Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Business History Hazards: Part 1

A wealth management firm recently called CorporateHistory.net about rescuing some business history copywriting it had commissioned and found unusable. The marketing manager wanted to fix it and turn it into "something.” She wasn’t sure what—just not a book. (Plenty of options there!) CorporateHistory read the copy, agreed it was academic and dry, outlined a few ideas, and sent samples and estimates. "You understand what we need. You’d be ideal!” Ms. X exclaimed. “But our budget is so limited. We've already spent half of it on a writer who didn't work out." [Italics added.] 

When I asked about getting transcripts from the first writer’s interviews, she replied: "We don't have any notes, and I can never talk to that person again.” Too bad you can’t save money that way, I said; we'll need to reinterview for sure. "Oh, no,” Ms X. said. “The first person messed up so badly that I can't bother my top people again."

Bother? A firm’s key partners-owners can’t spare a few hours toward their own 150th anniversary campaign? The marketing person called us twice more. Each time she sounded more desperate. Working under difficult constraints, she had to reject every idea and workaround we offered. Along the way I noted to myself that the firm hasn’t updated its website About Us page in two years – another clue that marketing is an afterthought in this organization.

I wished the caller farewell and good luck, and I meant it. She has little budget and even less support from the top. She may hire a rookie and repeat the cycle. By then it will be too late to remediate. Starting early on your business anniversary always saves time and money.

This firm will celebrate its 150th anniversary with a gala dinner in a grand hotel this spring, and they won’t swap caviar for chicken. Nor should they. But by then they may have digested another reality: top-notch business history writing and concepts don’t come at fast-food rates. Or, in the words of the classic Truman’s Triangle: good, fast, cheap—pick any two.

First of an occasional series of cautionary and exemplary case studies