Monday, December 27, 2010

Office-Office: Follow up

By now you have figured out that a marketing job in any organization is the one with least clarity - in terms of the tasks expected to be accomplished. While an internet search will outline an extensive (and impressive sounding) set of expectations, you will seldom see "follow up"figuring in that list.

But doesn't everyone follow up on some thing or the other? True. If a check is expected to be credited along with your salary, you will (and should) follow up on it. If your promotion letter is expected in the mail, you better follow up. But would you follow up on a check that would help register two of your colleagues for a nondescript event? Or send "gentle reminders" the 50th time to a colleague who is yet to revert on some client information? I suppose you get the difference.

A marketer most certainly ends up doing the second category of follow up. At any point in time, over two-thirds of the to-do list is filled with follow up activity. It is not enough that you successfully executed a trade event, you now have to follow up with the sales guys for qualifying leads and closing deals. If that sounds bad, how would you react to following up on the payment to the vendor who helped you set up that stage at the event?

The worst degree of follow up happens before a major event such as a client dinner. On D-2 days realization dawns that only 5 people have confirmed their attendance. What do you do? You call every single person on the list of invitees and tell them how valuable they are to your firm. The more blah, the better. Creativity, a pleasant voice and patience (to dial those long confusing numbers) are vital skills common to the secretary and the marketer. The secretary may be excused for low IQ, but a marketer is never spared as long as the follow up is pending.

The net result of following up is an ever expanding to-do list and a nagging boss who often asks "Only follow ups? When will you do real work?". At times like these, while one might feel like retorting with "Oh yeah? I can see how you outsourced your follow up issues to me!", it is best to make your point by reminding them with "What is the status of that activity I was following up with you on last Friday?"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Office-Office: Ghostwriting

I was surprised when a close friend asked if I had stopped writing. No fiery articles from you any more, he remarked. Defending myself, I pointed out how my piece had appeared last week only in a leading financial daily. "Where?", he asked. That is when reality struck.

The piece was published and I did receive accolades for it from the boss, however, it did not appear with my byline. It had the Super Boss's name. Welcome to corporate India's legacy of ghostwriting.

We (actually "they") do not believe in speechwriters, only ghostwriters. Ghosts technically don't exist and consequently neither do their opinions. So old farts, who don't know the difference between a comma and a full stop, can lecture ghosts on getting the punctuation right and feel powerful. As to the point of view in the article/presentation, every ghost comes with a rich (and supposedly colorful) past and is expected to delve into that experience and create a point of view. God help if that too doesn't make sense to the old farts!

Mortal speechwriters on the other hand, will ask for a formal designation, authority and scope of work even before stepping into office. The point of view created by them, albeit unoriginal, will be backed by so many studies/ reference material, that the old farts feel positively afraid to even raise a finger. A ghostwriter is immune to criticism and will easily work on version 20.20, while preparing mentally for version 20.40 of the document. A speechwriter will not budge beyond version 2.0.

Ghosts create endearing articles, speechwriters create crafty propaganda. Ghosts create heros, speechwriters create "strong" personalities (read Villains).

Lastly, ghosts can conveniently be banished, if found unsuitable. Speechwriters, on the other hand, might form unions, demand more than basic wages and come at you hammer and tongs for lack of work-life balance. They might even ask for institutionalizing stress relief breaks (smoke time).

If a ghost screams foul and threatens to leave, he is shown the direction to the marketing department and given a fancy designation like "Marketing Manager" or "Communications Advisor", minus any reportees or role change. And yes, when you finish one year with the company, do not expect any cake cutting/ hands clapping or congratulatory notes from the HR. Remember, ghosts do not exist.