Archive for "Agency Initiatives"

Is Your Brand Capable of Listening to Your Community?

Agency Initiatives, Best Practices, Branding, Online Marketing, Social Media Apr 03, 2017 No Comments

Not Just Another Post About Social Media Overload, but Instead About Our Ability to Actually Comprehend

With all the chatter on the Twitter Machine (230 million tweets are sent each day), the constant barrage of Facebook updates (30 billion pieces of content shared monthly), seemingly unstoppable Foursquare check-ins (2 million every 24 hours), eMail SPAM messages (estimated at 262 billion a day), the explosion of blogs (171 million to date) and their respective posts (900,000 articles published daily), are we losing our ability as a society and as brand managers to listen and comprehend? Possibly.

What’s More Important — Hearing or Listening?

A friend Gregg Voss of the BrandEmpire Blog, poses the following question: ‘What’s More Important – Hearing or Listening? He cites the example of a Twitter colleague who recently tweeted a message to a vendor reminding them to “be nice to customers like him because they can hold the key to other opportunities.” The post clearly implied that something had previously gone awry between the two parties. The vendor’s response Tweet contained a “thank-you for the compliment.” The vendor obviously wasn’t listening.

The Definitions of “Hear” and “Listen”
defines the word “Hear” as:

  • to receive information by the ear or otherwise

And defines the word “Listen” as:

  • to pay attention

With all of the ways we and the brands we represent can now interact with customers, are we losing our ability to listen, understand and respond appropriately, as in the example above?

Our Ten Commandments for Effective Client Service

Recently we published a post outlining our agency’s “Ten Commandments For Effective Client Service.” Among our ‘Commandments’ are practices we consider essential to fostering and maintaining successful business relationships. However, the concept of “Listening to Clients” was edited out of the list as we thought we’d covered it in other areas. But Gregg’s post illustrated why it was a mistake to leave it out. And it may actually be the most important of all our ‘Commandments.’

Bad Customer Service is Bad Brand Management

Customer service is sorely lacking in brands across the board. Currently, I’m trying to have a dishwasher fixed, for the 4th time. It was purchased at a big box store. A 2nd big box store provided an extended service agreement. And I’ve found the process and customer service offered by this 2nd retailer unacceptable. Now, I’m waiting impatiently for the agreement to expire so I can replace the appliance and be done with them. My frustration with this brand stems from a breakdown in their ability to provide effective customer service, as evidenced by their inability to actually “listen” to issues raised and subsequently resolve them.

Brand Focus Should be on Listening and Comprehension

With a myriad of ways that brands interact with customers via social media, it’s crucial they make the extra effort to actually listen. Listening takes more time and energy than hearing. Because we’re becoming used to hearing in 10 second soundbites and communicating via 140-character mini-messages, the effort required to listen to what is being said in the social world is more important than ever.

Every brand must ensure they’re listening and understanding what they’re hearing from their customers in order to act appropriately on that knowledge.

In a world where Tweets, Updates, Shares, Check-Ins and Stumblings rule, we can’t permit the art of comprehension to slip away from us. Among the endless daily chatter and information overload, it’s up to us as professional brand managers to make sure our efforts are focused in the right direction.

How a Doberman Helps Me Champion the Cause of U.N. Refugees and the Blue Key Campaign

Agency Initiatives, Blue Key Campaign, Cause Marketing, Social Action, Things That Inspire Us Oct 12, 2016 2 Comments

They Say That ‘Dog’ is ‘Man’s’ Best Friend

Like most dogs, mine’s an uber-loyal companion. He’s the best four-legged pal I’ve ever had; and I’ve had many. I jokingly tell my human friends that my dog is treated better than a whole lot of people. And sadly, I’ve realized that’s no joke…

My dog is a 120-pound Doberman Pinscher named Oberon. Some people, mostly other dog owners from the neighborhood, believe he’s named after a character in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I don’t have the nerve to admit that rather than taking my dog-naming cues from literary icons, I’ve instead taken them from a craft beer brewed by Bell’s Brewery in Michigan. Oberon Ale is a really outstanding beer. And Oberon Dog is a really outstanding dog. So, I guess the name fits…

The Charmed Life of an American Doberman in Chicago

Oberon came into our lives when he was only 12 weeks old. A quick six years later, I’m told he’s now considered a “senior” for his breed — something I find hard to accept, since he suffers from a chronic case of arrested development. Standing 28” tall at the withers, he’s still more puppy than old man. And that’s how I’d like to keep it…for a while anyway.

Oberon leads a very charmed life. In the summer when I’m hard at work, Oberon hangs out on the balcony of our 38th floor condo located in what some may consider a “fancy” high rise on Chicago’s lakefront. He despises the constant buzz from the engines of small planes dragging advertising banners that encourage beachgoers to buy coconut rum or find love online. And, he shares his displeasure for these intrusions every chance he gets. Something my neighbors really appreciate…

Oberon eats some of the healthiest dog food money can buy. He drinks only filtered water, mainly because that’s how it comes out of the dispenser on the refrigerator door. And, he’s got a whole hoard of organic treats and indestructible toys stashed away in his own oversized ‘goodie’ chest – or what we call the hall closet.

He enjoys being chauffeured around in our late model, gas-guzzling SUV and often drools down the passenger door or sneezes as the wind blows up his nostrils. And when he’s not strapped in for a cruise to the local Forest Preserve, he can be found stretched out in a comfy king-sized bed, head firmly planted on pillow.

When I think about it, it’s all kind of ridiculous, actually.

A Lifetime of Meals, Balls and Scalpels

Over the years, I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on food, healthcare, toys and various dog-related accessories, even one that lets me to sling a tennis ball farther than I normally could otherwise. As a puppy, he had a habit of eating things that he shouldn’t, mainly because I’d left them laying around the house rather than putting them away where they belong. As a result, I’ve paid too many surgeons too much money to remove items from places they were never meant to go.

Yes, Oberon really has it great. But, like many of us, I don’t think he’s aware of it.

Blissful Ignorance with Eyes Wide Shut

Most Americans take a whole lot of things for granted; especially those of us lucky enough to have jobs that afford us a relatively comfortable lifestyle. And like most Americans, my American dog is oblivious to how his life could be so different in so many ways.

If you pay even the slightest bit of attention to the news, you’ll notice that things are pretty awful in a lot of places around the world. There’s an ever-increasing number of people who aren’t remotely fortunate enough to live a life approaching that of my privileged American dog.

It’s probably fair to say that some might be envious of Oberon if only they knew how he lived. They may even be downright angry. I know I would be if I hadn’t been living right there in blissful ignorance with him…

Refugees and the Blue Key Campaign
Image by: homeros /

Our Global Village is Crying Out for Help

When she was still only a first lady, Hilary Clinton explained that “it takes a village” to raise a child and elevate a civilization to the level you want it to reach. I didn’t fully comprehended how prescient she was when she first turned this phrase into a bestseller. But now, my eyes have opened wider and the picture I’m seeing of our village isn’t very pretty.

As I type this post in the air-conditioned office of my home, my privileged dog is sleeping soundly — belly full of food — on our comfortable sofa. At this same time, there are 43,700,000 people from our global village who’ve been forcibly displaced from their own homes due to war, political unrest, threats of personal violence and ongoing persecution for such basic concepts as their opinions, lifestyles or religious beliefs.

43,700.000 people who can’t eat fancy organic food, don’t drink filtered water, and have no option to sleep in comfortable beds or complain about the roar of single-engine planes disturbing their lazy sun-bathing. 43,700.000. That’s a VERY big number. One that should make us all open our eyes to the reality of suffering and brutality taking place in our village, and one that very seldom makes it to our television screens.

Champion For a Cause

Over the years, I’ve gone to great lengths to take care of Oberon. And it goes without saying that there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him. But unlike Oberon, the world’s refugees haven’t had me around for the last six years to help them out. That all changed recently when I decided to take Shonali Burke (@shonali) up on her offer to join the Blue Key Campaign as, what she calls, a “Blue Key Champion” – folks who are active online and want to help change the lives of some very needy people.

I first became aware of The Blue Key Campaign after noticing little images of blue keys popping up on Twitter as people began modifying their profile photos in support. Then there was the first Blue Key Tweet-a-thon that I watched on my computer screen one night. It was this Tweet-a-thon that woke me up from my own life of blissful ignorance.

The Blue Key Campaign

If you’re not familiar, The Blue Key Campaign is an initiative of the USA for UNHCR, to generate donations for UNHCR, teh UN Refugee Agency. The UNHCR has more than 6,000 staffers and volunteers working in 140 countries around the world to provide protection, shelter, emergency food, water, medical care and other life-saving assistance to millions of refugees.

I now find myself one of UNHCR’s Champions for the Blue Key cause, assisting Shonali and a host of important people from the business and humanitarian world who, I believe, have way more chops than me and whose skills and online networks are far more impressive than mine.

I wonder if I’m not a little over my head here, as I’m not sure how much of a Champion I’ll be. To be honest, I’m not really sure what I can do to help so many people who need so much. But, my guess is that if I can offer one petulant Doberman a better life than many people can ever imagine, I should be able to do something for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

A Life of Nothing is No Life at All

It’s not my intention to diminish the severe plight of refugees by comparing them to a spoiled American dog. But by introducing you to Oberon and to his privileged lifestyle, I hope to open your eyes to the many things that each of us take for granted every day.

Refugees receiving aid from UNHCR have lost everything. It’s not a stretch to suggest that, without help, they won’t have a chance at a life remotely approaching the level of comfort that we often provide our own pets. And I think that’s just plain wrong. I’m with Hilary. The way we as a civilization continue to treat the rest of our global village must change. And I’ve decided it’s way past time that I start doing something about it myself.

Refugees and the Blue Key Campaign
Image by: homeros /

43,700,000 Reasons to Help. Or, Lattes, Leftovers and Little Blue Keys

You can help me help the world’s 43,700,000 refugees right now. And you don’t even need to become a Blue Key Champion. However if you’d like to throw your hat in the ring, I’m sure UNHCR wouldn’t mind. But if you do nothing else, please visit The Blue Key Campaign website and open your eyes to what’s happening in our world. For just $5, you’ll get your own Blue Key and will become part of a growing community of Americans committed to opening the door to a safe and secure village for millions.

There’s a Blue Key With Your Name On It\

In the weeks to come, I plan to keep you updated on my efforts to live up to my new title. And in order to do it right, I need you to help me. If you’d like to support my efforts to change the lives of so many people who have so little through no fault of their own, please think about simply agreeing to do without just once a week. Do without your morning latte today. Take leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Carpool to work another day. And, put those few dollars you otherwise would’ve spent towards The Blue Key Campaign. Doing without and giving will not only open your eyes to the many things you take for granted, but also help open the door to a new life for some very needy person whose life will forever be changed by your choices.

Please get your own Blue Key now. Even Oberon has one. And he’s likely to have a few more by the time we’re through, as I’ve decided he’s going to be doing a little “doing without” himself. Unless he’s smarter than I think, it’s my guess he won’t even notice. But I guarantee you some very deserving person somewhere in the world will as a result.

Ten Commandments for Effective Client Service for Business

Agency Initiatives, Best Practices, Client Service, Graphic Design Sep 15, 2016 2 Comments

Where Has Customer Service Gone?

More than ever we question where in the world has the concept of good customer service has gone? Whether you’ve got an issue with your phone bill or you’re trying to fix a broken appliance, there seems to be a general lack of customer-first service. This is often written off as a result of outsourcing. But it’s not that simple.

Maybe because we’re in the client service industry we notice this more than the average bear. But either way, we think every group that works with people — which would be every business — should follow our Ten Commandments to ensure appropriate client service.

1. Always Maintain Your Ethics

Being ethical is probably the most important concept to running any successful business. Maintaining high ethical standards, both internally and externally, is the foundation for everything else your company does. If you operate within the most fundamental concepts of what’s right and what’s wrong, and you’re on the “what’s right side,” it’s going to show in all your professional interactions. Just do what’s right. And do it consistently. It’s easy. And it feels good.

2. Never Misrepresent Yourself

In other words, don’t lie. This may seem obvious and should go without saying. If you’re operating ethically, the chance you’ll misrepresent yourself is probably small. It’s common practice for agencies in our industry to “fudge” the truth. Especially during the new business phase. It’s only after receiving the project that they scramble to situate themselves in a way to deliver on promises previously made. If you’re part of an international network of offices, it’s likely your agency is going to provide all the capabilities you claim. But if you’re a small agency, you’ll probably have a network of partners who routinely fill some gaps here and there. Either approach is fine. Just don’t say you can do something you can’t.

3. Always Deliver on Your Promise

This is a biggie. When you don’t deliver on your promises to your clients you lose credibility — something that can damage your reputation forever. Simply put, do what you say you’re going to do. Meet your deadlines. And deliver the project as you said you would. It’s inevitable that one day — or maybe every day — you’ll find things not going as planned. Problems happen. Deal with them. They’re usually not career-enders. Simply do what needs to be done to make sure you’re delivering what you promised. And if for some reason you can’t, it’s easy to explain the situation by keeping the customer in the loop. Believe us, they’ll understand.

4. The Customer is Always Right

An old cliche, but one that is probably something you should still live by. Even in 2011. If you’re in a client service industry, which is most of us are, the customer is still always right. However they aren’t often treated that way. Your customers chose you from a long list of competitors. You thought they were right when they did that. And they’re paying your bills, which you also think is right. So when they seem over-demanding, send too many emails, want to talk about their cats (we don’t much like cats). This is all right too. Agencies need to step it up when it comes to treating their clients properly. If it weren’t for them, you might not have a job. And that, of course, would be something you’d think wasn’t right.

5. But When They’re Wrong, Tell Them

This might seem opposed to Commandment #4. But it’s not. Sometimes even the rightest client comes up with wrongest idea. And if the idea is wrong, it’s your job to explain why you’d do things differently. One of our favorite bloggers, Gini Dietrich at Spin Sucks explained this very well in a recent post about a chocolate company seeking to teach children about portion control and healthy eating habits. Sometimes your client will propose what they think is a great concept. And who knows their business better than they do, right? But they hired you for your expertise. And if the concept they’re proposing is truly not in their best interest, it’s your job to explain why. Not the most enjoyable of conversations, but your investment in doing right by their business will be appreciated.

6. Treat the Client with Respect

Your customers are just human beings. Even if they don’t seem like it. They’ve got their own professional egos, their own emotions and their own specific concerns — some of which you won’t fully understand. We like to think of our new clients as strangers who we’ll eventually turn into friends. We approach all business relationships as equals, members of a unified team working together for a desired outcome. As such, everyone on the team brings their own value to the project. All opinions are valid. Everyone deserves and gets the same respect.

7. Spend Your Client’s Money Like it’s Your Own

Another Commandment often considered cliche. But it’s also true. Agencies like ours say they do this all the time. But then they turn around and bill the client for every ridiculous item imaginable. It’s important to remember that it’s your job to get the best deal possible for anything you’re buying on their behalf. For example, we make a lot of media buys and purchase a huge quantity of print. Due to our extensive network of partnerships we’re able to negotiate the costs for these items as if the money were coming out of our own wallets. It’s only proper. If we can’t utilize our resources to save our clients money, we aren’t much of an agency.

8. Say Goodbye to Problem Clients

No matter how lucky you are, it’s inevitable that one day you’re going to work with a difficult customer. When faced with this issue, it’s important not to throw your hands up in the air and resign yourself to tolerate the loveless marriage you find yourself in. While challenging, it’s your responsibility to do all you can to manage a bad relationship. But with the worst of situations, no matter what you do you may not be able to resolve the problem(s). But that’s okay. It’s far from the end of the world. It’s best to say your goodbyes and move on. It will get better. It always does.

9. Walk in Your Client’s Shoes

Sometimes agency folks have very big egos. And there’s no room for this big-headed approach when working with clients. It’s important to stay grounded and humble. Throwing around a perceived sense of entitlement isn’t going to get you very far. Perhaps kicked off the business. There are likely many things about your client and their business that you’ll never fully understand, even if you walk in their shoes. It’s important you remain open to new knowledge. If you know everything already, the game is over. Fold up your tent and go home. Remain open, approachable and inquisitive, and sincerely show your interest in trying to understand your client’s concerns.

10. It’s a Small World After All, Treat it Like One

Overall, the marketing industry is a small, sometimes “incestuous” world, with agency personnel and client contacts switching jobs like they change their socks. In no time, your intern can become your client. Or your client can become your boss. Building respectful, professional relationships no matter which side of the desk you’re currently sitting on are crucial to developing successful partnerships.

It’s All About Doing What’s Right

To ensure you’re providing effective customer-oriented customer service, you just need to do one thing — do what’s right. Disregard that old adage that states “Good Guys Finish Last.” This isn’t true. It’s just something the bad guys say to make themselves feel better about what they do.

USA for UNHCR Paints Chicago Blue as Refugee Campaign Comes to Drake Hotel

Agency Initiatives, Blue Key Campaign, Cause Marketing, Interactive, Social Action Nov 18, 2011 No Comments

UN Refugee Agency Blue Key Campaign Comes to Chicago

Join the Blue Key Campaign as it Storms into Chicago

Help us paint the town. Not red. But blue! Join us in supporting the USA for UNHCR Blue Key Campaign as it comes to Chicago for a one-night only meet-and-greet at the world-famous Drake Hotel on Monday, December 5, 2011.

The Blue Key Campaign is an initiative of the USA for UNHCR UN Refugee Agency and commemorates 60 years of working to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees and internally displaced people. The goal of the campaign is to generate awareness to the vast refugee crisis taking place around the globe by selling 6,000 Blue Keys by December 31, 2011. By supporting the campaign and purchasing a key, you will send the message to the millions of refugees worldwide that they’re not invisible. That they matter. And that you care.

The Tweet-Up is Almost Here

The Chicago Tweet-Up is sponsored by Blue Key Corporate Champions Ragan Communications — publisher of corporate communication, public relations, health care and leadership development newsletters and events — and Cision, provider of global public relation software and media tools. In addition, the event will be hosted by Chicago Blue Key Champions Gini Dietrich (Arment Dietrich), Sean McGinnis (312 Digital) and Anthony Rivera (Grey Matter).

Get your tickets today as time is running out. Ticket price covers the cost of your very own Blue Key and admission to the event. You’ll also have a chance to meet and mingle with countless other Blue Key supporters and local Chicago social media, public relations, and creative industry professionals.

43,700,000 Reasons to Show You Care

When you read the statistics, they are staggering. Currently, there are more than 43.7 million refugees worldwide. That’s more than the population of the 10 largest US cities combined! Many of the displaced are women and children. And every single refugee has been forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict or persecution. Through no fault of their own, the door to their homes have been closed and their futures forever changed. The symbol of USA for UNHCR, the Blue Key, has been chosen to illustrate how a safe, secure home can be found for these many refugees. But this task can’t be accomplished without your help and support.

Show Your Support For Blue Key — Animated Counter Widgets

Another way you can show your support for the Blue Key Campaign, is to place one of the following counters on your website or blog. Our agency developed this Blue Key Counter Widget that has been called both ‘nifty’ and ‘cool.’ (A working version is located at the top of this page.)

The counter gives supporters the ability to track ongoing sales of blue keys and to view firsthand how their work is helping support the campaign to open the door to a new life for millions of very needy people around the world. We also think it’s a pretty neat addition to any site. And there are three sizes to choose from!

Widget Instructions

Simply copy and paste the following code onto your site. If you have any questions about the Blue Key Counter, feel free to contact us at Grey Matter Interactive Support.

Large Blue Key Counter Widget (202px x 302px):

 <iframe src="" width="202" height="302" frameborder="0" style="margin: 0;"><p>Your browser does not support iframes.</p></iframe>

Medium Blue Key Counter Widget (178px x 266px):

 <iframe src="" width="178" height="266" frameborder="0" style="margin: 0;"><p>Your browser does not support iframes.</p></iframe>

Small Blue Key Counter Widget (154px x 227px):

 <iframe src="" width="154" height="227" frameborder="0" style="margin: 0;"><p>Your browser does not support iframes.</p></iframe>

An “Experience” that Money Can’t Buy – Mission: Red

Agency Initiatives, Online Marketing, Social Media Aug 09, 2011 No Comments

We’re on a Mission to Paint the Town RED

For Fall 2011, Grey Matter is proud to be working with the Chicago chapter of the American Red Cross, assisting with marketing the organization’s Mission: Red Experience Auction. Please forgive this pitch of a blog post. But it’s a pitch to ask for your assistance in helping an organization that does so much to help the residents of Chicago and our surrounding communities.

Bid on Some Seriously Unique Items

As an agency, we’re very involved in our community and strongly embrace the concept of “giving back.” As a benefactor, the Chicago Chapter of the Red Cross couldn’t be a more deserving group. Mission: Red for 2011 is an experiential event where attendees will have the chance to bid on a serious collection of unique experience packages that truly offer and experience that money can’t normally buy. And, that’s no verbal cliche. Or editorial understatement.

While we can’t reveal the details about this year’s unique auction packages, rest-assured that attendees of the 2011 event, and auction winners, won’t leave disappointed. There are experience packages on the list that we guarantee will not be found anywhere else but at Mission: Red.

Tickets are Still Available

To make sure you have a chance to bid on the package list, make sure you’re on the guest list. Purchase tickets today for this event. Mission: Red for 2011 will be held Friday, September 16th at the Hard Rock Hotel, 230 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago. Tickets are available now and can be purchased up until the day of the event. Don’t miss this chance at an experience of a lifetime.

Helping Chicago and Surrounding Communities

Proceeds from Mission: Red are used by the Red Cross to help Chicagoans live better, healthier and safer lives. More than 9.6 million people throughout northeastern Illinois and northwest Indiana are served by the Chicago chapter. And during these times, the Red Cross and the communities it serves need your help more than ever.

Check out Mission: Red on Facebook, or at the Chicago Red Cross. Buy tickets here.

Everyone at Grey Matter thanks you in advance for your support.