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How to Nail a Creative Agency Job Interview


Whenever we start looking to hire, I inevitably end up reflecting on my own interview experiences -- from both the interviewer and interviewee sides of the table. I've run the interview gamut, from extremely structured, multi-phase roundtables to loosey-goosey lunch chats. I've sweated (literally) and rambled and Miss America-ed and stumbled and, in retrospect, sent out my fair share of really awful cover letters. Despite all of this, I've managed to land some pretty amazing gigs over the years, and these days I find myself in the interviewer chair rather than the interviewee hot seat. I'm lucky.

With an unemployment rate of nearly 6 percent, millions of Americans are searching for jobs on any given day. A college degree is no longer a guarantee that you'll walk the stage, grab your diploma and transition seamlessly into the job of your dreams. Lately, it seems I've been seeing a lot of articles about the struggles millennials face when applying and interviewing for jobs. From CNBC:

Some of the biggest mistakes recent college graduates make involve interview preparation or lack thereof.

In an Adecco survey of hiring managers, 75 percent said millennials' biggest interview mistake was dressing inappropriately, and almost as many said they tended to mess up by posting inappropriate material on social media. Almost two-thirds of respondents said millennials tend to demonstrate a lack of research preparation for interviews. These hiring managers also said they were three times as likely to hire a worker over age 50 as a millennial.

One of the things I am frequently asked is how to land a job in the creative industry. For me it was a combination of personal connections, passion and serendipity. I was almost 28 years old by the time everything came together. In the event you'd like to seize the reins instead of waiting for fate and opportunity to show up at your door, here are some of my best bits of advice for those looking to land a job in the magic and mayhem that is the creative industry...

PHASE I: Scoring an Interview Prep work. Grunt work. Leg work. Whatever you call it, do it. Good things come to those who hustle, and in no place does that adage ring truer than in the creative industry. Competition is fierce and talent is rampant, but with a little (lottle) effort, you can make yourself stand out from the crowd. I'm not talking about the kind of hustle you ramp up  a week before you submit a resume. Think of this as a long-term personal branding strategy -- and you're your most important client. This is your chance to polish yourself up and shine. 

FOLLOW + ENGAGE Fun fact: You'd be amazed how many people proclaim their love and admiration for your agency -- then it turns out they aren't even following you on social media. Before you lay the flattery on thick, take the time to connect with the company and people you're hoping to interview with. Many of the positions that open up within the industry are filled with candidates pulled from our personal networks and connections (or referred from the networks of people we know and trust). It really is about who you know, so start connecting today. Comment on their posts. Retweet their content. Reach out and have a conversation. Trust me. We notice that kind of genuine and sustained engagement, and it makes you top-of-mind when a job opens up. 

REVAMP UP YOUR RESUME Here's a little tip: if you are applying for a job in a creative industry, invest in creating a beautiful resume. Not only does that help you stand out in a pile of Microsoft Word templates, it shows that you have an eye for detail. (Which is always a good thing -- even if you're a copywriter!) For well under $50, you can tap into the collective talent of the interwebs and hook yourself up with a gorgeous template. (A few places to start: esty, Behance + Loft Resumes.)

CUSTOMIZE YOUR COVER LETTER Remember that old trick where you write a generic cover letter and just change up the name of the recipient and the job title using find-and-replace? Yeah. Don't do that. We notice. And it sucks. Cover letters are a necessary evil, but they're also a golden ticket. We get a lot of resumes -- a lot -- and a cover letter is an opportunity to stand out and let your personality shine through. Take the opportunity. Put the effort in. Look up the proper spelling of the person you're addressing. Forget you ever heard the phrase "Dear Sir or Madam." If you can't put in the effort to craft a compelling, custom cover letter, that sends the message that you're not going to put effort into anything else. And that's about the fastest way I know to find yourself in the thanks-but-no-thanks pile.

CLEAN UP YOUR SOCIAL PROFILE One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was passed down from my mother. Don't put anything in writing you wouldn't want your grandmother to read. (Lucky for me, my grandmother had an awesomely quick-witted sense of humor and a penchant for using the phrase "Oh, piffle!" when she really wanted to say, "Oh, sh...omething else!")

I grew up in the pre-social media era; a time when the worst thing young people had to worry about was having a teacher intercept the note you were passing during class. Shenanigans were documented on real film, and, for the most part, all evidence of our dumb, young lives was kept safe in the vaults of our memories and 20-pound photo albums. Social media has changed all of that. Everything you do, say and share is public these days, and each post you make represents your personal brand and who you are.

We were all young and wild at one time. We've all done silly things. (Some of us still do.) But the reality is that the things you do, say and share influence how other people perceive you. I implore you to consider this deeply when you share publicly. Before you apply for a job, run your social streams through the proverbial WWGS (What Would Grandma Say) filter. At the very least, know when to flip the privacy switch.

DON'T CONFUSE MISTAKE CRAZY FOR CREATIVE There is a fine line between making yourself stand out and coming off as a creeper. Creativity is always noted (think sending individual hand-designed thank you cards -- rather than a group email -- as an interview follow-up), but don't go overboard. You don't need to ship yourself to us in a wooden crate or pop out of a giant cake to impress us. Just bring your talent and truth to the table. Be yourself rather than trying to be the person you think we wish you were. There's a 99.99% chance we're gonna love the most authentic version of you.

INTERN One of my few regrets in life is not interning like crazy before I hit the point of no return (i.e. adult life + bills, bills bills...). Had I interned, it's possible I would have found my calling a lot sooner. So my advice to you is simple: if you're in a position where you can afford to work for minimal pay (or even no pay), do it. Seize every opportunity you can. If no opportunity exists, call people up and make one for yourself. Help them see how you can help them. Learn how to make a mean cup of coffee, then go in and work your knuckles off. Because every once in awhile (more often than you might think) that summer internship turns into the season of "our newest employee."

VOLUNTEER We often meet super eager candidates who lack the practical experience to land the job they're applying for. (A common struggle and catch-22 for recent grads trying to break into the creative world.) Newsflash: there are tons of organizations and nonprofits that need help with everything from event planning to social media management, but don't have a budget to pay professionals for it. Go volunteer your time and talent. When we see that kind of thing on your resume, not only does it add cred to your work experience, it demonstrates that you care about something bigger than yourself. Bonus: you get to help make a positive change in the world. Go you.

FIND A MENTOR Job openings come and go, but the relationships you build in between are lasting. So you found the agency of your dreams? Do some digging (and Twitter stalking). Figure out who holds the position you want, then launch a carrier pigeon, shoot them an email or give them a ring. Introduce yourself. Ask if you can take them to coffee or lunch (we love coffee and lunch!) -- then do it. Show up with a list of questions. Learn all you can. Then rinse and repeat. Start building your own mentor. You never know when a job will come up and that relationship will come in handy.

Phase II: Acing the Interview So the unthinkable has finally happened. Your resume fought its way to the top of the stack. You've stood out as a stellar candidate. You've just received the call. We'd like you to come in for an interview. What should you expect? What should you wear? What should you do? (I'm so glad you asked.)

DO YOUR HOMEWORK My biggest piece of advice when it comes to creative agency interviews is a huge cliche: DO YOUR DANG HOMEWORK. And I'm not talking about a quick scroll through the website. If the agency has published books, find them and read them. Dig through their client roster and case studies so you're prepare to cite specifics. Explore their culture, manifesto, philosophy and beliefs, then think about how those align with your own. Research competitors in order to get a feel for how they differentiate themselves within the industry. It may seem overwhelming, but so few people take the time to do really thoughtful, thorough background research, and this is exactly the kind of thing that will set you apart and above.

DRESS THE PART There's an old tidbit of wisdom that advises "dress for the job you want, not the job you have." It's so old I'm not even sure it's still going around. That advice gets a little tricky in an industry where jeans are a wardrobe staple and going barefoot is often the norm. (Creativity can't happen when your feet are stuck in a restrictive vortex!!) My advice is err on the side of fancier, rather than more casual. Dress like us, but nicer. (You can stop wearing shoes once you have the job.) Also, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but leggings do not qualify as real pants.

KNOW WHO YOU'RE TALKING TO One of the most impressive things I have experienced was an applicant who called our Office Manager to get the names and titles of each person she would be meeting with prior to her interview. When she arrived, she was able to reference my "adorable dog" by name (instant way to win my heart) and shared an anecdote about a city we had both recently traveled to. You can learn a lot about a person by taking a quick scroll through their social channels. We humans all like to feel important and special. I can't recall one other person we interviewed that day, but years later I still remember that applicant because she took five minutes to get to know me before she met me.

Smart answers = a good interview. Speaking to the shared interests between yourself and the company/employees = great interview.

COME PREPARED TO ANSWER QUESTIONS Confession: I find it more painful to be on the interviewer side of the table than the interviewee side. Something about the sympathetic pain of knowing what the interviewee is going through makes me feel clammy.

Agency interviews can be really strange. Much of the time it's like the Wild West, but instead of shooting bullets, everyone is shooting questions. I've heard everything from "What's the last book you read?" to "How many tennis balls do you estimate can fit in a standard school bus?" Weirdos aside, here's a short list I would be prepared to answer in some form or another when you take the hot seat:

  1. Why do you want to work here?
  2. What do you think you can bring to our team?
  3. What do you want to be doing 5 years from now? 10 years? 25 years?
  4. Tell us how your past work experience makes you uniquely qualified for this position?
  5. What is your philosophy about design/marketing/advertising/programming?
  6. What are your three best qualities?
  7. What are you worst three qualities?
  8. Why should we hire you?
  9. What work are you most proud of?
  10. What do you do for fun?

COME PREPARED WITH QUESTIONS If the last section didn't fill you with panic and dread, hooray. The good news is that you can (and should) keep tossing the hot potato back to your interviewers. Answer questions, then follow with a question of your own. Come prepared to assault us with an exhaustive list of questions, keeping in mind that you're not just trying to convince us to hire you. An interview is an opportunity for both sides to feel each other out and try each other on for size. When you ask really thoughtful questions, that tells us you’re not just trying to sell yourself -- you're trying to determine if we're something you really want to buy into. Here are a handful of questions I've asked and answered over the years: 

  1. Who is/has been your favorite client and why?
  2. Who is your dream client?
  3. What kind of person thrives here? What type struggles?
  4. What made you decide to come work for X agency over all the others?
  5. If you had to boil the agency's core belief/mission down to a single statement, what would it be?
  6. What do you wish you had known about the agency/industry when you first started out?
  7. If your agency had three best friends, which brands would it hang out with?
  8. What has been the most meaningful day of your career at X?
  9. What has been the most challenging day of your career at X?
  10. How would you describe the X culture?
  11. Who are other brands and thought leaders that inspire X?
  12. Tell me about your favorite parts of living in CITY (if relocating)?
  13. How can I, in this role, most help you? (This is always a really interesting one as you'll likely get very different answers from an AE, Community Manager, Designer, Copywriter, Strategist and Admin.)

Phase III: Sealing the Deal Boom! You nailed it! Or at least you think you nailed it. Ohmygosh you really hope you nailed it. As the torturous decision-making wait begins, here are a few seal-the-deal moves you can sprinkle on the "PLEASE HIRE ME" cake... 

FOLLOW UP RIGHT AWAY Assuming things have gone well in your interview, follow up within 48 hours to express your continued interest in the position. The best follow-up contact is personal. That means no generic, cc-all thank you. Take the time to send an email (or -- SUPER IMPRESSIVE -- a handwritten note) to each person you interviewed with. Bonus points for calling out something specific you learned from them during the interview. Follow ups needn't be long or gushy, just enough to let everyone know you're in if they'll have you.

KEEP IT QUIET Please refrain from posting about job interviews on social media before or after. It makes us feel weird and you come off as an oversharer. (And yes, we totally look to see what, if anything, you have posted.)

NEVER SAY GOODBYE In the wise words of Kenny Rogers, "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." With all due respect to Kenny, don't fold 'em. In the event you don't land the job, resist the urge to fold. There have been many instances when an applicant we loved was beat out by another candidate by just a hair. Don't fall off the map. Don't slink off with your tail between your legs. Keep a conversation going with us. Stay on our radar. When you stay top-of-mind, you stay top-of-list.

Have questions about creative interviewing that I didn't answer in the post? Reach out using my contact form.

Why "Opposite Day" May Be Your Brand's Golden Ticket to Success

Screen-Shot-2014-10-02-at-9.33.38-AM Once upon a time, a little brand called Warby Parker rocked the universe when they started doing the unthinkable: offering prescription eyeglasses at bargain prices over the internet. In stark contrast to the "traditional" model (pay exorbitant retail prices at brick-and-mortar shops), they flipped the model on its head. No stores. No pushy salespeople. No rush. Want to take your time and browse around online? No problem. Want to take the glasses home and try them out for a week? Go for it.

A few short years later, pretty much everyone is sporting at least one pair of Warby Parkers. For all the naysayers who said it couldn't be done, Warby did it. And they did it awesome. 

Nobody will deny that stylish, affordable glasses are a good thing. But the secret sauce to WP's success is that they saw a need -- and they went after it. They saw a hole in the traditional model -- and they moved to fill it. To quote a wise book, when everyone else zigged, they zagged.

In his article, "The Law of the Opposite," Michael Farrell says:

In strength there is weakness. Wherever the leader is strong, there is an opportunity for a would-be No 2 to turn the tables.

Much like a wrestler uses his opponent's strength against him, a company should leverage the leader's strength into a weakness.

If you want to establish a firm foothold on the second rung of the ladder, study the company above you. Where is it strong? And how do you turn that strength into a weakness?

You must discover the essence of the leader and then present the prospect with the opposite. In other words, don't try to be better, try to be different. It is often the upstart versus the old reliable.


Everyone under the sun has heard of Dollar Shave Club at this point. (If you haven't, rally your fingers and check out their video below.) The premise is simple: for a low subscription fee, you receive quality disposable razors/blades in the mail each month.

Pretty genius.

With 17 million Youtube views, hundreds of thousands of followers on social and an army of rabid fans, I'd say its working for them.

Enter Thousand Dollar Shave Society:

Join us in rebellion against the cheap-as-possible, throwaway shaving products of Internet warehouse clubs. Return to the days of a shaving ritual to be relished, not endured, with the finest collection of shave products ever assembled into a single package.

It appears the gauntlet has been thrown down.

Game. On. 


How Turned "Oopsie" into "Opportunity"

As the finger that pulls the trigger on a monthly newsletter, MailChimp's sense of humor makes me laugh. In those final moments before you push the button and relinquish control, the longer you linger above the button, the sweatier the nervous monkey arm gets. mailchimp In August, the popular site had a moment of flub. Over a weekend, subscribers received an email blast featuring little more than a photo of a tiny kitten contemplating his face in the mirror. Fab fans were left scratching their heads and wondering what does it mean? 

(The inner Community Manager in me knew right away: someone had selected the wrong test list.)

A few hours later, sent this apology email, proving that eating crow doesn't have to be an unpleasant experience.


Thanks to the quick action (and quick wit), what could have been "Remember time Fab randomly sent a cat photo with no further explanation?" turned into "Remember that time Fab turned oopsie into opportunity?"

Accidents happen. How you decide to respond makes all the difference.

Want to read more? Check out these brand tips for saying "I'm Sorry."

A Lesson from the DiGiorno Disaster

By now, pretty much the entire world has heard about DiGiorno's major flub earlier this week. Long story short, earlier this week, survivors of domestic violence stepped forward to share their stories on Twitter using the hashtag #WhyIStayed. Apparently DiGiorno's Community Manager saw the trending hashtag, but didn't take time to explore what it was about, because this happened: Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 9.16.57 AM(Go ahead. I'll hold while you groan in horror.)

As Adweek points out, "It was a boneheaded mistake, to be sure, similar to snack brand Entenmann's famously regrettable decision to tweet on the hashtag #notguilty, failing to realize it was trending because Casey Anthony had been aquitted of murdering her daughter.

In Entenmann's case, the brand responded by simply abandoning Twitter for years, leaving their account as a scorched-earth monument to poor decisions. DiGiorno has, so far, taken the more mature and difficult approach. Since last night's #whyistayed tweet, the brand has been responding to dozens of Twitter users offended by the post. Each response has been personalized and is clearly sincere, which is a nice reprieve from the usual copy-and-paste approach to dealing with bad PR in social."

THE LESSON  There's an age-old tidbit of wisdom that reminds us that the best form of medicine is prevention. The same holds true for PR. The best form of PR is avoiding a crisis entirely. We're doing business and socially engaging in a world where time is of the essence and the whole world can have eyes on your brand's message at any given moment. The margin for error is minuscule, at best.  Mistakes do not go unnoticed, they get shared -- fast. For Community Managers, there is an increasing presence to be on top of everything 24-7. To be there the moment something goes viral and figure out a way to make it work for the brand.

As we delve further and further into a real-time marketing world, we're going to see more and more of these real-time screw ups. Hurry and hysteria do not a solid, worry-free strategy make. I propose we all take a breath, take a beat and take a tidbit of advice to heart...



Brand Anonymity is Dead: Meet Community Manager 2.0

museum A few years ago, I wrote a piece about the future of marketing. Within the post, I made a few predictions:

  1. We would see people begin to reach a point of marketing max saturation; leading consumers to become more selective about which brands they engage with.
  2. Brands that showed their “humanness” would rise to the surface and be welcomed into consumer hearts, homes and wallets.
  3. Consumers would look to do business with brands that treat them like friends and family.
  4. We would see brands shift from a “ME” mentality to a “WE” mentality.

It’s that fourth point I want to talk about today.

Google the phrase “humanize your brand” and you’ll find roughly 1,000,000 results aimed at helping you accomplish just that. “Humanizing” business has become an industry buzz phrase, an ambiguous mecca and an admirable business goal all rolled into one. Marketers have seen the (profitable) light. The days when “Mad Men” advertising was enough are behind us, and people not only want, but demand, a more personal level of connection with the brands they support. A dollar is a declaration, and consumers want to feel like they’re part of something more than a transaction.

The response? All hail social media! Brands and marketers took to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram on a mission to make things personal. Marketing shifted to a state of “WE” – and everyone was invited. Curiously, the host of the 24-7 party is rarely to be found. Omnipresent, but never presented, the mystery hosts remains cloaked in veil of anonymity. Much like the Great and Powerful Oz, they’re pulling levers, pressing buttons and making magic happen behind-the-scenes. While brands preach about the importance of humanizing their business, many continue hiding what is arguably one of the most important humans on their team: their community manager.

I’ve been mulling this matter of anonymity over in my mind for some time. Opinions within the industry vary greatly, so I decided to turn to a brand that seems to be leading the way when it comes to just about everything: Chipotle.

It’s no secret I’m a fan of the brand. From the way they source ingredients to their social media efforts to that glorious guacamole – they’re doing things right. My reason for asking them to chime in on this topic was simple: of all the brand’s on Twitter, Chipotle is one of the few that goes to great lengths to make sure their customers know their community managers. Every tweet and response is signed with an individual's name. They don’t just strive to humanize the brand, they make sure the humans supporting their brand know the humans behind the wheel (or dashboard, rather) of their social.

Last week Chipotle’s New Media Manager, Joe Stupp, took a few minutes out of his day to chat with me about their viewpoint and strategy.

“Originally, we had a website people could write into. Keep in mind this was at a time when brand websites were relatively new. We would write back, have conversations, really get to know people. We signed everything coming into the website with our name. That was the beginning of a digital extension to our personal approach customer service, and it’s how we still do things today.

As Chipotle started to grow as a company, we felt like we were at risk of losing the local flavor and in-person touch we were able to accomplish when we had one, two, twenty restaurants. We didn’t want to talk to people like a big corporation, we wanted to talk to them like we would face-to-face over a margarita.”

And that they have.  Joe mentioned that it’s not unusual for brand fans traveling through Denver to reach out to the social team to ask if they can meet up for lunch at the original Chipotle. (And they often do.)

One of the strongest arguments against giving community managers a name and a face comes down to brand equity. If fans bond with the specific person driving the brand’s social, what does that mean for the brand if/when they decide to move on to a new job?

“We have had people [from our social team] leave. In one instance, customers were asking for a former employee for months after he left. We made up absurd stories about how he was off climbing the Himalayas, and eventually everyone adjusted and moved on. People are going to leave. We don’t worry about that.

I don’t feel that you lose a brand message by humanizing it and giving employees a face or a name. We don’t talk about ourselves at all on the brand handle, so there are no issues with self-promotion. We do it this way because people like to get to know us as humans. We are writing basically 24-7. I think we write more “@” responses than any company out there. When someone is having a problem, it makes a difference if they know that they spoke with Joe-the-human not just an anonymous corporate account. If a customer goes into a restaurant to talk to one of our managers, they can say ‘Joe said I could do it this way.’

Taking anonymity out of the equation facilitates customer service on both ends of the spectrum. We send mass emails with my personal email address on it so that if a customer has a question, they can write me back directly. I will typically get a couple hundred replies. There are fans that have been following us for a long time, and some of them write back every time. Removing the barrier and making our people accessible sends the message that we’re here to talk to them about anything they want to discuss regarding Chipotle.”

Joe offered up a final dose of perspective from the employee side:

“We have fun, but take our job seriously. There’s a greater level of accountability when you strip away the protective layer of anonymity and sign everything you share. If a Chipotle tweet or comment ends up on Buzzfeed or in The New York Times, the whole world is going to know exactly who said it.”

IN CONCLUSION... I believe we’re on the verge of a new era for brands and social media: we by way of me. As brands really dig in and continue to explore what it means to humanize their business and the brand-consumer relationship, their real people must be brought to the forefront. Getting personal requires a person. A community manager is often the first point of contact a customer has with a brand. They wear many hats as a brand reputation manager, a customer service rep and a portal that can transport people from simple transaction to long-tern relationship.

Doing what is less scary for your brand doesn't mean you are doing what is best for your customer. You can’t humanize your brand when you’re hiding your human.



Banning Smartphones Is Not Smart Business

Recently, it seems I have seen a lot of restaurants bragging about being “smartphone-free zones,” encouraging patrons to instead talk to one another. While I wholeheartedly agree that a meal is time meant for sharing with your dining companion(s), banning smartphones in restaurants is simply bad business.  Before I continue, I should clarify. I’m not talking about people yapping loudly on their phones — I’m talking about restaurants that are discouraging smartphone use for social media (primarily Instagram) while you’re in their establishment.

Last week, a NYC restaurant took to Craiglist on a rant. (Post has since been removed.) After receiving a series of bad reviews for slow service, the restaurant hired a firm to investigate. When they compared footage from 2004 to footage from 2014, they made some pretty startling discoveries…

We are a popular restaurant for both locals and tourists alike. Having been in business for many years, we noticed that although the number of customers we serve on a daily basis is almost the same today as it was 10 years ago, the service just seems super slow even though we added more staff and cut back on the menu items…

One of the most common complaints on review sites against us and many restaurants in the area is that the service was slow and/or they needed to wait a bit long for a table. 

We decided to hire a firm to help us solve this mystery, and naturally the first thing they blamed it on was that the employees need more training and that maybe the kitchen staff is just not up to the task of serving that many customers. 

Like most restaurants in NYC we have a surveillance system, and unlike today where it’s a digital system, 10 years ago we still used special high capacity tapes to record all activity. At any given time we had 4 special Sony systems recording multiple cameras. We would store the footage for 90 days just in case we needed it for something.

The firm we hired suggested we locate some of the older tapes and analyze how the staff behaved 10 years ago versus how they behave now. We went down to our storage room but we couldn’t find any tapes at all. 

We did find the recording devices, and luckily for us, each device has 1 tape in it that we simply never removed when we upgraded to the new digital system!

The date stamp on the old footage was Thursday July 1, 2004. The restaurant was very busy that day. We loaded up the footage on a large monitor, and next to it on a separate monitor loaded up the footage of Thursday July 3 2014, with roughly the same amount of customers as ten years before.

I will quickly outline the findings. We carefully looked at over 45 transactions in order to determine the data below:


Customers walk in.

They gets seated and are given menus, out of 45 customers 3 request to be seated elsewhere.

Customers on average spend 8 minutes before closing the menu to show they are ready to order.

Waiters shows up almost instantly takes the order.

Appetizers are fired within 6 minutes, obviously the more complex items take longer.

Out of 45 customers 2 sent items back.

Waiters keep an eye out for their tables so they can respond quickly if the customer needs something.

After guests are done, the check delivered, and within 5 minutes they leave.

Average time from start to finish: 1:05

Customers walk in.

Customers get seated and is given menus, out of 45 customers 18 requested to be seated elsewhere.

Before even opening the menu they take their phones out, some are taking photos while others are simply doing something else on their phone (sorry we have no clue what they are doing and do not monitor customer WIFI activity).

7 out of the 45 customers had waiters come over right away, they showed them something on their phone and spent an average of 5 minutes of the waiter’s time. Given this is recent footage, we asked the waiters about this and they explained those customers had a problem connecting to the WIFI and demanded the waiters try to help them.

Finally the waiters are walking over to the table to see what the customers would like to order. The majority have not even opened the menu and ask the waiter to wait a bit.

Customer opens the menu, places their hands holding their phones on top of it and continue doing whatever on their phone.

Waiter returns to see if they are ready to order or have any questions. The customer asks for more time.

Finally they are ready to order.

Total average time from when the customer was seated until they placed their order 21 minutes.

Food starts getting delivered within 6 minutes, obviously the more complex items take way longer.

26 out of 45 customers spend an average of 3 minutes taking photos of the food.

14 out of 45 customers take pictures of each other with the food in front of them or as they are eating the food. This takes on average another 4 minutes as they must review and sometimes retake the photo.

9 out of 45 customers sent their food back to reheat. Obviously if they didn’t pause to do whatever on their phone the food wouldn’t have gotten cold.

27 out of 45 customers asked their waiter to take a group photo. 14 of those requested the waiter retake the photo as they were not pleased with the first photo. On average this entire process between the chit chatting and reviewing the photo taken added another 5 minutes and obviously caused the waiter not to be able to take care of other tables he/she was serving.

Given in most cases the customers are constantly busy on their phones it took an average of 20 minutes more from when they were done eating until they requested a check. Furthermore once the check was delivered it took 15 minutes longer than 10 years ago for them to pay and leave.

8 out of 45 customers bumped into other customers or in one case a waiter (texting while walking) as they were either walking in or out of the Restaurant. 

Average time from start to finish: 1:55

We are grateful for everyone who comes into our restaurant, after all there are so many choices out there. But can you please be a bit more considerate?

And that’s when my head basically exploded. And here’s why:

1) Are you blaming your customer? Seriously? Seriously??? When a brand blames their customers for their problems, that tells me something. And I don’t mean something about their customers, I mean something about their internal culture and business practices. Your customers are not your problem, they’re the only thing keeping you in business. I feel confident that a proper audit would not only provide a cold, hard dose of reality, but would also reveal a wealth of underlying problems that exist within this restaurant. And I’d venture to guess none of them have to do with their diners. (Might be time to call Gordon Ramsay…)

2) Because 90% of consumers trust online recommendations from people they know. Instagram photos are free advertising. Only crazy people say no to free advertising. Which leads us to…

3) Brands with nothing to hide should not fear allowing their customers to drive the conversation. If you’re providing a consistently great product and creating a consistently great experience, you’re giving your customers a reason to say great things about you — be it in person, on Twitter or via Instagram.

I’m certainly not going to defend diners who spend their meal with their noses buried in the phones, but as a brand, you should want to see people sharing their food and experience on Instagram. When your customers share their experiences on social, they are communicating with each other. The only brands with something to fear are those who fall short. And that’s on you … not them.

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Be the Oreo

For $106.75 (+$20 shipping), you can become the proud owner of 25 pounds of Oreo cookie crumbs. What does this have to do with marketing, you ask? Let me back up a bit. Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Ohio Growth Summit, one of the premier gatherings of marketing minds in central Ohio. It was two busy days of note taking, networking and aha moments. A session titled, “If You’re Not Pissing Off a Few People, You’re Probably Not Exciting Anybody Either,” caught my eye. As speaker Charlie Wollborg promised us 180-ish slides in in 60 minutes (complete with a shot of the Titanic and the footnote: “Spoiler Alert: It sinks”), I knew we were in for a treat. 

But back to the Oreos.

Over the course of his presentation, Charlie made a point that really hit home with me. Somewhere along the way, someone in the cookie factory looked at the crumbs they were sweeping up and discarding and thought, “We could sell that.” And just like that, trash turned into treasure. (Trash that we now pay for and gleefully sprinkle atop of our ice cream.)

THE BIG QUESTION What is everyone in your industry throwing away? What do people see little or no value in? How can you approach it from a new angle and turn it into a revenue stream?

Be the Oreo, people.

The Secret Sauce of Beloved Brands

There is no shortage of genius roaming the halls of Coca Cola. I’m reminded of this fact every time I see one of their new videos. Over the years, they have done an exceptional job making the brand conversation less about them and more about what they do for others. And therein lies the secret sauce of beloved, revered and cherished brands. Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

If you want to be exceptional in business, you better be in the business of being remarkable – which begins by making people feel something they’ll never forget.

How to Start a Movement

Everything you ever needed to know about building a movement…you learned in under three minutes from a shirtless dancing guy. No, seriously. This may be the best explanation of building a movement I’ve ever seen.

A Brand Building Lesson Courtesy of HGTV

HGTV is my form of meditation. When I need a break from the world, I can always count on them to whisk me away for a couple hours of remodels, renovations and real estate purchases that leave me wondering what, exactly, a 23-year-old couple does that affords them the ability to buy a $700,000 vacation home in Belize. (I hear I’m not alone in this.) If there is one thing HGTV has taught me over the years, it’s the importance of a solid foundation. Let’s be honest. In a world of drawer pulls, lighting fixtures and “smart toilets,” foundations are blah at best. Unseen and unsexy, they’re sort of the girdle of home ownership. But it turns out they’re super important.

Here’s the thing: you can build a lovely home on a bad foundation. You might even be able to live there for years before it becomes evident something is wrong, but eventually you will have to confront reality. And when you do, it will be messy, costly and painful.

Yesterday I read an article about a brand I love. The headline was, unquestionably, one of the worst things I could ever imagine someone saying about a brand: “I Do Not Know On Person Who is Happy at Amazon.” The letter was penned by a current employee with hopes of casting a light on the reality behind the scenes at Amazon. (Suddenly those happy face boxes aren’t seeming to happy.) Sure, it’s possible it’s the handiwork of a disgruntled employee, but I don’t think so. These are the kinds of brutally honest things people send up as a flare when they have a clear vision of what could be, not when they’ve given up.

“Everyone has a time table for quitting. No one says, “I hope I stay here forever.”

“Man, there are smart people here. But they are also smart enough to know that they have been had. That is the thing with smart people, they have high expectations of their work place.”

As incredible as this company is, it’s hard to imagine how much more powerful it could be if anyone here, more than the odd few, were happy.”

Your internal people (and culture) are the foundation of your brand. Sure, it’s tempting to fast forward to paint colors and flooring — the things that the outside world sees on a daily basis — rather than really investing in the basics. It’s fun to build a beautiful house, but if you want to build something successful and sustainable — focus on building a strong foundation. Start from within.