Gore is Vice President of Praxis International, Inc.
Technical Training, Consulting, and Publishing since 1988
Internet Company Uses Humor to Cope With Tragedy
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The whole world changed as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001. The terrible deaths that day have been followed by the current anthrax terrorism and the threat of unforeseen terrorist acts to come. Every hourly news report reinforces the general feeling of unease and anxiety about what the future holds for us individually and for our great country.
This unease and anxiety have been reflected in declining consumer confidence. The consensus among economists is that strong consumer confidence is vital to keep the economy from further deterioration. Now that measures show consumer confidence on a downward spiral, companies across the wide spectrum of the economy are becoming increasingly concerned about their future prosperity, and in many cases, about their survival.
To gain perspective on how these events have affected the strategy of one high-tech Internet company in the Delaware Valley, I returned to MaraStar Communications, the Paoli company we have been following from its inception.
September 11 sparked a rededication of corporate commitment and determination from the founders and employees of MaraStar. “America has to stand united and not let this wave of terrorism undermine our way of life,” emphasizes founder and chairman, Ray Hansell. “We are taking an aggressive approach. The terrorist attacks have caused many companies to curtail corporate travel and living expenses and to generally reduce expenses across the board. For example, we will be exhibitors at two major conventions this fall. For one convention, registrations have dropped from 1200 to 200. The other major convention is now offering free air fare to entice people to attend.”
“We are emphasizing to customers that our programs don’t require travel and living expenses and they are very cost-effective and inexpensive. Perhaps most importantly, our programs add value by bringing humor to the workplace at a time when American business needs humor the most.”
“Our own employees have told us that our programs have helped ease the apprehension and tension they feel about the future. Humor definitely has a therapeutic effect. In addition, many comments we have received from our customers since September 11 have reinforced the value and multiple uses of humor in the workplace. Customers say that beyond the training and motivation goals, our programs have the additional benefit of relieving employee anxiety and helping employees return to a normal life,” continues Ray.
“Of course, before September 11, we knew there was power in humor. Our company is based on that concept. In June, MaraStar received an extraordinary amount of positive, national publicity when our Sixers animation debuted on all of the Philadelphia TV stations and ESPN. The TV stations aired the animation as it was shown live on the “Fanavision” screen at the tip-off of the NBA finals in Philadelphia. The animated cartoon featuring Allen Iverson and Shaq has become so popular that it is still being viewed and downloaded at our web site, http://www.marastar.com/.”
“Before September 11, we had also begun developing animated, humor-based cartoons for outside sales representatives to incorporate into email messages to clients and potential clients. Sales representatives can send an animated cartoon along with their own custom message as a thank-you note, an apology for a late shipment, or other short communication. These animated cartoons are ideally sized to respect our clients’ need to keep their email boxes to a manageable size. We have had a tremendously enthusiastic response to this offering, especially in the last couple of weeks as the concern about opening mail sent through the postal service has become widespread.”
Marysue Lucci, the co-founder and president of MaraStar, elaborated on other recent corporate initiatives, “We have completely revamped our web site to make it more client-oriented. Now, when clients and potential clients log-on to the home page of our web site, they can immediately click on the topic they want to address such as communications skills, teamwork, selling skills, customer care, encouragement, quality and other topics. Then, they can pick a product to fit their needs from our ToonUps ™ series of animated, skill-based training cartoons or from our StarGrams ™ series of animated, personalized cartoons. So, the redesigned site is much more user friendly.”
“We have also unbundled our products so that customers can experience the benefits of our programs by purchasing a single-topic training or motivation-based animated cartoon program for $50, rather than having to buy our complete training package for hundreds of dollars. Along with this unbundling, we have e-commerce enabled our site meaning that customers can view a sample animated cartoon and then order online,” says Marysue. “Giving customers the opportunity to witness first-hand the improved job-performance results from implementing a single program has led to greatly increased sales for our entire package.”
With the determination, spirit, grit, pride, and experience the founders and employees bring to MaraStar, it seems destined to survive and prosper and serve as a testament to what American business can be in today’s uncertain world.
The Greg Gore Web Site on Computers and the Internet (www.GregGore.com)
column was published in the Daily Local News, West Chester, PA on
November 7, 2001. Greg Gore
can be reached at gg@GregGore.com.
2009 by Greg Gore. All rights reserved.