Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Vot Are You Voorking On?

299311799_75ebae8abe_mI’m in the middle of a bunch of projects right now.

One project has me writing about security in the cloud.

Apparently, security concerns are one major obstacle to adoption of the cloud, in spite of the many advantages this computing model offers. My client is trying to change all that.

Another project has me mapping out a strategy for a blog focused on outsourced (sometimes called “offshore”) product development (OPD).

While the offshoring of IT services is hardly new, for the last several years we’ve seen outsourcing move up the value chain to include what were once considered core functions like R&D and new product development. As you might imagine, there are myriad challenges associated with this approach. My client is trying to solve (some of) them.

In addition to the above, I’m doing content strategy (“what kind of content do you need to generate leads, close sales, and improve search rank?”) and development (actually producing the stuff) for an array of B2B firms.

Bigger-picture-wise, I’m exploring various business models for content marketing services. If you’ve got ideas about that, let me hear ’em!

PS. The title question of this post was posed by Irini Galliulin to Ensign Chekhov in the classic Star Trek episode, “Way to Eden

Image Courtesy of Dollie_Mixtures.

Does Your Company Need a Blog, a Facebook Page, a YouTube Channel, and a Twitter Feed?

Actually, the answer to that question is fairly simple: I don’t know.

I realize that answer might not be very helpful, but at least it’s honest.

Fact is, you can only figure out if you need those things, and what you’ll do with them once you got ’em, after you’ve decided what it is you want to do.

In other words, I would prefer to answer that question with this question: What do you want to do or get other people to do?

Clients in Every Direction: The Keys to Successful Web Project Management

390810384_ee1a79b593_m“When you’re a project manager, everyone’s your client,” says Sheila D’Aniello, a web project manager represented by Aquent’s Chicago Office.

After initially launching her career in the world of broadcast journalism some years back, Sheila increasingly found herself taking on project management roles across a range of industries. She eventually entered the web/interactive realm in 2000, when Monster/TMP hired her to manage a variety of projects, from producing CD-ROMs to the development of high profile, customized corporate and university job-sites.

Along the way she learned an important lesson: the project manager is “client facing” wherever she turns.

“Aside from internal and external clients, account directors and account services people, my team is my client – in many ways, the most important one. The team is looking to me to manage communication with all the other clients and they have to trust me. They have to know I’m on their side. And, when something happens, they should feel like, “Sheila’s going to take care of this.”

Really just make it happen.

Web project managers are “managers,” but they are also mediators and facilitators, and that poses interesting challenges. “You’re managing people,” Sheila explains, “but you really only manage their time and their resources – that is, on top of managing the project budget, the time-line, the scope of the work, and all that.

“You manage them, but you don’t give people their reviews or have hire-fire power. This means you can’t get caught up in personnel issues. Your attitude with your team needs to always be: ‘How can I help you?’ and ‘I’ll make it happen.'”

Listen to what they don’t say.

In addition to being organized and resourceful, a web project manager has to be a “people person,” someone intensely focused on building relationships and creating alliances. This means developing a communication style centered around listening and understanding needs.

But uncovering the real needs of a client isn’t always easy when you’re simultaneously trying to understand their expectations, objectives, and pressures. How do you do it?

“Listen to what they don’t say,” Sheila advises. “The client may have a challenge with approvals, or with their manager. Clients don’t always tell you. You’ve got to listen between the lines.”

“I need a visual.”

Web project managers move between distinct communities with their own unique jargon and shared reference points. “You work with a lot of different people in different roles and at different levels of the organization. At the same time you’ve got to keep information moving between these groups. The people on your team may be very technical, but your other clients may not be. You’ve got to keep the messages clear.

“You have to help your team make it more real, and that starts with explaining it to you in a way you can pass it on. You got to keep saying, ‘I need a visual. Make it plain. Give me an example.’ In the end, you have to understand, because you’re the one who has to go back to the client and explain it to them.”

When things are not going right, bring the solution.

It’s the nature of project management that the best laid plans sometimes go awry. That’s why Sheila says, “You always need to be doing your best to understand when things are not going right.

“Things can pop up,” she continues, “but you can’t just go to the client and say, ‘This isn’t going to happen.’ You always need to be coming with the solution.”

The key is building relationships.

“When things are not going right, the client will forgive you if you have the relationship with them already. If not, they may go elsewhere,” Sheila warns. Of course, the more people involved in a given project, the more difficult forming and maintaining these relationships can be.

“Who does the client have a relationship with? Managing that can be a challenge, and it means that you yourself have to build relationships with clients, both internal and external. Those relationships are really the key.”

Relationships don’t stop with the client, however. “You need to create alliances in all directions,” Sheila says, so that you have a reliable network of resources and can “gather information from wherever” as the need arises.

Watch out for burn out.

Thanks to the unique requirements and special demands of web project management, “It’s hard to find these people,” Sheila states.

At the same time, it can be hard retaining them. “Project manager’s get burned out. If companies want to hold on to the good ones, they need some place to go, a next step, an opportunity to really grow.”

As she puts it, “Project managers need a different career path.” She adds, “So we don’t have to become consultants.”

This report from the web project management trenches first appeared on June 11, 2008. – Matt

Image Courtesy of Dave Schumaker.

This Statement Is NOT True

I first posted this back in August 2008 but think that it’s as true (or false) today as it was then. – Matt

Talking with a friend yesterday, he noted that my wife was a writer and then asked if I was a writer as well. I said I was, but explained I was in marketing. “So, you write lies,” he said with a smile.

As every hip marketer knows, thanks to the ever-wise words of the all-knowing Godin-one, all marketers are liars. With his semi-snide snarkiness, my friend was merely echoing the folk wisdom that that holds marketers and marketing more generally in contempt, a subject about which I’ve written before.

Godin playfully invokes this contempt in his “provocative” title, though he was careful to avoid the the liar paradox through use of the modifier “all.” To whit: If Godin is a marketer (albeit one who has achieved “guru” status), then, if his statement is true, we must assume that he may be a liar, in which case his statement may also be a lie. If it’s a lie, however, then it is not true that all marketers are liars. If I remember anything from the “Intro to Logic” course I took as a freshman, the negation of “all marketers are liars” is not “no marketers are liars,” but, “some marketers are liars.”

Proclaiming the undeniable truth that “some marketers are liars,” of course, would not have gotten Godin much attention. Instead, he fans the flames of virulent anti-marketing-ism and tars “all” marketers with the same mendacious brush. Although I wouldn’t accuse Godin of lying with his claim that “all marketers are liars,” I would say that he was “willfully misrepresenting the truth,” and not just about the marketing profession.

If you read the book, or at least the five free pages I linked to above, you discover that he is primarily accusing marketers of “telling stories,” a common parenting euphemism for “lying,” as we all know. Though I agree with him that the goal of marketing is to tell stories, I resist his equation of “stories” with “lies.” Stories may be fabrications and fictions, but that doesn’t make them “lies.” That being said, the problem with Godin’s title isn’t that it’s a lie, the problem is that it’s false (remember that a lie is not simply or necessarily “incorrect”).

But would the book have been so popular if he had called it, “All Marketers Are Wrong”? Is the one thing going for this alternate title the possibility that it could actually be true?

Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away Now

I wrote this about a year ago but still think it’s relevant and true. What do you think? – Matt

On Twitter the other day talking with the Conversation Agent about the Associated Press’ decision to go after sites that quote too much of their content — they had called out the “Drudge Retort” (not to be confused with the “Drudge Report,” – though some confusion is undoubtedly intended by the author of the former) for quotations ranging in length from 39 to 79 words — I got to thinking.

I’m no lawyer but I learned about “fair use” as a graduate student and always assumed that, if you were using a quotation in certain expository contexts, that the copyright holders would just have to grin and bear it. I can see there being a problem with populating your blog or website with entire articles penned by someone else – but even then, if you have given proper credit and linked back to the original location of the text, is that really so wrong/bad?

Though I tend to lean in this direction, I’m not saying that all content should be free or that copyright doesn’t mean anything. I am saying, however, that trying to control where your content shows up on the web goes against the tide of history as well as the essence of the web an sich, as the Germans would say.

On the “tide of history” front, “give it away” is the order of the day. I’ve referred elsewhere in these pages to an essay by John Perry Barlow on the power of giving away “content,” and my ideas have not changed on the subject. Specifically, every business should focus on their absolutely unique, inimitable, and irreplaceable offering, and deploy their “content” to sell that.

Barlow uses the example of the Grateful Dead allowing taping at their shows because they realized that circulating bootlegs increased interest in their music and, more importantly, promoted attendance at their shows which were always one of a kind. As the bumper stickers used to say, “There’s Nothing Like A Grateful Dead Concert,” which is why concert revenue was the core of their business.

Apply this to your business and ask yourself, “What is my live-in-concert moment and how can I use my content to get people through the proverbial door?”

On the “essence of the web”-front, I see the distinction between sites as more conventional than actual. Every page on the web is exactly one click away from any other page. That means, not just one click away from any page that belongs to your site proper, but one click away from any other page you can find anywhere on the web. To tell the world, “It’s ok to look at my content here but not there, one click away,” is like saying, “You can access content via your computer but not your iPhone.” In other words, it’s absurd.

More importantly, however, we’ve got to face facts and concede that the site is no longer the absolute home of content, nor is it necessarily the place where the content will be viewed, consumed, or otherwise processed by the end user. Content circulates freely. This circulation can be influenced, but not controlled. Since it cannot be controlled, any business based on selling content or access to it is going to have a shorter and shorter lifespan.

Am I right or am I right?

Image Courtesy of frankh.

I Recommend Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

aquenteverybody.jpgIt’s not a revolution if nobody loses. – Clay Shirky

I just finished reading Clay Shirky’s masterpiece, Here Comes Everybody, and feel compelled to recommend that you read it. It’s thoughtful, insightful, and well-written. It also a “business” book that is so rich in detail and far-reaching in implication that you can’t easily reduce it’s thesis to a PowerPointable sound-bite.

Although ostensibly about technology – “social media,” broadly speaking – the book’s focus falls less on the geeky details of wikis, blogs, and tweeting, than on the way these technologies facilitate the organization and actions of groups in an historically unprecedented, even revolutionary, manner. In the words of His Shirky-ness, “[W]e are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations.”

If you feel like you or your business could benefit from greater participation in the social media revolution, or if you feel that these new, powerful, group-forming-and-coordinating tools pose an existential threat to your business or occupation (as the rise of the printing press did to medieval scribes), then you can’t afford not to read this highly readable book.

Image – “Everybody was here” – Courtesy of {dpade1337}.

Do you consider SEO a part of marketing or a separate job?

I did a webcast on marketing careers for the Aquent and the AMA in September, 2008. We got a lot of questions during and after the webcast and here’s how I answered one of them. – Matt

Got this question after our AMA webcast on marketing careers t’other day and I’m reading it this way: Should all marketers be thinking about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or should there be a specific individual in the organization who focuses on SEO?

My answer is, “Yes.” Now let me explain, since it doesn’t make any sense to answer an “either/or” question in the affirmative.

Marketers, especially in the communications and advertising realm, all need to think about SEO. The “comms” (PR, corporate communications, investor relations, etc.) should be thinking about it because most if not all the content they produce will probably live on the Web and should serve to drive convertible traffic to the relevant site. For this reason, said content ought to be optimized for search and fit the company’s overall SEO strategy.

Likewise, ad campaigns should have an SEO component in the sense that you should think about buying keywords you don’t already own if they are showing up in your TV, radio, or print spots. For example, I believe the folks at Sobe bought “Thriller” when they ran their Super Bowl ad, though my memory could be playing tricks on me.

At the same time, SEO has emerged as a discipline unto itself, meaning that people can get paid to focus entirely on that. Because this is a specialized and evolving field, every organization should at least hire an SEO consultant or contractor to help get their strategy right. In fact, it will even make sense for some larger organizations to hire a full-time SEO specialist.

In other words, “Yes, SEO is part of marketing AND a separate job.”

What Do You Want to Do with Your Life?

My posts on Aquent’s blog sometimes got kind of philosophical. Here’s an example which should help you dodge the question, “What do you want to do with your life?” It first appeared on September 20, 2008. – Matt

2783320265_8fd07858a1_mAbout twenty years ago, after I had stopped out of grad school, quit my job at SuperShuttle, and was so broke that I made all my family members collages as Christmas presents, my father sat me down for a fireside chat. The gist was: Dude, you got to get it together, figure out what you want to do with your life, and just do it. The problem was, as he put it, “You don’t seem to do anything.”

Was I a lost soul at that point? I suppose I was. My band (Spanking Machine) wasn’t going anywhere, I was unemployed, and, frankly, very depressed. When I returned to San Francisco from that demoralizing holiday in Los Angeles, I got a temp job (thus launching my current career, oddly enough) and wrote my father a letter.

Aside from the fact that the main point of the letter was to ask him for money so I could fix my car (yes, I did that), I also took issue with his criticism of my do-nothing lifestyle. On the one hand, as I pointed out, I did actually do stuff like write page after page of mad-cap, beatnik musings, play music, and hang out with my friends. I also reminded him that there were quite a few cultural and spiritual traditions that emphasized doing nothing over doing something as the true goal of life and enlightenment and that I was not unsympathetic to such views. Moreover, the idea that our lives and the world at large were there as a resource for us to do something with was symptomatic of the Zeitgeist, as Martin Heidegger explained in his essay concerning the question of technology.

Here’s where it gets deep (so watch out). To this very day I bristle at the existential imperative, whether in secular or religious garb, that says you have to do something with your life. There are so many things that are wrong-headed about this notion that I don’t know where to start (or finish), so I’ll just highlight two logical inconsistencies that dog this everyday ethical commonplace.

First of all, “your life.” Aside from the fact that even scientists struggle to define life, what exactly about the life you live is yours? You are, after all, 90% water, which, if I understand it properly, is made of hydrogen and oxygen that has been part of this earth for some billions of years. Add to that the carbon, nitrogen, and other trace elements comprising you as physical entity, you quickly realize that none of them are “yours” strictly speaking. Indeed, your genetic peculiarities are a melange of your father’s and mother’s, as their’s were of their’s, and, in any event, consist of amino acids that are of rather ancient provenance. Etc.

So, the living matter provisionally associated with your life is freely borrowed from the environment and the vast surrounding universe to which it will inevitably return (yes, I’m referring to “your” death). But what about this “you” that is supposed to “do” something with this “life.” First of all, your “you-ness” is inextricably linked to this particular physical entity that perpetually changes (replacing itself every seven years or something like that). Not only that, your sense of yourself, your personality quirks, and your interests are totally contingent on your genetic makeup, your lived experience, and your physical condition. If you doubt this, please experiment with severe brain trauma and review the results.

But turning away from the impermanence and ineffability of your you-ness, how could you do anything with your life in the first place? Usually, in order to do something with anything, you need to distinguish between you and that something. But how can you stand outside your own life which, as we know, is not a thing in the first place? And if people mean, “Create an interesting story or artwork from the events and experiences of your life,” when they say, “Do something with your life,” why don’t they just say that?

Because, frankly, they don’t mean that. They mean, “Do things as part of your life that, retroactively, will have made your life a meaningful something instead of a meaningless nothing.” But, as everyone knows, “meaning” is entirely contextual. Nothing means anything in isolation. Which means that you can never be the judge of whether or not your own life is or was meaningful. That can only be decided by deciders who stand outside of your life and understand all its ramifications, not just in your little world, but in the history of the universe. And the number of deciders who are in a position to do that are either zero, one, or three, depending on your persuasion, none of whom are you, or even human, for that matter.

If you’ve read this far, you get the picture. From here on out, whenever anyone tells you to do something with your life, and you don’t have the time or wherewithal to explain to them what’s wrong with that statement, please have them contact me, and I’ll do the dirty work.

Image Courtesy of mohammadali.

Content and its Discontents

1176663820_ecc5f27a17_mThe other day I posted, “5 Rules for Creating Content that RULES!“, which I wrote with PJA’s Mike O’Toole. We were walking a fine line because we wanted to talk about ways to effectively conduct content-driven marketing but, at the same time, we said that your content strategy had to flow from your marketing strategy AND that content itself, in order to be useful and ultimately shareable, had to be created with the audience in mind.

In other words, if you want to create content that rules, actually creating content is the last thing you should do.

The underlying message is: Don’t confuse means with ends. The goal of marketing is not to pump out advertisements, for example; the goal is to market products and services and use advertising or pricing or merchandising or channel management or whatever to do that.

But there is another, more subtle message underlying the aforementioned message: For content to be of use to you, it has to seem like you created it primarily for others. That is, if your content is too obviously self-serving (by being “salesy” or overtly promotional), even if others could use it, they will probably choose not to.

If you are going to give something away (valuable information, useful tools, practical insights, etc.) in order to get something, you have to give it away without expecting anything in return. I think there is some kind of life lesson in here somewhere.

Image Courtesy of dogeared-1144.

Interactive Design is a Team Sport

In the early days of the Web, it was not uncommon for companies to say they wanted to hire someone who knew HTML, Photoshop, JavaScript, Java, SQL, Cold Fusion, PHP, etc.

As the Web grew and people became more sophisticated, it was understood that there was a division of labor on the Web and that someone might know a lot about JavaScript without knowing anything about Java, and vice versa.

This post, which first appeared in February of 2009, addressed the fact that, sadly, there are still some people out there who think that if someone knows one Web technology, then they probably know them all.

2212455873_f6e4853b1b_m.jpgI wrote a post here advocating greater transparency in the staffing business and someone left the following comment:

“Graphic design is a tough business. That being said, seeing positions posted for a web designer that knows Flash, web design, and print design for the jaw-dropping salary of 35K isn’t going to cut it. That is senior-level design knowledge.”

I couldn’t help but agree with this individual, and not just because recent salary data published by Robert Half puts starting salaries for graphic designers at $36K, with motion graphics specialists commanding salaries starting in the mid-$50Ks.

I thought that we had put the days of kitchen-sink web positions well behind us. Overlooking the significant and long-acknowledged differences between print and web design, a position description like the one above indicates a failure to recognize that certain sub-specialties of web design, as one might consider Flash, for example, have actually become viable career options in their own right.

Interactive design has always been a team sport precisely because it is interactive. The web is undeniably a visual medium, hence the importance of visual design in the creation of websites. But a web site must function in addition to looking pretty and the technical complexity of its functioning demands skills and expertise that are more math than Matisse, if you know what I mean.

The classic division of labor on web projects has always been design AND development. Although most designers will have some technical chops, and developers, on the front-end anyway, will understand design basics, this just means they can communicate and collaborate with each other, not that they are interchangeable. Indeed, they are less interchangeable than ever as the “classic” division of yesteryear has been replaced by today’s “baroque” arrangement of sundry strategists and marketing mavens corralling a shifting constellation of user experience specialists, designers, copywriters, Actionscripters, programmers, and analysts, and more.

I know that money is tight and that the web is critical to everyone’s efforts. Nevertheless, you don’t do yourself or your business any favors by trying to cut costs by hiring one person to do the work of four (or more). Instead, you will be better served by starting with a comprehensive plan for your web efforts, which may in the end be “owned” by one person, and then hiring talented specialists on a project or contract basis to bring the plan to life. Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it ALWAYS takes a team to create good web stuff.

Image Courtesy of elvissa.