Friday, February 25, 2011

Keep People Afraid So They Don't Think Too Much

A well intentioned friend of mine (who happens to work in the Internet Industry) recently sent me this video: Smartphones pictures poses privacy risks in an e-mail that read:

Hi everyone, something all BB users should be made aware of ...
  You MUST see this, the consequences are scary.
            If you have a Smartphone you need to watch this...

            This is something that everyone needs to watch...........Think children or grand children


If you listen to the video from NBC Action News, it jumps at you at how stupid they think their public is. This is an all surface no depth story focusing on the lowest form of manipulation to make parents fear that someone will stalk their kids using the Internet.

Notice at how the policeman calls criminals "the bad guys". If you've seen a couple of recent war documentaries (No End in Sight, Restrepo), that's exactly how a lot of US soldiers call enemy troops: "the bad guys". This illustrates very well how chillingly simplistic is the reasoning process of some people we allow to carry guns and who are supposed to protect us. 

I'm glad a few lucid people commented on this video on YouTube.

Before panicking, consider a few simple things:

1. Isn't this retarded news story giving ideas to the stalkers out there? 

2. How easy is it to extract the geographic info from the pictures posted? I mean, if you spend your time stalking kids in parks, you don't have too much time to develop computer skills.

3. If someone has access to pictures of your kids online (via Facebook mainly), it normally is because YOU gave them access. Therefore, we can safely assume they are not stalkers. Otherwise you're pretty dumb and you already have bigger problems than anythings the news can teach you.

4. If someone wants to stalk your kids, do they really need an internet connection? Isn't it just as easy to hang around schools and parks? Remember, stalkers existed before the Internet.

5. How many kids fall victims to stalkers in the USA every year? Few (115 in 2007 - for a population of approximately 300 million), but since each is a real tragedy, the emotional impact is huge. However, statistically, it remains very improbable.

6. Why are they (news/TV networks/Big media conglomerates) trying to scare us? Remember in Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine when it mentions that: "...over a period when homicide rates were falling, media coverage of murder increased by 600%."

Do I think it is important, especially as parents, to be careful about the info we publish online. Absolutely.

Do I think that "bad guys" are lurking in the shadows and following my every move online. No.

There's a fine line between being prudent and being paranoid.

You want to protect your kids from life's sharp edges? Teach them to think.

A good start would be to turn off the TV and open a book.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Worst Way to Choose a Digital Agency

There are many ways to choose the wrong digital agency, but some are better than others. 

The Good Old RFP
First among the list is the infamous Request For Proposal (RFP) where a large number of agencies are invited to read dry documents about the "scope of work" and "deliverables" before responding in written form. This way of doing things comes from the purchasing department and is mostly found in very large corporations and governmental entities where the buyers are more interrested in covering their asses than delivering results. It comes from an era where the only things you bought were tangible, standardized products, not complex services. Generally, great digital agencies don't even participate as they know that the RFP process will put them at a disadvantage and generally prevent them from doing great work.

A good old fashioned RFP is usually won by mediocre or average agencies specializing in paperwork, politics and in dealing with large entities. Typically, a good deal of their staff is dedicated to answering RFPs, not producing great digital work. They know how to win by saying exactly what the buyers want to hear and by bidding very low. Later in the process, they will find ways to stretch the timeline and raise the price by invoking loopholes in the contract. The words "not included" are generally used. RFP usually make for below average results with skyrocketing costs and postponed deadlines. Ever heard of a government project that went as planned? Everything goes wrong, but no one is to blame. That's an RFP process.

And after the bitter lesson, you know what buyers do? They start working on a better, stricter and improved RFP process...

The Creative Pitch
Straight from the advertising world of the '70's, the creative pitch's purpose is to flatter the buyer's ego as well as to allow the agencies to demonstrate how creative they are. It is a shallow process focusing on catchy words, fancy concepts and beautiful images, but without any depth because all the work is done before the client and the agency really start collaborating. It might have been useful in the old days of limited media channels and push advertising, but in today's complex, interconnected and ever changing digital world, the only way to produce great work is for the agency to really partner with the client and delve deep into his business process. And that requires a lot of time - that's why it is done only after the agency has been selected. Furthermore, creativity is not enough. Intelligence, strategy and technical know-how are also required. 

The creative pitch is usually won by old school advertising agencies whose best talents are working on pitches, not doing actual work for clients. As the president of one of Toronto's most creative agencies once told me: "When a client calls a pitch, he's sure of paying more for lesser quality work. Because the agency that will win the pitch will soon have its best talent (A-Team) work on the next pitch while the rest of the staff (B-Team) works on projects for existing clients. And because no matter how great you are, you lose more pitches than you win, the winning client has to pick the tab for all the pitches you lost."

Maybe it's just me, but I think it is pretty easy to get an idea of how talented an agency is by looking at their portfolio and calling a few existing customers. If you take aside the client's ego trip, the creative pitch really is a waste of time.

While we're at it, here are 13 other dumb ideas to make sure you choose the wrong agency:

1. Keep your budget secret
That way, you'll be sure of receiving really differing and hard to compare offers. The Web is scalable and there are more than one way to answer the brief, depending on the amount of money the agency has to work with. And if you won't necessarily choose the lowest bidder, then why not give your budget?

2. Do not let anyone know which agencies you invited
I never understood the logic of this one. What are you afraid of? Price collusion? Anyways, it's a small (and interconnected) world and the invited agencies will end up knowing who's competing anyways. In the meantime, a couple of great agencies will have refused to participate because they won't want to end up competing against smaller firms or desperate agencies practicing price dumping.

3. Invite a dozen agencies, preferably a mix of small, medium and large ones
It is a sure way to let everyone know that you didn't do your homework by pre-selecting agencies and that you have absolutely no idea of where you're going. As a bonus, you will receive an array of offers so different they'll be impossible to compare intelligently.

4. Do not validate technical proficiency
This will make for interesting surprises along the way. From bugs, to crashing servers and escalating development costs.  

5. Do not call previous clients
Go ahead, trust your instincts and what the agency says during the pitch. Making a few phone calls and e-mails takes so much time and effort relative to the importance of the project that you may dispense with it.

6. Do not use LinkedIn to do some background check on the agency (including turnover rate)
It is easier to trust what the agency is telling you. Besides, the fact that all their best employees are leaving the boat doesn't mean it's a bad agency.

7. Make the brief as confusing as possible with gaping holes for interpretation
That way, you can get all the agencies confused. The smart ones will irritate you by asking a thousand questions and the dumb ones will interpret the brief in the way that is most advantageous to them. In the end, it doesn't matter because you'll chose the lowest bidder and he won't even have read the brief.
8. Have an impossibly tight deadline
This will tell all the smart agencies that you have unrealistic expectations and don't have the faintest idea of the level of effort required to complete the project. Starving agencies swimming in red ink and with a lot of idle hands will jump on the occasion to promise you the moon.

9. Involve as many providers as possible (strategy, design, content, integration, hosting)
Ideally, they should have incompatible values and overlapping business offers in order to compete against each other. You will have the impression that by playing them one against the other you'll be able to squeeze more work for less dollars. In the end, the good ones will just leave and let the sharks eat each other. In that zero collaboration, flying knives atmosphere, your project will bleed.

10. Choose your agency without meeting the team that will work on your project
It is much simpler to read the proposals and compare specs, features and price. Everything is there, isn't it? Can the human side of things be that important?

11. Go for the lowest price
After all, it's just a Website. How complex can it be? Even your brother-in-law can program one. 

12. Chose the agency that said what you wanted to hear
A yes-agency is great for your ego and easier to present to your boss and colleagues. And since you're always right, smart people usually share your opinions anyways.

13. Once you choose the agency, try to negotiate the price
If you can lower the price in a significant way, it means one of two things: (1) The agency tried to screw you the first time around. (2) It is in dire financial health and desperate for any dollars it can get. In both cases, good luck.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

13 Reasons to Fire Your Clients

1. No Respect or Trust
You should never invest yourself, be it business or personal, if there is no respect and trust between you and the other party. Not only will it be impossible to build something great, but you'll degrade yourself in the process. Don't be a mercenary or a whore. Work with smart and trustworthy people and do it with all your heart.

2. No Passion
If the work you have to do doesn't interest you, quit and find some that will spark your creative juices and bring some glitter to your eyes. Life is too short to spend it doing uninteresting things. The more passionate you are, the more great things you'll produce, attracting more interesting people and opportunities. 

3. Soul Twister
The problem with the Rat Race is: even if you win, you're still a rat. Never ever compromise your integrity. Refuse to do anything that goes against your values, regardless of the amount offered. In these times of shallow relationships, opportunistic individuals, information overload and ever increasing social media powered word of mouth, trust is the new currency and high integrity individuals will dominate the business world.

4. Unrealistic Expectations
We've all had a client who wanted the best product or service in the World but had absolutely no idea of the required costs. These are the ones that will tell you they want something like such and such dominant player in the industry (Facebook, Google, Nike, eBay, Red Bull, etc.) but will fall from their chairs when you'll present a budget equivalent to less than 1% of what the big players are spending. In the end, it all comes down to that simple equation: Better, Faster, Cheaper: pick any two.

5. Not Enough Time
This one is a classic. The client comes to you already late and wants his project delivered in an absurdly impossible short period of time. He will say things like: "How bad do you whant this job? How fast are you guys really are? I don't care if you have to work nights and week ends. Etc, etc." What he should be asking is: How desperate are you to accept this job? And you can bet that you'll rush for nothing because the client will eventually postpone the project several times.

6. Not Enough Money
You can generally spot this client as: (1) He will refuse to give you his budget for the project and (2) he will say things like: "Money is no object." and "If the value is there, we'll pay the price." Run away, he doesn't have a dime!

Some other times, as your business grow, earlier, smaller clients won't be able to afford your services anymore. You should both acknowledge it and admit that it is perfectly OK to part ways given the circumstances. If you're smart, you'll help these client find a new smaller partner to replace you.

7. Outside Your Area of Expertise
Sometimes the client is great, the project is interesting, but is falls outside your area of expertise. Better refer the client to someone who will be better able to help him. You might lose money in the short term, but you won't kill your reputation with a failed project and your client will respect you and might work with you in the future if he has an opportunity.

8. Too Big
This one killed more small businesses than can be counted. The one in a lifetime opportunity, the big project that will help you join the major leagues can also be the one that will kill you. Big clients are notoriously demanding. The processes, meetings and politics will take insane amount of time and eat your profits. Because they have so many people knocking at their doors, the big clients will make you work longer, harder and for less - because they can. Finally, the bigger the client, the slower they pay. Late payments on huge projects have a very damaging impact on cash flow.

9. Clueless
 The client that wanders way out in the left field but thinks he's on top of his game. Will come up with absurd ideas and won't listen to advice from people more competent than himself; because in his World, no one can be better than he is. Will end up working with a yes-agency intent on taking as much of his money as possible before someone at his company realizes that the guy is incompetent and swings the ax in his direction.

10. Doomed Project
Some projects are born to fail. You just can feel it by the way strange people are always involved (overconfident, naive, lunatic, untrustworthy, psychotic, bipolar or outright criminal) along with bad planning, missing info, tight cash flow, unclear expectations, overly optimistic projections and unrealistic expectations. Avoid the trap.

11. Idea of the Century
Every day, someone comes up with this game changing idea, the next big thing after peanut butter and Harry Potter, but doesn't have a penny to make it happen and you have the incredible chance of being offered a partnership in this new business that will revolutionize the World. In the meantime, you get to work for free and take all the risks while your genius clients doesn't risk a dime. In the very unlikely event that his idea does work (after 20 years in business, I have yet to witness such an event), your genius client will make more money than you, without any risk or effort. What a great plan - for him.

A variant of this one is: Work for free or at below cost price and, since I'm such a big shot, I will bring you a lot of business in the future. Will never happen. Ask yourself how come such a successful businessman cannot afford your services at the regular price.

My great friend and overly successful businessman Jean-Claude Bouillet once rightfully told me: "The longest distance in the World is the one that separates the mouth from the wallet."

12. Bad Timing
At some other time, this project and client would have been perfect, but the timing is not right. Maybe you presently have more job than you can handle or you need to replace a key player in your team or have pressing personal issues that need to be addressed. Better pass your turn than take a project that you'll turn into a fiasco.

13. Only Money
If the only reason your are working with a client is money, walk away. If there's no interest, passion, excitement, respect and fun, what are you doing? This is your life! Are you really willing to do anything and interact with anybody just to make a buck?


The hardest thing is learning to say no. The appeal of money is hard to resist, especially if you're an entrepreneur and have bills to pay.

In the long run, however, if you only invest yourself in great projects and constantly deliver quality, you'll attract enough smart clients that you'll never have to worry again about having enough job.

Of course, to be able to do this, you need 3 things:

1. Strong sales skills - to replace your bad clients with newer, better ones
2. A great product or service - to attract and keep great clients
3. A financially healthy business - so you can afford the luxury of refusing money in the short run

Ditching clients is not easy, and a few will be frustrated. Some people in your industry might label you as cocky, pretentious, snob or crazy; but in the end, you'll earn yourself a strong reputation for honesty and quality with like minded people and you'll attract great clients: smart, knowledgeable, organized, fair and demanding business partners that will help you grow your business as well as grow as a person.

P.S.: There are always clients worse than yours. For a good laugh, visit Clients From Hell.