Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

If our agency has a niche it is health care marketing. Our clients are the best of the best. Together we painstakingly design campaigns in order to emphasize the QUALITY of the care offered. They mean it and we mean it.

I have had a most absurd experience in the health care market place over the past month. I should'nt call it absurd, because in reality it is kind of frightening.

I knew I had a problem that required a physician's attention. My family doctor is the very best doctor in the world. He ordered the necessary tests and referred me to the proper surgeon. That's the end of anything going according to any sort of plan that one would expect.

I had my testing done at a hospital that I assumed was the same quality as any other hospital. I must say, the personnel could not have been any friendlier. That counts; however, they do not have "courier service" with any other hospitals or physicians in the area - meaning I had to go there to pick up my test results and haul them around with me. Great. I don't know how to properly care for an x ray film! What if I ruined them in my hot car? Do you have to feed them? If so, what???

Then there was the surgeon. I hauled my test results to his office, expecting an expert - I mean, that's what a surgeon is right? Oh my. There was a disc with my test results. HE COULD NOT READ IT. He was literally unable to decipher the information on the disc.... but thought I shouldn't worry. Waiting 6 months would be fine.

WHAT!? Excuse me, but I have a field of expertise as well. If I am unable to obtain good data, I am unable to make a good decision. To me, waiting 6 months based on NO DATA is unacceptable and I threw a little hissy fit, complete with tears to prove it. I was sent immediately (with my new companion, the test results) to another hospital for further testing.

That's when everything stopped making sense. The hospital I was referred to the second time is a "magnet hospital", a "top 100 hospital". I cannot imagine what would have happened to me at a bottom 100 hospital. Where are they - they should be shut down at once. No one deserves that kind of care.

Things went smoothly to begin with. My appointment was scheduled a month out - and I took it like a big girl. At least I was taking charge of my health.... right???

The morning of the procedure as I was walking out the door, the "magnet hospital" called to tell me they had sent the test results back to the original hospital. Could I stop and PICK THEM UP? I guess the magnet hospital has courier service. How nice.

Hissy fit number 2! I was SCREAMING at the unlucky person who called me. NO. I was not picking up the test results! What possessed them to send them back in the first place? She asked me if I wanted her to call to see if she could get them. Did that need to be asked???

The radiologist was great. There ends the praise for the "magnet hospital". It isn't her fault she works there.

The day after the procedure I called to ask if I could expect my results at the follow-up appointment 2 days hence. I thought I remembered them telling me that - but the procedure was rather unsettling and I was foggy.

They had no idea. How hard is it to put something under a microscope? I told them I wasn't coming to the appointment if there were no test results. Why bill my insurance (that I am fortunate to have) if all we were doing was looking for signs of infection? I can do that at home.

Now comes the time where I admit that I take no grief from anyone. I tried to submit an online form to the "magnet hospital" to tell them about needing to pick up the first batch of test results on the day of the procedure. The form was not functioning so I called and was put through to the "patient advocate". He was a nasty cuss but promised to call me back. He didn't. Now I'm scared and MAD.

By this time I am in an all out panic. Waiting on a cancer diagnosis is a horrible, horrible time. The day of the follow up appointment someone from the "magnet hospital" called me at work and said, "your test results have come through. You can come to the appointment this afternoon". Then she hung up. Nice. I thought the worst.

As it happens everything is perfectly fine.

That's great news. The bad news is The Health Care System. A SURGEON who is not able to use an ostensibly standard (?) program on his laptop in order to read diagnostic tests ought to either get some training or retire.

A division of a "magnet hospital" that is hand-delivered diagnostic images and an order for a biopsy ought to be able to keep track of their stuff. I failed to mention that they were able to schedule my appointment based on the surgeon's order - then subsequently lost the order and called me 3 times for it! Hi, you must have had it since you scheduled my appointment - can you LOOK FOR IT?

I hope not all facilities are like this. I have a feeling some are much worse - thus the "magnet hospital". Here is their Mission Statement: To Create An Extraordinary Experience Every Time.

My experience certainly was extraordinary! So extraordinary I'll avoid the place like the plague!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Recesiion Depression or Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget

The above referenced article is a must read for anyone who is remotely interested in fashion, trends, creativity, business, merchandising, and the Recession.

I am part of a boutique advertising agency. My primary role is Controller, thus I eat, sleep, breathe and dream about revenue and expenses; accruals and reversals.

Our product is creativity. Much like the fashion industry. It takes time, brain power, and a certain je ne sais quoi to produce something unique and fabulous.

The question - now more than ever is the valuation of quality creativity. I'll venture to say that this Recession has brought into question the value of everything. I do mean EVERYTHING.

To paraphrase a portion of the above referenced article, 'we can't have sales like this again, ever'.

I concur.

The fashion/retail industry may have been an early victim of "this" (what exactly happened anyway?) but they are by no means alone. Sales have fallen off a cliff.

The consumer, whether it be a business or a household seems to have pinched their noses and dove right off a cliff into a water-filled quarry/abyss. I can't even begin to understand the macro-economic magic that created "this" situation. Let's be honest - does anyone really understand? If they do, they're not telling. I have a feeling it's all but sinister.

So then, valuation. As a consumer of fashion and many other things, the recession has provided me with the rare opportunity to exercise my champagne taste on a beer budget. Thankfully no one in my household of two has been laid off yet.

To paraphrase a retailer in the article: 'you do the math. Yeah, I just sold your 800.00 shoes for 50.00'. So what is the REAL value of the shoes? Assuming they are handmade of fine materials - they're intrinsically "worth" more than a pair of pleather pumps from Payless. I think. This brings us back to the previous blog post: You Can Ask Whatever You Want. That doesn't mean I'm paying it. The 800.00 shoes DID cost a fixed amount to produce and the 800.00 shoes HAVE to have a profit margin or business wouldn't be business.

So what immediately comes to mind is my deserted fascination with owning a pair of Manolo Blahniks. I'm a woman of means by no means. I wasn't walking into a Nieman Marcus for a brand new pair. I was shopping on Ebay for my Manolos. The sole criteria was that they be "gently worn".

Let's face it. The shoes are beautiful. A shoe that beautiful has got to be "worth" more than Anne Kleins or Steve Maddens. Right?

It took me months to find a suitable pair in my size. OH how I impatiently awaited their arrival - making sure I had clothing to match the shoe color.

They were awful. They looked very lovely. If they had been intended as a shelf or coffee table accent piece, I would have been well pleased. As things stood (the puns are just understood from now on!) I could barely walk in them and they looked terrible on my feet. I re-sold them on Ebay.

I own beautiful shoes that compliment the foot and leg and are "worth it" for that fact. Some of them are not inexpensive. None of them are cheap. None of them originally retailed for 800.00.

So what is the "value" of a pair of Manolo's? There are materials, labor, and an overhead factor. I don't know if they are "worth" 800.00 intrinsically. They aren't worth 800.00 to me.

Monetary value, then, is logically subjective. Which finally brings me to my point.

'Sales like this can never happen again'. That goes for this business too. However, I must admit, I have picked up a few stellar bargains due to the Recession. Referencing Shad Fest a few posts back, I saw a gorgeous wooden bench/chaise longue at

I loved it. I needed it. It was 150.00. My husband said, "no". HMMPHH. I looked it up online, prepared to have the thing shipped to me. I was having that bench. I was not prepared to nearly have a coronary. The bench is listed on the web site for more than 750.00. I was on the phone to the store before you could say, "holy bargains Batman". By the way... my husband drove there to pick it up. Don't tell me no!

Then I felt bad. Really bad. The shop is a small business, just like we are. They have to pay for materials, labor and and an overhead factor. The business climate is less than healthy. Every business except Wal Mart is fighting for survival. What reasoning could there be for my bench to be 80% off? Quite possibly there is a good reason. It was very dirty and the finish was rough on the seat. Was it the floor model? Was it in a forgotten corner of the warehouse? I don't WANT to know. I'm happy to have it. I would not have it at full price. 'Sales like this cannot continue'. Or can they? And HOW?

The Recession has not changed my buying habits. I've always been a bargain shopper by necessity. It is true that I have one or two pieces that I would not otherwise have if not for the Magical Recession. I believe the Magical Recession has changed buying habits for a great number of people for a very long time.

I think Intrinsic Value has become a factor - and not just an overhead factor, but a force to be reckoned with. Honestly. I loves me a Barefoot Dreams hoodie like almost nothing else. I bought ONE (my first) of three at full price. They cannot be worth 80.00. Maybe they can. If 80.00 is going to keep a company in business with full employment - it's worth 80.00.

But, then, as with the "gently worn" Manolo's - they were truly "gently worn".... and "worth" less than ¼ of the original price. Depreciation on the wearables is worse than that of a new car!

The business climate is frightening. After reading the article at the top of the page... well, what am I supposed to do? Offer to pay more? Maybe.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sometimes during the dead of winter the weather will turn temporarily, uncharacteristically, eerily warm. The transient Ladies' Mantle that squats in the garden will, with great victorious hope, emerge from the layer of fallen pine needles and present itself as the Harbinger of Spring.

The unanticipated appearance of the Ladies' Mantle makes me both happy and sad; happy to see new green life in the midst of the shriveled brown detritus that was last summer's garden; sad because her victory is not so much a victory as an act of defiance. Alone among the sleeping promises of spring, she awakes, as if to say, "I will never be defeated."

Now that it really is spring and raining as if Pennsylvania is the Pacific Northwest - the Ladies' Mantle is nowhere to be found. Perhaps she has moved on to a more sheltered garden. The Meadow Tea, however, which in years past has been scant, has taken over every molecule of spare soil. The Meadow Tea we once coveted and consoled has become a common weed! It doesn't even smell minty.

The Meadow Tea and The Ladies' Mantle sort of remind me of Social Media. First there was MySpace. What a great good time that was. I particularly enjoyed the blogging feature. You could keep an ersatz journal and share it with people - lots of people. You could potentially make hundreds of "friends" with a great "journal" alone.

All of the "social" people I know were on MySpace. It was the virtual place to be. You could hardly be considered cool without it. I'd sneak a peak at work, just to make certain I wasn't missing anything.

Whither MySpace? For me, it kind of cannibalized itself. You know how it gets with too many cooks in the kitchen - or too many people trying to dominate the conversation. Arguments and petty differences arise that OFTEN escalate into full blown wars. I deleted my account and never looked back.

With the advent of pay-per-click advertising came the concomitant marketing peep show ( I mean insight) that web 2.0, 3.0, social networking - were the brand tool waves of the future.

I tried to dip a toe into Facebook in the interest of a client. Within 20 minutes I was soaked from head to toe! I was leapt upon immediately by kids I went to elementary school with. It was, I must admit, crazy exhilarating. There is no blogging feature though. I like to write. It's just as well, sometimes inner thoughts should be kept just where they are.

The defiant yet victorious Ladies' Mantle of MySpace has become the pernicious Meadow Tea of Facebook, Twitter, Digg,, LinkedIn and all the other ones I can't think of. Now instead of asking ourselves, as an agency, IF we should embrace social networking - we ask ourselves which platforms are a good fit for us, which are a good fit for our clients.

I don't think advertising has gone through so many changes in such a short time span as it has within the past ten years. I have been in advertising in a financial role for nine years; with the advent of social networking I had to embrace the digital, data driven culture, as well as integrate its many components, into our agency "line up".... and keep them all organized and effective. Well, I don't know if any agency or brand really knows how these tools are effective - but we all know that they are necessary.

It is my opinion that, as with the Meadow Tea, some of these platforms will take over the lilies and the roses; they will not smell minty - so we can't even make tea. They'll need to be pulled out so that the victorious Ladies' Mantle can emerge in the uncharacteristic cold and then into its proper place in the full springtime of advertising 21st Century Style.

Friday, May 1, 2009

You Can Ask Whatever You Want

Last weekend was the always lovely Shad Fest In Lambertville , NJ. I was going to
be The Marketing Warrior and give my LMI Advertising business card to every independent necklace vendor I saw. *sigh*. Never mind - it would have been a waste of business cards.

This is my fourth year at Shad Fest. My sister had a superb idea before heading out to the (literally) teeming masses: Bloody Mary's. I had never done such a thing! I felt so decadent and grown up.

I should have had 2+ Bloody Mary's. No joke: ALL the necklaces that the independent artists were hawking were the same darned necklaces (and earrings and bracelets and pins and rings) from the past four years.

Is it me, or if the jewelry didn't sell before - what makes these artists think it's going to sell NOW. There was not one 20% off sale or anything. My sister had the best line of the weekend, "You can ask whatever you want, that doesn't mean I'm paying it." Sure, allot of us are having recession fatigue. Sometimes I just want to see something I like and not have to feel like a brazen hussy if I buy it. I saw the most adorable headband with a read felt blossom on the side. I loved it. I wanted it. It was $55.00. The proprietress told me, 'Americans need to stop being so cautious'. MMMHMMM. Nice try. You can ask $55.00 for that headband, but I'm pretty sure I could make it myself for like $10.00.

We are in a recession. I'm sure allot of work goes into a hand-crafted piece (not all of them looked so complicated) and trust me, I'm willing to spend if the price looks like a good value. But let's face it - If I'm going to shell out 75 bucks for a bracelet I'm going to Tiffany and Co.

Do these artists want to move inventory or have the same necklaces that I don't want next year? I'm sure they have to pay a fee to set up. I'm sure they didn't sell much. I used to sell at an outdoor antiques market. After 3 consecutive Saturday/Sunday combos of hauling my wares to the woods at 5 a.m. - and not even making back my table table fee? I'll never do it again. Maybe I should have tried bargaining on the ONE necklace that both me and my sister made a bee-line for.

Which Brings me to Bucks County Dry Goods
5 Klines Ct., Lambertville, 609-397-1288. I don't think they have a web site. That little store stocks some wicked cool apparel and for Shad Fest they ALWAYS have a wicked good sidewalk sale. I wear the stuff until I need to repair it. I also have to go inside to pay.... where I always pick up a few non sale priced items. They are not de-valuing their brand with the sale, they're brilliant! The sale items are outside, the cash register is inside... with the full-priced items.

The bottom line, literally, is please, please be reasonable with your pricing, retail, agencies, pubs, everyone. You can ask whatever you want. That doesn't guarantee you'll be getting any business.