Thursday, January 27, 2011

More Bucks Spent on Books

“…Yet, for all the fear of reading’s demise, books have survived similar challenges before. Over the last 50 years, books have had to contend with television, then cable, VCRs, DVDs, PCs, laptops, iPods, iPhones and iPads. [I'd add radio, sports, family obligations....--MC.] Despite all these diversions, Americans spend a larger share of their budgets on books today than they did in 1960….”


Monday, January 24, 2011

Unreasonable Leadership

I just read a very good executive memoir called Unreasonable Leadership. That phrase comes from George Bernard Shaw’s observation “All progress comes from unreasonable people." (You know I’m a theater lover and thus a sucker for Shavian wisdom.) The author is Gary Chartrand, executive chairman and former CEO of Acosta, Inc. If you’ve ever shopped in a grocery or big-box store (smile), you’ve encountered Acosta without realizing it. They’re the sales and marketing agency that represents firms like The Clorox Company to position their products on the shelves.

It’s through Clorox (a client of that I encountered this self-published book. The two companies have been partners since 1933, instrumental in each other’s growth.

Three reasons that Unreasonable Leadership is a good example of the genre:
1. It’s full of detail. For example, it relates the whole Clorox-Acosta story in depth, bumps and all. In other areas, Chartrand spills the beans about finances, missteps, and other nitty-gritty matters.
2. Coauthor Chuck Day made Chartrand sound like Chartrand. Readers can tell when ghostwriter has or hasn’t captured the subject’s voice. I’ve only spoken with the man once, but the written voice seemed authentic to me, a fact confirmed by the folks at Clorox who know him well.
3. Chartrand is open about some of the forces that drive him (sports, Christianity) without pushing them in the reader’s face. The best proselytizers are the quiet ones.

One cavil: Like any good nonfiction book, this one needs an index.

More info:

Monday, January 17, 2011

“About Us” Evaluation: Development Capital Partners

Development Capital Partners offers financial and political advice to companies who wish to invest in Sub-Saharan Africa. The company was profiled in Forbes magazine on 11/22/2010. DCP’s Background page is here.


Personality and Accessibility: A minus

Of the 7 pages on DCP’s site, 6 are some form of “About Us” page. That makes sense, because the company deals only in multi-million-dollar projects in a specific geographical region. DCP’s goal is to persuade us of their competence, and then tell us whom to contact about our own project.

That’s why we like DCP’s Team page, which gives the relevant experience for each of the directors. One minor tweak: we would like to see the email addresses for the directors on this page. Then if we spot a director who’s a perfect fit for us, we can contact him immediately. Why make us go to the Contact page?

DCP’s site has so little text that we particularly noticed a few errors in grammar and punctuation. For example, near the end of the Advisory page is the phrase, “requirements of the sponsors’ of the project.” Such gaffes, while small, are “broken windows.” They suggest you don’t sweat the small stuff. Potential clients want to know that the company handling its multi-million-dollar project will be vigilant about every detail, from the apostrophes to the decimal points.

Products/Services: A minus

We like the brevity of the Background page, which serves as DCP’s home page as well as its About Us page. The Track Record page is also good, with its list of 8 multi-million-dollar projects in 4 Sub-Saharan countries.

We would like to see more such details throughout the site. On the Track Record page, saying DCP has arranged financing for “a number of transactions” is less impressive than saying it has arranged financing for “dozens of transactions” or “more than 20 transactions in 5 years” (or whatever the numbers are).

Likewise, on the Team page, “Our team members have accumulated many years of diversified expertise” is not as compelling as “Our team members have over 40 years of expertise in corporate finance, investment syndication, and political negotiation.” Concretes are persuasive, because they can be verified.


Be as specific as possible. Noble abstractions are good for mission statements, but for potential clients, details about the expertise of your management team and the scope of your previous projects are much more persuasive.

Beware “broken windows.” If grammar, syntax, and spelling aren’t your strong points, hire someone to check them for you.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). Contact us if you’d like to have your site evaluated—there’s no charge and no obligation. Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Chevy turquoise runs deep

The "Chevy runs deep" campaign does a superb visual job of linking past to future. Plenty of baby boomer newborns really did come home from the hospital in the family Chevy. Now will nostalgia alone convince my generation (or anyone) to test-drive a new Chevy Volt with a sticker price above $40K? Time will tell. In the meantime, Chevy neatly drives home its corporate history through home movie footage of Eisenhower-era Bel-Airs in that evocative shade of Chevy turquoise blue.

Monday, January 3, 2011

“About Us”: Domtar Gets a B

Established in 1848 and headquartered in Montreal, Domtar Corporation is the largest integrated manufacturer and marketer of uncoated freesheet paper in North America. It employs some 10,000 people. Domtar’s corporate About Us page is here.


Personality: B

Domtar gets high marks for its History page, which briefly sets out when the company was founded and why, how it achieved its present status, and what principles drive it. The page is laid out well, with 6 subheads, short paragraphs, and easily legible text.

The one problem with this page--and it’s a big problem--is that it’s difficult to find. You’ll only see it if you happen to go to the Corporate tab on the top navigation bar, click About Us, and look on the left-hand navigation bar. We’d love to see it given a more prominent place.

On the other hand, the Management Committee page is easy to find, but not very informative. If this page is intended to help us contact the right person at Domtar, a simple table of names, titles and emails would be more efficient. If it’s meant to put a face on Domtar and impress us with the caliber of their management team, why not give us a few lines on the education and experience that qualify each person for his or her position?

A minor point: We like the fact that there’s a separate tab for Governance Documents and for the Code of Business and Ethics. Making such documents available is unusual, and it impresses us that Domtar considers these documents important enough to be put up on the website. That said, we also like the fact that they’re easy to avoid, if we’re not interested.

Accessibility: B

All contact information is relegated to the Contact Us link, available at the upper right on all pages. This is functional, although for the sake of marketing, it’s always better to end the page with a suggestion for potential action: “To learn more about X, email John Smith or click here.”

Products/Services: B

Domtar’s main About Us page focuses on the company’s divisions, rather than its products. Since the usual goal of a company’s About Us page is to persuade visitors to do business, it would make more sense to focus on what Domtar produces and why. This would be a perfect opportunity to mention details that are currently buried on the History page: for example, that Domtar was the first North American paper company to win Forest Stewardship Council certification and that it is certified for Sustainable Forestry Initiative Fiber Sourcing. For visitors who are environmentally aware, this sort of information is a major selling point.

Mentioning specific products would also give Domtar a chance to enliven the text with current or archival photos. Many companies with gorgeously illustrated websites seem to forget all about the importance of images when they create the About Us page.


Two points this time. First, if you have great content such as Domtar’s history page, make sure it’s easily accessible. Second, remember that the goal of an About Us page is not to give an academic description of who you are and what you do: it’s to connect with potential clients and customers. Bearing that goal in mind, make the page as interesting and attractive as possible, in terms of visuals and text.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). Contact us if you’d like to have your site evaluated—there’s no charge and no obligation. Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.