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posted by Teresa Coles Oct 19,2016 @ 05:14PM

On Riggs. CreateAthon. And more than a little grace.

Twenty-nine years ago today Cathy Rigg said enough. Enough to mediocre thinking. Enough to creative short cuts. She left her job on a Friday, bought a Mac SE with money from her grandmother, and opened up C.C. Riggs on Black Monday, October 19, 1987.

What a little vision and a lot of believin' looks like

There were a million reasons why this company would fail.

And yet, here we are.

Nineteen years ago, she and I wondered if there might be something more for our company. A higher calling, if you will. So we came up with the notion of pulling an all-nighter to help nonprofits that couldn’t afford professional marketing.

There were a million reasons why this idea would fail.

And yet, here we are.

So what matters in all of this? What have these markers in our collective history taught us about our work, our lives and each other?

Consider it all joy.

On this birthday of Riggs and the eve of CreateAthon 19, I’m mindful of the cords of grace that have bound us over the years. The unspoken covenant that held us together when we just didn’t think we could do One More Thing. The willingness to listen generously to each other’s point of view in order to solve the unsolvable. The abiding sense of teamwork that pulled us out of chaotic seasons and returned us to a place of peace.

I'm grateful for every one of these challenges and foibles. They are testament to both our humanity and to what can be accomplished when we uphold each other in pursuit of something that’s bigger than any one of us.

Riggs Partners hasn’t been in business for 29 years because we’re smarter than anyone else in marketing. CreateAthon hasn’t delivered more than $24 million in pro bono service because we came up with the idea first.

It happened because we had faith in each other. And we knew that by standing as one, there was nothing we couldn’t accomplish – even if it wasn’t always perfect along the way.

Tomorrow morning, CreateAthoners will walk into the WECO building and breathe air that is electric, inspiring and humbling. We will bear witness to our very best selves. And we will see that as much as our CreateAthon clients may benefit from our gifts, the joy we receive will be tenfold.

That, my friends, is more than enough to say grace over.

posted by Kevin Smith Aug 31,2016 @ 02:29PM

Start by Thinking Like a Startup


Established businesses don’t reach out to marketing communications firms like ours when things are fantastic. Typically, something has changed, and not for the better. We get called when sales have dropped, when the brand has become unclear or when past leaders have stepped aside to make way for someone new.

Beyond these conditions, established companies often have other things in common that contribute to lackluster performance. Many times, they lack a clear or a universally understood purpose that drives their organization. We define purpose as an understanding about the difference your enterprise is trying to make in the world.

Examples include:

Johnson and Johnson: To alleviate pain and suffering.

Charles Schwab: To be a relentless ally of the individual investor.

Whole Foods: To provide choices for nourishing the body, the community and the planet.

Without a shared sense of purpose in their organizations, businesses tend to be reactionary. Leaders tend to make decisions slowly. They spend their days, quarters and years trying to respond to shifts in the market, changes in customer or client demands, evolutions in the competitive landscape, and so on. The result is a lack of focus, and the desire to leave open every possible revenue opportunity, product and service line or geographic territory. Not surprisingly, none of these strategies perform adequately.

This dynamic is exacerbated by shifts in today’s business climate. Increasing competition, rising costs of goods and labor, changing customer needs – all are happening at an ever-quickening pace. The good news is that with effective counsel and a willingness to look at making some changes, established companies can become more competitive through a new commitment to their organizational health: taking the time to understand what drives them, what they are best at, and what it takes to get everyone on board with that mission. While it may be more difficult to make these types of strategic redirects in a more mature company, the organization is always made stronger by the effort.

Conversely, we see startup enterprises coming to the table with very intentional thinking as it relates to organizational health. Founders arrive with total clarity about their purpose as an organization, from HR considerations and behavioral expectations to product innovation and customer service. They use purpose as a strategic lens to guide decisions in many key areas.

Corporate Culture: Entrepreneurs understand that a strong culture begins with purpose. They also know that a company’s culture is vital to recruiting talent. Younger employees want more than a paycheck from their employers and demand their work accomplish something that makes them fulfilled.

Product Offering: Should the product line be niche? Appeal to multiple targets? Beyond the market data, effective startups are using organizational intent as a guidepost for making objective and decisive calls.

Sales: When purpose is foremost, so is the selling proposition. Further, expanding from one salesperson to a team is easier when everyone shares a common goal. Successful startups understand the power of a sales team that operates from the same playbook.

Pricing: Should the product be charged at a premium? Or should a certain feature be considered a value-add? Today’s new business leaders know if a price increase means you can better accomplish the mission, yes. If it goes against what the company stands for, no.

Corporate Social Responsibility: No longer a nice-to-do for large companies, startups recognize the importance of aligning their founding principles with work that can be done to support their communities. In mature organizations, CSR program decisions can also be made with the company’s core ideals in mind. For example, Johnson & Johnson provides drugs to underserved communities in the third world.

While startups don’t have the market cornered on building purpose-driven businesses, they are paying more and more attention to the new competitive realities of linking organizational health with business strategy and brand marketing. Firms like ours don’t create a brand’s image. Done well, our job is to reflect what is already there. So when you think about branding, don’t start by thinking about your logo or website. Begin by examining the impact your company wants to make for your employees, your customers and your community. Start by thinking like a startup.

This article originally appeared in the August 15-September 11 issue of Columbia Regional Business Report.


posted by Will Weatherly Jul 21,2016 @ 12:51PM

Businesses Are Just People Too


For nearly a year, social media mogul and notorious speaker Gary Vaynerchuk has been honing a message. Infamous in marketing circles for his long history of brash, profane, egotistical-at-first-listen presentations near the cross streets of culture and marketing, Gary’s newest barb is as pointed as always. But now, alongside the release of his new book, he’s jabbing it at individuals not industries.

His point?


In his words…


“There is something that is rarely talked about in the business world and I want to start building more attention for it.
That thing is self-awareness…
… Self-awareness allows people to recognize what things they do best so they can then go hard on those aspects of their life. It also helps you accept your weaknesses.What works for one person doesn’t work for everyone. I want people to learn to be at peace with themselves, to understand what they can offer, because everyone’s got something. The key, however, is learning how to find it.
Self-awareness can help you do that.
Self-awareness is being able to accept your weaknesses while focusing all of your attention on your strengths. The moment you decide to accept your shortcomings and bet entirely on your strengths, things will change. Trust me.”


Now, with this idea, Gary openly aims to poke holes in the mythology of entrepreneurism that’s being inflated by the business community, its incubators, accelerators, and startup weekends.

But that’s not what’s interesting to me.


What’s interesting are the implications for business.

See, I’ve come to believe businesses are just people too.

Businesses have life in them. When they’re young, they need nourishment and protection to grow. They need relationships with people that love them, who are willing to buy. They need unique parts of themselves to get along with each other, teams to keep things functioning and life flowing. These are all essential to survival.

But what if a business wants to do more than survive?



What if a business wants to achieve as much as possible? To contribute something incredible to the world, something special, something unique, something only that business has the physical and conscious makeup to create?


What might it take to self-actualize such a thing?

Maybe first, it would take esteem.

Maybe first, it would take self-awareness.

The concrete, confident knowlege of what that business does best. To have crystal clarity on its strengths. To embrace its flaws and own its weaknesses. To see vividly into its blind spots. To regularly reflect inward. To understand when, where, and why its elements are not aligned.

If that’s what it took, how might a business get such self-awareness?

Dig around “GaryVee” long enough and you’ll find his best piece of advice for people is to… ask.

So, maybe that's good advice for business too. 


Ask who?

Ask the people who love you. 

Ask every part of yourself. 

Ask some strangers.




posted by Will Weatherly May 11,2016 @ 04:28PM

A CliffsNotes on CX

In case you haven’t heard, it’s all the rage in the marketing world right now. In fact, just last night our local AMA Columbia chapter hosted an event dedicated to the topic. 

Palmetto Health's Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Todd Miller discussing experiential marketing at the AMA Columbia meeting on May 10.

CX = Customer Experience

I suppose the abbreviation originated to play off its fancier-sounding cousin slash mentor-discipline in the tech world, UX (user experience), while cleverly facilitating a natural extension of the company C-Suite… the CEO, the CMO, and now the CXO.

CX began building noticeable buzz around 2011, the same year the CXPA was founded and the same year the world lost a man who had become synonymous with customer-centricity. In fact, it’s the very mantra of Jobs himself, and variations by other big business mavens like Musk and Bezos, that seem to have fueled the movement.

“Start with the customer.”

Over the past few years, CX has manifested through the formalizing and operationalizing of that creed by thought leaders whose backgrounds are often in customer service or the aforementiond design field of user experience or human-computer interaction -- both of course dealing with the needs of humans. 

Now, what’s all this got to do with marketing? Well, everything obviously.

A Tale of Three Paradigms

Marketing has changed. It’s not what it once was. It used to be a rehearsed monologue brands delivered from a stage loudly and clearly to target audiences with attention to spare. 

#1 - Always On 

But today, the marketing conversation is multi-channel and multi-directional. Social media, customer reviews, online influencers -- these force brands to keep on their toes every minute of every day. 

#2 - Smartketing

Data mining, lead scoring, and automation have fused sales and marketing, making mass-personalization and "funnels-of-one" the growing expectation of consumers as their relationships with brands become increasingly digital.

#3 - Template-ification

With brands and media channels now crowding the marketplace, it's harder than ever to get audience attention, and it's easier than ever to look and sound like every other brand out there. 

All About Intentionality

In my 2014 post, I mentioned that every touchpoint is an opportunity. CX is rooted in this idea, recognizing that in a crowded market and media landscape, some of the best differentiation with the greatest ROI happens during and immediately after the sale. Great customer experiences do not only drive loyalty, they also drive the kind of marketing long-known for being the most trusted in the marketplace -- word of mouth.

Using data, collaboration, and communication, the CX field is unifying traditionally siloed business sectors like sales, marketing, customer service, and operations to hone all possible consumer interactions into effortless, delightful, branded experiences. 

Baby Stepping Your Way To Great CX 

Baby Step #1 - Read The Effortless Experience or Outside In

Baby Step #2 - Consider whether your company is really, truly standing on a strong enough brand promise or distinctive point of difference.

Baby Step #3 - Get to know your customers' perceptions of and interactions with you -- persona interviews, surveys, and journey maps are the appropriate tools here.

Baby Step #4 - Identify the most critical touchpoints you have with your consumer.

Baby Step #5 - Carefully, conscientiously craft these touchpoints into memorable moments that accentuate your brand.  

posted by Kevin Smith Mar 23,2016 @ 05:29PM

Your Core Business is not Enough

If work seems more difficult than ever, you are not alone. So many businesses are at a breaking point. Culprits often include a vicious combination of technology, commoditization and sustainability. Competition’s newest cure is to refine your business model. The common truth when rethinking how to best compete is this: Whatever business you are in, your core business is not enough.


I’ve seen this new business reality drive mergers and acquisitions. It is also changing how companies approach human resources. And both of these shifts are occurring at an increasingly rapid rate. Here are three industries that are feeling the impact in dramatic ways.

The pulp and paper industry is being impacted by technology. A shift in demand is occurring from paper to packaging. The industry is consolidating and mergers and acquisitions abound. Selling papermaking equipment is not enough anymore. The leading players are educating their client’s workforce, servicing the equipment onsite and consulting on optimizing operational efficiency.

Construction services have been commoditized. A study of client with projects greater than $20,000,000 yielded the following insight: “Anybody can build a building.” Specialization used to win business. “Building a hospital? Nobody’s built more than we have” is no longer adequate. The construction companies that can help their clients plan more effectively before construction starts or operate more efficiently after the building has been built will be the winners in 2016 and beyond.

We all know the current economics of healthcare is unsustainable. Today’s hospitals were designed mostly for acute care. Doctors are trained in the science of treating disease. To meet the economic needs of the nation and to effectively care for an aging population, healthcare providers will have to be in the business of keeping people healthy not simply treating them when they are sick. Functional medicine pioneer Dr. Mark Hymen calls this a systems approach to medicine. Hospitals that adopt this philosophy will be in the business of connecting people with a healthier way of life. This is well beyond opening a community wellness center. It is a fundamental shift in mentality.

While some of these pivots are more dramatic than others, none will be easy. Mergers and acquisitions demand structural changes of organizations, cultural integration and strategic shifts in communication. Developing personnel and new product offerings can sometimes present an equally demanding task. If you are feeling overwhelmed you are far from the exception. 

The ideal place to start is by beginning a dialogue with your customers. I recommend scheduling a thirty-minute phone call with a half-dozen customers. Choose people you wish you could replicate as clients. Develop a list of questions that probe how they came to choose you. Try and uncover unmet needs, threats to their business success, and any frustrations they may have. Make the calls or hire someone outside your organization to make them for you.

In doing this, I believe the following will happen. First, you’ll be shocked at how willing people are to share their experience with you. They’ll be flattered you asked and feel valued as a customer. More importantly, you’ll likely be much better informed about how your business needs to evolve. This exercise offers clarity and valuable outside perspective. With clarity, operational and communications shifts are far more palatable.




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