Warm up for the recovery

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It has been a long, dark-very dark-night. Now it is just moments before sunrise. And you know that this dreadful night is finally over.

That's where we are, folks. Alan Greenspan has decreed that the recession is behind us. Ad-spending forecasters see an upturn coming. The broadcast networks report a record-setting upfront market for fall prime-time lineups. The worst advertising slump since the Great Depression is actually fading away.

So, what are you doing now to prepare for the return of a vital marketplace? As our economy recovers, the rewards will go to the swift. How will you approach stunned consumers who have been lying low? Here's a "new day" checklist: six ways to help put your brand out in front.

* Think now about 2003 staffing. Identify your smart, talented people and make sure they stay put when the economy rebounds. A recent joint study by executive recruiting firm Ray & Berndtson and Cornell University's Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies reported on 16 internal and external motivators that make executives want to remain in their jobs. The top four were: 1) pride in work; 2) interesting work; 3) challenging work; and 4) responsibility. Do what's needed to keep loyalty strong. (By the way, "high pay" was more than halfway down the list. Out of 16 motivators, it ranked No. 10.) And stay alert for outside talent you want to bring on board when budgets allow. Contact these star performers now and let them know they are on your "wish list."

* Robust plans for 2003. Is there a forward-looking marketing plan on your desk? (Or just an updated pre-recession plan?) Now's the time for fresh planning and expanded thinking. What budgets will you need? How will your brand generate the cash? What products or services will you launch? Fortunately, advance planning and product innovation can be relatively modest budget items (i.e., while the actual implementation of a plan is expensive, thinking is cheap).

* Soul-searching brand reviews. Is your product or service positioned correctly for the post-recession world? You can be sure that recession-battered consumers have developed new and different attitudes toward your product or service. Make your "brand promise" relevant to people who want quality and value more than ever. If you're selling a service, be certain that everyone speaks to customers with a single voice. Brand messages should be integrated across all communications tools (easy to ask for-very, very tough to deliver). Finally, don't forget pricing. A freshly shaved margin might give wary consumers another reason to buy.

* A roomful of smart people. Put your smartest people in a room-lock up their cell phones, Blackberries and beepers-and conduct a wide-ranging exploratory to develop ideas. These can be business-building concepts for new products, innovative line extensions, or even new ways to distribute or promote existing products. Go off-site for a day or take a Friday and Saturday. Get loose. Consider everything. Rule out nothing as too strange or too lame. Let the brainstorms roar and the ideas flow. (You'll need an umpire, so appoint an "idea chief" for the meeting-or use an outside facilitator.)

* Test, test, test. Test new ideas now-don't wait until good times roll. If you've got a winner already in the starting gate, how about ringing the bell now? By the way, my candidate for "Best New Product Born in the Recession" is the thumbnail-sized Listerine PocketPaks. Gently dispense a cool, translucent mint strip and lay it on your tongue-POW! I recently bought my first elfin green pack and its tiny followers have taken up permanent residence in my pants pocket. Note to advertisers: Demand a range of business-building ideas-not just advertising ideas-from your agencies. Note to agencies: Don't wait to be asked.

* Wring more out of the Web. The Web is still growing by leaps and bounds. Have you updated lately? Any site designed and put online during the Stone Age of the late `90s is sure to be cumbersome and static. Not unlike dog years, one Web Year equals about seven human ones. So, a 1998 site is 28 years old. Fix it. Incorporate features that win-discard those that don't. And aggressively enhance your Web-enabled ordering systems. A recent landmark: In February, J. Crew online sales actually exceeded sales from the retailer's print catalog. Since it's cheaper to process online orders than to prepare and send out old-economy catalogs (at $1 each), the result is higher profitability.

There you have it. Review. Plan. Innovate. Test. Fix the site. Retain and attract the best people. And do these things before it dawns on your competitor that the dawn has dawned.

John Emmerling is CEO and chief creative officer, Emmerling Communications, New York, and often facilitates idea-generating sessions (www.emmerling.com).

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