Plan A Little Leeway

Like most people, I expect that when I toss my business card into a bowl to win something, what I get is one less business card to carry around.

My luck changed at my local Jimmy John’s sandwich shop last week.  It turned out the distinctive Element-R business card was either randomly picked, or someone said, “Oooo.  Cool card.  Let’s pick that one!” to reward me with their “Enter to Win” giveaway bowl.

The e-mail telling me I won stated “With this, you have been chosen to receive one Jimmy John’s 15 piece party platter!  This platter will contain your choice of 5 sub sandwiches (#1 thru #6) to share with your friends, family, or coworkers!”

Cool.  I had planned to use this free lunch giveaway for a family dinner party of Austrian and German dishes we’re hosting this weekend where I know the stuff I’m prepping will be greeted with some kids scrunching up their faces and turning up their noses.  “What, you don’t want steak tar tare and goulash?  Here, go gnaw a sub.”

But, after a very hectic week, I cashed in my e-mail last night for a quick dinner.  I called the store, placed the order, and asked that the sandwiches not be cut into thirds, producing this exchange:

JJW (Jimmy John’s Worker): “We have to cut them to make them fit on the platter.”

Me: “I don’t want the platter, I just want whole sandwiches.”

JJW: “You won the platter, so they have to be cut.”

Me: “Why?  Can’t you just make the sandwiches without cutting them?”

JJW: “No…  Uh, well… Let me ask my manager.”

After about a minute, the sandwich maker returned to the phone.

JJW: “The contest is about winning the platter, sir.  It’s what it says.”

Me:  “OK, you’re going to make the sandwiches and wrap them in paper, right?”

JJW: “Yes”

Me: “Here’s what you do… Make the sandwiches, wrap them in paper, but just don’t pick up the knife.”

JJW: “Uh, let me go call the district manager.”

After about 30 seconds, he returns to the phone.

JJW: “Uh, OK.  We’ll do it this one time, but if you enter and win again, you have to take the platter.”

Me: “You bet.”

The sandwiches that my family consumed last night were typical, tasty Jimmy John’s fare.  But the rules and procedures in which sometimes corporations and their franchises tightly wrap themselves can create unnecessary problems.

Jimmy John’s could have planned a little empowerment and given the person I spoke with some leeway to fulfill my simple request, making my winning the contest a short and satisfying encounter, not one where I had to coach the sandwich maker to think and run up a simple request up the chain of command.

Four Questions NOT to Ask a PR Agency

New business opportunities can come out of the blue.  Like any agency owner, I welcome them with open arms.  Usually, the initial call helps both agency and prospect tee up a meeting to learn more about the prospect’s company and what it’s looking to accomplish.  The written ones give you time to conduct due diligence before the next step.

However, some questions prospects ask on quickie phone intros send up immediate yellow flags.  I recently had one such phone call that left me with the impression the caller was trying to put out a tactical fire rather than build and send strategic smoke signals.

Articles and blog posts abound about what business owners and corporate marketers should ask agencies to see if there’s a fit. These should be reserved for either a face-to-face meeting or a longer scheduled phone call.  As you read over those articles, here are four questions and statements not to ask, especially over the phone:

1. “What would be your approach?” Until an agency owner or representative can sit down with you or spend some time over the phone to ask the right questions, they won’t have and should not offer any recommendations.  This potentially allows the client to prematurely latch on to a solution which may not even be close to solving their problem.

2. “We’re thinking about a press release.  Would that help?” Yes, media relations could be one of several tactics that can generate exposure, but most companies face additional issues beyond exposure, such as more compelling presentation of their company, together with more relevant messaging (we’ve found it can always be improved!). Press releases are tactical tools – one of many — not thoughtful strategy.

3. Can you get us a story in (insert name of publication/TV/Radio/portal/blog)? Targeting publications is a good idea… if the upfront work to know what messages are to be conveyed is done (which only comes from knowing much more about a prospect’s business). Other concerns include knowing who to contact and how they prefer to be approached, and crafting a story that is a good fit with their editorial slant or the blogger’s preference.

Many companies tend to gravitate to well-known media outlets that in many cases aren’t the best fit for their audience or their business and marketing objectives.  This is often because they don’t fully understand the potential depth and nuances of good publicity.

4. Can you submit a plan by the end of the week? Some agencies can work very quickly if they get access to key decision makers, have time to ask the right questions and can review existing business and marketing plans.

Questions are imperative.  As we’ve written in earlier posts, answering good questions invariably leads to a better outcome for both agency and client. Question number one is completely appropriate after spending some time with the agency.  Avoid the other three.  Because some questions are better left unasked.