7 Business Lessons From 007
Whether as a product or a person, James Bond has much to teach the world of business.
Bond . . . James Bond.
Whatever images you conjure upon hearing those immortal words--world's most dashing spy, ladies' man with a license to kill, secret agent man with the best gadgets--the phrase "successful product" probably doesn't come to mind.
But that's exactly what it is. Since 1952, when Ian Fleming published the first Bond book, the British spy has been the focus of novels, the occasional obscure radio and TV production, a few "unofficial" feature films, and 21 movies produced by EON Productions, spearheaded by Barbara Broccoli, who took over the business after her father, Albert ("Cubby"), passed away in 1996. And while Bond may be pure entertainment and a pop icon to most, at the risk of sucking all the joy out of one of Hollywood's most enduring adventure heroes, he's no different than Goodyear snow tires or Folgers coffee: Bond is a brand.
He (the character) is also an entrepreneur, at least in spirit. His salary comes from his Majesty's Secret Service, but on the rare occasion a world scandal erupts, forcing his employer to drop him from payroll, he's worked for himself until he dispatches with the bad guys and gets back in his company's good graces. He also has a business mindset, frequently networking and making deals, to either prevent himself from getting killed or to save the world.
Entrepreneurs, executives, managers and anyone trying to climb the ladder of success should pay close attention to the tuxedo-clad secret agent. Whether as a product or a person, James Bond has much to teach.
Business Lesson #1:
Every product or service reinvents itself--or should.
Sure, there are probably exceptions, but generally, even if a product is perfect, "Sometimes you change the packaging," says customer service guru Paul Kowal of Kowal & Associates Inc. , a consulting firm that specializes in customer service call centers.
"Aunt Jemima is probably the classic example," says Kowal, explaining that while the recipes for the pancake mixes and syrups don't likely change much from year to year, the visual image of Aunt Jemima "has been updated three or four times over the years to look more appealing to a younger audience."
The important thing for a business owner to know is how to reinvent oneself--that's where the James Bond franchise has been very successful. Many fans, for instance, think of Roger Moore's light-hearted touch as the ultimate Bond; others feel those years were a dark period in the series. Regardless, all the films have had a very successful run because the films follow what could be called the "movement and time formula," says Michael Lovas, founder of AboutPeople , a consulting firm that focuses on helping companies and individuals more thoroughly understand, attract and connect with their A-level clients.
"Movement and time," says Lovas, repeating the two hallmarks that every entrepreneur should remember when reinventing their product or service. "What stays the same with Bond? Mainly movement," says Lovas. "Hot chicks, action, danger, gadgets--they're in every book and film. What changes? Time. Everything's up to date. None of the films are period pieces based in the past.
"In your own business, use the same formula," Lovas suggests. "What needs to remain the same? Movement--quality service, personal touch, quick response. And what changes? Anything that can date your products and services, or show them to be out of date."
Business Lesson #2: Never forget your core customers.
Film producer Barbara Broccoli told IF Magazine that when they were planning this film, they thought a lot about the last film, Die Another Day, and what was wrong with it. While hugely successful, the producers felt it had reached a point where things were getting out of hand--for instance, Bond drove in an invisible car. They wanted to bring the franchise back to the gritty sensibility that the books and, to some extent, the early films had displayed.
"We felt the world had changed," Broccoli said. "The world was much more serious, and we were trying to figure out where to go."
Nevertheless, Broccoli didn't try to completely reinvent Bond, destroying everything that everyone loved about him and completely starting over. And that's a good thing, as far as Peter Shankman is concerned. Shankman is the CEO of full-service PR firm The Geek Factory , and author of the just released, Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work-And Why Your Company Needs Them.
"Remember that your fans have made you what you are," says Shankman, offering advice to any entrepreneur rethinking their product or service. "Never forget about them. When you're reinventing yourself, do so with them in mind. Bond's gun might get smaller and more accurate, but he still sleeps with it under his pillow."
Business Lesson #3:
Communicate well--don't get bogged down in jargon.
If you can't connect with your audience, no matter how much you talk, they'll never hear you. "Any government agency--whether it's MI5, CIA, FBI or the USMC is steeped in acronyms and cryptic nomenclature," says Lovas, who thinks a small part of the success of the Bond movies is that they don't become too steeped in government-speak. "Bond speaks in 'common people' talk.
"In my business--coaching and training financial professionals--we've identified 62 words and phrases to never say to a client. They include things like 'split-dollar plan,' 'trustee,' 'unified credit,' 'yield' and 'zero-coupon bond.' "
Lovas says that entrepreneurs should think about the same issues when talking to customers, whether on the phone or through a brochure. "What about you?" he asks. "What terminology confuses your target market?"
Business Lesson 4:
Image is everything.
All customers have an expectation of a product or service, and that's why a year before Casino Royale was released, there was such a backlash against the idea of casting actor Daniel Craig as James Bond. He had blond hair. He had blue eyes. Nobody knew who he was. Those who knew who him had seen him in movies like Road to Perdition where he played the psychotic son of a hit man or Sylvia, in which he played a poet. Whatever Craig was, the fans of Bond felt, he wasn't the ideal man for the job.
Kowal explains it this way: "I think there's a security and comfort to predictability, particularly for a new customer. You may sometimes have to change your product to attract new customers, but people like some sense of consistency, and that's why they've managed to change the actor six times. They've made changes, but they've made them well, embracing consistency.
"I think there's a certain way we want our products to perform-as promised," Kowal adds. "It's created by advertising, word of mouth, and our previous interactions with them. If Alka-Seltzer's formula was changed where it had the same effect on someone and maybe even cured a headache or indigestion better than before but it didn't fizz, it wouldn't be Alka-Seltzer."
Casino Royale, arguably, has become a hit because while the formula was tinkered with, the movie and the character still delivered what audiences have come to expect and love from the films.
Business Lesson #5: Understand the art of the business deal.
When Bond is strapped down to a table and about to be done in by an industrial laser in Goldfinger, his arch enemy suggests, "Choose your next witticism carefully, Mr. Bond. It may be your last."
"Do you expect me to talk?" Bond asks, visibly nervous but not so much that he isn't going to strike up a bargain.
"No, I expect you to die," says Goldfinger.
Then Bond brings up "Operation Grand Slam" and suggests that not only does he know too much, but perhaps his colleagues do, too, and maybe it would be better to keep him alive. Goldfinger agrees, and Bond is saved. This negotiating is something you see in just about every film, to some degree. Bond needs something and has to leverage what he has--whether that's information or exploiting a competitor's weakness--to make progress towards his goal.
Business leaders do the same thing every day, too, although it's usually over e-mail or in a conference room, instead of in a seedy bar with several machine-gun-wielding thugs ominously watching the proceedings--but, still, you get the idea. Being able to give something away to get something in return is crucial in business. It's why McDonald's frequently partners with movie studios and toy manufacturers to create more value in their Happy Meals--McDonald's abundant customers and locations are obviously a persuasive draw for the partners. The Bond franchise frequently partners with numerous products as well. In Casino Royale, for instance, the martinis are made by Smirnoff, the car is an Aston Martin, and the camera phone is a Sony Ericsson.
For Bond, the right business deal, whether made by him or an ally, can save his life and the world. For an entrepreneur, the right deal can save anything from time to money, even the company.
Business Lesson 6: Network, network, network.
One of the characteristics that makes Bond the world's greatest spy is his expertise at networking. For instance, when Pierce Brosnan's Bond searches for the missing GoldenEye satellite weapon in GoldenEye, he starts off in St. Petersburg, using a CIA contact to meet Valentin Zukovsky, a Russian mafia leader. In exchange for an arms deal, Zukovsky sets up a meeting in a deserted graveyard in the dead of night with the head of a Russian crime organization called Janus Syndicate, who turns out to be a rogue agent turned bad guy-well, you get the picture.
The point is, whether it's his close associates like M, Q, Felix or Miss Moneypenny or some far-flung romantic interest or associate he encountered long ago, Bond understands the importance of knowing people, staying in touch and not being afraid to ask for access and information. The same should be true for anyone in business. The chamber of commerce might connect you to someone at the nonprofit organization S.C.O.R.E., which might hook you up with a mentor who ends up finding you an expert in marketing who helps you increase your sales by 25 percent.
Business Lesson 7: Be proactive.
"Just get it done," says Lovas, who believes that the world is split into two halves when it comes to activity: those who are proactive and those who are reactive. "The proactive person jumps right in--fire, ready, aim. The reactive person hesitates and ponders--ready, ready, ready, aim, ready, aim, ready."
Lovas isn't making fun of reactive executives or entrepreneurs, necessarily. "The reactives are hesitating because they want to make sure they're right before they take the action," explains Lovas. "Bond is an ideal for both sides, because he always takes action, and it's always the right action."
Well, almost always, although it always works out for Bond in the end. In the real world--the world of business--we may not have scriptwriters ensuring that we always make the correct decisions, but the Bond method is preferable to dwelling and pondering on strategies for an indeterminable amount of time. Businesses don't begin, hands aren't shaken and contracts signed because someone wants a few months to daydream a decision over. Business happens because people make it their business to happen. Be glad James Bond is sticking to humanity on the big screen, instead of invading our corporate world, trying to improve profit margins and customer service. We wouldn't stand a chance.
Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist in Loveland, Ohio, who prefers his sodas shaken, not stirred.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.