Chikashi Miyamoto

Attracting, Cycling, Drinking, Eating, Giving, Persuading and Travelling

A Weakness of Marketing

Amongst the various fields in professional services, marketing suffers from a glaring weakness that I find rather ironic.

I tend to agree with Freddy Nager of Atomic Tango on many things, so I find his incisive ramblings both entertaining and refreshing. Below is a reproduction of his blog post, titled ‘The Scaries Words You Can Say To Any Consultant: “Can I Pick Your Brain?”‘ from 5 June 2013.

I once had lunch with a fellow college alumnus who owned an IT firm with $17 million in annual sales. He had asked for my help to do more marketing to his current customers, so one of my recommendations was to create an email newsletter. He loved the idea, so I gave him a few more details on how it would work. He asked how much I would charge to create and manage it. When I gave him my rates, he said they sounded “very reasonable” and promised to email me later to work out the terms. He then paid for my lunch (a turkey sandwich and Coke) and I never heard from him again… That is, until a few weeks later when I received his company newsletter, which he had amateurishly composed using his Outlook account. So not only did he not hire me, he also put me on his subscriber list without my permission.

The sandwich wasn’t even that good.

You’d think I would learn from this and many similar incidents, but to this day, I still give away advice far too freely. The bait comes in the form of RFPs (Ripe For Pilfering Requests For Proposal), invitations to pitch, and people calling to “pick my brain.” The first two sound nice but are actually quite enervating. But it’s the last one that makes my skin crawl. When someone asks to “pick my brain,” I picture zombie vultures taking turns pecking away at my frontal lobe…

If the person is a close friend or former student, I’m happy to chat, but only if they promise to never say “pick your brain” again. I thought I was the only one who cringes at that expression, until I read this blogpost by publicist Nicole Jordan: “No. You Can’t Pick My Brain.” Jordan writes about all the people who ask for her advice in exchange for coffee:

“When you are a creative individual who is a ‘popcorn machine,’ as my mom says, that spits out ideas on a continual basis, doling out advice is no big thing. It’s easy to have coffee with someone whose company I enjoy, most who will ultimately take my ideas and somehow help it benefit their business. Whatevs.

I used to do this a lot more than I do now because here’s the thing I finally came to terms with that helped me start standing my ground: My popcorn machine has value…

I do have my own work schedule and my ‘life balance’ that I attempt and it leaves me little free time to ‘donate’ to others. I appreciate that I am seen as a resource for the community but some of the requests have shown me a repeated trend – people need ideas. A lot of them.

Strategic and creative counsel is one of the most under-monetized aspects of being in the communications and marketing business. Would you ask a lawyer to coffee to ‘pick his brain?’ Do you think a profession as ruthless as they are known, and whose services are enlisted regularly and paid well for, would dole out a hour advice to you for $3.50? Unless he’s your dear friend, what’s in it for him?”

Amen, Sister Jordan, amen.

I also fully join Jordan in vehemently rejecting the argument that “you can give ideas but it doesn’t matter if they can’t execute.” The truth is, they DO execute your ideas — by themselves or by exploiting interns or by contracting some firm in India. Sure, they’ll ultimately screw up, but guess who gets the blame? “Hey, consultant dude, your idea didn’t work…”

When I shared Jordan’s article on Facebook, another marketer chimed in:

“OMG, that just happened to us. A potential client, hearing what we had planned for his social marketing strategy, decided he could just implement the basics on his own and, sure enough, he’s already started to botch it. When will people learn that they CANNOT do everything.”

I believe it was Michael Eisner who once said, “Ideas are all that matter. You can hire people to do everything else.” Unfortunately, far too many people think they only need to pay for the “everything else.” And sometimes they try to get that for free, too. (See “spec work” and “crowdsourcing” and “internships for credit only.”)

Time to take a stand against the zombies. It means I won’t get as many free turkey sandwiches, but what the hell: “Knowledge workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your brains!”

One of the underlying problems is that Marketing has failed to market itself as a field of expertise, unlike other consulting disciplines such as accountants, lawyers and even management consultants. Marketing consultants do not enjoy the same aura of impenetrable expertise that others do, which is why many people feel that they can do it themselves. You see this in evidence everyday, everywhere.

Everyone from the beancounter to the IT egghead has something to say about matters of marketing. The CEO’s wife, the vice president’s son-in-law’s brother-in-law, the finance director’s third cousin, the company driver… EVERYONE has something to ‘contribute’ (I adore that word). But only the guys in IT have an opinion on how to deal with VAT in the sales order and inventory management systems without cocking up the price book, margin calculation and asset valuation.

Because EVERYONE is a marketing expert.

Or, perhaps because nobody is.

It Doesn’t Matter What Degrees You Might Have Earned

The Question

image via Swedish Canary

Your answer to this question will reveal if you have learned anything at all in life so far.

E-bike Share in Salento?

IMG_1746Bike share programmes are being implemented in various parts of the world, but I was actually quite surprised to find one in a little Salentino town of Maglie. I actually had to do a double-take when I realised they are using e-bikes. Advanced equipment in a quiet corner in the south of Italy… Delicious irony.

Upon further reflection, it probably makes quite a bit of sense. It would be unwise to use these bikes in large city programmes because they would be stripped bare in a matter of hours within introduction. A sad assessment of life in big cities, but I think it’s a realistic one. It makes much more sense to have bikes like these in a gentler, smaller community like Maglie.

It wasn’t the tourist season, so the people I spotted using the bikes were all locals, older residents going about their daily business at a leisurely pace. They are people who may not be able to afford expensive e-bikes but could very well use the ease and comfort that e-bikes offer to people of advanced age. For this purpose, the e-bikes are the perfect solution as a bike share programme.

Bravo.

Surprised, Delighted, and Impressed at Bravas Tapas

For a long overdue boys’ gossip session, we recently lunched at Bravas Tapas, St. Katherine Docks in East Smithfield. I’m trying to come up with an excuse to return.

Victor Garvey is the head chef and a co-founder of Bravas Tapas. Victor is an affable American who lived in Barcelona and then cut his teeth in the Basque kitchens at the storied Akelaŕe and Mugaritz in San Sebastián. An American whipping up Basque dishes in London: if you are struggling to get your head around that concept, stop immediately. Never mind such details, just head over there, eat and then see if any of it matters. The gossiping boys’ consensus was that it’s an asset to have Victor serving good food in London.

St. Katherine Docks is one of those areas in London that were ‘repurposed’ by property developers in recent years. Like Shad Thames and other pockets in London, it reeks of recent development even if some of the buildings may have some history. By that, I mean that the area is packed with chain restaurants, bars, pubs and shops that you see all over the place. It was the first time that I visited St. Katherine Docks, and my first impression was, same-crap-different-neighbourhood (‘SCDN’). From a commercial standpoint, the location choice made by Victor and his business partner Bal Thind was a stroke of genius because the area has excellent footfall given its strategic location. What that means for diners is that it would be prudent to book your table in advance.

Bravas Tapas is emphatically not SCDN. It’s a one-off. In this digital age, it’s difficult to feel as though you discovered a place, whether it’s a shop, restaurant, seedy cafe, a pretty square, whatever. In a way, the information overflow has robbed us of the sense of discovery. (Ironically, I may be contributing in a small way to this phenomenon.) There is no shortage of Interwebz commentaries on Bravas Tapas. However, given that it physically exists in the midst of all the SCDN establishments, it felt like a discovery when we walked in. (Well, to be completely honest, we had no idea where in St Katherine Docks the restaurant was, so it took us a little while to orient ourselves and actually find it, which probably enhanced the sense of discovery… You do know how boys hate to ask strangers for directions, don’t you?)

When you are there, I recommend that you do what we did: don’t look at the menu, just leave it all up to Victor, including drinks. To be precise, the idea was Victor’s not ours, but the result is equally delightful.

As we waited for a variety of dishes to appear, we nibbled on surprisingly good jamón ibérico. When the helpful staff brought them out, they explained what the dish is made of. Some of the combinations made me think, ‘That doesn’t sound like it’s going to work,’ only for the thought to vanish once the food entered my mouth. It’s a fabulous way to be proven wrong.

One notable surprise for me was the gazpacho. It’s virtually impossible to find decent tomatoes in northern Europe (my pet peeve), so I tend to cringe whenever someone mentions gazpacho. You’ll see that it is poured into the sideway claret glass at the table. When you have it, you will understand why Victor has chosen to pour it at the table although I found that the reclining glass distracts from the soup. The gazpacho took me by surprise. It was lovely.

Victor brought over a couple of dishes from Amaru, the adjacent Japanese-Peruvian (‘Nikkei’ in a more fashionable parlance) restaurant that he and Thind started earlier this year. I understand that Victor had a stint at Park Hyatt in Tokyo during which time he picked up a few ideas from the streets of Tokyo. I suppose that fusing some of that with Spanish bits would put one on a path to the Japanese-Peruvian realm. The result? They reminded me of some of the interesting dishes that Nobu used to serve before they became a global franchise that one cannot seem to avoid in big cities and descended into SCDN hell, serving heavy-handed concoctions in overdesigned venues. A separate visit to Amaru is in order.

The pink bubbly went splendidly with the diverse food. In hindsight, it was the ideal choice. Of course, Victor had the courses in his head so he could choose the right tipple for us before we even realised it.

One inevitable question is whether Victor’s creations are authentic Basque. (To ask a similar question about the Japanese-Peruvian seems somewhat misguided.) To be honest, I haven’t a clue. And, I don’t care either because it’s good food.

I did not take any photos of the food because the light at our table would not have allowed me to take decent photos using my phone, but here’s Victor in action:

Bravas Tapas and Amaru are located at Ivory House, St. Katherine Docks, East Smithfield, London E1W 1AT.

A Truth About Group Rides

T2MC 2013

It is always, ALWAYS the case that the guy who says, “Let’s take it easy today,” is the one to watch, the guy with the strongest legs on that day.

Conversely, that short, imperative sentence is NEVER EVER uttered by the person who really wants it to be an easy jaunt.

Funny, that.

When in Lech, Eat at Hagen’s

When a butcher has a restaurant attached to the shop, you can usually count on the food being good. Hagen’s Dorf Metzgerei in Lech, Austria is one such butcher with a restaurant but with one difference. Their food is not just good; it’s excellent.

Leberknödelsuppe at Hagen'sWhen butchers get things a bit wrong, it is when they try to get a bit too creative with their dishes and lose sight of doing things well by focussing too much on being different. No such problems here. At Hagen’s, they stick to the basics and insist on doing them well. In a way, it is a necessity because simple dishes cannot hide imperfections. For instance, the Leberknödel soup above was, well, perfect. It might seem a little odd to wax lyrical about such a thing, but the homemade broth was divine. Perfectly balanced, uncorrupted by clever ingredients that some include only for the sake of being clever. Alchemy for alchemy’s sake can be very tiresome, but none of that nonsense here. The Leberknödel tastes like something that was lost a couple of generations ago, like the great grandmother’s long-lost receipt.

If I had been alone in the restaurant, I probably would have licked the soup bowl clean.

Veal chop at Hagen'sI was tempted to try one of the aged beef that has a pride of place in the shop as well as on the menu. However, I chose the veal chop this time.

I was a bit surprised by the condiment. I spotted the Kräuterbutter in the shop as I was scanning the case upon entry, but I hadn’t expected it to appear next to my veal chop. For some reason, I have a very low opinion of Kräuterbutter so I was a bit hesitant at first. The yellow tint suggested that there is a bit of tumeric / curry powder in it, which got me even less enthusiastic.

With the risk of sounding a bit silly, this was the best veal chop that I have ever had. Sweet, tender and juicy. Golden on the outside, pastel pink on the inside. In other words, excellent raw material prepared to perfection. And, I have to admit that the parsley and curry powder being released from the butter actually worked very well with the veal. My prejudice against Kräuterbutter turned out to be completely unjustified (on this occasion).

They have a fairly extensive wine list with a good assortment of Austrian production, a diverse assortment of French production, and a limited selection of Italian goods. Some wine lists smell very much like a convenient recommendation of the local wine wholesaler. Others have a feel of a selection made by the proprietor with care. Their’s is the latter. You might be surprised by some of the wines on the list.

Leberkäse at Hagen'sIf you are in a rush, you can get a Leberkäse sandwich in the shop to take away. They looked so good that I was tempted to get one for the road even though there was no space left in my stomach. Truth be told, I wanted to move into Hagen’s. As is sometimes the case with these sorts of discoveries, I discovered Hagen’s only the day before leaving Lech. Otherwise, I would have lunched there everyday during my stay…

The shop is open until 19:00, and the kitchen closes at 18:30. On one hand, it seems a shame that one cannot have dinner at Hagen’s. On the other hand, it is a commercial and personal choice that the owner family have made and probably reflects on their principled approach to their business, which I think is a good thing.

During the ski season, the restaurant gets absolutely packed at about 17:00. In contrast, it is easy to get a table and linger in the early afternoon. It is a blessing that it is located a few hundred meters away from all the bars and eateries popular with the hoi polloi.

One word of caution: your canine friends are not welcome inside (there are a couple of tables outside), so make necessary arrangements before you go.

The staff are friendly and helpful, and the food is excellent. If you are in Lech, make a point of eating there. If you are in one of the neighbouring villages, it’s well worth the detour.

Someone Saw This and Thought of Me

bellendBut, David, I have a bigger head.

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