The Arland Group is a boutique creative agency. We want to ask you an important question. Would you rather work with people who want to work with you? Or, would you rather work with people, who work for people, who make them work with you?

I Guess I’m a Businessman Now.

by Keith Seiz

17 January, 2014

I’m not a fan of inspiration in my business life. Sure, when I’m using the creative side of my brain, I find inspiration everywhere—books, magazines, music, early mornings and on airplanes. But in terms of the “business” side of running a creative agency, I’ve never been one to read books by Jack Welch or Malcolm Gladwell. I don’t care who moved my cheese.

I’m sure these are great authors and books, and they probably would help me, but I just can’t imagine sitting down and reading a book about business. Seems a dreadfully boring and unfulfilling way to spend my time.

But, as The Arland Group grows and the realities of that growth evolve my role from the second most important member of the creative team to the “business guy,” I am forced to think more about business and less about building brands and creating.

I’m not 100% on board with being a “businessman” yet, but I get it. I know that’s the path and what The Arland Group needs right now. So with my evolution comes my first “business” blog.

As I said in my first sentence, and before I started rambling, I’m not a fan of inspiration in my business life. My parents and upbringing taught me everything I needed to know about running a business. You have to work really hard, respect yourself and respect others. That’s it.

I’m a firm believer that hard work is the most important contributor of accomplishment. I know it’s been the most important factor to my success. I worked really hard when I cut grass for seven years during high school and college. I worked even harder at my first job out of college writing for a magazine. And I worked the hardest I ever have in building a business with two of my friends into a 16-person operation.

It’s hard to be a leader, though, by preaching hard work. I haven’t been able to develop the words or concepts to turn my ethos into a rallying cry. Thankfully, someone has done it for me. For the first time in my business career, I have found inspiration and assurance in a blog post by Dan Waldschmidt titled, “You have to do the hard things.” The simple blog post lists 19 hard things you have to do to be successful.

They are spot on. Every single one of them. I encourage you to go read the post in its entirety. Here are five that I feel I have mastered, and three that I need to work hard at.

The “hard things” I’m good at.

1. You have to get up earlier than you want to get up.

2. You have to deliver results when making excuses is an option.

3. You have to give more than you get in return right away.

4. You have to look like a fool while you’re looking for answers you don’t have.

5. You have to meet deadlines that are unreasonable and deliver results that are unparalleled.

The “hard things” I need to improve on.

1. You have to make the call you’re afraid to make.

2. You have to feel unsure and insecure when playing if safe seems smarter.

3. You have to lead when no one else is following you yet.

Go read the entire blog. It’s brilliant in its simplicity and message. Here’s to finding more business inspiration in 2014.

 

 

When Losing Business is a Winning Move

by Keith Seiz

2 December, 2013

I lost. In my almost eight years of pitching, selling and telling people about The Arland Group, I’ve compiled a pretty solid record. Put me, or me and Deb in front of a potential new client, and most likely, we’ll win the business.

But I lost one last week. Made it to the final three of a brand redesign project for a West Coast company and failed to bring home the goods. It’s never fun to lose, but looking back, I’m really glad I didn’t win this business.

I lost because the potential client was a bit afraid that we would take the brand redesign a bit too far out of their comfort level. They were a conservative company in the financial industry, and they were looking for a “brand refresh.” I don’t believe in refreshing a brand. It’s an impossible task designed to placate timid clients, but not something that’s going to make an impact on the growth of a client’s business.

You don’t “refresh” brands. You tear them down and rebuild them. Sure, you sometimes arrive at a point that is very similar to the existing brand, but you have to burn the house down before you can build something new and improved.

There cannot be rules in a branding redesign project. Everything has to be at least considered in the first round of creative. It’s part of the process. A client has to allow you to bring them ideas that they never considered before. Even if they don’t make it past the first round of creative, it’s imperative to think about new approaches.

The last thing I want to hear when refreshing a company’s brand or logo is, “we can’t change the color” or “we really like the font.” Right there, you have already put my creative team in handcuffs and predetermined the brand based off of fear of change.

The creative process has to happen organically. If we rebrand a company, and its identity ends up being a minor, natural evolution, I will be completely satisfied with the finished product as long as the creative process is allowed to occur. As long, as someone is open to new ideas, I know the finished product will work, even if it’s not a significant change.

But when rules are put in place before a single idea is hatched, I know the project is not right for The Arland Group. We’re creative people and we have to be able to be creative in order to execute a finished product that makes an impact.

I don’t think the business I just lost would have allowed us be creative. They wanted a refresh, and we wanted a redesign. May seem similar, but there are vast differences in those words.

By losing the business, we won by not taking on a project that would have drained our creative team and stressed our client.

Disney Disappointment

by Keith Seiz

30 October, 2012

Fresh off the heels of a wonderful, five-day excursion to Disney World with wife and child in tow, I thought I would share a few observations about the vacation and my impressions of the Walt Disney World Empire:

1. Personally, the trip was a smashing success. The Seiz Family all had a wonderful time, and like the Olympics, I assume it will become a quadrennial tradition for my soon to be family of four.

2. From a work perspective, the trip did not disappoint either. I didn’t look at one email or take one business call for the five days I was gone.

3. My last trip to Disney was when I was 14 years old, and honestly, nothing has changed. Sure, there are a few new attractions, but the bread and butter of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and MGM/Hollywood Studios is still the same.

4. The sameness of Walt Disneyworld disappointed me. In many aspects, the parks almost seemed irrelevant. Where was the new technology? How do they plan to continue appealing to kids growing up with technology when everything seemed so dated and old?

5. Tomorrowland should be renamed 1980sville. What’s supposed to be a vision of the future looks like August 14, 1987 in Akron, Ohio.

6. You’re really highlighting astronaut ice cream? Really? That novelty was wearing thin when I was a kid.

I understand the “Disney Charm” and to make the place look like a video game would detract from this charm. Still, a rejuvenation is needed, and a comprehensive one at that, spanning from the uniforms the employees wear to the point of sale processes to updating the cars in Tomorrowland’s Speedway so they are not insanely noisy, gas guzzling engines.

Businesses, regardless of how big or small, must always keep innovating. Disney needs to step up its innovation or face challenging times ahead.

Distracted Much?

by Deb Andrychuk

14 September, 2012

Someone shared a blog post with me recently where the author, Joe Kraus, talks about how we are creating a culture of distraction: he says we have created an environment where we have become increasingly disconnected from the people around us and unable to engage in creative long form thinking all due to overuse of technology. He laments our loss of ability to truly interact with people and develop real relationships and how we are further diminishing our ability to think creatively because we are filling our down time with texts, tweets and emails and other tech related interruptions. For example, instead of waiting in a line at the bank and spending five minutes letting our minds wander and having time for our long form creative thinking to kick in, we immediately look to our phone to stimulate us, to fill the gap while we wait. Have you ever glanced at the car next to you while stopped at a red light? Look around, and you will see everyone is head down, intently focused on their smart phones, and terrifyingly disengaged with what’s happening around them. It’s no surprise to me that there were 100,000 accidents last year involving texts according to the National Safety Council. Frankly, I am shocked the number isn’t much, much higher.

Do you get your best ideas in the shower? If you do it’s because it’s probably the only place where you haven’t implemented technology to divert you. Just think how creative and productive you would be if you weren’t getting pinged every 2 minutes on email. Or, how much more relaxed would you be? What could you accomplish if your mind was able to meander quietly a few times a day?

In addition to the negative consequences already mentioned, this unhealthy over stimulation of the brain is also causing us undue anxiety. The constant need to send that pay off signal to the brain when receiving emails and texts is comparable to the feeling we get when we are playing a slot machine. I’m sure all the hard core gamblers are thinking this could be okay, but seriously, it’s not good for you! We need to change!

My commitment to myself is that I am going to put forth extra effort to be less distracted, more present in social situations with clients, friends and especially family.
Here’s my personal plan to be more engaged, less stressed and “wired up”:

  1. Sunday will be a Tech Free Day. On Sunday’s, I will be strive to be 100% present with my family. No technology allowed at all. This will be very difficult for me as I love to “check in” on Foursquare, scan Twitter and Facebook and am constantly reading texts.
  2. During the week, especially in meetings, I am committed to not sneaking peeks at my smartphone emails, Tweets, Facebook posts, etc. and focusing solely on what everyone is saying right in front of me and being the best listener I can possibly be. Admittedly, if I am in a long meeting, I am dying to check my phone.
  3. When I need to focus on getting a project done, I will shut off my email for set periods of time. This will be a game changer for me.
  4. Despite the magnetic pull to do so, I will refuse to check my smartphone for texts/emails in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning. I will at least save it for after that first cup of coffee.

So, I will let you know how this new way of living is working for me. I hope that you will give it a shot as well. I would love to hear what your experiences have been! We could all benefit from fewer distractions. It’s time to start living again…exchange words…listen to each other. Day dream. Be present. Enjoy life!!

No Candy Bars for Bad Behavior

by Deb Andrychuk

16 April, 2012

Last night I ran to the drugstore to pick up some allergy meds. While perusing over the different brands of antihistamines and in my own little world, I was abruptly shoved back to reality by the shrill screams of a little boy sitting in a cart about 3 feet away. He was shouting emphatically to his obviously drained mother “No, mommy, YOU shut up! I not gonna be quiet!!” He then began grabbing whatever items were within arm’s length, hurling the medicines like missiles down aisle 8. The Sudafed went whizzing by first (see-ya!) Then the Mucinex went sailing over mommy’s head, and the store brands were chucked next. I ran for cover and headed for the front of the store to pay and avoid being knocked out by NyQuil.

Now, here’s where it gets really interesting. Mom brings the little guy up to the check-out counter and begins showing him all of the “yummy candies” he can choose from. I immediately get my hackles up and think, “WHAT?! Are you kidding me?” Not that I thought little Hitler should be beaten or ostracized in public, but in no way did I think he should be rewarded. Then, it occurred to me that this is what happens every day in the business world, especially in sales. Sales people who behave badly are constantly given accolades, put on pedestals and promoted. WTH?

Practically every week I witness bad behavior from certain sales people in our industry and it baffles me. It is so bad that I sometimes cannot even sleep at night because it blows my mind that my clients, who are wonderful people, would do business with anyone who would behave so inappropriately. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the sales people who lie and manufacture stories about the competition to win a deal or make their clients feel stupid for doing business with someone other than them. I am referring to those arrogant sales people who truly believe that every customer owes them a call back, even though they are one in 50 calls or emails a day. And, when they don’t get what they want, they go over their client’s head. Get real! If clients did nothing but return calls/emails, no work would ever get done! And, I especially love the sales person who shows up uninvited and unannounced, demanding to be seen because “they have something important they need to discuss.” Um, wow…I thought it was about the customer? Now trust me, I think that partnership is a two-way street and that customers have a level of responsibility and commitment to the vendor/sales person, but this is still uncalled for any way you look at it. Do you agree? I would rather lose than lie and I would certainly never treat my clients with disrespect. I honestly feel you can be successful AND act like a decent human being. When did being a good person become so unfashionable?

Okay, done ranting…but parents, please don’t reward Johnny with a Snickers the next time he has a nuclear meltdown in Walmart, okay? You are setting him up for failure later in life in allowing him to think that it’s all about him or that it’s good to be bad. And, customers please don’t tolerate rude and pig-headed behavior from your vendors. Buying from rude people only serves to send the wrong message to the seller that it’s okay to crap on you. It’s not okay…

Isolation

by Keith Seiz

2 March, 2012

I’m writing this blog from 31,000 feet in the air. It’s late, I’m tired and I’m questioning whether or not I’m going to get a second gin and tonic before landing in St. Louis.

I’m also wondering if my mom is going to have to wait long for me to arrive. Yes, my mom still occasionally picks me up from the airport. I know I’m 34, run a successful agency and said agency would have no problem footing the bill for long-term airport parking. But, it’s good seeing mom, and the $144 I save in parking fees can go to keeping our overhead low and rates reasonable.

I’m flying home from Spokane, Washington. Most business trips I take are in and out. I see the airport, the rental car, the client and my hotel room. This trip, however, I have an outstanding traveling partner in our creative director and my friend, Jonathan. So instead of airport, meeting, hotel, airport, we extended the trip a couple days and headed into the isolation of Northern Idaho to be creative.

We did everything we could to remove ourselves from the business of our business.

We talked a lot, laughed a lot, argued a bit, had a few cocktails and even went skiing. Most importantly, we were creative without forcing it. No set times to dedicate to a specific project.  No squeezing in an hour of design work between conference calls.

We just lived life outside of The Arland Group while talking on and off about four major branding projects we are working on and the type of creative we would need to make them amazing.

And you know what, we killed it. We’re talking award winning ideas.

The lesson: isolate yourself from your business to produce exceptional work. It doesn’t matter if you toil in the creative field like we do or crunch numbers for an accounting firm. Get away. Shut your door. Turn off your computer and cell phone. If you can, don’t go into work and go somewhere else instead where no one can reach you.

Pick up a pencil and a pad of paper, think and start working. You’ll be amazed at what you accomplish.

An Adaptable Lesson

by Erin Canetta

9 February, 2012

Being a mom of two daughters, I’m constantly wondering how I can improve my mothering skills so as to achieve putting two strong, confident and kind women into the world. Always keeping an ear open for mothering tips, I heard one of the most poignant pieces of advice when I was listening to an interview with Maya Angelou.

She was talking about being a young mom who was always in a hurry giving her kids one piece of direction or another. She realized she was so concerned with what they were doing that she lost her focus on them. She came up with the idea of making sure every time one of her children entered the room—first thing in the morning or coming home from school or some other place—to stop what she was doing, look them in eye, smile, call them by their name and tell them she was happy to see them. Before, long she noticed this small change was having a profoundly positive affect on their self-esteem. Ms. Angelou came to the simple but very important realization that what everyone wants most is to be acknowledged.

So of course, I implemented this approach immediately and I do have to say it’s not only had a positive effect on my children’s overall behavior but in their reaction towards me. They too have started to tell me they’re happy to see me every time I enter the room for the first time—even my 2 yr old.  And they’ve started saying it their dad and grandma, the woman behind the deli counter, teachers, etc. And the response back to them has been extraordinarily positive. What a valuable lesson for them as future mothers, wives, business women, and just people in the world to readily and easily acknowledge another’s presence with an inferred worth.

I contemplated this lesson a little further to figure out if it applied beyond my approach to my children and personal relationships. I started to ask myself, what do my clients want most from their agency? They want to be acknowledged and valued. What do they want most for their product or service? They want it to be acknowledged for its uniqueness in the market and welcomed into the hands of their customer.

It hit me, that this is exactly why our small agency is growing so quickly. Collectively, we are very good at acknowledging the value and worth that our clients hold in their markets. We have never met or talked to a client who wasn’t excited about what they do. So we come back to our offices and talk and we get excited. We’ve acknowledged them and they know it. With that established, we understand our direction on every account with clarity. It’s amazing that we were doing this without realizing it but that’s what makes us a solid team. We’ve learned this lesson together and we execute it everyday.

House Advantage Swings to Google

by Keith Seiz

7 December, 2011

When we started The Arland Group six years ago, social media was not even on the list of services we provided. Facebook was for college students and Twitter wasn’t even an idea yet.

Today, social media is not only one of the most exciting segments of our business, it’s also the fastest growing. We now employ people just to develop mountains of content for our clients’ social networks.

To date, most of our efforts have focused on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. But there is a new player in town in the form of Google+. I’m a cynic when it comes to new social media networks, mainly because I think the big three are innovative and continually push for improvements on their platforms. It’s hard to be the new kid on the block when everyone loves hanging around with the older, cooler kid.

I have a Google+ account, but I don’t get it. I think the user interface is clumsy, the concept is contrived and not too many of my friends and colleagues have embraced it, so I feel pretty isolated when on the platform. Despite what I perceive to be its shortcomings though, Google+ has an immense house advantage: the algorithm.

The mysterious mathematical equation Google uses to determine the results of search engines is the holy grail of digital marketing. As an agency, we strive to make sure our clients are on that front page of search results when their clients look for them. Getting on the front page requires an immense amount of work, of which I won’t go into detail here (you can call me though!).

On a recent Google search of  “The Arland Group,” we were shocked to see our Google+ page was the third result posted! It was above our Facebook and Twitter pages, despite the fact that we only have five posts on Google+ and hundreds on Facebook and Twitter. Despite building a solid brand on Facebook and Twitter, Google played its house advantage and tilted the algorithm to Google+.

Kudos to them. If you have an advantage, you capitalize on it. They have singlehandedly forced our agency to start launching Google+ accounts for all of our clients. We’re not sure it’s the best way for them to promote their brand, but with a world of information driven by Google, it’s imperative that our customers are present and accounted for on Google+.

Sweet Success!

by Sharon Lynch

10 November, 2011

A couple months ago I wrote of a project I was taking on outside of work, a bit creative, a bit of project management and a possibly big challenge for a “capable baker”, but no Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart here. I had decided with some pro-active planning and attention to detail, that I just might be able to produce from scratch, not only a birthday cake (for a 4-yr old), but a Treasure Chest Birthday Cake that came not only with a recipe but a video!

It was served up last weekend . . . and people actually recognized it! It indeed was a Treasure Chest with jewels, gold coins, gold nuggets and a whole bunch of loot. The birthday boy stuck his finger in it (conservative approach) while the little brother stuck his whole face in it to get at the jewels (adventurous approach). I guess that spells success. Have to thank my wonderful job for allowing me to keep my saw sharpened and skills of planning, attention to detail and project management well-honed, they come in very handy in my personal life as well.

When the DIY model does not work

by Keith Seiz

13 October, 2011

I’ve always been proud to say I’ve started something. In my first career as the editor of a trade publication, I was most proud of the fact that I started a successful conference. In the last six years of many successes at The Arland Group, I am most proud of the fact that we took the chance in the first place. We started something. And we did it in a Do It Yourself (DIY) fashion.

The DIY model has paid huge dividends for our creative firm throughout its existence. In the beginning, doing it ourselves allowed us to streamline costs and develop our own models and processes for running an agency that were based on logic, not what other agencies were doing or alleged “best practices.”

Today, the DIY model brings us closer to clients. Despite our growth, we still insist on eliminating the gap between our creative team and our customers. How? By foregoing the traditional account executive model and insisting that all TAG Teamers are creative and versed in account management and sales. Taking this approach, we have built a great team of all-arounders in a DIY model.

But the DIY model is not always the best approach. We recently opened an office in St. Louis on Washington Ave. (recently named one of the top 10 streets in America!), and instead of moving into a space that was move-in ready, we leased a space that we could make our own. But instead of hiring professionals to transform the space into what we wanted, we decided to follow the DIY model.

Terrible decision. Balancing the daily workload of running a successful, growing agency is difficult enough, but combined with painting walls, installing new floors and buying furniture, it’s a burden I wish upon no one.

In the end, our office will be outstanding and it will be something I’m very proud of. But right now, as we slowly make our sparse accommodations a home away from home, I wish this once, I would have taken a different approach than the DIY model.

We’ll continue to post pics as the office becomes more complete and stay tuned for more info on our Open House!

Strategizing Makes Success a Piece of Cake

by Sharon Lynch

15 September, 2011

Here at The Arland Group, we pride ourselves on applying successes from one area to another, sharing ideas from consumer marketing to recruitment marketing, vice versa, and on over to business-to-business. Similarly, I like to borrow work strategies that can extend to my personal life. For one, pro-active planning, creativity, detailed project management and research are just some of the things we do here to ensure success and I’m hoping to carry that forward to a large undertaking at home . . . I am already thinking ahead to my son’s 4-yr birthday party and it’s 2 months away – I just can’t help it. I enjoy planning and love being pro-active, so that makes for a great fit when planning client strategies . . . I am hoping this will also help me make a Treasure Chest Birthday Cake – not your average 3-step box cake or store-bought cake (one step: pickup). It has so many steps it needs a VIDEO to go with the recipe! http://familyfun.go.com/parties/parties-by-theme/pirate-parties/treasure-chest-cake-686531/ Yikes!

So as a first step to my “planning and strategy” while I’m considering this I decide to draw on my business world acumen. Network. Use social media. I post the idea on Facebook only to get an immediate reply from someone who actually already made the cake! (How’s that for personal research?) And she got huge applause for it. Well then, I guess I’m “in”: decision made. And I will use my business strategies: project management, pro-active planning, and prioritizing to get this done. I will enjoy every step of it as I do working with my customers and just as I experience the success of a Target Mail with a very creative message and high open rate, I will love to see the happy face of my 4-yr-old and his friends.

Business Tips from the Dogs

by Deb Andrychuk

3 March, 2011

Anyone who knows me well will tell you that outside of my husband and kids, my dogs are the loves of my life.  I didn’t have a dog until I was an adult so I had to be taught how to interact with them.   In thinking about my relationship with my pooches, I realize that so much of what I do with them can be applied to my everyday dealings at Arland.  So, here are my top business tips as learned from my Malte-poo, Rocco, and my Shi-a-poo, Arnie.

Start with a firm handshake. If you are meeting a new dog for the first time, carefully let him sniff you first then gently but firmly shake his paw.  This same rule applies in the business world (minus the sniffing part.)  For maximum impact, look your prospect squarely in the eyes and give him a nice and tightly gripped shake.  Please remember that no one, and I mean no one,  enjoys  a sticky or sweaty palm or worse yet,  a limp-wristed hand shake, so keep your hands clean & dry and practice your grasp with your spouse or friend.

Treats are a great reward. My dogs Rocco and Arnie are incredibly affectionate and I used to believe this was because they adored me and I was the center of their universe.  Now I know that their devotion is really based upon their love of cheese and chicken treats.  My dogs learned quickly that good behavior = yummy treats.    I think the same thinking applies to rewarding your customer’s behavior.  If you have a customer who has given you repeat business, referred you to a colleague or endorsed your work, return the favor!  It’s also nice to send a thank you card, take them to lunch or dinner occasionally or buy them some treats when visiting (cupcakes are always a hit!)  Everyone loves to feel special!

Walk your dog. Dogs are very much like children in that they crave routine.  They feel secure and loved and behave best when they are routinely walked, groomed, fed, etc.  Customers are looking for their partners to consistently take care of them.  It needs to be habitual that you regularly check in on your contacts preferably by person or by phone.  Make sure that you are proactively delivering reports or any other assets promptly.

Clean up messes ASAP! I am sure you have seen the clever but crude bumper sticker proclaiming that “Sh*t Happens!”  What I have learned is that when a puppy goes, you need to be on the scene immediately to do damage control, especially if it was on your neighbor’s front yard or driveway.  As long as you are timely and do a good job, your neighbor will be pleased but, whatever you do, don’t pretend like your doggie didn’t do the duty.  Own up to the poopie!  So many customers have told me that it’s not the flub-up that turned them off from a prior vendor; it was clearly the lack of skills or desire to clean up the disaster.

Guide your dog.  Okay, ever see an out of control dog, pulling his bewildered pet owner in one direction while the owner strained in the opposite direction on the leash?  Sometimes, as vendors, we think that our ideas are the only ideas, getting hung up on who is in charge.  When helping clients make choices, leave the choker chain at home.  Strangling them into a choice is hardly the way to build your partnership.  Further, if you are constantly trying to be the “alpha” dog, you are going to turn off your clients.  Customers want someone to take care of them who is confident, knowledgeable & able to make solid recommendations without being overbearing.

Don’t take in more dogs than you can handle. I have a friend who is constantly rescuing dogs that have not gotten the care they deserve.  Unfortunately, if she takes in too many dogs, her home becomes a disaster area and no dog gets the attention they need.  In the business world, you should strive to provide world class service.  This means monitoring your work load and being wise enough to know when to add head count to provide additional support.  Everyone should work hard, but not kill themselves on a daily basis to meet objectives.

Dogs need affection. If I ignore my pups, they quickly become despondent and then begin to seek out affection elsewhere, mainly from my husband or kids.  In the business world, when you don’t cuddle your clients, guess what happens?  They lose interest and can easily be wooed away by your competition.   Love your customers all the time and they will pay you back ten-fold.  Go the extra mile without being asked, be a good listener and give your customers the attention they deserve.

So, there you have it! Words to live by in our dog- eat- dog world!