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Feb 2012 - Vol 7, Issue 2
Quick Links
Welcome Back!
Judging by the posts I see on Facebook and Linkedin, 2012 is starting off big. Friends and colleagues are posting pics of huge shows, major installations, and tours. The New Economy seems to be in full swing. I hope you are sharing in the good times!

This month's AV Matters includes a follow-up to last month's reader letter to me about third party provider policies in venues. This is always a hot topic and drew a lot of email comments. So many that I had to publish them in my blog.

The Best Practices feature is on marketing. Not a how-to manual, but a "why to" call to action with some good starting points. Marketing, branding, advertising, and public relations - you need all four. Be afraid.

As always, I could use your help to grow subscriptions. Forward or share this email if you think it is worthy!

Thanks for Reading,
Tom Stimson
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InfoComm 2012
IC2012 InfoComm '12 Registration Opens
Tom Stimson to present two business seminars

InfoComm 2012 Registration is now open! It is not too early to plan your trip to Las Vegas. The Conference is June 9-15 and Exhibits are June 13-15. I strongly recommend that you look at the Tuesday sessions for in-depth seminars on key topics. Tom Stimson will return with two business track seminars:

Systems Integration Business Survival Kit
IS066 - Thursday, 6/16/2011 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM 
This course will present real challenges and applied solutions for systems integration and contracting companies. In this session we will redefine the enterprise sale, explore practical diversification and how it affects sales and operations, and the Top Ten ways that Being Cheap hurts your bottom line.

Rental & Staging Business Survival Kit
IS067 - Thursday, 6/16/2011 12:30PM - 2:00PM
This course will present real challenges and applied solutions for rental and staging companies. This year we will take an updated look at job costing and commissions. how to make money at project management, and the Top Ten out-of-control costs in staging companies.

Roadshow Logo 2010
From NewBay Media: Rental Staging Survey


NewBay Media, producer of the Rental & Staging Roadshow is gearing up for the 2012 rollout of planned stops and would like industry feedback on what staging company executives and technicians are looking for in a one-day event in their area in terms of training, education, and networking.
NewBay asks that providers of Rental & Staging services to end-users only (no gear manufacturers please- they will be surveyed separately), fill in and submit the online, anonymous industry Survey that is being used to help in programming of the Roadshows.
Click Here to take the Survey


Reader Mail
Comments on Third-Party Agreements in Venues

I received a flood of comments regarding my reply to a reader email about the long-standing battle between in-house and outside AV providers in hotels and convention centers. I want to thank everyone for sharing their thoughts and in return, let our readers peruse the (anonymous) comments and my replies. All in all I think it was a pretty stimulating exercise and worth your time to read. The article is posted on my website. Enjoy!  

Comments? Email me.

Best Practices Series
Marketing 101 For AV Geeks  
It does matter. Budget accordingly.  

The expense item I am least likely to find on any AV company P&L statement is marketing. I will on occasion discover an advertising line with $686.00 for an enhanced Yellow Pages listing (d'oh!) or maybe  business cards - no one seems to remember what that expense was for. Only one in ten companies actually tracks true marketing expense and even fewer have a budget for marketing, which is why the subject rarely gets discussed. In fact many companies believe that they do not need to market themselves and cite their (limited) success without marketing as a badge of honor. It's only when I can connect their recent successes to an uncategorized branding or public relations move that they begin to realize the value.

Marketing is the catch-all term for changing or maintaining perceptions, identifying and meeting expectations, and anticipating future demand. This is not just about customers; employees and suppliers are subject to marketing strategies too. Every sale you make involves an element of marketing. Even your proposal is a marketing execution (for better or worse). The key elements of marketing include Research, Branding, Advertising, and Public Relations. There are more, but for today let's focus on these more common concepts.

Research tells us things we need to know about our customers, our competition, and ourselves. You need to do research in order to establish pricing, know what products to buy and sell, or choose a company name. Too little research and you will lose touch with the market; too much and you will get stuck in analysis paralysis (the act of not acting because more information might indicate you should have acted differently). Some research is quantitative and delivers hard numbers, eg: The percentage of direct view displays to projectors installed in board rooms is increasing by x% per year. Other data is qualitative, eg: Customers perceive that suppliers from Midwestern states represent a better value over coastal states.

For the average AV integrator or rental company, a combination of quantitative industry research and light qualitative analysis of customer preferences and opinions is enough to point you in the right direction. This research will influence your branding message and medium, indicate whether advertising would be productive, and identify any public relations opportunities. It might also help you learn whether your pricing is high or low for your product or service or if there are opportunities for products and services that you don't currently offer.

Branding is the touchy-feely part of marketing that eludes most of us. Companies have the least control over their brand image, but it impacts the business as much or more than anything else you do. Brand is what people perceive you to be. It is influenced by everything you do and say, but there are a few things you can do that will help in a big way. The good news is that smart branding will trump most of the little mistakes we all make along the way.

Branding starts with your company name and what it says to the customer (research!). Your logo and tagline (if you have one) set the tone for the branding experience. However, the biggest single impact you can have today is your website. The content of the site is not as important as the look and feel. At a minimum, viewers will assess you and make a judgement about your brand based on what your website says about you in less than thirty seconds.

Advertising is the act of strategically placing a message in front of consumers. This can be an advertisement in a trade publication or sponsorship at an event. Trade show exhibiting is part of your advertising budget. If you spend capital to place your message somewhere specific - it's advertising.

For most of my clients, I find that advertising is not the best return for their budget. There are too many things that need to take place first in order for ads or trade show booths to have any impact. However, the opportunity to advertise is sometimes thrust upon us so it helps to be prepared. For instance, if a trade magazine wants to feature an event or project you have worked on, then a well-placed ad can help you capitalize on that opportunity. Be ready.

Public Relations is the tool we use when the brand, message, or image of your firm is affected by actions or events in or out of your control. PR is how we explain things that happen to our public audience. The AV industry is rather niche-y, therefore our "public" is often quite small. Public Relations can be as simple as picking up the phone and calling a key customer to discuss a recent announcement or incident. Especially in an election cycle, PR as an art seems very reactionary. However, a regular press release regimen can augment branding and advertising efforts in a proactive way.

I hope this is helpful background information, but there's an elephant in the room called Social Media. I still get regular emails or calls asking, "My boss wants to know if anyone has ever sold anything because they have a company Facebook page." I wrote this article because that boss doesn't understand the difference between advertising and branding. If I then go to that company's website, I expect to find an antiquated, static, perhaps even ugly page with little or no personalization. The owner probably spent a ton of money for it ten years ago and never learned how to capitalize on it. No wonder they are suspicious of something that is essentially free! The answer to the question however, is "Yes, social media does have an impact on sales in terms of branding and public relations. You should learn how to use it."

To sum up, my holistic approach to marketing is to first assess the current brand and market position of the firm (research). Discuss how the company wants to be perceived in its quest for more and better customers (brand). Then we can assess the value of the tools that are in place or available such as websites, social media, and visual branding. Finally, we develop a budget somewhere between 0.5% and 2.0% of annual revenue. More if you are catching up; less if you are maintaining. (Manufacturers might spend 4 to 10%!) In most cases, the process of developing a modern website would take you through the same steps. And while many marketing companies make this process a little too much like voodoo for the average AV Geek's tastes, there are the few that understand that practical comes first. Remember this, you are a consumer and you have never bought anything that didn't involve marketing. As a supplier, marketing is the tool that will deliver customers.

Do you have an opinion or idea to share? Email me.


Closing Thoughts

Here's a few scribbles from the margins:
About Thomas R. Stimson, MBA, CTS
Stimson Portrait

Tom Stimson has thrived for over twenty-five years in the information communications technology industry. As a Consultant, Tom helps companies define their goals and then design a plan that will take them there. For more information visit the website.