Gini Dietrich

A Business Pivot: What You Need to Know

By: Gini Dietrich | April 7, 2015 | 

Business PivotBy Gini Dietrich

The past few years have been rough.

In 2008, we started to run out of cash.

In 2009, I had to lay off more than half of my team.

In 2010, I had to figure out how we were going to survive the Great Recession.

In 2011, I had to fight against the debt ceiling because everyone put the brakes on spending, including outstanding invoices.

And so on and so on. Though we survived the economy, it hasn’t been easy.

On the contrary, it’s been overwhelming and downright depressing.

But I made a decision in 2010 that I didn’t realize was highly strategic or even ahead of its time…we were in survival mode and it was the only decision I could make.

We made a business pivot that saved the organization’s life.

Changing Times

A business pivot isn’t easy. In fact, you almost have to be faced with loss of business to make that kind of insurmountable change. And let’s be real: Change is hard. Really, really hard.

That’s why, when you look around the business world, complacency can seem fairly common. Making a pivot may be almost unheard of, unless you’re a 20-something with a technology company and the first iteration doesn’t work.

The print industry may be dying, yet many print distributors still use paper.

The communications industry may be going through more turmoil than ever before, yet many still mass distribute news releases.

The data recovery industry may be getting replaced by cloud services, yet many aren’t innovating to bring new services.

When we left the Industrial Revolution behind in favor of the Information Age, it was time for organizations to start to pivot.

My Business Pivot

My business pivot came when, in 2009 right before the holidays, I received a phone call from a prospect.

He was in panic mode. He had a new product that he’d been lucky enough to get on the shelves at the big box retailers, but it wasn’t selling.

If he didn’t sell out by Christmas, none of his customers would re-order, and he would be out of business.

A friend had told him the only way to sell out in that short amount of time was to do PR.

He wanted to know how quickly we could get him on Oprah and in the New York Times.

Never mind the phone call came less than a month before Christmas and his request was nearly impossible; it made me rethink our positioning.

In January 2010, we announced we were no longer a PR firm. Of course, we still did PR—in the sense of media relations or publicity—but we also were capable of so much more: The kinds of communications that drives business results.

It was time to change the conversation and build a process very different from our competitors.

Cision named us the No. 3 blog in the PR industry in 2013, we’ve introduced a PESO model our competitors copy and our competimates refer to, I wrote two books, and I’m on the paid speaking circuit.

I used to spend 90 percent of my time going to breakfast and coffee and lunch and dinner meetings and networking events to talk to the tire kickers. Now that time is spent using the Web to grow my business.

The business pivot happened because I was tired of prospects thinking all we did is get their name in print.

Consider a Business Pivot

Why would you change things when you’ve finally figured out the right process, you have the right team in place, your customers are happy and you’re making money?

It’s important to stay on strategy, of course, because it’s very easy to be distracted by the shiny new penny.

Still, you can’t ignore external factors that are changing the game.

If you lead a business, your job is to watch industry trends, imagine new products, tweak the strategy, and fail fast.

If you’re part of a team, your job is to brainstorm new ideas that take advantage of trends, launch new products, and implement the strategy.

To be prepared for a business pivot, you should consider these points at least annually.

  • Systems that haven’t changed for a while. Look around your organization and jot down the things you do because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” This can be a big risk to an organization’s growth and may create complacency. Complacency, of course, requires little risk, which means you’re not growing. Figure out where change will be beneficial and take some risk, like you did when it was completely necessary to do so.
  • Industry trends and market realities. Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result, is the definition of insanity. A pivot requires goals that are based on market realities. Too often I hear, “I’ll retire before millennials are decision makers so I don’t have to understand this Internet thing.” This is exactly the wrong kind of thinking. You are not an old dogs who cannot learn new tricks. Pay attention to industry trends; create a reporting system on this so you can’t ignore it.
  • Customer processes. Once you decide if you’re going to pivot, you should consider creating a customer advisory board. Talk to former clients. Involve a team of employees. Ask your friends and family to participate. You can hold informal meetings, do formalized focus groups or even use a site such as Digsite to help you gain information about the processes that still work and those that need to be invented.

Perhaps your business pivot will be small. Or maybe it’ll be grand.

Whatever the case, stay fresh and be sure you never get complacent.

A very loose version of this first appeared in my monthly OPENForum column.

photo credit: Shutterstock

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • A) I love the term “competimates” and B) love the idea of a customer advisory panel!

  • biggreenpen I feel like I have a lot of friends who should be considered competitors, but they’re such good friends it’s strange to think of them that way. The world is probably a much better place if we work together (although I’m super competitive).

  • Great post. I think this is obviously relevant to businesses, but also has applications for communications functions. What are you doing as a department/team just because it’s always been done?

  • Jennifer Frighetto Love that! I totally agree. The “that’s the way we do it” mentality needs to change.

  • ginidietrich

    MediaLabRat Heart you! Also, SUPER useful info I got out of Spider yesterday for a new biz pitch. Thank you!

  • ginidietrich

    elissapr xoxo

  • MediaLabRat

    ginidietrich YES!!! Let’s keep it going…sending you some #SecretSauce later today 🙂

  • There are those businesses that refuse to change and somehow remain successful. Down the street from me is a restaurant that takes cash only, doesn’t have a website, and doesn’t use social media. It’s a rare phenomenon, similar to the few people who smoke for 50 years and never get cancer, like George Burns. But those are rare and it’s a risk to follow them. You remind us that we have to be open to change and we must adapt, because it’s coming.

  • jolynndeal It’s funny you say that. My favorite Chicago-style place only accepts cash and they don’t take reservations. They also have people waiting for three hours to get a table. We don’t go very often for that reason, but it’s definitely worth the wait (and the pain of getting cash). That said, to your point, it’s NOT a strategy most organizations can employ.

  • Heh… competimates. 
    Also, I wonder about how you managed the people through the pivot… did you ask them to learn new skills or did you hire to gain the skills you were lacking (or wanting more of)? 

    To me, it seems the business pivot is almost easier than the people-pivot… especially because a lot of organizations pivot every week/month/year but never follow up on it.

  • ginidietrich jolynndeal Gosh, the more I think about it, it’s kind of genius. It’s sending the message, “We’re so fantastic, we don’t have to change.” But the key is living up to that message, which it seems like our favorite restaurants are doing.

  • M1nted

    ginidietrich Great post, thank you!

  • Great story and business pivot points to consider. This is a great exercise even for someone like me who freelances and is owner/workerbee/manager/custodian. Btw, what is an “internet”?

  • Word Ninja It’s that thing where they host “the Facebook.” (You are always good for a laugh!)

  • jolynndeal Oohh, right. Btw, good point about the restaurant. Some places are so “behind the times” that it adds to their uniqueness.

  • ginidietrich

    M1nted You bet!

  • Word Ninja It’s this collection of tubes that work together to make Al Gore famous.

  • ginidietrich Best definition ever.

  • JasKeller You know what I did? I met with every person individually and gave them a list of things they’d need to focus on to learn new skills. I also gave them the option to leave with my help in finding them a new job. HALF (HALF!!) of the team left. They thought I was absolutely nuts. They couldn’t see that the pivot was where the entire industry would eventually go. The other half got professional development and on-the-job training as we all tried to figure it out.

  • Word Ninja WINNER!

  • jolynndeal Not everyone can do it.

  • ginidietrich I would have been complimenting more often if I had known prizes were involved.

  • ginidietrich Well I bet more than 50% thought you were nuts… I’m sure they ALL knew that. 😉

    That said, WOW! That is a real committment by you to pivot the way you wanted. I’m sure that transition was tough – and when HALF (HALF!!) leave, that must make you feel like “oh sh*t, what did I just do…” 

    That said, it seemed it allowed you to identify a core group that bought into the vision and trusted you (which in turn probably built a lot of trust in them). That dedicate group had to be pivotal in helping you make the pivot (horrible pun intended).

  • This is the best explanation on why you should reinvent yourself and your business over and over again. 
    And it´s so hard to be understood and put in practice by businesses and professionals because things work, because we resist the change by nature, it´s warm and cozy in the present.
    But here is the thing: nobody says you have to do it today, not even tomorrow. But start working on it and keep an eye on the market, on your competition and what´s happening around you.

  • JasKeller ginidietrich The pivotal pivot group! Pivoteers!

  • Corina Manea One of my favorite blog posts of Gini’s is this one: also about pivots where she discusses Hitchcock’s ability to watch, learn, and adjust. I think what you mentioned here is so true, part of a successful pivot is keeping your eyes open, being proactive, having foresight, and then not being afraid to take risks.

  • JasKeller Dude. You just called me insane.

  • Word Ninja CUPCAKES!

  • jolynndeal Word Ninja and “the Twitters”

  • ginidietrich Word Ninja now we’re talking…

  • Corina Manea That happens A LOT, Corina. It’s taught in business school so it’s seen as the way things are done. There is a lot taught in school that has changed…and the universities need to keep up.

  • ginidietrich Actually. I called you nuts; not insane.
    I recently read a line from a post of a very famous, well respected, expert business strategist that read: 
    “Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result, is the definition of insanity”

    …and you did the quite opposite, so, you definitely aren’t insane! (Plus I thought the smiley winky face communicated that I was kidding!!!)