Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Murdochs: Dressed for Success

Blue is the color of trust and the three Murdochs, appearing before the select British Parliamentary committee investigating the phone hacking scandal, obviously wanted to be trusted. Rebekah Brooks, too.

The men wore navy suits, the proper high-contrast white shirts and blue ties. Mrs. Murdoch wore a medium-range blue blouse peeking from beneath her pink jacket. Trust, trust, trust.

Mrs. Murdoch's pink jacket was an inspired choice. Pink is a calming color which might help lessen any anger against her and/or her husband or even dispel envy. Pink is also a fabulous color for delivering bad news. With the level of ill-will against News Corp. and her husband, the bad news here is: my husband just might be innocent.

As fabulous as the choice of pink was for Mrs. Murdoch, it would not have been a good choice for Rebekah Brooks. The two women had very different roles and were appearing in different capacities. And Rebekah Brooks' muted navy unstructured silk suit projected a brilliant melange of messages combining the credibility, authority and approachability that the embattled former editor needed.

Foremost was the same blue - for trust - that her bosses wore. The color and the matched suit established credibility. The single, monochromatic color of the outfit signaled authority. The flowing fabric and the unstructured nature of the suit added cordiality and gentleness, a touch that might help soften the animosity towards her.

While the ultimate verdict has not been rendered, the three Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks did everything they could to have their clothes establish their messages and plead their nonverbal cases before and while they spoke the verbal.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Winning Pitch - Step One: Speak to the Client's Culture

You know how to sell your prospect’s customer, but what about your prospect?

In these challenging economic times, new business is more crucial than ever. A sometimes-overlooked fact: in a pitch, prospects must buy you first. Only then can they hear your plans for reaching their customer. And if you are depending on your presentation to seal the deal, that is way, way, WAY too late.

The persuasion starts – and often ends – in a two-second blink. The most creative, strategic, polished content is worth nothing if you turn them off before you shake their hands.

In an hour meeting, it takes two seconds to form a first impression, two minutes to test that hunch and the remaining 57+ minutes to justify that gut reaction. The two-second thin slice comprises 63% appearance and 30% body language, including tone of voice. Words account for only seven percent.

Leveraging those magic two seconds requires strategic packaging, clothing choices that speak to the prospect’s culture to establish a subliminal visual connection convincingly, viscerally, in a blink. Listening from this space the client can “hear.”

The presentation, contrary to accepted wisdom, is merely the icing on the cake. The right clothes “present your presentation” before the flash drive hits the port.

If you think this is fluff – that you know what to wear – please stay with me.

Successful clothing projects professionalism symbolically and winning choices always require research and thought. For a pitch, that process must be even more precise, razor sharp.

Fashion, personal preference and comfort, though they may factor into your final choices, shouldn’t lead. You didn’t copy your creative from the artistic fashion du jour. Comfort wasn’t the benchmark for your strategy. And you didn’t rehearse because you “felt like it.” Neither should you choose your clothes by these criteria.

The winning dress code, one  that persuades before you speak, is a four part equation. Research the possibilities as thoroughly as you did your prospect’s customer. Your prospect is, after all, your target. 

1. 30%: Reflect your agency

Visually establish your agency brand immediately. And let your team members’ style subtly – or boldly – announce you as a cohesive group. Clients have enough chaos.

To reflect your agency, you must know your culture and what you bring to the table. Some agencies know. Others need culture analysis and soul searching.

This is the foundation. But it is not the end.

2. 20%: Let the prospect’s culture inform, not dictate, your dress.

Don’t look like a client clone. This is especially crucial when presenting to creative prospects. While adding creative touches is entirely appropriate – building that bridge, creating comfort, signaling comprehension – you do not want to abandon the core you to appear as hip as the prospect. They want a partner, not a twin.

3. 40%: Signal your job – and your rank – in the agency.

Prospects feel comfortable when they know who does what. Account people should not look like creatives should not look like the strategy team should not look like the CEO. Everyone should be in the “uniform” of his or her discipline.

Furthermore, you want the prospect to know from sight – in that blink – who is senior, who is junior. Who, in short, is on their level. Be sure to include enough authority markers in your ensemble.

4. 10%: Signal yourself. (Creatives can be 15% or, perhaps, a little more.)

As is often said when teaching manners, we are the least important people in the room. We add only a hint of us.

Your homework: find the visual clues to your target’s culture. But where? A good start is with their industry profile: is it Corporate, Communicator, Creative or Casual/Labor?

Then, as Cleve Langton suggests, study CEO speeches and the company's annual report, two great sources. As a Corporate Culture Profiler, I also look at bios and any available visuals filtering these through tone-of-voice information I gather from live conference calls to detect any discrepancies.

Some of the questions you might ask: Are they formal or casual? Elegant, sporty, daring or classic? A blue-based culture or brown-based? Do they wear bright or subdued colors? Solids or patterns? And who wears what? If the CEO wears navy, structured suits and the CMO bright print dresses, your corresponding agency personnel might subtly mirror these choices.

Insights gleaned from this culture research will not only focus your clothes choices, but can also guide your presentation style, visuals and even your response to the RFP. Which can lead to that Winning Pitch.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tim Geithner: More Than Media Training – The Truth Will Out

Mr. Geithner, we don’t have the financial background to know if you’re doing a good job, or if you’re honest or even if you know what you’re doing.

But we do have TV and youtube and your body language gives us pause. That pause is your problem.

As any student of communication knows, only 7% of our message comes from words. The other 93% is nonverbal which we “read” on a primitive, visceral level. When there is a disconnect between the two, we instinctively believe and make judgments on the nonverbal. We do not think, “Poor guy, he’s a bit nervous.” Or, “He must have failed Speech 101.” No. We decide: “The bum; he’s lying.”

And that’s the bind you’re in. At worst, we see deception. At best, you’re confusing us. Here’s why.

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
Most troublesome is your demeanor when answering questions, especially your wrinkled forehead, raised eyebrows, head tilt to the right with chin down. Taken as a whole it is what we call in Texas a hang-dog expression indicating sneakiness, guilt or someone who has been intimidated. None of them a good look for a department Secretary.

Taking the signals separately, the raised eyebrows and wrinkled forehead are a sign of helplessness, often a request for approval. This could be endearing if it happened infrequently. But since it is your default expression almost every time you answer a question, it is disconcerting.

The tilted head is more problematic. Exposing the carotid artery on the side of the neck, it is a conciliatory gesture often used by women. Some even say a head tilted to the right, as yours often is, signals someone who feels obliged to give others a lot. AIG bonuses, anyone?

In podium speeches, your rocking, your rigid torso and stiff neck as you read the teleprompter and your flat, sing-song monotone give the impression that you’re a bit inept and, perhaps, don’t know what you’re doing. The monotone also leaves us feeling you have no passion for your job. That’s scary. Our future depends on your passion for this job.

Your best presentation is when you’re reading prepared remarks while sitting, such as at the various committee hearings. Your gaze takes in the whole audience. Missing are the raised eyebrows, tilted head and lowered chin, in other words, the submissive, conciliatory, deceptive signals. But this reprieve comes only when you’re reading prepared remarks at the table. Once the script is gone, the tics return.

There are two final problems. One, a cadence difficulty, occurs in Q&A sessions as well as in prepared remarks while sitting. You speak so quickly that words are slurred and swallowed. The impression: fast-talking used car salesman who’s hiding something. Your credibility plummets.

Finally, there is transparency and, maybe, humility. This is the take-away from Hillary Clinton’s failed presidency bid. Her lack of transparency on her Iraq vote – and the humility to say “I would do it differently today” - cost her dearly. Though most of us don’t have the time – or the inclination – to document what you knew, what you said and what you did when with regard to the AIG bonuses, it seems you were speaking against them at the same time you were advocating for them. To different audiences, of course. And your fancy, nuanced tap dance around our legitimate questions and fears do not calm us. What will? Transparency, sir. Transparency. And the humility to ‘fess up if you messed up.

In the end transparency is also the way out. Though the problem may sound cosmetic, presence and presentation coaching alone will not solve it. In addition you need a deep transparency, a true congruence between your words and you intentions. If they are out of sync, nonverbal emotional seepage – the stuff of lie detection, the stuff we think we’re seeing on tv – leaves clues in your behavior. Your audience sees the disconnect and, hence, the brand: liar.

So, Mr. Geithner, work on your presentation. That is a must. But, in addition, deeply examine your motives. If you’re not being transparent, if your Main Street words are in any way posturing to divert us from a Wall Street agenda, fixing your body language will not make a difference. The truth will out.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Pink Tie

Donald Trump didn’t say “you’re fired” to Miss USA Tara Conner on Tuesday, December 18, but if he had to, he was dressed for success.

Why? It’s the pink tie.

Pink is the color to wear when you must fire someone or give other bad news. Think “pink slip.” Being a skin tone, it establishes relatedness, connects with our common humanity and mitigates the effect of that bad news.

I was downsized once by a man with a lone pink stripe in his conservative navy and grey rep tie. I walked out of his office feeling ok about the situation and very positive about him. I’m not sure it was the pink stripe, but pink was there.

Here are some other phrases: in the pink, pink cloud, tickled pink. Even rose-colored glasses. It’s obviously a color with some very calming, pleasant associations.

Pink is traditionally the color of unconditional love signaling romance as opposed to sexuality. It is gentle and indicates a sensitive, caring heart. Those in pink seem affectionate, nurturing and concerned. Florists say pink roses signify grace, joy, gentility, admiration, appreciation and sincerity. No wonder pink might help us deliver bad news.

Sometimes the bad news is you. Why? Some people are threatened and quite irritated that a woman, or a subordinate, might be bright, clever or have good ideas. Powerful women, especially, report that their being in control is very bad news for certain people in their organizations.

Some of my women clients recognize this and wear pink to good effect. A touch of pink worn when they have a presentation or meeting with difficult people works wonders to soothe the savage beast, be it male or female. Elizabeth Dole is one powerful woman who does this on occasion, though her Southern accent and soft, feminine manner achieve the same result. And Hillary Clinton is much less threatening in pink – or, better, coral – than in yellow or red.

Does this sound like crazy psychobabble to you? Here’s some research.

Dr. Alexander Schauss, Ph.D. found that pink actually physically calms us down. He says, “Even if a person tries to be angry or aggressive in the presence of pink, he can’t. The heart muscles cannot race fast enough. It’s a tranquilizing color that seems to sap your energy. Even the color blind are tranquilized in pink rooms.”[1] The calming effects start within 10 to 15 minutes of exposure and last 30 minutes or more after leaving.

His findings have led jails from California to Texas to Alabama to use pink for cells and uniforms. And certain football teams have painted the visitor’s locker room pink in hopes of a strength and aggression advantage, which led the Western Athletic Conference to rule that home team and visitor locker rooms must now be painted the same color. Pink if they want, but pink for both.

Skin tones in general – whether pink, coral, peach or the deeper browns –say, “you can come closer.” They do their work best when worn near the face, hence the effectiveness of the pink tie. Though a pink shirt would work just as well.

With their ability to establish relatedness, skin tones are good choices for therapists and those working with young children. Not surprisingly they are also great in crisis intervention and anytime the energy level needs to be calmed.

So if you have to give bad news, if you are the bad news, or if you have a particularly ugly encounter on the horizon, try some pink. Especially near your face.

Some caveats:
  • Be sure to choose the right pink. If your skin has blue undertones and you look best in cool colors, pink is for you. If your skin has warm undertones, however, and you look better in yellow-based colors, be sure to choose coral, peach or even apricot. They are still skin tones, but suffused with yellow.
  • Be careful of rooms painted pink, especially in vibrant tones. The fine print of the research above says that after two hours of continuous exposure, pink causes depression or emotional disturbance.
  • Be careful about wearing large amounts of vibrant pink, say a bubble gum pink suit. Or so dressing someone else, a child or baby girl, for instance. Though I have not seen any research to support this, the large dose of intense pink might cause the same depression or emotional disturbance that continuous exposure in a pink room caused.
[1] Morton Walker, The Power of Color, (New York, Avery Publishing Group, 1991), p. 44.