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Cathy Monetti

A writer by trade, Cathy founded the firm that is now Riggs Partners in 1987 and has served as the firm’s lead creative strategist since that time. She is a voracious student of all things Next.
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posted by Cathy Monetti Apr 13,2016 @ 04:08PM

The First Principle of Branding


IN 1974, THE PHYSICIST Richard Feynman gave a commencement address to graduating scientists at Caltech during which he said: The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that.

The speech, titled The Cargo Cult Science, is now a rather famous one in which the Nobel Prize winner makes the case for integrity over righteousness and sensationalism. As Maria Popova points out on her wonderful Brain Pickings blog, the message is “all the timlier today as the fear of being wrong has swelled into an epidemic and media sensationalism continues to peddle pseudoscience to laymen ill-equipped or unwilling to apply the necessary critical thinking.”

Pseudoscience, certainly, but I would suggest it is equally timely when applied to business or mass communications or brand building. Feynman went on to say, After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

Whoa, as my daughter would say.

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THERE IS SUCH POIGNANCE to the language Feynman chose to use. I love his calling out of our head talk--the internal dialog that takes place between our true selves and that voice in our head that endlessly chatters, the one with which we debate and eliminate and calculate and conclude. This thought process is meant to lead to resolution, much in the way scientific experimentation is meant to lead to conclusion. But we should always be suspect: the voice in our head nearly always offering a limited view, an ulterior motive, a foregone conclusion with which it intends to shape outcome without our true selves ever noticing. And so it is that we come to create our own stories, our own version of the truth, based on our own limited, and admittedly biased, worldview.

You must not fool yourself, he warned students who would have the benefit of science to prove their conclusions. Let’s just imagine how easy it is to fall prey when you are talking about the nebulous business of branding.

 

WE ARE SO QUICK to move to communications without doing the hard work of “proving” what the thing is all about in the first place. This requires dissection, challenge, and alignment on questions that are not always easy to answer. It also requires brutal honesty, a “true self” assessment that is neither overinflated nor overindulged thanks to our own head story or the one perpetuated in the halls and social media feeds of our businesses.

These questions are a good place to start. (And keep in mind they must be answered time and time again over the life of a company.)

 

What is the problem we want our business to solve?

Who has this problem? Who cares about it?

How can we make a difference?

Is someone else already doing this?

Can we/are we doing it differently?

How do we prove it?

Do our employees/associates know this? Are they passionate about it?

 

This is not the kind of exercise a CEO or marketing director can typically sit down and knock out. Instead it takes the varied perspective and insights of people throughout an organization who come together for conversation and discovery, sometimes with a trained facilitator who can probe dark corners and encourage open discussion. Very often primary and/or secondary research is helpful, providing a more scientific, well-rounded and fact-based dimension to the process. This might include market evaluations, competitive analyses, and interviews with current and former customers, as well as conversations with prospects you haven’t successfully converted.

It’s hard work, needless to say, but healthy labor that leads to clear purpose and ultimately an honest, trustworthy brand.

 

AFTER YOU’VE NOT FOOLED YOURSELF, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. Perhaps this is the more powerful point, or at least the more comforting one. Because once you’ve done the hard work of building an honest brand your communications strategy will come more easily. Remember to develop and share content that reflects and demonstrates your brand’s values--particularly in digital mediums, where the ability to go direct results in a more personal interaction.

 

SEVERAL YEARS AGO we were working with a client whose large, established business was going through significant change. New competitors were eating into the established customer base, product lines were shifting to meet changing market demand, and leadership of the company was moving from one generation to the next. We sat through a couple of meetings during which the founder couldn’t seem to offer anything more than a list of random marketing tactics he’d like us to get right on.

We advised that given the significant change taking place, a reshape of the brand was in order. Item One would be the formation of a brand team to do the heavy lifting in answering questions simliar to those above.

“Why would I ever do that?” came the leader’s response. “I mean, what would I do if I didn’t like their answers?”

Yes, we could only say. Yes, exactly.

posted by Cathy Monetti Dec 22,2015 @ 08:30AM

Is Your Post Worthy of A Click?

I am a television binge watcher.

There, I’ve said it.

My current obsession is Damages, a crime drama that features the magnificent (and stylistically perfect) Glenn Close. It’s an indulgence I share with my 22-year-old daughter, something we both look forward to at the end of long, productive workdays that deserve a good wind-down reward. Eliza queues up the next episode via Netflix, then we both pile on the sofa, the dog between us, and commence to watching one, two, sometimes three shows a night. (Binge-watching is so addictive.)

There’s something else we do, another obsession we share even if neither of us ever acknowledges it. When we are settled in front of the TV she pulls out her iPhone to scroll through Instagram, Facebook, or to click on late-breaking Snapchat photos and videos. I pop open my laptop and respond to email, check my blog roll, click to Facebook, pop over to Twitter to see what’s been going on. Then I check my email again.

It’s embarrassing, this admission. Because very often we both spend the next Damages hour(s) with these electronic devices active and in front of us. (Very, very often one of us will ask, “What’d he say? What just happened? Rewind, please.”)

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It’s an addiction, of course. That I know, because the thought of putting away my phone and laptop for the entire evening makes me very uncomfortable. How can that be, I wonder, with my daughter—my typical excuse for keeping communication at my fingertips—right there beside me?

The answer may lie in this commentary offered on NPR by Matt Riechtel, technology journalist for The New York Times: "When you check your information, when you get a buzz in your pocket, when you get a ring — you get what they call a dopamine squirt. You get a little rush of adrenaline. Well, guess what happens in its absence? You feel bored. You're conditioned by a neurological response: 'Check me check me check me check me.’" 

So. Without the promise of my own little time-to-time dopamine squirt, simply watching an intense, high adrenaline television drama is not enough to keep me from feeling bored. So sad.

So true.

(Hang on for a minute. Got to check Facebook.)

All this hand-wringing got me to thinking about the steady stream of communications I’m addicted to and how often the payoff is worthy of the attention the monitoring requires. And as a marketing professional, that got me to thinking about the responsibility for producing content that has real value. 

Let’s start by acknowledging there’s a lot of work to be done up front. You must first articulate your business objectives and determine how content marketing can help achieve them. Then you need to identify your target audience and know how your product/service fits into their lives. What needs do they have that your brand meets? In what ways does it do this that are unique? Where is the powerful connection? Find this space and base your content strategy on it.

Once you have this outlined, here’s a good, simple gut-check for brands committed to providing well considered content that’s worthy of the click:

  1. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Speak only if it improves the silence.” Consider this to be the Golden Rule of digital communications, as well.
  2. Think of the “target audience” receiving the information as actual human beings. Better yet, develop your messaging as if you are speaking to an individual, someone you see in your imagination as you create it. It should be someone you like. More importantly, it should be someone you respect.
  3. Will he/she be pleased when they see your offering? Is the information meaningful? Is the content helpful? Is the commentary insightful?
  4. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Resist the urge to load up a social media feed just to get your brand out there.
  5. Remember the great gift of the digital world is the ability to form community without the constraint of geography. Be a valued member of that community. Be generous. Be kind. Be interesting. And always, always, be a good neighbor.

It’s not difficult to be mindful in creating your brand’s digital communications. In fact, it’s a great relief in a world that seems to feed on the command Do More Faster. You simply need to take a moment to be sure the content you are creating and sharing is actually worthy of someone’s valuable click.

posted by Cathy Monetti Oct 19,2015 @ 10:12AM

CreateAthon, Flood Relief and Good Business

This date marks 28 years since the Monday morning I first opened the proverbial doors of C.C.Riggs, the advertising studio that has become today's Riggs Partners. It is a truth that astounds me even as I look back across the decades to the girl I was then: an optimistic, energetic, enthusiastic copywriter who wanted nothing more than to do great work for clients I admired and whose companies I believed in. What a blessing it is to be young and eager, that is the thought that occurs to me now, thousands of projects, hundreds of clients and a wealth of talented employees and co-workers later.

 

Something else occurs to me as well. It's the honor of doing the work itself, the trust placed squarely in your hands by those you serve in doing it. This week it will be our honor to serve eight nonprofits as we joyfully take the reins in solving their marketing and communications challenges during our 18th pro bono bonanza, CreateAthon. We'll work around the clock (AKA without sleep) from Thursday at 8am until the last presentation Friday morning. It is intense, terrifying, and exhausting to take on such a challenge and I expect these emotions will be doubly true this year as our hometown of Columbia, South Carolina marches on through the early days of recovery following last week's devastating, historic flood. Nevertheless we asked each other this question.

Could we do more?

The answer is yes. So for the first time ever, RP CreateAthon volunteers are seeking pledge donations for each of the 24 hours we’re working with 100 percent going directly to flood relief via the Central Carolina Community Foundation Flood Relief Fund. Directions and a link for donating are below.

It's a small thing, we know. But as evidenced by CreateAthon--and by the evolution of a small creative studio founded in 1989--little ideas often turn into gigantic blessings that impact the world in surprising ways.

Thanks for being part of it. Your sponsorship, or even a simple share of this post on your networks, will help so much.

CreateAthon 18, here we come!

 

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posted by Cathy Monetti Apr 02,2015 @ 04:12AM

Five Lessons of Great Leaders

I've spent a lot of time lately thinking about leadership. It's not something that's on my mind, typically; there's entirely too much work to be done to sit around dissecting and diagramming such a thing. But when I was invited to speak to a group of government leaders about how to be an inspired leader in difficult times--I knew I had some soul searching to do.

What on earth do I have to say on this topic? It was a valid question. Not so long ago (ha) I was a young entrepreneur doing the best I could to balance the demands of a growing business with the responsibilities of being a single mother. As a result little Eliza spent many weekends and holidays with me at the office. (It did not bring her joy.) Early one Saturday I parked her at the receptionist's desk where she prayed the phone would ring and she would get to answer it: "C.C.Rigg’s! This is Eliza! How may I help you?"

It never happened. So on this day I loaded her up with paper and pencils and colored markers and tape and gave her all sorts of instructions about things she might do. Then I went to my office and commenced to cleaning out files.

Sensing her dissatisfaction, I picked up the phone, buzzed the reception desk, and in my most professional voice said into the intercom, "Eliza, this is Miss Cathy. Would you please go to the refrigerator and get a Diet Coke, put it in a koozie and bring it to me?" Diet Coke delivered, my tiny receptionist returned to her desk and within 15 seconds my telephone intercom buzzed.

"Cathy," said this little five-year-old voice. "Would you please go to the refrigerator and get a Sprite, put it in a koozie and bring it to me?"

"Honey," I said, now in my Mom voice. "I'm the boss and you're the worker. That means you do things for me."

"Humph," she said, hanging up the receiver.

When the day was done we drove straight to her favorite restaurant where we parked catacorner in the Sonic drive-in and she made the big move to sit in the front seat, with me. "Let's play TEENAGERS!" she said. And so I turned to her and asked in my best teenager voice, "So Eliza, what have you been up to?"

"I've just been working at the hospital," she said.

"The hospital!" I said, surprised. "When did you start working at the hospital? The last time we talked you were working at an advertising agency!"

"I was," she said. "But there was this lady there, and all she did was boss me around, so I quit."

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Thankfully, I spent the next 25 years in the company of some pretty remarkable leaders, many of whom were my clients. I do my best to pay attention, to go beneath the surface of things, and so as I thought through it, I realized they all have some things in common. Following is a greatly abbreviated overview.

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GREAT LEADERS KNOW THE "WHY" OF THEIR ORGANIZATION. THEY ALSO KNOW THEIR PERSONAL "WHY."

Have you seen Simon Sinek’s TED talk HOW GREAT LEADERS INSPIRE ACTION? “People don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it,” he says of great brands and companies. I believe Sinek is onto something important and revolutionary. I know it’s true in marketing and branding. But I believe it’s also true when it comes to us as individuals, as human beings, as leaders.

Do you know your WHY? Do you know what drives you? Do you know what you value? Do you know what you believe?

GREAT LEADERS LEAD FROM THE SPACE OF THEIR CONVICTIONS.

They inspire rather than command—they tell us what they believe, not what should be done.

GREAT LEADERS CONNECT HUMAN TO HUMAN.

Soul to soul. Heart to heart. THE REAL ME SEES THE REAL YOU. This matters because as human beings, what we want most is to be seen, heard and validated.

GREAT LEADERS PAY ATTENTION TO INTENTION.

They identify the right problems. Then they get to the why.

GREAT LEADERS BUILD TRUST ALL AROUND.

They create and foster an environment in which people feel safe—not only with regard to "management," but also co-workers. They do this by knowing their convictions (see #1 and #2 above) and standing for them, on behalf of the people they lead.

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There is much more to say about each, including wonderful examples from people I greatly respect. I think I'll spend some time in this space doing just that. But for now, I'd love to hear your perspective. Comment or send an email to cathy@riggspartners.com. I'd love to hear from you.

posted by Cathy Monetti Feb 13,2015 @ 05:55AM

A Vibrant Spirit

I was making my way through the rows of booksellers at last year’s South Carolina Book Festival when I saw a familiar face at a booth just to my right. The smile was unequivocally Marvin Chernoff—broad, joyful, genuine—and I walked closer to discover he was promoting a recently released book he’d written about the ad industry. I bought a copy and told him I’d be honored if he would sign it.

I don’t know that we’ve officially ever met, I said as he wrote. But I’d like to tell you something. Not only are you responsible for the development of an entire creative class in Columbia—but every person I know who ever worked for you continues to hold you in the highest regard. Every single one. I aspire to that. And I thank you.

He smiled again, and then said something funny and self-deprecating. I walked away, my new book in hand, and thought how deeply I regret never knowing him well, how I wish I’d had the opportunity—like so many talented ad folks who have done and continue to do great work—how I wish I’d had the opportunity to learn from this trailblazer, a man fearless and committed. Marvin Chernoff served this community, the agency he founded, and every person who ever had the honor of working with him with great aplomb. How the world will miss his vision and passion. But how lucky we are his indomitable spirit will live on in the many, many lives he shaped.

 

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By the numbers

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