Archive for March, 2011

Outstanding Customer Service by itself is not enough

I’m at the NAA mediaXchange conference this weekend and last night met with some of my newspaper research colleagues.  When we were talking about different vendors/suppliers, we discussed the pros and cons of different vendors: quality (which includes quality of data but also timeliness) as well as price and customer service.  What became clear was that we want it all.

One vendor (Media Monitors) has a great product that’s easy to use plus my contact (John Selig) is always available when we need him.  However, the best feature about his company/product is that we can get what we need right away (2 hours rather than waiting 2 weeks) and without that, I don’t know if we would be as likely to use his product.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of working with Alain Chamot.  Of anyone I’ve worked with, in any job and any vendor, Alain hands-down provided the best customer service.  With a shout out to Zappos (the company with a reputation of the best customer service of any company in any industry) I suggest that you hire Alain. While I’m not sure if he fits your industry, ANY company should feel fortunate to get him.

Looking back, I cannot remember what it is that was so great about working with Alain but know that I’d love to work with him again.  However, Alain got a new job.  My new rep is wonderful (although she’s not Alain) and her company provides me with quality so I keep using them.  In contrast, I am not working with Alain because I do not have a need for his company’s services.  Therefore, incredible customer service is not enough. 

Of course, negative customer service can be a factor, too.  When I arrived in Dallas on Thursday, I had pre-booked/pre-paid for my shuttle from the airport to my hotel.  I called to let them know that I’d arrived and they said they’d be there soon.  After 20 minutes, there was still no sign of them so I called again.  They said to take a Yellow cab and they’d take care of him.  I did as told and gave them the cab # but when I arrived, the cab driver tried to get me to pay him anyway.  I reminded him that the shuttle company said they were going to pay him as I’d already paid them.  Finally, after multiple calls and getting help from the hotel, things were finally settled but it left a bad taste in my mouth regarding Yellow Checker Shuttle and Yellow Cab.  

During this conference, I’ve met with several companies: some I already do business with and some that want my business.  Bottom line, if you want my business, you need to show me that you’re going to give me a quality product that makes my life easier and that is easy to use.  Plus, the price needs to be structured so I can make a case to my boss to add it to the budget; better yet, show me how it is going to make my company money.  I also want you to check in with me if you get my business.  Several of my colleagues agreed that some vendors have a tendency to only contact you when it’s time to renew the contract.  While that lack of customer service alone isn’t going to cause me to leave, it is going to lead me to look around for a better deal.

I recently saw a great quotation: “Life is like a game of tennis. The player who serves well seldom loses.”  

Do YOU serve?



Reflections on the Year that Wasn’t

One week from today, I’ll be flying to Dallas for the 2011 NAA mediaXchange.  So, it’s time to look back to what has and has NOT happened during the year since the 2010 NAA mediaXchange in Orlando.  Let me explain.

A few years ago, Gary Kromer (who I mentioned previously in my blog on mentoring) was finishing up his term as President of the NAA Research Council.  Gary invited me to join a group of newspaper researchers from the Newspaper Association of America.  This included Robin Seymour (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/President ’08-09) and Pauline Brockman (St. Petersburg Times/President ’09-10) and many other great minds of our industry.  So, it was an honor when Pauline asked me to serve as VP especially when I realized this meant I would be President for 2010-2011 … or so I thought. 

I was pleased to meet several of my newspaper industry marketing research colleagues at the NAA mediaXchange (the group’s annual conference) in Orlando (in 2008) and Vegas (2009) and Orlando again (2010) but was disappointed to see fewer colleagues each year.   Some were no longer working for newspapers while others worked for companies that dropped out of NAA due to budget issues. 

However, I still found value in interaction with other researchers, both in person and through our conference calls.  As 2010 began, I prepared to take the gavel from Pauline when we gathered in Orlando.  Yet the NAA had other plans and dissolved all of the Federations (including Research) which meant no more councils, either.  Bottom line, this meant that I would NOT be serving as President during 2010-11.  Still, I had good intentions to reach out to other researchers and continue our conversations.  We had some great discussions in Orlando and left with good intentions but somehow I got busy (like everyone else) and never followed through. 

I have had some great conversations with other researchers within McClatchy and sometimes join in on LinkedIn when there’s a conversation started by one of NAA’s groups or by someone on the Sunburned Zebra Network (started by Gary Kromer, the same person that had invited me to NAA Research Council and had once served with me under Knight Ridder and McClatchy) but it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for 2010-2011 in my year as President.

Well, just as newspapers have transformed themselves into media companies, many researchers have added additional responsibilities in marketing or moved into other areas of responsibility.  So, this year, when I journey to the 2011 mediaXchange in late March, I probably won’t pay much attention to research.  Instead, I’ll look for ideas with Advertising, Audience (Print & Online), Circulation, Marketing, and Niche products.  I was pleased to help moderate an Ideas Exchange in Orlando during 2010 and I understand they’re going to have a similar session in Dallas later this month.  Plus, I’ll search through the vendors to see what great ideas I can bring back to my colleagues in Kansas City. 

Also, with this year’s conference taking place in Dallas, I’m hoping to connect with my mentor Gary, who is now with The Dallas Morning News and RAM (Research and Analysis of Media) to thank him for his invitation to join such a great group of researchers … even though I stopped one step short of the Presidency.

What’s Black and White and Re(a)d All Over?  
The Sunburned Zebra Network [find our group on LinkedIn]
and a member of the former NAA Research Council


Who are your mentors?  And, equally important, who are you mentoring?

An important part of who we are today is based on those that took time to help us become that person.  Those might be a teacher, coach, boss, co-worker, relative, friend, Scout leader, or countless other roles.   They might be older or younger.  They might mentor you for years or it might be teaching you one lesson that has a lasting impact.

Just as we are mentored, we have a responsibility to mentor others.  Another way of looking at this is we need to “Pay It Forward” or work with “Younger & Weaker” or “Pass It On” so that others can learn from what we’ve learned along the way.

While I have had many mentors, I’d like to list five (5) here:

  1. Personal Branding: Vince Coultis, Sales Coach for The Kansas City Star; Vince is a sounding board for me and helped me write my personal brand statement:  Helping you Find the Information you Need.
  2. Marketing and Charities: Duane Hallock is Marketing & Communications Director for the Red Cross of Greater Kansas City; he has provided me many words of wisdom (some in person but many through his blog Duane’s Dartboard) on both of these topics.
  3. Marketing Research and Media Industry: Dr. Gary Kromer has worked with both the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram and the Dallas Morning News plus he founded the Sunburned Zebra Network on LinkedIn.
  4. Church + Youth Ministry: Lois Green served at Gashland UMC and is now at Harrisonville UMC; together, we were advisors for Northland Youth United.
  5. My life companion keeps me sane and makes sure I don’t take myself too seriously … my lovely bride since 1998, Liz Whitaker.

I had a chance to serve on a panel on a board for Upcoming Talent at the 2008 NAA mediaXchange in Orlando, Florida.  I’m Youth & Young Adult Director and Boy Scout coordinator at my church.  I’m active in United Way.  Yet, my most important role these days is as a parent (3 kids) and grandparent of 2.

a 3-year-old Sports fan

My 3-year-old granddaughter was visiting earlier this week and came back to see me in my room and immediately asked “Football game?” so I had to explain that there wasn’t a football game on.  However, when she repeated her request, I told her that we could opt for basketball and I turned on the end of the Mizzou victory.  

Beyond giving me an excuse to watch the game, this told me that I watch a lot of sports around Andrea if she associates spending time with me with watching sports.  Also, I need to work on her understanding of the different seasons of sports and prepare her for the probability of a work stoppage in the NFL.  OK, that might be a bit much for a 3-year-old.

While we were watching the game, I had the Big 12 Tournament preview section in front of us; Andrea pointed to different pictures and had me identify them for her:  Tiger was easy to explain, Wildcat still fairly easy, while Jayhawk was a little more challenging.   However, it made me grateful (if only for a moment) that I wasn’t in Big 10 territory as it might have been challenging to explain Buckeyes, Hawkeyes, and Boilermakers to a 3-year-old. 

I’ve already given her little brother a Buckeyes outfit; I guess Andrea needs one, too.  Also, March Madness is coming soon; maybe I should have Andrea help me fill out my bracket. 

Hopefully raising future Ohio State Buckeyes or Missouri State Bears,

Mark Whitaker
Mo State ’92

P.S. To look @ fans of the local schools and how they differ, visit

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Welcome to my new blog

My name is Mark R. Whitaker and I’m starting a new blog.  

“MRW” stands for …

  • Mark
  • Robert
  • Whitaker

Of course, my hope is that “MRW” also stands for …

  • Marketing
  • Research
  • Wisdom

My personal mission is “Helping you Find the Information you Need.”   I provide Marketing and Marketing Research assistance to businesses and charitable organizations but am also active in my community in other ways.

By day, I work in the Marketing department of The Kansas City Star; my nights & weekends are often spent with Avondale United Methodist Church where I am the Youth & Young Adult Director, Communications Coordinator, and Boy Scout coordinator.  I also serve as Marketing Coordinator for youTheology’s Advisory Board at Saint Paul School of Theology and am the Volunteer Co-Chair on the Steering Committee of the Young Leaders Society of the United Way of Greater Kansas City.   Plus, I’m also The Star’s United Way campaign chair.  For all of my worlds, I’m actively involved in marketing, whether it’s through traditional media or embracing online, social media, and even good, old-fashioned word-0f-mouth.

On a personal note, I have three grown kids plus a 3-year-old granddaughter and a 3-month-old grandson.  Plus, the love of my life is Liz who joined me in marriage on February 14, 1998.

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