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Archive for September, 2006

The Number 93 Means…?

Friday, September 29th, 2006

The number 93.

Close your eyes and think about what that number means:

    93

  • Is it the weather report for Dallas today?
  • Is it the number of wins I wish the Red Sox had this year?
  • Is it the score my friend’s son got on his algebra test?

None of those answers are correct. The number 93 represents the number of days left in 2006.

Big deal!

So what?

Congratulations! You know how to read a calendar and you appear to be able to count.

As an executive, what it means to me is my head is filled with questions for 2007:

  • What should our budget be?
  • Are we staffed appropriately to exceed our budget?
  • What new strategies do we need?
  • What old strategies need to be revised?
  • What conferences worked in 2006 and which ones will we be attending next year?
  • Based on current trends in the world, what opportunities present themselves?
  • What are the top three prospects we are currently working on?
  • What technology do we need to add to make us more efficient?
  • What products/services do we need to add to enhance our client relationships?
  • What additional training programs do we need in place?

And to me this is perhaps the most important thing on this posting:

DECIDING WHAT A COMPANY SHOULD STOP DOING IS OFTEN MORE DIFFICULT THAN DECIDING WHAT IT IS GOING TO DO!

So if you’re in a market research company, is this what you are thinking about?

What else?

And if you are on the client side, tell us what you are thinking about. Are my thoughts in sync with yours? Is there overlap, or are we in different worlds—on different pages?

The Hardest Day of your Career – the First Day of a New Job!

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

Newspapers are filled with bad things happening in the world. It put a smile on my face and warmed my heart to read a story last week about The University of Texas at Arlington.

James D. Spaniolo, President of the University, was wearing gray slacks and a navy polo shirt and was outside in the Texas heat while he welcomed new and returning students to campus. I am sure he was there with a big smile on his face as he said hello, shook hands and passed out blue-and-white bracelets that read “Be a Maverick” (the University slogan) to anyone who would take one.

Mr. Spaniolo wanted to show his appreciation and stated “The University wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for these students.”

Most employees dislike their first day of work on a new job. They have NO familiarity and a lot of companies these days aren’t that organized with new employees. If you ask new employees, they can’t wait to start month 2 or 3. I truly believe that if you start new employees off on the right foot, it will pay huge dividends in the long run by decreasing employee turnover.

My cousin Alan just started a new job with Monster Worldwide. I spoke to him last week and asked him how his first week was. He was beaming like a Christmas tree around the holidays! He said the training program was incredible and the execution was flawless and perfect. He wouldn’t have changed a thing. In fact he went on and on for my entire trip home which lasted over ten minutes.

It got me to think about what we do for our new staff.

  • Do we do enough at M/A/R/C?
  • Do people feel comfortable?
  • How long are they a fish out of water?

Here are ten things we do on day 1 for all new employees:

  1. Make sure they meet with Human Resources within the first two hours to fill out all of their paperwork
  2. Have their business cards not only ordered but ready for them to start handing them out
  3. Make sure their work area is cleaned and filled with office supplies
  4. Make sure they are added to our email system and able to receive emails
  5. Have a computer—don’t laugh but a friend of mine didn’t have a computer for his first five weeks on the job
  6. Make sure their supervisor introduces them around the office
  7. Make sure their supervisor discusses their first two weeks of training and sets expectations
  8. Schedule a few people to take the new employee out to lunch
  9. Make sure they understand how to use our electronic timecard system
  10. They are informed that after 100 days they will be asked to fill out a new employee survey. This is very important to our senior management team and is used as a springboard for additional strategy and also to refine the program.

Some of these things are very basic—in fact very, very basic. But you would be surprised as to how many companies don’t do much at all.

Do we do enough? I will let our staff be the judge of that.

What do you do?

Think about it – Is Now the Time to Make that Call?

Monday, September 25th, 2006

Usually I don’t write any of the blogs during the week; I tend to write them on Sunday. But today is different based on a few things that have happened recently.

One night I went to work out; it was around 8:00 PM. Let me define my workout. It consists of running/walking on the treadmill for about 35 minutes and saying good-bye to about 375 calories. I look forward to working out because besides burning off 100 or so more calories than the one coke I drink during the day, I can catch up on my reading, watch a little TV and frankly enjoy a little quiet time.

Six minutes into my workout I hear someone over my right shoulder say, “Is Tory Holt picked? What about Chad Johnson?”

At first, I thought he was talking to me, so I tried to bend my body like a pretzel to see if I could see him. No luck at all.

Then he says, “Okay. I will take Marvin Harrison.”

This went on for about another 30 minutes until I left. The 26 year old behind me was on the elliptical machine while he was on a call for his fantasy football draft.

In the past month these occurrences have all happened in my presence:

  • While I was watching the movie Invincible, a person who was seated about five feet to my right answered her phone and spoke to someone for 4 minutes
  • Two people in a NY elevator were on the phone at the same time—for the entire trip of 32 floors down to the lobby
  • I have been in the restroom while someone was on the phone in a stall
  • I have been having dinner at a very nice restaurant while someone was on the phone speaking very, very loudly

And my favorite from the last month:

  • Someone was actually on the Hertz bus screaming at his administrative assistant for messing up his travel plans

I understand multi-tasking. In fact, part of our hiring criteria at M/A/R/C is to be a solid muli-tasker. I would consider myself a good multi-tasker.

I just believe there is a time and place for all of this “need to be available 24/7” and believe this is beyond out of control. Drew Barrymore in the movie Fever Pitch references a boyfriend she had who didn’t like how much she was on the phone and took her cell phone and tossed it away.

Everyone thinks they have an important job and I am NO different, but when I reviewed the last 10 calls I made, 6 could have waited. My sense is that most people are the same. I am all for taking a call in public if it is an emergency but calls like:

  • What are you doing tonight?
  • I can’t believe Rich didn’t call you!
  • Sorry to hear you will miss the big game

These calls don’t sound like they qualify as emergencies in my book.

With unlimited cell phone usage, I believe things will get a lot worse before they get better.

“No cell phone” areas will pop up everywhere in the next year. To me that is a good thing.

There might be some who don’t understand what bugs me about all this.

  • Am I bothered by an invasion of my privacy?
  • Am I irritated because of my lost quiet time at the gym?
  • Am I annoyed because I pay good money for an enjoyable dinner or night at the movies, only to have the experience ruined because of a lack of common courtesy?
  • Am I upset at myself for sometimes doing the same thing?

Actually, it’s all of the above.

Am I the only one bothered by this? I look forward to your comments and stories.

Industry Spotlight – Sandy Schwartz

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

When I hear words that describe a person like:

  • Successful
  • Intelligent
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Competitive
  • Giving

I can close my eyes and one person comes to mind very quickly. His name is Sandy Schwartz.

I first met Sandy when he was President of Elrick & Lavidge in 1988. During that year, Sandy was growing the company and acquired Field Facts where I was working.

Sandy has had an unbelievable career in research that has spanned over 30 years. He clearly was responsible for accelerated growth at many research companies:

  • Elrick & Lavidge
  • Harris Interactive
  • Market Facts
  • Quick Test
  • Westat

Sandy is currently involved with Phoenix Marketing International. Two of the companies listed above are in the Honomichl top twelve, while Phoenix Marketing International achieved a revenue growth of over 14% in 2004—one of the highest increases on the Honomichl top 50 list.

Sandy received his B.A. from George Washington University in 1973, a Ph.D. in Sociology from Catholic University in 1983, and an M.S.W. degree from Fordham in 2005. He is an amazing man who decided to go back to school when he was in his late 40’s to become a psychotherapist and now has his own clinical practice in Scarsdale, NY.

Sandy is one of the most giving people I have ever met. In 2001 he started City Squash, a not-for-profit after-school enrichment program based in the Bronx at Fordham University. City Squash provides motivated and talented young people from economically disadvantaged households with a nurturing and structured team environment.

Over the years Sandy has become a good friend and mentor. I am not sure I have learned more from anyone in the industry than Sandy. One of my favorite memories of Sandy is when we were playing tennis in Florida. Sandy hit a 110 mph serve that would have certainly landed me in the hospital, had it hit me in the chest.

Sandy is a natural athlete and can play any racquet sport. A few years ago, he decided to take up golf seriously, and now shoots in the high 70’s or low 80’s.

If you have had a chance to meet Sandy, I am sure you know how special a person he is. If you haven’t, and see him at a research conference, he is a person you should meet. He is that special.

He has touched many lives over the years. I hope people will post their comments so everyone can read even more about Sandy and his impact.

Thanks for everything Sandy!

Does Size Really Matter?

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

September usually means a number of things:

  • My beloved Red Sox are battling for a chance at the playoffs
  • We are 2-3 weeks away from the fourth quarter which typically means we’ll be very busy until December 22
  • The leaves are about to turn in the northeast and snow is right around the corner.

And the mail gets a little heavier than normal—actually much heavier…literally!

Chances are a number of people don’t know what I am referring to. You see, September 8-15 is fashion week in New York. Not only that, it’s also time for the fall edition for fashion magazines. Below is a list of the top six in alphabetical order and their total page count and weight:

Magazine Pages Weight
Harper's Bazaar
Bazaar
504 2 lbs. 3.3 ounces
Elle
Elle
560 2 lbs. 9.6 ounces
Glamour
Glamour
404 1 lbs. 11.3 ounces
InStyle
InStyle
604 2 lbs. 15.7 ounces
Lucky
Lucky
386 1 lb. 11.3 ounces
Vogue
Vogue
754 3 lbs. 9.5 ounces

Vogue is the heaviest at 3 lbs. 9.5 oz . They are so proud of the total page count that they list the number of pages on the front cover in a very large font.

I will admit I can’t even imagine how long it would take for me to read a magazine with that many pages. I realize that most of those magazines are filled with advertising, but it would still take me a few weeks—if not more—to read it cover to cover.

In today’s society, most people would say that they have less free time now than they ever did.

If that is the case:

  • Are people actually choosing Lucky Magazine which has the least amount of pages?
  • Can people really process 754 pages? Or is it way overboard?

In the research industry back in the eighties, most suppliers would send their clients very large reports—in fact, the bigger the better. We all know that has changed and now most clients will only read an executive summary.

Why hasn’t the fashion industry changed?

  • Is it because the readers need and expect the large amount of ads to stay connected to the latest and greatest fashions?
  • Is it because the ad revenue is so large that the magazine couldn’t thrive without the huge volume of ads?
  • Is it because I am a guy and just don’t get the fashion world?

Maybe I just don’t get it. Wouldn’t it be more cost effective and have much more of an impact to send a 100 page magazine with a CD that has models wearing the latest fashions? It could be very interactive, still have ads and most people would probably appreciate the creativity and technology—and maybe even feel closer to the action, models and fashions that designers are trying to start or sell.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Nerves

Monday, September 18th, 2006

Tomorrow is supposed to be another beautiful day in the State of Texas. A September day in Boston usually meant the end of softball season. But in Southlake, Texas, it is now the beginning of another season.

Where fly balls go to dieI have been playing baseball/softball as far back as I remember. Don’t laugh, but I still have my team stats and trophy from the 1970 peanut league championship I was part of in Framingham, MA. No I am not a packrat, but sports—specifically baseball—are very important to me. (By the way I had 5 RBI’s that year which wasn’t that good except I did that without the benefit of a hit. I had mastered the art of either striking out or walking at the age of eight.)

Back to 2006. I am now in an over 35 league. (Yes, I also qualify for an over 40 league!) The guys are great and the league is a ton of fun.

As the game gets closer I get more and more excited. For some reason, the first game in any sport I play is special. Maybe it’s because all the teams start off at the same point and you need to work hard to separate your team from the rest.

Besides getting more and more excited, something else happens.

We are playing in the first game tomorrow—the 7:00 game. Also, we are listed first on the schedule which means our team is the visiting team. Since 99% of the time my coach leads me off, I am up first. So what does all this mean? (Get to your point.)

Batter Up!Well the “something else that happens” is I am ALWAYS very nervous for my first “at bat” of a new season. My heart is pumping a little more, my hair is standing up on my arms and I am chewing my five pieces of double bubble faster than at a normal game.

Am I alone?

Swingin'!

  • I have a number of friends that play golf in club championships. Do they get nervous on the first tee?
  • Do moderators get nervous the first three minutes of a focus group?
  • Do research managers get a little nervous writing a report for a new client?
  • Do new business development teams get nervous speaking to and meeting strangers week after week?

The Big Interview

  • How nervous are you on a job interview?
  • Remember way back when: how nervous were you meeting your girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s parents for the first time

Everyone gets nervous in some way, shape or form.

  • How long does it last?
  • How do you overcome it?
  • What are your secrets?

We want to hear from you. I will share what works for me after a number of people respond.

What I Learned from My First Job

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

MainframeRecently a friend of mine was telling me about his first job and what he learned. It gave me pause to think about my first job way back in the early 80’s. I was working for Prime Computer building mainframe computers in my hometown of Framingham, MA.

Way back then, Prime Computer had sort of an assembly line approach and was a very large company. Where you were in the stage of the line would determine:

  1. How busy you were
  2. When you were busy

I worked in the Finished Goods Department, which means I was the last department before the mainframe computers were shipped to customers. What it also meant was that I had NOTHING to do for the first six weeks of the quarter. My schedule was to punch in, have breakfast, play cards, have lunch, play cards, take a break and punch out. I didn’t really understand what was happening. I did ask a few questions, but my co-workers quickly told me to be quiet, don’t say a thing and collect my $6.00 an hour.

Finally when week seven came around, our finished goods department was busy. In fact, we were very busy to the tune of overtime during the week and on Saturday. The last two weeks of the quarter were even better with double time on Sunday. It was amazing how much money one could make in this department. Some weeks I made over $800—which was a fortune for a college student.

The lesson I learned is that MOST companies are inefficient in systems or procedures. Some of those inefficiencies are obvious and can be fixed easily. Others can take a while to figure out.

Have you figured yours out?

I hope so, because they are there.

Do You Know if You Are Saving Enough?

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006

I remember when I was in my 20’s hearing that if your salary was your age, you were doing well. I think in my 30’s people would say if you were making 2–3 times your age you were doing really well. A number of investment companies have said if you save 10% of your salary you are doing great and much better than the average person. I often wonder if I have saved enough at this stage of my life. Did I have too much fun in my early years and because of that will work until I am 88?

One thing is for sure: whatever I didn’t save in those years is behind me, and I can never get it back.

I find discussions about money and savings very difficult. In my life there are maybe three friends I could have those types of conversations with. My sense is that most people are in the same boat. Of course I could have the conversation with my mom and dad, but no matter how much I have saved, it isn’t enough in their eyes.

A few weeks ago I was reading an article that I thought was very interesting, and I found it helped me answer these questions:

  1. How am I doing?
  2. Have I saved enough?
  3. How do I compare against other people?

VIP Forum, a Washington-based group that researches wealth and wealth management practices, does the number crunching to create The Wealth Scoreboard. The basic data comes from The Survey of Consumer Finances, a survey done every three years by the Federal Reserve. The last survey was in 2004.

THE WEALTH SCOREBOARD

The table shows the median net worth for households as of 2004, arranged by age of the chief wage earner. To find your rank, go to the appropriate age category and find the net worth closest to yours (dollars in thousands):

Age of Chief earner Top 1% Top 5% Top 10% Top 25% Median
80 or older $3,349 $1,770 $1,149 $536 $188
70-79 $9,198 $1,945 $1,106 $489 $183
60-69 $10,188 $3,075 $1,522 $699 $232
50-59 $9,554 $2,223 $1,180 $570 $188
40-49 $4,710 $1,297 $746 $353 $113
30-39 $1,971 $451 $272 $121 $39
20-29 $607 $206 $103 $30 $6

I hope you find this chart very useful. I know I have.

Please post any comments you have regarding any financial metrics you have heard over the years or best practices that work for you.

The “I Was in Baltimore with Tim and Didn’t Feel Good” Diet

Friday, September 8th, 2006

It’s a quiet Sunday morning in Southlake, Texas. The birds are chirping, the sun is rising, we are on our way to another 100+ degrees day and I am reading the Dallas Morning News. As I come across Parade Magazine I notice a few women—Amanda, Amy and Zora. Each of them is featured in “before and after” pictures, and each of them “lost a bunch of weight with NutriSystem.”

Over the years I have had friends and family who have been on Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and of course the highly publicized Atkins Diet. Most of them lost weight but unfortunately a few moths later, they put it right back on.

Like most people entering their late 30’s and early 40’s, I put on an extra 3 pounds a year. Finally after a number of years I found myself the heaviest I had ever been—195 pounds! Yes, my pants were very tight and my suits didn’t fit. The only good news was that getting dressed in the morning was very easy since I didn’t have a ton of choices in the “larger clothing” section of my closet. I thought about going on a number of different diet programs but decided that they wouldn’t work for me.

Finally I made a decision while I was on a business trip with a colleague, Tim Antoniewicz. I remember like it was yesterday. The date was June 22, 2004, and we were in between sales appointments and were a little hungry. With not a lot of time on our hands, we ran into a Mobil gas station and walked out with a soda, a Slim Jim and a bag of chips—a real healthy lunch! Since I am not a coffee drinker I would have no less than 8 regular sodas a day. A typical dinner for me was a soda and my favorite microwave popcorn Pop Secret Homestyle while I was watching the Red Sox games late at night.

So instead of the South Beach Diet, Suzanne Somers Diet, Grapefruit Diet, The Warrior Diet or the other 300 diets that are listed on Google I decided to create my own.

Since June 22, 2004, I changed three things:

1. I have limited my consumption to 1 (yes I said 1) Coke a day in the afternoon.
2. I drink tons of water—probably 100 ounces a day
3. I try not to eat after 8:00 PM

At first I was very concerned about giving up soda. For about three or four days, I did have migraine headaches. Aside from that, the only real change I noticed was the need to go to the restroom much more often. Otherwise, there were no big changes in my life. I am not working out that much more, and rest assured if you haven’t had lunch with me, I have a healthy appetite.

For me, the results have worked. Over the next 26 months I lost 21 pounds and have kept it off. In fact I lost 20 pounds in the first 5 months.

No my diet doesn’t have a name (that I know of). Maybe it should be “The I was in Baltimore with Tim and didn’t feel good” diet. This change worked for me. Since New Years resolutions are right around the corner, maybe this or something like it can work for you.

Please let us know your thoughts.

Second Generation Researchers

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

I remember when I was young getting asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Of course I said I wanted to be an accountant just like my dad.

I’m glad I didn’t stick to that profession because as many of you know, I truly love the research industry. And other than playing left field for the Boston Red Sox, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

I wonder if the same was true for all the second generation researchers. I gave myself one minute and listed all of the second generation researchers I knew in our industry. I have listed all of them in alphabetical order:

  • Harry Balaban
  • Wendy Balaban
  • Leslie Case
  • Michelle Elster
  • Andrew Hayes
  • Matt Hayes
  • John Heakin
  • Lance Hoffman
  • Towns Lavidge
  • Colleen Moore
  • David Schafer
  • Steve Schlesinger
  • Deb Schlesinger
  • Mark Shugoll
  • Jacki Spear
  • Adam Weinstein
  • Jennifer Whitworth

I was able to come up with seventeen people. As I said, I came up with this list in less than a minute. I wonder how many I could have listed if I had given myself five minutes. (By the way, I apologize to anyone in my inner circle that I left out; I am sure there are a few.)

I found myself wondering what it was like growing up in a multi-generational research family. What were dinner conversations like at their house? I am sure the kids helped their parents code, sort and ship questionnaires. Maybe some of them served milk and cookies to respondents. Maybe those early focus groups were even in their house.

Since so many of us have little ones, we would love to hear the stories:

  • Researching in actionHow did the second generation researchers get started?
  • Were they pushed into the field?
  • Did it start as a summer job that never ended?
  • How proud is the first generation?
  • Will there be a third generation?

Since the chance of my kids playing left field for the Red Sox is very slim, maybe they too will end up in an industry that I love so much!