Monday, November 29, 2010

Being a Small Business Sub-Contractor

It always amazes me as I travel around the world how different our cultures and life can be--and yet how much is still the same. As a small business that has worked in the transportation industry in Arizona, I found an amazing similarity when I met a woman from Afghanistan that builds roads. See Video.

My experience with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) was primarily as the Communications Manager for the State Route 179 project. I also worked (an am working) on some smaller projects, such as the study on Interstate 17 north of Sedona and south of Flagstaff, and several projects for the City of Sedona. I am always a sub-contractor to the primary business that won the contract award.

There are great people/companies to sub for, such as Katherine Bush at URS in Phoenix and DMJM+Harris (now AECOMM) in Phoenix, there are some that are good and there are others that are terrible--which I am so tempted to name, but probably better not. The worst offender was a woman in Phoenix who used another colleague and myself to win the award, and then brought our services in-house (so she would get more of the $$$$). We wrote and designed the proposal.

But when I talk to a woman in Afghanistan about building roads--I expect to hear all kinds of problems -- about security, about funding, about working conditions, lack of supplies, etc. Yet what was her main complaint? About being a small business sub-contractor. She said the large firms get the $3-$5 million contracts and then contract with her to do the work at just a fraction of that price, keeping all of the profits. Well, its best left to hear in her words: See Video

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Things My Daughter has Taught Me

My daughter’s cat had to be put to sleep on Saturday. Looking back to how she got this cat as a kitten 16 years ago made me smile. And made me realize for the first time at the age of 12 she also had a pretty good business sense.

I was in the process of selling my sign and banner shop and Christmas was just a week or two away. I was having a holiday open house for 150 people later that week. Busy time, to say the least. My daughter called me, right before I was heading home, to let me know that she had found a kitten abandoned in our outdoor storage shed. Could she keep it?

But her question wasn’t that simple, figuring that I would say no, she quickly added, “I talked to Connie and she said you need to pick up…..” and she gave me a list of things (like a doll bottle and baby formula) to pick up on the way home. Connie was my best friend and is the ultimate cat lover. She also had helped Erika pick out her initial two rescue kitties three years earlier (one of which was now dead—leaving Erika to believe there was room for another cat in the house).

I had to give it to Erika. She did her research BEFORE she called me, and rallied “the team” around her request. But I still said no—if I had to stop on the way home to do that type of shopping—I was just too tired and had too much going on to take on something else like this.

Erika did more research and called me back. She had called Connie again. By putting cat food and water in front of the kitten, and the kitten eating and drinking, meant the baby bottle and formula wasn’t needed. I didn’t have to shop on the way home. She added creativity and initiative to the mix, along with foreseeing problems and obstacles and having her message points ready, and added that—oh by the way—she had made a bed for the kitten in her shower and named it Butterscotch.

Of course I said yes this time. Just shows what good research and good teamwork can accomplish!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Who’s the Quarterback?

It always seems self-serving when I recommend that an outside consultant is needed during a crisis communications situation.

Let me back up a beat. First of all, the MOST IMPORTANT thing for a crisis or challenging situation is to have a plan in place in advance. That’s most important.

I have a video clip that talks about the importance of having a plan in advance, and why outside consultants should be considered.

See Crisis Communications Video.

An outside consultant or agency helps add a dose of objective realism. It may be difficult for internal staff to see the whole picture objectively, as an outsider would.
When you work at a company, you are part of that company’s family--no matter how good you are at work/life balance! Thus, when something happens that may be upsetting, those in-house are emotionally involved and are not necessarily in the best position to either make objective, critical decisions and/or may need help in carrying out everything in the plan.

What is important when you bring in an outside consultant to help, is to define who is going to be the “quarterback” of communications. Control should always be firmly in the hands of the organization, but the outside consultants should become an integral part of the crisis team. The agency or consultant should play an advisory role while the organization makes the final decisions.

If you are working with an outside public relations agency or consultant, it is important to keep them on retainer so that you have their expertise available to you with the additional people power that can be brought to bear quickly in a crisis. By having them involved early on, it will help your ability to deal quickly with the media should a crisis occur. If a retainer relationship is not possible, bring in an outside consultant before a crisis occurs so that the company benefits from the preplanning expertise of the consultant, ideally to the extent of avoiding a crisis in the first place.

Discuss with the consultant or agency, in advance, such things as what resources they can make available, what media contacts they have, what they would charge in a crisis situation (by the hour, day or crisis), who exactly will be working with you (what level of seniority), and can they work on-site?

The downside of bringing in external help is the morale of your current communications staff (feeling discredited or unappreciated) and the perception of your external audiences that may indeed be an even bigger crisis than they imagined since you are soliciting outside assistance. (Consequently, a prior relationship with any outside sources is important so this perception does not exist).

SEE WHY MARY RECOMMENDS OUTSIDE CONSULTANTS FOR CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS—and more on the importance of having a plan prepared in advance…