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Are You Just Applying Lipstick on a Pig? A Business Lesson from a Football Coach

I was on my way to a meeting listening to ESPN’s Colin Cowherd interviewing Ohio State football coach, Urban Meyer. Cowherd was asking about the rule change, proposed by some Division I coaches, to limit or even prohibit the so-called “hurry-up offenses.”

Meyer saw no reason for the rule. He did, however, recognize the organization-wide change that had to accompany the transition of a program to run a hurry-up offense. “I don’t even like the term “hurry-up offense,” he said. “It implies that all it is is offense. It’s not.”

He went on to say that whatever the offense does impacts every other facet of the team. If your offense is moving faster, your defense has to be ready. “If whatever we’re doing on the field isn’t working on that particular series, our offense is 3-and-out [meaning on and off the field] in 12 seconds. Our defense has to be conditioned for that.”

To run a hurry-up offense, defense has to be better and faster. Special teams have to be conditioned. Coaching decisions have to be made differently by calling whole series of plays at once or giving players more freedom to make decisions on the fly. The ripple effects of this one decision are felt as far down the line as the menu in the cafeteria. Meyer’s point was that everything in the organization has to change if you want to do something this significant and you want to do it right.

I think Meyer’s point is well taken, and translates well beyond the football field.

Not less than ten minutes after the interview concluded, I arrived at my meeting. The discussion turned to re-branding and I found that Urban Meyer’s comments were still fresh in my mind. I made the point (to my client’s none-too-happy marketing team) that without substantive change, most re-branding is just lipstick on a pig.

I asked them how their new logo was going to achieve more customer engagement. Were there real changes or were people just tired of the stationery. If it’s the latter, that’s fine, just temper your expectations. Too often, I find that marketing teams convince management that re-branding, in and of itself, constitutes real change. It winds up that everyone comes away disappointed after the company makes a significant investment.

Real change — something that makes your customers, vendors, partners and prospects sit up and take notice – ripples out to the organization’s every corner. And that was Meyer’s point. In closing his interview, Colin Cowherd asked Meyer why certain coaches were trying to prohibit that kind of offense.

He thought about it before responding. What he finally said applied even more to business, I think, than it does to college athletics. Sometimes, he said, it’s easier to ban something than to do the hard work of doing it.