Looking Back at the Future
Bruce Weindruch founded a fascinating company 30 years ago with a compelling concept and approach. The History Factory enables organizations – many of them blue-chip corporations — to leverage their organizations’ histories for competitive advantage. To do that, Weindruch contends, you have to start with the organization’s envisioned future and then work backwards to identify historical support. How do you tell that unusual story clearly and without hype? You could pitch the story to the media. A journalist would write it credibly, but would be unlikely to capture the nuances nor deliver the message strongly. So, you become the journalist and author it.
Leveraging a City’s Past
Leadership of a major Pittsburgh foundation turned to my consulting firm for help celebrating its fortieth anniversary. They thought they wanted a one-time dinner event to thank their contributors. We thought much bigger because we knew the pivotal role the foundation play in the City’s Renaissance over 40 years. Why not leverage the anniversary into a year-long celebration of the City’s resurgence and establish a lead role for the foundation in shaping the City’s future. The idea was bold for a conservative organization and the budget was limited. But the client’s support and our cleverness and rigor delivered impressive results.
Riding the Rails
Norfolk Southern Corporation was weeks away from opening its new railroad museum when management decided that their locomotive training simulator would not work as an exhibit for the public. It had to be replaced. The consulting project designer/manager contacted SkaareWorks about taking on the project. The schedule seemed impossible, especially since we had to conceptualize and translate the mechanics of operating a train into an immersive experience for visitors. Then we had to rapidly build out simple-to-use, interactive technology that install it in a long-used locomotive contol stand. What was required a very smart, can-do team of communicators, electro-mechanical-software specialists, and 3-D animators.
Expanding the Niche
My client specialized in placing legal and business support staff in temporary, temporary-to-permanent, and permanent positions. Hard work and outstanding service had earned the firm respect and repeat business from a cadre of clients. The small team had a knack for figuring out both clients’ needs and the expectations of the people the firm placed. Then they matched clients’ specific assignments with solid performers. The firm’s success and need to expand into other staffing services led the CEO to retain me to help communicate position the business outside its niche. The move to diversify could pit my client against more muscular, national competitors. Expansion could jeopardize the company’s reputation for exceptional, personalized service. The client was timid about promotion.
Re-evaluating a Good Idea
Leaders at one of the country’s oldest, largest, and most respected community foundations decided to experiment with direct funding of faith-based organizations, and launched a grant initiative called the Youth Preparation Program. Despite considerable research and careful planning, after nine months, the foundation leaders wanted to evaluate whether the initiative was being effectively integrated and implemented by funded groups. To find answers, the foundation retained SkaareWorks and MTEC, a community development firm, to undertake a “formative evaluation.” We took to the streets for straight-talk interviews with community leaders as well as staff, and conducted surveys and focus groups. After six weeks, we produced and presented an analysis that refined the foundation staff’s thinking and became the benchmark for an eventual assessment of the initiative’s impact on youth.
A well-known Evangelical Christian university had expanded its graduate, community, and international programs outside its primary suburban campus. The ambitious effort had resulted in varying degrees of success and mixed reviews. A director of marketing position was born out of that spirit of expansion. However, the role was ill-defined, generated confusion and dissatisfaction, which, after two years, led to the director’s resignation. I was retained to reassess the marketing function’s purpose and structure. I had only three billable days in which to investigate, solve, and recommend a workable plan.
Marketing Smart Employees
It was the late ‘90s. The Internet bubble was expanding, e-learning was steaming, and learning companies were spending heavily on branding and gaining traction with prospects and investors. However, my new learning management systems employer was behind. Eager for visibility, the company had committed to a 12-page insert in Training magazine and exhibit space at a major online learning show despite not having any respectable marketing literature, a first-class exhibit, or a clear brand.
Fortunately, the company’s logo was eye-catching, and its tagline, “Competitive Advantage through People,” fit the branding theme I wanted to build. The company helped customers realize the value of employees; why not show the value of the company’s employees. They were entrepreneurial, energetic, customer-focused, and smart — and the most credible message.
Marketing with Attitude
An exhibit industry client had grown significantly in recent years, diversifying from its tradeshow business into museums, environments (lobbies, etc), and point-of-purchase displays, as well as technology-driven interactives. Its marketing had not kept pace, however, and the little marketing communication that had been initiated lacked consistency and cohesiveness.
I was brought on to strategize and implement a program that would raise the company’s visibility and appeal in the marketplace. I bet everything on employees as messages and models., a somewhat risky and edgy move in a conservative, look-alike industry, but one that got the attention of customers — and employees.
One Objective, 90 Minutes
One of my clients had an opportunity to host then Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum for 90 minutes, which, the CEO decided would include a facility tour, a presentation and Q&A with employees, and a roundtable discussion with local technology business leaders — nothing unusual. And that was the challenge. How could I generate media coverage for a routine political event, and how could I subtly but clearly integrate into the event management’s views on the need for government support of small, technology-focused companies?