Assume stupidity not malice. And, a PR job opening

Any time a situation doesn’t work out in whatever way, our natural default response is to presume malice when incompetence is more likely. Try to keep that in mind.

In the vein of How can we make it easier to do business with us? (and pt.2) many took the position that sewing contractors are bad, evil, arrogant or whatever because they didn’t have web pages so potential customers could find them easier. I said it was more than that.

Hard as you may find this to believe, the problem is that the businesses you want to find don’t know how to do what it takes for you to be able to find them -but they’re willing to hire it out. Sounds like a slam dunk, right? Think again.

There is a critical lack of PR firms with sufficient grounding in the trade to understand the value of manufacturing products and services, much less know where to find or how to target a client’s potential customer base. Lest that sound overly critical of PR firms, it’s a near impossible job because this business is highly fragmented. There’s no single publication or site where PR firms can place editorial to promote their client’s interests. We used to have a variety of niche and regional publishers (Needle Trader, Kogos etc) but most of them are long gone. Others are too limited in distribution (Mannuscript, California Apparel News). Too few people read WWD anymore and besides, it’s for retailers not manufacturers. Apparel is an option but it’s intended for C-level execs rather than companies like you and even fewer read that now. Maybe a few of you read it but it’s too darn few to be cost effective.

You would be shocked to know the names of the companies that direly need B2B PR services; three of the four companies are technology based firms. So maybe you wonder how it is that a technology based firm hasn’t developed these competencies? Think about it. These firms are well established and respected. Most of their customers are still larger, multimillion (if not billion) dollar firms. The companies who seek a social presence never developed those competencies because they didn’t need to. That’s not how their customers do business. Of course that is changing now which is why these firms would like to develop an interactive web presence but there still remains a lack of skills and competencies to service this market. If you can find qualified B2B PR, they don’t do social media. PR people who excel at social media don’t do trade specific B2B.

Returning to my opening, presume ignorance not malice because that’s what this boils down to.

More to the point, I’m trying to help an internationally prominent company (literally the leader) find a qualified PR person to take them on. Beyond the usual gamut of PR related skills, desired competencies are a strong understanding of manufacturing processes and most particularly pattern making, fit and sizing. Owing to the nature of the industry’s fragmentation, a candidate would necessarily need to manage corporate identity via the usual means, optimally blogging and what not. In short, somebody with these qualifications could stay very busy. If you know someone who fits that description, let me know. It goes without saying that the requirement of having a shiny, sparkly personality puts me out of the running.

I only know one person who does (did) B2B industry PR, albeit poorly and not for lack of motivation. I’ll tell you about it as an illustration of an unsuitable approach. She lacks the trade specific skill set and awareness of the market. She promoted the client’s product with little discrimination; to anyone who claims to be a designer because she thinks fashion is sexy and designers are the boss of everything. In the case of designer-owners it is certainly true they make the final decision on purchasing but it is not a product they care much about because they won’t use it. The product must be marketed to employees within a designer’s company who will use it and who will then (hopefully) go on to lobby their boss to buy it. I could never get her to see this. She had ten reasons why I was wrong but I’m not the one out of a job now. And it’s tragic! This is a wonderful product that professionalizes production management, is very affordable but it is likely to fold because no one knows how to craft a meaningful message, put it in a place you’ll see it and inspire you to buy it. And that’s beside the point that this approach is old school. It doesn’t work anymore. Now the market requires developing an ongoing relationship with the customer in the social space, offering substantive education to the B2B customer so they realize they need to have it.

Keep in mind that for most of you, web stuff is easy. It’s easy to create a site or it’s easy for you to use one, either way doesn’t seem to be much different. I’m telling you that for many providers in the industry, the web is one scary place. Companies want to become more involved in the social space but they don’t know how to do it. I’ve had four companies approach me in the last month about it. What’s more, they know they can’t do it because they lack the time or competencies so they want to hire it out.

I’ve always said that someone who developed websites for garment industry providers would clean up -if only that were all there was to the job. So in a nutshell, that is the main reason you can’t find stuff you need to buy. B2B PR is not sexy, requires trade specific competencies, it’s hard to target the customer so it is logical that B2B PR that represents legitimate and valuable products and services of interest to you is practically non-existent. Like I tell any CEO who calls me, I wouldn’t know who to hire for myself. If you know someone who may be interested in developing this as a career, let me know.

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  1. tara griffiths says:

    Wow, now I feel ignorant. I always thought that sewing contractors/service providers didn’t have a web/social media presence because they were already busy enough without the extra hassle. I know a few recent graduates that have some knowledge of manufacturing, are amazing sales people and tech savy up the wazoo, but as you say – it’s not sexy and they’d rather design clothes and produce fashion shows. I’ll try to work on them.

  2. Sabine says:

    skill…no, I don’t know how to make a website, nor have I worked in a big company production facility.
    time…not at the moment, am being trained to become a dental technician assistant and will soon know how to make braces.
    interest…yes, and I think I could pull of the personality too, most days. ;)

  3. Kathleen says:

    Tara: yes that is a large part of it too but they also need new customers due to attrition. They don’t know where or how to find qualified prospects these days other than traditional relationship referrals because their old ways of marketing don’t work anymore. Which is why some of us think that relationships will become even more important than before.

    I think the key conflict is that many new entrants operate from a consumer centric expectation that businesses will market to them, that businesses will educate them “if they want the business”. And there are businesses that market to newbies but the customer is indirectly paying for their education because these businesses (usually package service providers) tend to be quite a bit more expensive, with high minimums etc. My point being in the two posts I linked to is that newbies are going to pay for education one way or another but I think what we do here is most cost effective.

  4. tara griffiths says:

    Would it help on the DE side if we marketed ourselves in groups towards the service providers to start? I’m thinking something along the lines of collectives or guilds.

  5. ginevra says:

    Or perhaps someone would be interested in creating a decent web directory site, that replaces the magazines that have gone out of business (lowered printing costs might make this viable)?

    Note, I assume you’re talking about this for USA manufacturers … I live in the wrong country, or I’d volunteer myself…

  6. Wow, this is a really great opportunity. I’d love to help in some way. I’ll post a link to this article with a few of my friends and the Instructional Technology Group at University of South Florida.

  7. celeste says:

    I love this
    “Any time a situation doesn’t work out in whatever way, our natural default response is to presume malice when incompetence is more likely.”

    and so fitting to so many situations!

  8. Tula says:

    This is a common problem in a lot of industries, actually. There are a lot of people with web design skills — though, that’s only one layer of a web presence. The design is the easy part. It’s the behind-the-scenes coding/database integration, etc… that can get complex and difficult, especially once you start tying in the social media side and the flashy stuff everyone likes to see. The web developers have to come up with all the “glue” that ties all those pieces together and makes it all flow so seamlessly. Something that looks simple on the screen can have a whole load of complexity behind the scenes.

    The difficulty is finding someone with both the technical skills and the business knowledge. You don’t often find that in a single person. Most of us in software and web development work for many different industries and don’t often have the opportunity to acquire the deeper knowledge of the business that’s required to tailor the “message” of the web site to that particular industry. I’ve noted that the most successful in doing this usually have a partnership or team of some sort, with a business side expert, who knows the marketing and PR specifics and can then translate that into technical requirements that the web developer can work from.

    In my own experience, I’ve had to jump in and acquire business knowledge and try to do my best when there aren’t set requirements given (a lot more common than you’d expect). I’ve noted that most companies, regardless of size or industry, have neglected this kind of “bridge” between the technical and marketing sides. They tend to be separate departments and involve the “throw it over the wall” model of interaction, where you get some vague concept of “we need a web site for our products”, which is then left up to the web developers to run with, since no one can really articulate what they want in a way that makes sense to most developers who don’t speak marketing and PR. The end result doesn’t often satisfy everyone (or anyone, in some cases).

    One of my more recent contracts had 4 different people with 4 different ideas about what the web site should do all trying to direct the design and development. The marketing side wanted lots of “bling”, the engineering side wanted loads of drill-down detail and data, the software manager wanted it secure and portable between different hardware and software bases, and business managers wanted it done yesterday with glossy print-ready reports ready for upper management. Oh and they wanted it done cheaply, too :-)

    A lot of those with the technical skills are lacking in marketing or copy writing skills, so it’s not an easy problem to solve. Finding the business experts who have enough technical knowledge to translate the marketing requirements into technical requirements is also no easy feat. These two skill sets are treated so separately in the business and education worlds, so getting them to mesh can be difficult. It does tend to require that both halves of the equation have at least some of the skills of the other half, so they can speak the same language.

  9. Brina says:

    I’m glad Tula brings up marketing because what Kathleen suggests is more marketing than PR. PR usually deals with public perception of a entity while marketing deals with selling either the company, product or service. There’s grey areas of course–but here’s an example: Penn State has a public relations problem right now because of the abuse charges surrounding their former coach and all who may have been complicit in covering up the alleged abuse. They have done some damage control by firing people. Although PR is not probably not the only reason for the firings, it helps public perception if it looks like the school is taking action. The controversy is bound to affect the way their market their school and the football program to prospective students/players/funders/advertisers and others.
    Other examples–Pork producers created a marketing campaign about “The other white meat” and the Dairy industry stated that “Everybody needs milk”. While on the surface they can look like PR, I’d argue they are marketing, because both were designed to produce more sales of their respective product.

    One PR issue I can see that sewn manufacturing has is the common (mis)perception that they are sweat shops, in worse sense of the word. That might be something to address in the marketing, in order to help sell services, especially for green, socially conscious designers or others who may be ignorant about sewing factories and other services.

    Still, I agree there’s big need for someone(s) versed in marketing and the industry to help bridge the gap between service–cut and sew, patternmaking etc–and client–designer–or as Tula points out a marketing person who can work with someone(s) in sewn manufacturing to bridge that gap.

  10. Cynthia Harris says:

    I read you r article and in my experiences -most of the manufacturing community is older in age and much less used to computers. They are what we call dinosaurs. I am a Mater Seamstress /Master Upholsterer/Designer/and CAD Programmer For the marine industry. I have worked in all phases of manufacturing for more than 22 years and am truly one of the youngest in my field. Most enjoy the glamour (as you say) of the glorious side of sewing. Their projects go through many phases during the creation process to the shelves and most have no understanding of that process. I also have to work with the public and present our company to prospective markets. A designer and a production manager are two very different people. One looks like they came off the runway and the other has dirty hands from working hard. Two very different worlds. I would love a chance to bridge that. It is an exceptional talent to be able to relate to both.

  11. Cynthia, I’m not wild being described as a dinosaur but I get your point. I personally have never worked for a designer who looks like she came off the runway. If you go to market, the only ones dressed like that are interns. It’s how you know they are interns and can safely ignore them. Designers are often comfortably attired incognito in jeans and tennis shoes.

    Ginevra: I think my earlier points are missed in that a directory site wouldn’t solve the problems people anticipate and potentially create more. Designers are missing the point in that many contractors do not want to be easily found. Gate keeping reduces the number of people who call and mostly waste one’s time. A directory would only be helpful to contractors if it were not free to customers -money has a way of eliminating arm wavers.

    Contractors don’t want the customer who expects to find resources so easily and for free. I can tell you exactly what would happen if someone created a well known free directory site, contractors would stop answering their phones altogether (it’s bad enough as it is) and change their phone numbers. I can’t tell you how many of my friends are only answering their cells now because of it.

    But still, lets assume I’m wrong and this directory is going great guns, it still wouldn’t solve DE needs because they would want ratings and reviews. And then they’d also want information on minimums and costs and whether they do sourcing or will sign NDAs (aka amateur central) or whatever. Before you know it, the directory has become a full time job and has to become financially self supporting -so where is the money going to come from? Advertisers? Contractors won’t want to be listed much less pay to be listed much less pay for ads on the site. So you’ll have to charge users. And as far as that goes, there already is a service exactly like this. Not everyone knows about it because they don’t want to have to pay to get in (it costs $45 a year). Which is fine. We wouldn’t want people who only want in for that reason so it all works out. Quality, not quantity. I get compliments from contractors on the quality of customers we send them. If anyone could access it, it’d be the opposite.

    There are also print directories available (I personally don’t find those useful). In any event, a designer should NEVER say “I can’t afford that” because it means they can’t afford to buy fabric or hire a contractor anyway so no one is going to help them. We’re not stupid tho, we know they have the money; what they mean to say is that it isn’t a priority for them. Which is fine. If it’s not a priority for them, why would it be a priority for anyone else? (meaning they are off the hook)

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