Photos by Hillary Ehlen
Have you seen The Office?
This television sitcom features the awkward chemistry among staff working at a fictional mid-sized paper company. Intimate relationships evolve, crash and rekindle, aggressive pranking thrives and the coffee mug Michael Scott, the manager, bought for himself says World’s Best Boss.
A Nielsen Families study estimates that Netflix played more than 45 billion minutes (about 85 thousand days) of The Office in a single year. For the sake of my own time, I wish Netflix would remove it.
However, the show’s undying popularity reveals the human desire to identify with others and its scenes showcase the skepticism that has never been higher or more intense. Further, it affirms the need for communication strategies that businesses like mine, Wordwork, create.
Those are bold (and admittedly selfish) claims, but most people personally experience and detest the sentiments triggered by the erratic conference room meetings summoned by Michael. Despite his big heart and best intentions, his meetings neglect business goals, thwart staff interest and faith, lack continuity and are too long before they begin.
The onscreen debacles are funny but portray the rampant, unprecedented and oftentimes unfair skepticism undermining the trust required for real-world businesses, organizations and individuals to promote and garner support for their goals.
Effective strategies exist, but most effective strategies remain unknown and only a couple businesses near Fargo engage them: Wordwork (that’s me) is the only writing and strategic communications business in the area; and Meckler Marketing Consulting, operated by Brian Meckler. Brian and I hashed out some issues driving skepticism and some strategies we use to cultivate confidence for our clients.
Puppe: I prepare a lot of resumes and each is a one-time project, but I’m also the guy organizations go to when they need strategies to advocate ideas, engage audiences and content written or wordsmithed. I spare clients the cost of hiring someone or distracting payroll staff with tasks I have the expertise to complete on their behalf.
Meckler: Smaller groups typically don’t need or want to pay an expert nonstop. Instead of paying a salary, they hire Meckler Marketing Consulting on a project basis. Otherwise, you’ll have a marketing officer forced to perform detailed tasks when they could be administering the larger project. That’s a wasteful and unproductive use of resources.
There’s more to marketing than putting things together and hoping they fit. Meckler Marketing Consulting has a pool of experts to tap and the flexibility to fit different budgets. It also means every strategy is customized to clients’ specific needs. Marketing companies typically don’t have that diversity of expertise or ability to offer a lower deal.
I see a lot of job descriptions calling for applicants with every marketing expertise; software, graphics, online social media and other niches. Not many people can do everything on that list or do a good job when they try. Those experts are tough to find and often unaffordable to the employer when identified.
Puppe: Let’s turn the table. Employers want to know what and how job seekers can contribute, but most job seekers submit little more than bullet-point descriptions of previous positions. They kind of reflect Michael’s meetings on The Office. Not until the employer knows a job seeker understands the goal will they consider the jobseeker more than a name. That’s why I strategize resumes rather than write or review them. Employers consider my clients’ proven assets, not run of the mill applicants.
Meckler: Employers don’t want to interview; they want to hire but need to be confident. If you’re being interviewed, you’ve impressed someone, but they need to be convinced.
Many businesses create interviews for themselves by providing free samples. If consumers try the free sample, they’re interviewing the business that produced it.
People create marketing campaigns to stimulate interest and inspire repeat patronage but get caught up in the marketing tasks and forget the campaign’s purpose. If distributing as many free samples becomes the goal, then no longer is it a resource for inspiring repeat patronage. Free samples are going out, but it makes no sense for a website to offer free samples without also providing opportunities to purchase the product. There needs to be something there for prospects to clasp on to and take action.
Puppe: That’s like submitting a resume that’s just a list. Ideal applicants are instantly rejected because their resume doesn’t substantiate ability or any commonality. The applicants and employer can have the same goal, but a deficient resume eliminates their opportunity to achieve it.
Meckler: That’s the uncertainty many campaigns create and why so many opportunities are lost. I remember the client who wanted his website to market a specialty product but was determined to present the product in ways requiring his specialized knowledge to understand. Sounds crude, but “dumbing it down” is the way to say it. The public won’t care about technical understandings or details.
Puppe: We tend to get so close to our own work and routines that we forget most people don’t have our field-specific vocabularies. Overwhelming an audience with information it can’t understand gives it no reason to care.
When engineering firms or trade organizations need to convince an audience outside their industry, they’ll enlist Wordwork to formulate and adjust their messages to levels their audience can comprehend. This replaces confusion with confidence and motivates the audience to respond in ways favorable for my client.
Meckler: Is a roofer more convincing when they explain why they’re the best option for stopping a leaky roof or when they list brands of nails, shingles or equipment? Using those details to prove ability makes the homeowner skeptical about the roofer’s commitment to stopping the leak.
Puppe: Speaking of skepticism, we say something and people instantly doubt our sincerity and commit themselves to proving us wrong. The worst way to promote a goal is to beleaguer skeptics with reasons we think it’s important. However, applying a counterintuitive approach worsens a conflict that’s rarely resolved and often recognized.
At Wordwork, I strategize ways for clients to demonstrate—not convince—why investing in them is the best way for skeptics to invest in themselves. That turns traditional marketing and engagement upside down.
Meckler: I recognized that need and created Meckler Marketing Consulting to facilitate approaches for clients to overcome it. Not many businesses recognize that underlying need or adjust their perspectives and operations to effectively fulfill it.
Puppe: I studied strategic communication in grad school, but experience confirmed the need for adjustment better than any paper I authored.
For example, I’m a Fargo native who loved being a judicial clerk in Dickinson. During the week, it was bench materials for southwest district judges. On weekends, it was cattle for area ranchers. I knew how to handle cattle because I worked the West Fargo stockyards and my uncles’ herds for years. However, I learned very quickly that folks outside Fargo view the city much differently than those living in it.
Upon arriving at the first ranch, the owner asks, “Mark, where are you from?” I answer, “Fargo,” and he avenges, “Fargo? Go see what help they need at the house.”
Meeting the next ranch owner was just as brief, but much better. “Mark, where are you from?” This time I answer, “I live in Dickinson,” and the rancher responds, “Don’t let any calves get away.”
Saying that I lived in Dickinson rather than grew up in Fargo established enough commonality, albeit geographic and irrelevant to my knowledge, to convince the rancher he could focus on his goal rather than question whether I was helping achieve it.
That’s how and why Wordwork clients identify with, convince and engage their audiences effectively and as intended.
Meckler: Likewise, Meckler Marketing Consulting facilitates sessions with executive boards to cultivate collaboration; what’s rewarding, how can their business pursue it better. Upon discovering that base, I’ll go to Wordwork or other experts to build a customized strategy for strengthening how a product, service or idea is presented. We’re strengthening confidence and opportunity for growth.
Puppe: Good chatting with you, Brian. I’d love to continue because we’ve only scratched the surface, but clients come first and I get to help prevent their communications from becoming fodder for The Office.