Paper Don’t Crash

“Modern marketing is all about automation.” I don’t completely agree with this statement, but if you spend any time reading about how companies communicate with customers in 2017 you will discover how “marketing automation tools” play a major role.

What is “marketing automation” you ask? Well, this humble blog uses a bunch of it. Many of you came to this post today via a link on Facebook or Linkedin. Those posts are scheduled and executed using an automated social media tool called Hootsuite.

If you signed up to receive new posts via email, then you likely reacted to a “scroll box” popup, and then the email you received was sent out using an automated platform called MailChimp. Google Analytics collects and tabulates all the traffic and visit data, which I use to adjust how I use all the other tools.

Like any other, these tools don’t actually do anything by themselves, they require content, strategy and a purpose. Clearly if you’re reading this… they’re working.

That said, sometimes the most effective way of keeping your name, brand, product, (or blog) in the forefront of the mind of your audience, can be a simple as a piece of paper.

In the mid 1990s I worked in Manhattan for what was then called an “IT consulting firm.” In actuality, we didn’t do any consulting – we were just a matchmaking company who took in requests for specific kinds of IT resources, and matched them with people in our database.

When we closed an engagement with a client, they paid us a rate, we paid the “consultant” a lower rate, and we kept the difference. As Eddie Murphy so eloquently put it in Trading Places, “Sounds to me like you guys a couple of bookies.”


Eddie Murphy calls it like he sees it.

My title was “Marketing Manager” but in reality I was a simple salesman.

We had a core group of regular customers who kept revenue steady, but the growth of the company was tied to new customer acquisition. Since it was the mid 1990s, we did not have any of the tools described above. Websites were only just becoming a thing, email was something only some of our customers had, and we spent a lot of time sending and receiving faxes.

Our primary mode of communicating with clients (both active and potential) was the telephone. In addition to meeting the needs of my current customers, I was expected to make 125-150 “cold” phone calls a day looking for new business.

It was rare to get a potential client on the phone and have them say, “I’m so glad you called, I have an immediate need I think you can help with.” What was more common was calling someone for the seventh time in as many months and hearing, “Oh man, you should have called last week. I had bunch of positions, but I just filled them all.”

The trick was making sure the customer called you when their needs arose.

If it were 2017, we might have purchased Google Adwords to place our company name at the top web searches, but it was 1995… so we used paper.

Everyone takes notes – some more than others but the human brain can only remember so much, so we write things down. Even in the age of “smart” everything we find ourselves searching for a scrap of paper pretty much every day. With that in mind, we had four-inch square cubes of note pads made up with our company name and phone number printed on the sides. The words and numbers were specifically laid out so our name and number was still readable when the pad was down to a quarter inch thick.


The little cube that made all the difference

The idea was simple… when people have a need they will call the number most readily available. Whenever I got someone on the phone who sounded like a real prospect, I would make sure to drop off one of our cubes to them within a few days.

For every desk on which we placed a cube of paper, we were front and center, every day. The cubes weren’t cheap, but if we got one average deal for every 100 cubes we gave away, they would be paid for with the profit from the first hour of the engagement. We did much better than 1%.

Fast-forward nearly two decades to April 2014, when a high-end video production, post and animation company hired me to head up new business development.

Very much like my experience in New York, there was a stable of regular clients but what we really needed was new customers to grow the business. For some companies video is a regular need, but most purchasers of video production and editing services do so infrequently, maybe once or twice a year.

In discussing the market and what tools we should be using, I was reminded of the note cubes. Fortunately, technology had come a long way since 1995, so we had additional options.

We printed “Post-it-note” cubes with company information on the sides, however we added the same information on every individual sheet. It was printed faintly enough to make the note usable, but just dark enough to be legible.

Video companies do a lot of work with Ad Agencies. Internally, agencies regularly “route” things from desk to desk for review and approval, and when this happens changes and comments are often marked with “sticky notes.”

All we needed was one contact at an agency to whom we’d give a few of our cubes, and before long our name would be all over the place.

Of course it was 2014, so in addition to the cubes, we launched an electronic newsletter using one of those automated tools.

One only needs to launch a web browser to be exposed to the latest and greatest tools designed to make any job simpler, faster and more effective. However, sometimes the simplest, low-tech solution might be exactly the thing you need.

So, what does the title of this post have to do with anything? I’m glad you asked.

When I worked for that company in Manhattan back in the 1990s, one of my fellow “marketing managers” was an old guy named Jerry. At the time I was in my twenties, and Jerry was at least sixty, so from my perspective at the time… he was old. Jerry was a classic New York salesman with sensible shoes and a hint of a Brooklyn accent.

The system we used to keep track of clients and consultants was an ancient server-based thing called “Tele-Magic.” We all had MS-DOS based PCs on our which pulled information from the database on the server over a Novell network. None of the data we needed to do our jobs was on our individual PCs, it was all on the server, and the server was “down for maintenance” a lot.

One morning around 11:00, we were told to take lunch early because the system was going down for a critical update. We did so dutifully, and when we got back the things were up and running. We all sat down to get to work, but moments later it crashed leaving us all with the dreaded “blue screens of death.”

We all expressed our frustration, but Jerry (who hated computers) stood up and shouted, “This is Bullshit!”

He paced back and forth for a moment, and then threw his index finger into the air. He marched back over to his desk, yanked open the bottom drawer, pulled out an ancient gray metal Rolodex, plopped it next to his phone and exclaimed to the whole room of idle workers, “Paper don’t crash!”

He flipped open the Rolodex and started making calls.

We all love our smartphones, laptops and tablets, but when push comes to shove, I think we can all agree with Jerry, “Paper don’t crash.”


Copyright © 2017 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved

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