to access. A flap or other creative opening makes it hard to retrieve one’s wallet or pen or other needed item.

One final note: While I love wearing to-die-for clothes or accessories as much as the next girl, I do not have to do so. It is more important for me to have an interesting life than a killer wardrobe. I like to buy functional, versatile and stylish clothes and combine them creatively. But once I put them on, I want to forget them. I want to spend my days and evenings engaged with the fascinating people and events around me, not thinking about my clothes. And, as I said, I have better use for my time at home than changing and maintaining multiple handbags.