Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Drinking From a Fire Hose

I know we have probably mentioned this before, but MAN, it really can't be over-stated. The easiest way for anyone to communicate more efficiently and in a manner that makes people engaged is to simply SIMPLIFY. What do we mean by that?

Easy—if in doubt, leave it out.

We don't need to hear about everything you know. We know you are the expert, that's why we're listening to you. You don't need to prove to us how smart you are. Stop talking.

The most effective way to simplify your communications is to answer these three ridiculously easy but crucially important questions: 1) what do I want my audience to KNOW? 2) what do I want my audience to FEEL? 3) and, what do I want my audience to DO?

Answer these questions in their simplest of forms before you ever start crafting your message, and the message will craft itself—and it will be as simple and effective a communications tool as you can make.

Remember, drinking from a fire hose is never a good way to hydrate yourself, so why would you ask your audience to intake tons of data and information in the same manner?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What is the price of YES?

When Brian and I started SquarePlanet, we both engaged in the business having been in positions in the past to call our own shots. It was obvious from day one that this company was different, and it had its own very obvious ethics and reason for existence. We have very strong beliefs about SqP and the kind of work we do. It's extremely important that our clients have the same beliefs, too, as it means that we're all pulling the rope in the same direction.

We worked with a client recently who didn't believe what we believed. It was a ridiculously painful experience, too, for everyone involved.

SquarePlanet was contracted to create visuals for a corporate keynote presentation in grand scale, but it was done so without any care for the audience, telling a story, communicating a message or even just doing something that wasn't regurgitated corporate speak. We didn't have a good feeling right from the beginning, and on more than a few occasions we felt that it was in our best interests to walk away from the job. As it turned out, our gut instincts and intuitions were dead-on right. We should have recognized that the client was never going to listen to anything we had to say, and that the process would be ignored and abused from the first day. We were right.

So, we took the new job with this rather large international client hoping that it would lead to bigger things, and in-roads within the company that would allow us to teach and retrain a better way to communicate corporate ideas. That was so far from reality it wasn't even close. This company just wanted us to turn some wrenches, crank out some pretty graphic with almost no information to go on, say, "yes sir, thank you sir," and not create anything that resembled corporate (or human) communication. They would have been happy with a college grad designer with a few skills with After Effects and a willingness to work for peanuts.

The client blew every internal project deadline by weeks, and sometimes over a month. They barely communicated with our team to even tell us what they needed, and really behaved in a way that made us feel sorry for their internal creative department.

See, they didn't get it, and they will never get it. Presentations aren't about baffling the audience with flashy bullshit, strobe lights, loud music and LEDs. Business communication—no, human communication—is about connecting with people on a human level. It's not about throwing up the same cliches that they have used for decades, and not about pandering to an audience because they think they know what the audience wants to hear. The Marketing department didn't get it. They never will. Their communications team won't ever get it. The CEO and the Board of Directors will NEVER get it. They can just continue to churn out gerbils on a stationary wheel, and everyone will be happy and applaud and agree with everything the CEO says, because it's awesome.

And they will continue to broadcast mountains of white noise to their employees and customers, and everyone will go on being happy.

But they absolutely won't be our clients again, mostly because they don't believe what we believe.

The price of saying "yes" to any project or any client just because you want the work can be ultimately very expensive. Not just in man-hours lost, but the emotional toll taken on employees, morale, your own sanity and morals, and the stress that working for clients who don't "get it" can be overwhelming. Then include the fact that we also have clients that DO understand why we do what we do and appreciate what we can bring to the game. When we take jobs that are bad for us, it effects everything else we do—unfortunately including sometimes at the expense of the clients we truly love working with. We can't let this happen, for many reasons.

In the end, this job was a losing result. Not just because we had more forced hours into it that the client's budget afforded, but because by the end of it, we couldn't wait for it to be gone forever. That's not how we want to do business, not what we want to create for our customers, and certainly not why we started this company.

Sometimes it can be difficult to turn away from clients or projects that you know are not in your own best interests. For the sake of your own sanity and the good health of your company, it's a necessary evil in today's creative business. Doing work that has a negative affect on the company is bad for everyone, and accomplishes nothing except stressing everyone out.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mini-Shamu makes a HUGE impact

For this blog post, I’m going to ask you to please follow me down a long and twisted path for a moment, I promise it will lead to a real conclusion.  Okay, here goes...

In advance of a large event we’re producing this fall, the SquarePlanet team recently flew down to Orlando, Florida.  The express purpose of our trip was to thoroughly investigate the hotel ballrooms and function spaces where the event will be held.

Logically, we start the day at O’Hare International Airport.  One of the busiest, biggest airports in the country.  Thousands of people walking through, massive security lines, countless retail and food options abound.  Eventually we board a United Airlines A320, a large, sold-out plane carrying a couple hundred passengers.  

The flight is your standard amalgam of khaki-wearing business people, excited families with overly-eager kids, employees clanking carts that carry assorted beverages while people watch iPads, play games on cell phones, read books or Kindles, watch movies overhead or simply sleep the hours away.  Add in the monotonous hum of engines, the ever-changing view out the window and the assorted announcements from the captain and you’ve got yourself a whole lot of stuff to internally process.

Finally in Orlando, we drive through central Florida’s billboard alley, where every billboard is more outrageous than the other.  From Disney to Universal, Goofy and Harry Potter to Ron Jon Surf Shop and the Kennedy Space Center.  It’s a feast for the eyes and unfortunately even more to distract the already sketchy drivers currently occupying the road.  

Our first stop is the lovely JW Marriott Grand Lakes.  Manicured and beautiful, it boasts Tuscan-style decor, extensive and expensive landscaping, lovely fountains, attentive, friendly staff, about 800 guest rooms and a huge series of ballrooms.  Name-badge wearing meeting attendees scurry about, even semi-celebrity types are seen, specifically Olympic champion hurdler Edwin Moses who’s there to speak.

As planned, we conduct our business, and after a few hours, we head out, driving another 10 minutes to Marriott’s Renaissance at Sea World.  We pass by a huge, land-based clearly fake Shamu that appears to be flying, a large swath of typically American retail (think T-shirts, hamburgers and other assorted sundries) and even a pack of turkey vultures who’ve decided to plop themselves in the street, forcing traffic to slow to a creep and proceed around them on the road’s shoulder.    

Once inside the twenty-story atrium, we get a pleasant tour of their space.  Along the way, above the centrally located bar, we see a huge HD display featuring videotaped shots of coral reefs, colorful schools of fish and even a shark or two.  The ballroom is bursting with activity as a large trade show is moving in.  Huge crates, booths in various states of near completion, beeping mechanical lifts hoisting men high into the air to hang large signs and people gingerly walking though the cluttered landscape.  

The activity throughout the entire hotel is palpable.  In fact, the entire trip thus far has been nothing less than sensory overload.  From sheer scale and color to motion and activity, our brains have been bombarded with impressions.

Finally, after much work, we check into our rooms.  From the elevator, we peel off one by one.  First it’s the 3rd floor.  Another on 6.  Me?  I hear the ‘ding-ding‘ on the seventh floor, signaling my departure.

After a long walk down a long, beige hallway, I get to my room which is at the very end; it’s a special corner suite.  I walk in and am immediately surprised by the vastness of my guest’s huge!  Easily half the size of my actual home and way too large for one guy over one night.

The decor is new, modern and actually quite lovely.  A large, arc shaped sofa snakes around one corner of the room.   Fluffed with pillows, anchored by a large table and a big bucket of ice and water bottles, the sofa area is just plain ‘ol cool. 

Mounted on the wall is a large flat screen television, right next to the spacious work center.  A large closet is dwarfed by a huge marble and chrome bathroom.  Two sinks, huge shower, enormous soaking tub, separate commode; basically, bathroom nirvana.  This is the kind of space where I’d like to party with friends; drinking Crystal and ‘making it rain’.  Of course, I’ve never done anything like that, so I’m not exactly sure what that means.  

Just like the other parts of my day, all my senses are working in overdrive.  This should be just another hotel stay, one of the thousands I’ve done in 20 years of business travel.  But then...something happened.  I notice a little something on the rim of the bathtub.  Something small, but it caught my attention and made me stop, look and walk towards it for a closer inspection.

A broad smile quickly comes over me, as what I’m looking at is a little Shamu.  It’s a toy Shamu!  Think size and material like a rubber duck, yet here at Sea World, it’s now mini-orca-mascot Shamu.  I’m a grown man, but this silly little toy has instantly given me child-like joy.

In a day filled with a full feast for the senses, the one thing that really moved me?  A tiny toy whale.  The little Shamu was cleverly left there by the hotel; this is an intentional move.  And moreover, they WANT you to take him home, they practically dare you to take him home.  This is the stuff of genius folks.  Once he's at your home, you'll always fondly remember where he came from.  Brilliant!! 

Literally millions and millions and millions of dollars are poured into the market to get us, the consumers, to notice and enjoy all of the amazing things that happen in Orlando and yet at the end of the day, I noticed a $.10 toy.

I left little Shamu behind for the next guest, but now I know this with certainty, sometimes it’s the smallest things that makes the biggest impact.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Oh, oh, oh... we're talking contrast!

Even if you've never picked up a golf club in your life, it's likely you're familiar with the legendary golf tournament called "The Masters". This is the home of the green jacket, the no-women members policy, the spectacular scenery along the course itself, the time-tested traditions of golf's immortals, and now, 2012 Masters Champion, Gerry "Bubba" Watson.

At SquarePlanet we believe and loudly broadcast the power of contrast all the time. It's the thing that sets you, your message or your product apart from everything else.

Well, ol' boy Bubba just created some serious contrast in the golf world!!

His story sounds like it's the stuff of Hollywood scriptwriters. For example, he owns the original "General Lee" from the Dukes of Hazard TV series. Seriously! He's never taken a golf lesson. He plays with a bright pink driver and did I mention he's in a music video wearing nothing but bib overall's?

Each one of these fun little factoids does not inherently develop contrast. The contrast occurs when Bubba's position as a Masters Champion is compared to the rest of the more conservative golf community. Sure, the Professional Golfers Association and it's players have been more and more interesting over the last few years, but all in all, Bubba is a true original.

As the keepers of contrast, SquarePlanet salutes Bubba Watson on an incredible victory.

Yee-Ha! (please insert your best "Dukes of Hazard" style Southern drawl here).

Monday, March 12, 2012

Start Strong

Here at SquarePlanet we get lots of questions that can be loosely classified as the "WDID" questions. We know what you're thinking, WTF is a WDID? Well, it's a large and ever-popular series of questions we field that always start with "what do I do?" You can just about predict what these questions sound like:

"What do I do with my hands?"
"What do I do when I forget what I'm talking about?"
"What do I do if people look bored?"
"What do I do to close my presentation?"

And one of the most common, "what do I do to start my presentation?"

Wanna know the answer? GREAT! Then watch the video. To find out the answers to the above and many others, give us a holler and we'll gladly tell you. Or, come back to our blog with regularity and we'll provide the answers.


Monday, February 13, 2012


We have said it a lot before, and lately, it has become an all-too-familiar marketing catch phrase (and don't talk to us about the 2010 Chicago White Sox). The words "ALL IN" refer to gambling and putting all of your chips in the center of the table on one, big, risky gamble. Winner-take-all, so to speak. Leave nothing in the tank. The whole nine yards. How many more cliches do you want? Yes, it's a one-shot proposition, where you give it everything you have. The results are you win big or you lose big—nothing else.

We are consistently watching LARGE companies with real budgets and important events not take seriously the opportunity to give a presentation on ANY subject, internal or external. No matter how many times we remind them or insist on putting forth a complete, planned out effort, we are regularly disappointed with a lack of care or concern for live, critical corporate communication on a human level. We're not talking about print ads, websites, e-mail blasts, Twitter accounts, or even annual reports—which everyone seems to take fairly seriously—we're talking about someone standing in front of other people and talking about something they feel is important enough to gather together a group of busy humans.

You know what they say about first impressions—you never get a second chance, right? So why do so many people in important, influential positions in big companies drop the ball completely when it comes to giving a key presentation?

That's easy. They are stupid.

Harsh? Maybe, but really, if you have an opportunity in front of you that is a game-changer—something that can change the way your business runs, operates, or even change the mind-set of your company—and you fail to put in 100% effort, then you are stupid and deserve to crash and burn.

We can't stress this enough. You absolutely MUST prepare your presentation fully—development of the story, design of the visuals and practice the delivery—if you are even going to come close to successful communication. Tweaking the slides minutes before you go live or writing notes on 3x5 cards on the plane ride out to your keynote will NOT cut it. You are preparing to fail and doing your audience a massive disservice. Why waste their time if you are just going to wing it? Send them an e-mail with your 3x5 notes in it and be done with it. You're going to get the same results either way.

We just finished up a few rather large events complete with the requisite annual meeting corporate slide decks. A few very smart people planned out their attack months in advance, but most had speeches and slide decks that were afterthoughts. You could tell the difference visually, and in seconds of listening to them talk. It was completely obvious who was prepared and who crammed the night before.

Who do you think had the biggest impact on their audiences?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What Station is the Superbowl On?

Someone asked me the other day if I knew what channel the Super Bowl would be on this weekend. Amazingly enough, I knew that the "big game" this Sunday is on NBC Sports at 6pm Eastern and 5pm right here in Chicago and throughout the Central time zone.

Why does it matter? Well, it doesn't, but in today's world of internet search engine optimization, we'll stand on a corner with a monkey and an organ grinder to get traffic to our blog. Blatant pandering to Google searches also works, too.

Go Bears!