When Your Inner Voice Says “Let’s Roll”

Miracle surgeries performed aboard the Mercy Ship transform thousands of West Africans

Everyone has “ahh-haa” moments in their career

Those times of profound revelation. Times where you approach that rare intersection of fate and providence, face into the winds of promise, then whisper “I’m taking the narrow road. Heck yeah it’s dangerous but I’ll always have regrets if I don’t try.” That’s happened to me on more than one occasion.

In my early adult years it happened when I pulled myself away from friends and family immediately after college. I said a tearful goodbye to the comfortable yet stagnant pace of Upstate New York’s rust belt and headed West to stake my claim of fame and fortune in the buckle of innovation and creativity–Southern California. After setting down roots in Redondo Beach I never looked back.

A few years later I left a lucrative commercial sales career to serve under the mentorship of Freeman Gosden, Jr and Bob Hemmings, two of modern direct market’s most accomplished pioneers. My curious intuition told me direct mail would soon become the forerunner of digital interactive marketing. My hunch paid off.

My biggest headfirst dive into the dark unknown, however, was enlisting in the service of Mercy Ships, the faith-based fleet of hospital ships that is redefining volunteerism and the modern short-term missions movement on a global scale.

Working with children in a remote village outside Dakkar, Senegal.

At the time it seemed like a mistake. During most of my eight years with Mercy Ships my family and professional friends kept bashing me with words like…“That’s just a dumb idea. Why would you ditch a promising career path to work for free for a religious order?”

What they didn’t know (nor did I at the time) was that there’s no such thing as a “promising” career path. I learned–and keep learning–that weird stuff happens to you. And by you. Neither did they understand I never worked a day of those eight years for free. What I got in return for my service was international travel and a million dollar education in global fundraising and public relations of the highest order–worth more than an MBA at Cornell and an unlimited travel pass at ClubMed. And a cool extended family on every continent.

Yes I was a volunteer. Yes our income was often cobbled together–month to month…hand to mouth–by sacrificial donations from friends, family, churches and businesses. But I discovered almost daily that you can never out-give the God who put you on this earth. That’s certainly been my story.

Fundraising in port cities around the nation with Mercy Ships founder and CEO Don Stephens

After helping to build a global fundraising, public relations and recruiting infrastructure (much of it still remains) I made yet another big move. This time heeding the call of the wild to one of the most ruggedly beautiful, pristine corners of the globe–the North Kitsap Peninsula, west of Seattle’s Puget Sound.

Ironically, I’ve discovered my eight years with Mercy Ships were not the end of my missionary exploits. Rather, that season of life was preparation for an equally important and altruistic mission: helping businesses protect their most important assets with robust commercial security services (my day job with ADT Commercial Division); and, helping sports and entertainment professionals prosper through innovative, cost-effective marketing strategies that bond their brands to customers and fans for life.

We all have stories of standing at a crossroads. More will confront us in the future. Will we ignore that still, small inner voice that says “This is the way, it’s hard and risky but you can’t afford not to try it?”

Before you answer, consider the mountain of data collected from interviews with senior citizens who were asked “What would you do differently if you could live your life over?” Nearly all of them said the same thing. “I would take more risks.”

So, the question…Are you approaching a crossroads?

Here are a few things I’ve learned from some of the seismic changes I’ve made in my life, and particularly my career.

  1. Listen to that inner voice. You won’t hear it very well if you don’t pay attention to its soft whisper. Get away for a half-day, frequently if necessary. By yourself. Take a few pieces of paper or notebook and a pen, get into a comfortable quiet place and listen patiently. Pray. Listen to music. Then start taking notes. Do whatever will surface your subtle inclinations from deep within.
  2. Talk to trusted peers. Share your hopes and dreams with them, but only those people you can trust to support and love you unconditionally–and give you tough love in return if your ideas are too off the wall.
  3. Do the research. Get busy learning about the opportunity that awaits. Keep in mind we’re talking mostly about career changes here, but it can also apply to hobbies, volunteer work, a sabbatical, travel, etc.
  4. Get your affairs in order. That especially includes your finances. Far too many folks approach big life changes without the financial resources to carry them through the transition period. On the other hand, financial shortages can often be the very catalyst to get you in motion.
  5. Think long-term. Remember that life is an unending journey. Over a lifetime of risky career experiments I’ve learned that there are no mistakes if you follow the voice and will of God. In the same way I’ve learned you can never out-give God, I’ve also learned that all things work together for good if you love your Creator and are trying to follow the path carefully set before you.
  6. Enjoy the ride. When you jump into the deep, fast moving current of opportunity, savor the exhilarating experience of trusting your faith when conventional wisdom runs counter. It won’t always be a smooth ride–sometime it’ll be anything but. But in the end you can look back and say “I did it.”

Phil Herzog is a senior consultant for ADT’s Commercial Division and moonlights as a sports and entertainment marketing executive as CEO of SmoothStone Partners.com. Reach him at phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com.

Why Don’t Men Suit Up?

I’ve lived in all four corners of the nation–New York, Miami, LA, Dallas, and now Seattle. I’ve spent most of my adult life in the advertising agency world, then a few years as a missionary for global charity Mercy Ships. Then back to commercial sales where I’ve landed once again. With all the traveling, meetings, conventions and business lunches and parties I’ve seen a lot.

After 30 years in business one of the things that still perplexes me terribly is the notion that most men just don’t care how they dress for business. Most men just don’t care what they look like at the office, job site or even at a client’s business–and rather focus on perfecting their technical skills and head game. But in the words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, I say “Big Mistake.”

I’ve lived in Seattle since 2001. I’m in the security business by day, but occasionally I keep my side hustle afloat in the entertainment space working with sports and entertainment clients. Let’s just say it keeps my day job fresh.

I still keep a shared-space office at the Pioneer Collective at King and First which to me is worth a million dollars. Why? Because it gets — and keeps — me close to the culture, to the Seattle arts and entertainment and business scene. And it keeps my eyes on the fashion scene (what little there is in Seattle as compared to New York).

Here’s the simple truth about Seattle men’s fashion. It exists, yes. But it’s got its roots in the tech world–t-shirts, jeans and black square-toed shoes. As such, these guys are seldom taken seriously when venturing out into the big venture capital world, or consumer brand marketing space, or sports marketing or PR or whatever. The simple truth is that sloppy-dressed guys miss out on big deal-making, favors and even attention and respect by their peers simply because their self-image projects, well, a poor self image. Or worse, an “I don’t care how I look” image.

I love watches. Mostly because they are one of the few pieces of jewelry that makes me feel comfortable and “myself” in various settings (plus I’m always trying to keep track of my time). I have four of them, three pictured above–each with a different mission. One tells time in a business setting; one tells time in the woods; one tells time at dates or parties; one is a secret weapon.

I could write a book on how Seattle men could up their game with an ever-so-slightly elevated fashion sensibility. But I’ll save that for another post.

For now, if you’re a guy — for starters — go out and buy yourself a “fashion” watch and be amazed how that outer statement changes your inner vibe. If you’re a woman looking for the ultimate Valentine’s gift for your honey, go out and buy him a stainless steel watch or even a Timex Expedition (if you spend more than $50 for any watch it’s too much…guys lose and break stuff). It will make you one lucky girl. And if you buy him a Rolex (get a fake one online from Japan for less than $100 that keeps better time than the real McKoy) I guarantee you’ll get very lucky with your man on February 14.

Phil Herzog is a senior consultant for ADT’s ICI Division and moonlights as a sports and entertainment marketing executive as CEO of SmoothStone Partners.com. Reach him at phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com.

 

Who Is Your ESP?

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part when darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down*

There are a few men in my life I call my ‘best’ friends. Three of them, actually, and they know who they are.

How do they know? Because we occasionally remind each other — by words and actions — of that hallowed relationship. And because best friends share secrets. Not gossipy family, friend or co-worker secrets. But gritty details about our lives, the dark side of who we are—our penchant for addiction, financial excess, laziness, unkindness, selfishness, gripping fear. What most christian folk would call Sin with a capital S.

These three guys have been a lifeline to me literally and figuratively. And though our friendship hasn’t been tested to the extreme I’d like to say that if the chips were down for any of them—if they were at rock bottom—I’d do anything to help them out of the hole. Because they’ve done that for me. Not once, but many times over nearly three decades.

I mention this sacred bond between men—true brotherhood—because it’s been these guys who’ve rescued me more than any clergy or family member, counselor, mentor or psychiatrist (though all those people play important roles in my support system). And which has everything to do with a man’s mental health.

As I mentioned earlier in a post regarding people in the Northwest struggling with mental health issues during the winter doldrums, I touched on the topic I’ll call “ESP” and the vital importance of a trusted loved one to come alongside you as a temporary lifeline. To be an empathetic listener, a cheerleader, a team-mate in the rough and tumble game of life who can help you get back on your feet and stay there when the violent gusts of anxiety and depression run you aground.

One of those ESPs (Emotional Support Persons, and one of my three best friends) has been struggling for many months with an issue that’s shaken him to the core. For the purpose of anonymity I’ll call him Ned (which is my endearing secret acronym for his personality). And for years he’s been my ESP to the extreme. When I was unemployed (several times) he called me every day just to make sure I was getting out of bed before 10 AM (which wasn’t easy). He took me to lunch weekly–on his dime. And he played host on several occasions for overnight trips to the mountains to hang out in the deep snow of the North Cascades.

He was the bond of friendship that pulled me back into reality, into positive self talk, into getting back out in public and finding a new normal.

But in a curious twist of providence the tables turned…

(For more on my story about brotherhood, emotional support and a cheat sheet to get unstuck from a weeks or months-long bout of anxiety or depression look for my follow up post next week)

*Simon and Garfunkle; Bridge Over Troubled Water

Taming the Black Dog of the Northwest

Scare crow and a yellow moon. Pretty soon a carnival on the edge of town. King Harvest has surely come (The Band)

A cool wind is blowing, smooth and soft this morning in the Pacific Northwest. Brown, yellow, red, and orange leaves have blanketed my front yard. Glancing through my bedroom window I awaken to a dark fog. But it’s peaceful. Suddenly, I realize it’s here – my favorite season — filled with the hope and promise of “glad tidings of comfort and joy”–gatherings with family and friends, fires in the fireplace and gobs of rich, buttery food.

But for those of us living here in the Northwest, a feint shadow crouches patiently in the corner of our minds. It’s a dark invasive spirit that will soon fill the air, daring to press against anyone without ample courage or fortitude to buffet its cold, biting headwinds – the menacing double threat of depression and anxiety.

In the mental health profession this illness of chronic depression (often accompanied by cycles of anxiety) is referred to as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Winston Churchill called his depressive episodes the “Black Dog,” a gnawing predator that nipped at his ankles for most of his adult life. One famous journalist calls it “living in a cold, heavy rain-drenched suit.”

Whatever the medical community calls it — no matter how pervasive among populations of Seattle, Poulsbo, or Pittsburgh — it’s a menace that will threaten many of us this season, more likely around mid-December when the pressures, commitments and expectations of Christmas reach their peak.

My family doctor in Poulsbo – with whom I visit every 6 months to personally keep the Black Dog at bay — calls depression our society’s most pressing pandemic. He tells me that “70% of his patients suffer from one of these illnesses – or both at any given time.” Another doctor friend from Seattle confirms that “No fewer than 50% of Pacific Northwest adults are (or will be) on anti-anxiety or anti-depressant drugs sometime between November and April.”

But rather than dispense dire warnings of personal meltdowns, suicidal ideation or crippling isolation, I’ve got good news – news about the ways we can not only cope with the onslaught of seasonal, chronic or clinical depression – but stand tall while leaning into its most blusterous mental headwinds. And to be an advocate and encourager for our loved ones who may soon be prime targets of these invading spirits.

In the next few weeks I’m going to share a range of tips and tools to optimize your mental health. Think of it as a modest insurance policy to help you experience a bright and cheery holiday season.

I won’t spend time educating or spewing pop psychology sound bytes or advice on medication, diet or exercise (even though they’re important for emotional wellness), or even share proven behavioral therapy practices. Those tools, I believe, are best offered by licensed professionals.

Rather, my tips and tools are intended to be simple and sensible, understandable, and relatively easy to apply, one at a time – which can offer the glimmer of hope to get your mojo back.

“50% of Pacific Northwest adults will be on anti-anxiety or anti-depressant drugs sometime between November and April.”

Before we start, please know this — that my audience is you – a fellow sojourner seeking a personal path of mental and emotional wholeness in our confused, frenzied culture. But the audience is also me, so I’m writing to remind myself of the proven ways I’ve used these tips to help me be my best during Seattle’s doldrums winter — so that my inner man can exercise good, wholesome judgement and behavior that’ll bless my family, friends, and colleagues.

Easy Success To Start Your Day

Make Your Bed – In the words of my friend Tim Ferriss, when you ‘win the morning, you win the day.’ Making your bed makes you an instant success — first thing. It’s a small task but has more emotional benefits than you can imagine. If you doubt the value of making your bed in the morning, watch this 2-minute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgzLzbd-zT4

Make A Plan – Failing to plan your day is planning to fail your day. Take out a piece of paper, write a list of 5 or so things you’d like to accomplish today. Then rank them by priority or chronological order. If you spend more than 60 seconds on the list and prioritizing, it’s too much time. My list is always super simple, especially when I’m in a funk: some phone calls and emails, walk the dog, a meeting, preparing dinner, whatever. These small things may not seem like a big deal to accomplish, but when you’re in the clutches of a deep depression finishing even the most rudimentary task — like dusting your bedroom — seems akin to painting the next Mona Lisa.

Meditate – Connect with your Higher Power, whomever that is, in whatever way works for you. He/she is the One who will give you the strength, courage and mindfulness to make it through at least to the noon hour. Personally, my daily routine starts with 5 or 10 minutes of Bible reading (or similar spiritual content) followed by a few short minutes of prayer. Sometimes, when I have extra time, I’ll listen to soft classical music on King.FM or stream tunes from my favorite solo pianists Ed Kerr, Paul Cardall or David Lantz.

Remember the hilarious movie “What About Bob” that was so popular in the early 90s? In the movie Richard Dreyfuss’s character (a famous therapist) wrote a book called “Baby Steps.” Well, like the movie’s plot line, the concept of “baby steps” to begin your journey to emotional wellness is no laughing matter. To win the day you must begin engaging in simple, easy-repeat rituals. Baby steps. Once accomplished — first thing in the morning — you can tackle more arduous chores and responsibilities later in the day.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for more simple tips to tame depression including short daily walks, ongoing contact with your ESP (Emotional Support Partner) and doing a simple but profoundly fulfilling task…for a loved one.

I’ll leave you with a link to some great chill music I listened to this morning to start my day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0KulDJ09To

*Lead sentence phrase is taken from the poem “Christmas Eve”

This is the first blog post of Skipping Stones–The Personal Blog of Phil Herzog

SmoothStone Foundation Welcomes New Charity Clients To Growing Nonprofit Marketing Practice

August 24, 2017

For Immediate Release

Contact: Phil Herzog, CEO—360.621.2753 or phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com

Two new nonprofit clients have signed on to SmoothStone’s growing roster of category leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are dramatically impacting the forgotten poor, disenfranchised and marginalized members of society. Under the banner of SmoothStone Educational Foundation (a division of SmoothStone Partners), these mission organizations—YWAM Ships Kona and Delilah’s Point Hope–are utilizing SmoothStone’s marketing services including strategic planning, corporate sponsorship recruitment, new donor acquisition and long-term donor optimization primarily through digital platforms and high-touch events.

An additional new client—Training Resources, Inc—provides cutting edge music education resources to mobilize the modern church through worship music conferences and training resources.

“Giving back to society, whether it be a neighborhood in Seattle or a West African village, is just something we at SmoothStone Arts and Entertainment feel compelled to do as a company. Two of these charities share an important common denominator—they provide a holistic and fully integrated approach to sustainable community development. They empower communities and dramatically improve the quality of life for individuals, families and entire villages.

“It’s so inspiring to experience the transformation first-hand. Every time I visit the work of our charity clients it changes my life and reminds me how fortunate we are as Americans. What a blessing it is to give back and make a difference—for a mother caring for a sick child, a husband and father seeking job-training to provide for his family, or adolescents learning basic geography, English and math” said SmoothStone CEO Phil Herzog.

YWAM Ships Kona (https://ywamships.net) operates vessels that target disadvantaged islands and isolated, hard to reach communities accessible only via waterways. No airports or docks mean these villages can only be reached via shallow draft vessels. All communities are served with essential medical and dental care, training and a broad range of other support services designed to meet the unique needs of individual locations and people. The parent organization, YWAM (Youth With A Mission) is a worldwide Christian movement operating in over 180 countries.

Point Hope (www.pointhope.org) is a nonprofit charity founded by radio host Delilah, the world’s most listened to female radio host. The organization has established a large sustainable presence in West Africa endeavoring to care for widows and orphans and build a fully integrated, holistic village managed by and for its residents. Point Hope is currently expanding its footprint by establishing other Point Hope villages throughout West Africa, while simultaneously enlarging its Points of Hope community service outreaches across America.

Training Resources, Inc. (www.training-resources.com) is led by Tom Kraeuter, a gifted Bible teacher, prolific author, conference speaker, worship leader and genuinely funny guy. Tom has taught seminars and conferences for more than 30 years. Through a variety of means, including one-on-one and group consultations and materials designed for worship leaders — books, videos, articles and podcasts — Tom and his team provide scripturally sound, practical tools for life and ministry for leaders and musicians in churches around the world.

About SmoothStone Partners

SmoothStone Partners is a business development firm that carefully builds brands in the sports, entertainment and lifestyle space. SmoothStone Entertainment’s Talent Division is led by Phil Herzog who provides marketing and social media support to recording artists, entertainers, fine art and photography talent.

SmoothStone’s most recent endeavor, SmoothStone Foundation, seeks to support selective, high-impact charities through innovative digital marketing. As a support agency to nonprofits, SmoothStone partners with low-cost, high-impact off-the-shelf creative, marketing and database solutions with digital services such as Salesforce – Pardot, WordPress and GoDaddy to put digital marketing campaigns and analytics into the hands of nonprofits to chart profitable ROI fundraising courses wherever possible.

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You Suck — Why Most Professional Artists Aren’t Professionals

The other day my Nashville music friend Tommy threw out a post on Facebook that got me (and many others) pondering. He said, basically, “What should I do, spend more time practicing on becoming the best guitar player (he already is) or settle for mediocrity by getting myself a tat sleeve, mohawk and a tit ring and pretend being a cool music hipster?”

Here was my response…

“The real answer is simple. Musicians are not financially successful because they either suck or they don’t treat their brand and craft like a consumer business (that requires certain skills in management, finance, operations and most of all marketing/sales).

“Now if you get the tit ring — which I think would look devilishly handsome on you — write that down on a piece of paper and roll it up and shove into said tit ring to keep close to your heart. Love, Uncle Phil”

Of course all of this was written in good fun but the reality is deadly serious: most artists suck at self-promotion. It’s not in their NDA. Period. And if they don’t suck at the marketing side, they probably suck at the finance or operations side. Period period.

This sounds harsh but it’s true, and most artists will admit it. But there are examples for artists to follow. Two of them are my friends Bonnie Block, whose photography hangs on the hallowed walls of the Smithsonian Institure, and Paul Baloche, who’s a regular performer at London’s storied Royal Albert Hall (yes, that place made famous by the Beatles) and quite possibly the most prolific songwriter in the history of the modern christian church.

What they both do extremely well is not rocket science. First, they know their audience like family. They know what they want and need, and they dish it to them to overflowing. Second, they have surrounded themselves with smart people who know the other crucial parts of their business where they lack expertise, and they reward them well for it. Third, they have applied the SmoothStone Partners recipe for artistic success—SST, which stands for Science, Sport and Theater.

For any professional marketing effort to be successful you must work the numbers to achieve an acceptable ROI. This relates to your fixed and variable costs, projected income and conversion rates—the specific number of prospects you must reach to convert them to customers and ultimately to become high-profit, lifelong brand loyalists. It’s primarily a left brain function. That’s Science.

To achieve conquest you must engage in fierce competitive battle in gain market share. You must know your competitor’s weaknesses, your customers’ pain points and your unique value proposition—then apply it with abandon. You play to win. That’s Sport.

To get the attention of your audience, to turn their heads in a crowded sea of suspects you must have a wow factor. You must be different, memorable, and likeable. That often requires an element of drama. That’s Theater.

By using these three disciples—science, sport and theater—SmoothStone Partners battle hand in hand, side by side with our clients to achieve a single objective: market preeminence, whether in your neighborhood or around the globe.

Not everyone can be a Bonnie or Paul, but you can still make a six figure income by applying the key principles of professional success to your God-given craft.

And if you go for the tat sleeve or tit ring, it just might take you to a seven figure income.

Rock on.

Jungle Kill — What Africa’s Apex Predator Can Teach Us About Business And Life

A few months go I was talking to my neighbor Bonnie Block about her upcoming Africa photo safari trip to shoot wild dogs along the plains of Botswana.

“Why wild dogs? Why not shoot big cats or elephants…that seems like kind of a wasted trip to me,” I asked.

“Not at all. Wild dogs are amazing. They’re the fiercest animals of Africa. They can take down a lion or wildebeast or zebra in seconds when they work in a pack.

“But that’s not the real reason I’m going. What got me thinking about going to Africa to specifically shoot wild dogs was a picture I saw while researching Africa predators online. I came across a haunting image that literally made me gasp. It was a picture of a wild dog running away from the pack with the mauled, mangled head of a monkey hanging from its bloody jaws. The second I saw it I said…”that’s what I want to see, what I want to capture with my camera.”

Bonnie’s dedication to getting the shot was palpable. Yet, her persistance is what make’s her one of the world’s most celebrated photographers.

Half of what makes her a giant among her fellow photo-artists—actually two things—is her determination to get the right shot, the one that tells the story of a thousand words. And unwavering patience…to sit and wait. Stand and wait. Lay down and wait.

Stay tuned for part 2, about the extraordinary pack behavior that makes wild dogs the most feared predator of the African plain.*

Skipping Stones

“I KNEW”

(Phil’s personal blog–July, 2017)

“Stop, stop and take a better look
There ain’t no telling what you’ll find
In the corner of a darkened room…”

Right now–at this moment—a half dozen of my friends are standing at the edge of a cliff. Their toes are curled over the lip and they’re ready to jump.

Two of them will soon be filing for divorce after decades of relatively stable marriages. One is floating face-down at the bottom of a deep, dark trough of depression; another, in her 50s, was just diagnosed Type 2 Bi-Polar. The other is full-blown suicidal due to recurring job and financial losses from a career once filled with riches and brushes with stardom.

They all share a common trait. They’re ruminating on the quiet lie from a ghoulish, invisible enemy whispering in their ear. It’s telling them their life would be better by jumping. Jumping into the divorce, jumping into addiction, into suicide.

No one has to tell them they’re in a nightmare. They’re living it day by day, in dark gray, monochromatic misery. What they don’t know is that their nightmare isn’t a death sentence. It’s anything but. It’s a mirage, actually. Yet they do not and cannot know otherwise.

It could be they’re merely in a prolonged season of brainwashing from a childhood trauma-demon seeking to paralyze them. They can’t fathom the notion that things will get better…ever. The conclusion they’ve embraced is that the only solution to their fate is…fate itself.

But it’s not true. As I’ve personally confronted similar demons in my past I’ve discovered there’s always a way through the darkness. But what’s critical to seeing light at the end of the tunnel is being able to somehow separate the truth from the lies.

So…what is true? About our real lives, real circumstances, past or present?

We must all ask that question. Daily, from the small, mundane decisions to the monumental once-in-a-lifetime choices like who to marry (or unmarry), what career to pursue, what investments to make, where to live, etc. It takes truth to make informed decisions and act accordingly.

I was thinking about these weighty things while riding bikes with my daughter Annie around Seattle’s Pike Place Market yesterday. Later, on our way home on the ferry I shared with her a song by Bonnie Raitt. It beautifully captures the truth about the choices we must make to face life’s problems and how we must deal with them–head on. The lyrics, skillfully written by Pat McLaughlin, remind us that no matter what problems we face, we must eventually face them. Through the lens of truth…the truth about our deepest needs, wounds, disappointments and the opportunities that often follow in their turbulent wake.

The song is aptly titled “I Knew,” which is a message in itself. Because when we truly face our realities, or problems, we are facing the truth. Only when the truth is in our sights can we eventually break free.

There’s so much of life I don’t understand, including many of my friends’ struggles. But I’ve personally found great comfort and security in the age old saying ”You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

PS—On a lighter note, check out Bonnie’s song (free). It’s got a raw vulnerability to the lyrics. And the sliding chord progression, soulful use of the Hammond B3 paired with Bonnie’s smokin’ sensual voice should have landed this tune on the Billboard Top 10 Billboard chart >> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNbXvD7J6y8

I Knew–by Bonnie Raitt

Time, time ain’t never healed the wound
Can’t think of anything that gets
Any better because it’s old

Change, change would probably do me good
Wouldn’t probably hurt a thing
Anyway, that’s what I’m told

I would have run, but I couldn’t run
Would have flown, but I couldn’t fly
I would have headed right back into town
I would have lied, but I couldn’t lie
Because I knew

Stop, stop and take a better look
There ain’t no telling what you’ll find
In the corner of a darkened room

Things, things that either one time fell
Or blew down from a windowsill
Or never got up by the broom

I would have run, but I couldn’t run
Would have flown, but I couldn’t fly
I would have headed right back into town
I would have lied, but I couldn’t lie
Because I knew

No two ways about it, it’s a doggone shame
Baby, it’s a doggone shame

I would have run, but I couldn’t run
Would have flown, but I couldn’t fly
I would have headed right back into town
I would have lied, but I couldn’t lie
Because I knew

(Pat McLaughlin, lyrics)

Tight Lines And The Delicate Art Of Listening

Around the time I started writing fourth grade book reports and shoveling driveways on snowy days in my northern New Jersey neighborhood was when I started dreaming big, of becoming a great writer and a great salesman. Those aspirations still linger, and occasionally I grip them firmly while other times they seem more of a fleeting fancy. But always they’re worthy of earnest pursuit; and more curiously, along the way I’ve discovered a strong link between the two.

One of my favorite authors whose literary aspirations vaulted him to Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winning nobility is Ernest Hemingway, arguably the most influential novelist of the 2oth century. He was many things—novelist, war correspondent, essayist, story-teller, humorist, big game hunter, fisherman, binge drinker and deep within a dark, tainted soul that ultimately stole his life.

I’ve read most everything Hemingway wrote, or at least his published works to date. His writings have taught me many things, most notably that to be a great writer you must study your characters, your stories, plot lines and take-aways. Not just the ones you might describe as fiction, but the people, places and things that surround you every day.

This discipline of focused curiosity was one of his most important primers for aspiring young authors. When asked one time by a newbie writer, “How can a writer train himself?” Hemingway responded

“Watch what happens today. If we get into a fish see exactly what it is that everyone does. If you get a kick out of it while he is jumping remember back until you see exactly what the action was that gave you the emotion. Whether it was the rising of the line from the water and the way it tightened like a fiddle string until drops started from it, or the way he smashed and threw water when he jumped. Remember what the noises were and what was said. Find what gave you the emotion; what the action was that gave you the excitement. Then write it down making it clear so the reader will see it too and have the same feeling that you had. That’s a five finger exercise.”

What Hemmingway describes here is intense observation. Being completely lost in the event, the person, place or thing. It’s almost becoming the object of your observation, even more so. It’s learning and knowing what the character or person is thinking, and anticipating their next move, their future, even their destiny.

The same is true in the art of selling. It requires keen listening. Listening to what’s spoken by the prospect, what’s hoped for, what’s feared. It’s only after completing that mystical process that you earn the right to ask the probing questions that unlocks the door to the agreement of need.

(Check back shortly for Part 2–about qualifying prospects)

How We Won The Olympics

Part 4 in the series “Pitching To Win…Without Pitching”

If Seattle’s decade of the dotcom gave us anything, it was breathtaking innovation followed closely by mountains of investment capital. Or the other way around. This became more obvious each day in my tip-of-the-spear New Business Director role at Horton Lantz & Low in the early 2000s. It seemed that, almost overnight, the entire marketing landscape started shifting at warp speed. Every hungry business now wanted a fancy website adorned with 1-click storefront technologies, pop-up windows and clever meta-tags tied to search engine optimization strategies. Suddenly the fabled “big idea” pushed by ad agencies and eye-popping graphics of branding firms were being kicked to the curb. Marketing innovation harnessed by digital technologies became the bright new currency of brand managers of consumer products–and data-driven lead generation campaigns for B2B clients–across the Northwest and the nation.

As fate or good fortune would have it, I left Horton Lantz & Low  with a mix of optimism and dread. I was determined to ply the new waters of digital marketing. But the currents seemed deep, dark and a bit deadly. I dove in anyway. Over a period of several months I became an expert digital marketing strategist (albeit self-appointed). I read volumes on a multitude of topics from every digital marketing web portal and e-newsletter my eyeballs could land on. But the ones that caught most of my attention were Click-Z and MecLabs, two daily e-newsletters that, though light on creative ideas, were heavy on data and analytics-driven content I was looking for.

While doing my industry due-diligence two topics rose to the surface that gave me pause, telling me these were worthy of my full attention. Three actually, though they are intricately interwoven—multi-variate testing, landing pages and keyword search.

Providentially while doing this research I discovered a quiet but potent Seattle digital marketing agency specializing in app development, web design and back-end data analytics—Peak Systems (subsequently renamed UpTop Corp (www.uptopcorp.com). I was mostly drawn to the company by their roster of super cool clients like Warren Miller Ski Films and the Salt Lake Winter Olympics. But what was most exciting was a) they were looking for a New Business Director / Chief Marketing Officer and b) their CEO lived on Bainbridge Island, which meant we were fellow ferry boat commuters to downtown Seattle.

After making contact with John Sloat (the CEO) which led to an engaging lunch interview, I was hired. John gave me one specific assignment: to help UpTop win the RealNetworks account. More specifically, win a never-done-before project to acquire new subscribers for RealNetworks’ new streaming music service, Rhapsody. For me it was a perfect storm opportunity to apply my love for music with my passion for digital marketing, sales and analytics.

What ultimately won me an open-ended Rhapsody marketing assignment and subsequent full-time job offer as UpTop’s CMO was the surprising initial success of the project. Admittedly, that success had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the dream-team to whom I handed off most of the heavy lifting—my boss John (and the UpTop developers); Scott Fasser, the project manager; Tom Kelly, RealNetworks’ Rhapsody Division VP; and last but not least Scott Simonelli, Optimost’s VP of Sales (who was the primary architect of the multi-variate testing platform that pioneered a systematic way to test offers, images, colors and headlines to ensure the optimal combination of creative messaging on landing pages were tied to the most popular keyword searches at the time, such as streaming music, Coldplay, free digital music, jazz, etc).

The Rhapsody music project was a watershed moment for me. Not only did I get a primer in back-end data analytics but it earned me more time and opportunity with UpTop to wield the most powerful weapon in their (or any agency’s) arsenal—its client portfolio. I knew the impressive website and app develop work they’d done for Warren Miller Ski Films–and more importantly, the Salt Lake Winter Olympics—would be my calling card to bigger and more lucrative new business. Providentially, this meant chasing after the biggest event within 200 miles of Seattle in the past decade—the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Though I only realized it in hindsight, the Rhapsody project taught me the incalculable value of trusted partnerships that fostered collaboration leading to breakthrough results. This was the big take-away for me, the one I determined to apply to the Vancouver Winter Olympics account–to win it for UpTop. What I learned then about innovation in digital marketing–and am still learning–is that true digital creativity happens most efficiently and sustainably when you saddle up with people who have already blazed technology trails with proven success. In Rhapsody’s case  our dream-team members were Scott Fasser, a seasoned search engine marketer; Scott Simonelli, one of the nation’s pioneers in multi-variate landing page testing; and my company, UpTop, a back-end application development firm that could slice up a page and code it with an infinite array of message and image options. And of course Tom Kelly, RealNetworks’ VP of Rhapsody Music, the master conductor of the project.

If there’s a main reason I’ve enjoyed success as a business development specialist, it’s that I read a lot…perhaps more than most of my friendly competitors, if not all of them. As a daily habit I scan trade periodicals, websites and e-newsletters featuring business trends and industry news. This morning ritual has yielded a treasure trove of leads over the years. And on that fortuitous morning when I read a small piece in the business section of a British Columbia Newspaper on the upcoming Winter Olympics I knew I’d hit the mother lode. I discovered that in preparation for the 2010 Winter Games the Vancouver Olympics Organizing Committee (VANOC) had just been assembled. The article went on to say the committee was in its infancy but would soon be recruiting staff and vendors to help facilitate the logistics of the Games. To me that meant one thing: my company, UpTop, needed to be THE tech firm that brought the logistics together with one massive database solution—our specialty. It’s what we’d done for the Salt Lake 2002 Games years before. So in my mind it was our business to lose. How could we not chase after this with abandon and transfer our database solutions from one Olympic Games to the next? It seemed like a walk in the park.

From that moment on I began the chase. The most important step in this Approach Stage, as I’ve mentioned earlier, was gathering  as much insider information as possible. This meant finding someone within the VANOC organization who could give us a competitive advantage to learn what the SWOT profile was (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and where we could swiftly move in– quietly without any competitors around–to build relationships from within, along with the critical information we needed to present the best solution to our prospect.

As more good fortune unfolded, my first phone call to Canada connected me with the new office manager in Vancouver who had just been awarded the 4-year contract role to manage all administrative aspects of the Games. This included hiring an army of volunteers and paid staff to coordinate traffic, transportation, Olympic village accommodations, security and a million other details. The blessing for me was that she was not only incredibly capable and informative, but extremely warm. We made friends quickly, and over the ensuing dozens of phone calls and emails we established a mutual trust that paid rich dividends. One of the pay-offs was learning that Canadian companies—transportation companies, foodservice providers, construction firms and the like—would be given strong preferential treatment when it came to awarding contracts to bring the Olympics to Vancouver, Canada.

So again I went to digging…this time to explore suitable a British Columbia software development company with whom we could saddle up and fill in the technology expertise we lacked to build a gargantuan database to manage the logistics of the Games—and more importantly, give us the advantage over any and all competitors who wanted a stake in the software infrastructure to organize the Games and the resources to pull them off.

I was thrilled when my research pointed to a small software development firm headquartered in Victoria, BC that had just the chops we needed. They had an impressive portfolio and list of clients, and their leadership team was quite affable and open-handed. Between the many conference calls and trips from Seattle to their Victoria offices we forged a strong, trusting partnership. And in a matter of months…well, the rest became history.

In keeping with this series of Winning Without Pitching, I can’t exactly say we won the business without a few competitors nipping at our heels. In fact, as was my customary way, I sheepishly asked the administrator one day, “Would you mind telling me the names of the other companies in the running for this software development project?” In hindsight I wished I’d never asked. The moment my administrator-turned-new-best-friend mentioned the names of two global technology companies  we were contending with–IBM and Fujitzu Business Solutions—you could hear my bubble of optimism pop like a bomb, then a slow fizzling sound as our “we got this” positivity became a vanishing vapor.

Though chasing projects on the scale of the Olympic Games–with the odds in your favor (including the best team and the best solution) hardly guarantees a win–in this case, shockingly, it did for our UpTop team. We won the business. And we learned later we won handily, with subsequent fees generating well over a million dollars for the agency. I guess that’s why the company was aptly named UpTop.

For me personally, the learnings of the Olympic Games pursuit–and the RealNetworks win–were vast. But to strip it down, here are a few simple take-away points you may be able to apply to your own hunt the next time you see a big piece of new business in your cross-hairs…

  1. Apply successful, relevant experience—In my experience, prospective clients have a difficult time imagining success with your firm if you haven’t shown solid marketing case studies and a portfolio that validates your expertise. No client wants to be a guinea pig.
  2. Be a relentless researcher—Make research a daily habit. In the above illustration I talked about how my research led to landing a big project, then a big job offer. It led me to discover Optimost that was the partner I presented to our client as the best technology partner for testing. We got in on the ground floor of the Olympic Games before any competitor knew about it, and we found the perfect partner to give us the local competitive advantage to help break parity with our rivals.
  3. Speed—In business development, speed is critical. Everyone pays attention when you’re fast with solutions and clear in your communication. It raises the bar for everyone to do their best and keep things moving quickly and efficiently. It’s called professionalism.
  4. Partnerships—You know the saying made famous by Aristotle… “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” That especially applies to team members with expertise far beyond your own capabilities. That goes back to speed and efficiency and professionalism, which is what clients are buying.
  5. Collaboration—When smart and experienced people band together amazing things happen. Ideas from one category or discipline can be cross-pollinated with others from different team members. The result is what everyone should be shooting for…genuine innovation through synergy.
  6. Likability—Very little of the above happens when pitch or implementation teams don’t get along. Common courtesies foster trust and respect. When people are liked and appreciated they do their best work. It’s where the Golden Rule applies in spades.

These tips and tactics may seem rudimentary to most. But it’s taken me two decades to live these principles out with any consistency. If you’ll take these concepts to heart perhaps you can hasten your personal learning cycle and win your pitch–with or without pitching—almost every time.

Be First, Be Fast, Be Fabulous


john hamm dapper

Part 2 in the series “Pitching To Win…Without Pitching”

In today’s free-wheeling, market-driven economy, category dominance is often won simply by being first to the party. Depending on the complexity of a new product or service, capital requirements, intellectual property, patents or talent needs, that’s easier said than done. It’s one thing to start out at the top of the heap. It’s quite another to stay there. But since we’re focusing on new business in this post we’ll shift to the phase where companies often look outside their companies for category marketing expertise to grow and prosper.

Enter integrated marketing, design or digital agency.

When pursuing new business in a burgeoning industry, I’ve discovered this “first-to-the-party” scenario is also hugely important for ad agencies chasing those companies to secure contract marketing work. In the many situations where I’ve been hired to bring in new clients for ad agencies—whether on contract as Director of Business Development or as full-time VP of Sales—I utilize a simple, uncomplicated sales process that’s served agencies well when pursuing new business to drive revenue.

As a refresher from last week’s Introduction on Winning The Pitch Without Pitching, here’s my de facto sales process that has served me well—in one form or another—for over two decades.

Approach > Qualification > Agreement of Need > Sell the Company > Act of Commitment  > Fill the Need > Cement the Sales

As I mentioned last week, in my experience as the “tip of the spear” biz dev guy at six different agencies, no other phase in the sales process is more important—that separates the men form the boys—than the Approach phase. Why? Because nothing happens in business development without this first step. It requires fierce tenacity, grit, courage, creativity and a tad of insanity. And it’s where I have often left my friendly competitors in the dust.

The insanity part is well documented by any and every biz dev guy or girl in any business. To be successful you must first and foremost be willing to throw a ton of stuff against the wall to see what sticks. That’s what we call the dreaded term “cold-calling.” To get a new account, you must often chase 100 prospects, at least for a time. But does the definition “Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result” apply to business development work? In my experience, “Heck yeah!” Is it often the right approach to the new business process? Yes it it.

In my next several posts I’m going to give you three super-fun examples of the cagey strategies I took during the approach stage that won my agency teams over $10,000,000 in agency fees–DirecTV, The 2010 Winter Olympics and Mercy Ships.

The first one, DirecTV, earned me a quick and tidy $50,000 commission check.

Stay tuned…

Winning The Pitch…Without Pitching

Part 1–Introduction

At the height of the frantic, money-grubbing dotcom era, Seattle’s business landscape was littered with tech start-ups and fat digital marketing budgets lining every street from Seattle to Bellevue to Blaine. Venture funding was flowing like freshly corked bottles of Dom Perignon. It was a heavenly moment for entrepreneurs and opportunists. For me and the ad agency pitch teams who chased after them with abandon it was a four star meal ticket to cash in on the region’s new-found prosperity. Or so we all thought.

On January 21, 2001 I uprooted my family from the piney woods of East Texas to stake my claim of fame and fortune in Seattle’s pot of digital marketing gold. I had a heart full of optimism, a head full of modestly successful marketing campaigns and a 20-year resume documenting my experience as the head of business development for Los Angeles and Dallas ad agencies and design firms. I had fire in my belly, fully convinced that hunting for plum new advertising accounts in the emerald green pastures of industry titans like Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon meant one thing. Big bucks.

And it was…until it wasn’t.

As many of us painfully discovered–in the irrefutable trends of macro-economics–what goes up must come down. The dotcom go-go era eventually slowed to a trickle, then bottomed out in 2001—not so fortuitously at the same time I left the comforts of East Texas to assume the reigns of new business for Seattle’s Horton-Lantz-Low marketing agency (arguably the largest and most innovative independent agency in Seattle at the time which unofficially merged with Ascentium in 2010).

Despite the downturn, for me it was a time of enormous challenge, growth and modest success. I learned to pitch business from the very best, in a team environment, competing for some of the richest and most storied advertising and design accounts on the planet—Patagonia, Shimano, Princess Cruises, Phillips Electronics, Microsoft, etc.

Though I brought to HL2 a solid background in account strategy and copywriting, I was hired for one reason: to get in front of prospects. And I did so, with dutiful enthusiasm as the sort of “tip of the spear” big game hunter for the firm.

What I learned could fill a book (which may happen one day). But for the purpose of this blog series I’ll lay the foundation for my learnings and pitch strategy by borrowing the simple but profoundly effective proprietary sales process model from my sales mentor and forever friend, the late Roy Chitwood. In his Max Sacks “Track Selling” training program (www.maxsacks.com – I wrote most of the copy and produced the website) Roy defines the track selling process as follows…

Approach  >  Qualification  >  Agreement of Need  > Sell the company  >  Fill the need  >  Act of commitment  >  Cement the sale

With this groundwork of a brief introduction and sales model laid, we’ll talk next week about that critical first step in the sales process that I’ve discovered, time and again, which separates the men from the boys—the Approach Stage.

Check in next week for Be first, be fast, be fabulous—Part 2

(photo credit courtesy of John Hamm, post Mad Men)

Greed Causes Fighting. Trust Leads To Prosperity.

greed

Not long ago I met with a company that specializes in digital apps for entertainers. Their client roster reads like a Who’s Who of recording artists: Usher, Sara Bareilles, the Eagles, Smashing Pumpkins, Kelly Clarkson and others. Their work is very good, exceptional in fact when you realize the team has deftly cornered the market on high-dollar app development projects, not from LA or New York—but a dingy basement in Bremerton, Washington.

They are young and lucky and they know it. When we started talking about combining our talents in a “unite-and conquer” partnership to further dominate the entertainment app development space their excitement was palpable. But the minute we started talking money—about who gets paid for what in a series of hypothetical scenarios—their eyes got shifty, their words tightly measured and their vibe cagey.

It was clear to me their suspicions were fueled by fear. What was written on their foreheads on an invisible Post-It note was the elephant-in-the-room question, “What if we don’t get our fair share of the money?”Try as I did to reassure them it would be a win for everyone, they seemed skeptical. Looking back, I guess I can’t blame them. They simply didn’t know my team enough to trust us, nor me. But the underlying issue was more immovable: When it comes to money—and the power that often accompanies it—people often get weird. And the perpetrators of such behavior are the evil twin sisters, Greed and Fear.

Some years ago I took a marketing team to Atlanta to make a once-in-a-lifetime presentation to the top executives of Coca-Cola’s digital marketing division. It went pretty well, but throughout the pitch one of our developers continued to interrupt the discussions with her dogmatic points of view which quickly overpowered the ideas of the client. At one point she even turned on me and adamantly refuted the rationale for my perspective on a matter. It was bad enough that she was completely mistaken in her judgment. But she embarrassed our team, and worse, the Coke executives. It was greed that drove her subversive assault. Greed for power, greed for recognition. As you might guess, we didn’t win the business.

When we later stepped out of the elevator following the meeting I paused to read a massive quote etched into the black granite wall of the stately lobby. It moved me deeply, as if I were reading The Ten Commandments written on Moses’ tablets of stone:

“THERE IS NO LIMIT TO WHAT PEOPLE CAN ACHIEVE IF THEY DON’T CARE WHO GETS THE CREDIT” (written by Coke founder Asa Griggs Canler)

If the Coke brand is a shining testament to that tenet—which it is—my colleagues’ behavior in that meeting was the polar opposite.

Whilst lying in my hotel room that night, staring up at the black ceiling, I rewound the day’s events. After a few minutes I heard a faint whisper…

“You learned something big today, Phil. You learned by simply observing how ugly and destructive greed, fear and insecurity look like from the other side of the desk. May that lesson stick with you. Don’t be greedy with power, influence or money.

“Keep trusting others to do their part—especially when they appear better, more productive or important than yours—and give credit where credit’s due.”

“I Was Cable Before Cable Was Cool”

ted turner 3

Ted Turner is one of my heroes. My first encounter with Ted, or shall I say his persona,  was while driving through Atlanta’s Peachtree Plaza en route to a national sales meeting for Rollins, one of the South’s true media giants back in the 80s. I glanced up from the taxi window at a towering 40 foot billboard displaying a bold declaration:

“I WAS CABLE BEFORE CABLE WAS COOL.” Signed, Ted Turner.

“Who would do that? Who would have the gall to think they invented a whole industry and publish their bravado on billboards scattered throughout their own home town?” I asked myself. A few years later I learned the answer. Only Ted would do something like that. Why? Because back in those days only Ted had the courage, insight and legitimate ownership rights to a field that would swiftly turn the entire entertainment industry on its ear.

In the mid-80s I temporarily left behind my executive sales career to stake my claim of fame and fortune in the direct marketing industry, a relatively obscure business back then simply known as direct mail (the ugly step sister to the glamorous advertising industry). My plan was to briskly hop three stepping stones–the first to the drab DM industry, then to the emerging cable business, then into the sexy world of entertainment advertising.

Little did I know that first stepping stone, direct mail, would one day become the mother lode of marketing, the true darling of today’s fast-morphing interactive, social media, direct response marketing industry. As luck (or fate) would have it, I was blessed to hire on as an Account Supervisor and assistant to the iconic Freeman Gosden Jr, one of the pioneers of modern direct marketing as we know it, and chief architect of the legendary 40-40-20 Rule (the de facto formula for direct marketing success).

For several years I was Freeman’s shadow. He took me everywhere–to the boardroom of Hilton Hotels, to Universal Studios executive lunchroom to the publisher’s penthouse at Architectural Digest. He even sent me to New York one time with the expressed purpose of meeting John Yeck, the brilliant copywriter and founding chairman of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation.

Anyone who ever worked for Freeman owes him a debt of gratitude. He was brilliant, a mad scientist trapped in an ad man’s body. A simple glance of those piercing eyes over the rims of his reading glasses could set legions of AEs aflight. He was a tyrannical perfectionist, yet merciful to a fault when you cost the company $20,000 due to a simple proofing error or missed drop date. “How else are you going to learn?” he would often say to those of us mistaken-prone AEs who were moving at mach speed in the West’s  largest direct marketing agency.

To this day I have the utmost respect for those who have graduated to the fast-pitch league of social media, email marketing, “two-step” landing page strategies and the like from the hallowed halls of direct mail. Want to create the perfect order page? Take your queue from a well-designed reply card. Looking for the ultimate hook in a subject line? Search no further than a clever outer envelope teaser.

Note to hiring managers: On the lookout for the most talented direct marketers to help you win the war on branding and customer acquisition simultaneously? Hire direct mail specialists—the foot soldiers of direct marketing. You can never go wrong.

One day we’ll look around and see precious few of the founding fathers of direct marketing among us. Yet in my dreams I see a 40 foot billboard along the Santa Monica Freeway sporting a familiar headline in quotes…

“I WAS DIRECT MARKETING BEFORE DIRECT MARKETING WAS COOL.” Signed, Freeman Gosden Jr.

Except Freeman would never do that. First because he doesn’t own a billboard company. And second because he’s just too humble a guy.

Hats off to our direct marketing forefathers whose tried and true techniques help us serve clients in the digital world to their most strategic, profitable advantage.

Go Big Or Go Home

taylor swift 2My 19 year old daughter is an aspiring professional singer. As a sophomore vocal performance major she’s often auditioning for a part or performing in a concert.

Every once in awhile she’ll call or text me about a show she’s getting ready to take the stage for. She’s usually looking for a pep talk or reassurance that she won’t biff.

My advice is always the same…

“Go big. Have fun…or stay in your dorm room.” She seems to listen because it apparently pays off.

What does going BIG mean to you? Whether you’re a salesperson or singer, presenter or preacher, in my mind it means tapping into that passion and energy deep within your heart to share a prized gift to your audience.

Since I’m an entertainment marketer I’ll give you a couple of examples. The best is from the King of Pop. If you read my earlier post you watched MJ’s History show in Munich as he floated, stomped, screamed and whispered to the roar of 100,000 ravaging fans.

Let’s face it. Michael was from a different planet, oozing passion and energy from drinking kryptonite or something from distant galaxy. It seemed that from every pore in his body, shoes, even that raw energy electrifying reshaped the sound waves produced from his voice.

The best preachers tap into it when attempting to pierce the hearts of souls they’re seeking to convert. Call it hell fire and brimstone, or whatever. It’s palpable. The late Chris Farley applied it with abandon while sitting in the interview chair on the Late Show with Conan O’brien.  The best pop singers have made it their signature sound (think Christina, Miranda, Adam Levine, etc).

For example, feel the passion, crazy talent playfulness from the biggest star you’ve never heard of…yet:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TwpajZIUxM

Celica Westbrook was all of 15 when this video was shot. Not in front of adoring fans or flanked with hunky dancers, but in a small Nashville studio. Which is an even bigger testament her energy and love for the lyrics and music of Al Green’s People Get Ready.

 When Celica makes her television debut in the next week or so on The Voice (under the expert coaching of Keith Thomas), she’ll hopefully be adding that magic ingredient she projects that can even make a sour note sound heavenly. What’s that? Humor. It’s what a beautiful, energetic, fun-loving high school senior should be doing at the ripe old age of 17…having fun.

Another case in point since we’re on the topic of beautifully talented, golden-yet-light-hearted young women: Taylor Swift. Want to know why this 22 year-old grossed more sales last year–$100 million–than any recording artist on the planet? Take a looks and see for yourself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA4iX5D9Z64.

$100 million. Let me say it again. $100 million.

Love her or hate her, she proves my point: Everything she does…whether videos, arena tours or talk show interviews, she is who she is—oozing passion and playfulness at every turn.

Tomorrow I get my own shot at five minutes of fame. I will be a presenter at Interbike, North America’s largest stage for the bicycle industry. I will be presenting a global marketing campaign for bike shop owners around the world—many of whom need a primer on how to sell electric bikes to their die-hard spandex-and-shaved-legged cycling customers.

So I’ve been thinking…like you should always be thinking…how do I go big?

Since I’m pitching electricity-powered bikes maybe I’ll switch my mic to a 220 volt power supply with a 1,000 watt amp and jolt everyone to attention with my booming voice? For that maybe I’ll need rubber-soled tennis shoes while talking through my PowerPoint slides.

Otherwise my next blog post might be…”Stay Grounded Or Die.”

(originally posted 10.30.13; reposted 2.5.16)

Who Are You Wearing Tonight?

gwyneth

Two of my favorite TV shows are the Grammys and Academy Awards. For a couple of reasons.

One reason is the opening act. The opener always sets the stage for the evening, providing a glimpse of the current quality and state of music and film in the entertainment business.

The other is the red carpet. The appearance of the industry’s biggest successes always leaves me star struck.

When I’m at my kitchen counter cooking or writing and I hear Lara Spencer or Natalie Morales ask that million dollar question “Who are you wearing tonight?” I know it’s time to drop everything, impose a gag order throughout the house and settle in to my front-row recliner.

What I’m about to witness (along with 3 billion other viewers) is humanity at the height of glamour—the stunning, beautiful people, glittery fashions, jewelry, and yes, even the diamond-studded accessories.

But under the lights of center stage, amid the perfect teeth, coiffed hair and sequined gowns shines an even brighter star:

Branding.

Since volumes have been written and broadcast on the topic of branding by marketing stars like Seth Godin and Donny Deutsch I won’t rehash more of the same. Instead, I’d like to take a peek behind the curtain, into a world many consider counter culture (which in this sense is an oxymoron) but in reality defines authentic, classic branding:

Indie music.

There’s no cooler music riding the airwaves today than the rapturous tunes of Eisley, short-listed by Billboard Magazine a few years ago as one of the special “Indie bands to watch”. If you’re not familiar with them (most of us late adapters aren’t) perhaps you will shortly. They’re continually following the path of Coldplay, Switchfoot, and Death Cab, for whom they open shows when not headlining their own. But make no mistake. They are Eisley. No one else.

Eisley-Tour-Banner-LO (2)

As I’ve watched their slow, steady rise to fame I’ve observed their unwavering commitment to be true to their values, style and passions—ultimately, that thing we call brand.

Curiously, the concept of branding (with origins from American West’s pioneer days) that helped define the classic cowboy persona is the same that identifies an indie fan, frequent flyer or Pandora One listener:

Loyalty.

In today’s free-for-all, circus-like marketing world loyalty is everything. Seattle’s Kennedy High School Development Department cultivates “Lazers for Life.” Masterworks, the premier faith-based ad agency chants the mantra “Donors for Life.” Even my own two companies—SmoothStone Partners and SmoothStone Sports + Entertainment Marketing rally to the slogan “Connecting Fans to Bands for Life.”

Smart companies have long since moved their main focus away from single-transaction ROI. Today’s marketing metrics are about projecting lifetime customer values and pro formas based on amortizing and analyzing customer acquisition costs over months and years. And not just original customers. Friends, neighbors, even extended family who become brand loyalists are worth thousands if treated with tender loving care.

It’s no secret in this economy: Differentiate your brand, foster fierce customer loyalty—or die.

eisley girl

One day, if you’re really lucky like Eisley, you can have a photo of People Magazine’s Best Dressed Woman gracing the front page of the London Times fleeing the paparazzi in your company’s cool new t-shirt.

Timing Is Everything

michael-jackson-32

You’ve heard it a million times. “Timing is everything.” In the Western world, and most often in business, we tend to think in a linear fashion, in sequence. We process items from A to B to C to get to our intended destination. Yet in other realms, like music or film for example, timing is often used in seemingly random and arbitrary ways to create a dramatic effect. But don’t be fooled.

There are many delicate, deft uses of timing in entertainment, and a myriad of words to describe them. Pacing, tempo, slow-motion, fading, pause, freeze-frame, fast-forward, momentum, crescendo, cadence, and rhythm are a few of many techniques. While many words can describe the ways timing is used to create drama and impact, no one has better used them or invented new ones like the late Michael Jackson, the undisputed King of Pop. Business professionals should take note.

One of the most epic shows ever performed by Michael was the History Tour performed 15 years ago at Munich’s Olympic stadium with a crowd of over 100,000 fans. The show was choreographed by Kenny Ortega, the genius behind many opening shows for the Olympics, Madonna tours, and High School Musical’s Step Up.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qF3MO0sCMP0

The show begins as an illusion. In other-worldly fashion, Michael appears on the Jumbotron screen strapped inside a space orbiter. En route to Mother Earth from a faraway galaxy, Michael passes through iconic images and sound bites such as Martin Luther King Jr., Caesars Palace, the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Sistine Chapel. Once landed on stage, the King emerges from the orbiter in a Tron-like space suit to the screams of a crazed audience. The longer Michael pauses, the more deafening the applause becomes.

Finally, the opening song, so aptly chosen is Scream.

Consider the peculiar but profoundly powerful first words of the show:

Next there are perfectly timed explosions followed by louder screams. Blaring sirens, more screams, fire effects, and chaos. The energy is nearly overwhelming.

About eight and a half minutes into the performance screaming gives way to ghoulish, high stepping Gestapo storm-troopers marching to the rhythm of drill sergeant MJ’s hate-provoking epithets such as “skin head, dead head” whilst flanked by Michael’s team of riot gear-clad dancers.

At 11 minutes 30 seconds we’re presented with the show’s theme—HIStory—with subtle relief from the chaos in the form of Miss Liberty’s flaming torch paired with a flowing American flag. The dancers downshift to super-slow motion for effect, as if to freeze frame the show’s redemptive take-away: liberty and freedom for all.

 Curiously, the fans aren’t presented with any of the pop icon’s classics until 14:30 minutes into show.

How do we know?

Being the consummate audience connector, MJ simply asks his 100,000 zealots: Do you want to be starting something?” The legendary music again takes flight into the stratosphere, this time with the husky and larger than life dancers sporting flat-black unitards and burly boots, strikingly juxtaposed against the shiny gold, lighter-than-air Michael.

But how much “Don’t stop till you get enough” intensity can a fan take? At exactly 21 minutes, MJ deftly slides into the lush, symphonic song, Stranger In Moscow (my personal favorite).

The tune is intended to slow things way down so the fans (and performers) can rest and breathe in the magic. True to his nano-second timed sensibilities, the sultry sway of lush strings and synthesizers morphs violently into Smooth Criminal. So erupts the rat-a-tat-tat machine gun fire followed by the suspenseful pause of a stretched note held tight by the violins, which then transitions into a West Side Story style entrance of 1930’s era gangsters  dancing to the staccato chorus of  “Annie are you ok?” The back beat is a classic treatment of heart-pounding solo percussion and bass riffs. The timing is yet again deliberate and palpable; with the slow motion side-winding moon walkers and stiff-bodied dancers listing like ironing boards as their noses nearly touch the stage. Brilliant.

Then it happens, the first of several climaxes in the set.  Around an hour into the show we witness one of the finest dance sequences in HIStory. Set to the iconic beat of Billy Jean, there’s no music, no props, no back-up singers or dancers. Just the King of Pop alone, silhouetted by a sliding 90 degree vertical spotlight from on high trained on his every move.

Then finally, the moment arrives: Thriller. And the rest is…HIStory.

So how does all this relate to business?

Timing truly is everything, and is as critical for the business professional as for the entertainer. To make perfect, you must practice perfect, and practice takes time. MJ is a classic example of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlier. Yes, Michael was gifted beyond human ability, but he was also a staunch believer in the theory of 10,000 hours, times two. You don’t become the King of Pop or king of anything without practicing more than your peers, unless you’re a prince by default, like Prince William.

The next time you need to apply intricate timing to an important business task or event, ask yourself a few questions. How long should this presentation be? When should I close this deal? When should I stop talking and speak up? When should I move on? When should I buy…sell? When should I walk away?

Timing doesn’t just apply to your business, to PowerPoint presentations or cold-calling. It also applies at home, on the tennis court, the kitchen and even in the bedroom.

OK, maybe timing isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. We could all likely write a book on the times our timing was bad (think stock purchases, speeding past a highway patrol officer, asking a dumb question). However, we could also write another book just as thick on moments of perfect, providential timing (think parking spots, the haul we made at the One Day Only sale, that first date).

michael-jackson-dancing-leather-shoes-1

The next time you need to be intentional in your timing, pause and ask yourself…“WWMD?”

Be Kind To Thine Advertising Brethren

 

mad menCommandment #3—Ron Elgin’s Golden Rule

By the time the dessert menu arrived I’d lost count of the number of people who went out of their way to greet us at our table at the Capital Grille. Among them were CEOs, venture capitalists, a serial entrepreneur, a philanthropist and a politician. I knew none of them. Ron knew them all. What baffled me was how he remembered everyone’s name. I guess it’s no big deal when part of your DNA is hardwired as a consummate networker. I could see why he named his company “re:Connects.us.”

In The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell refers to people who start social epidemics—trends, if you will—as Connectors. The way Gladwell describes them fits parts of Ron’s MO to a tee:

“The first—and most obvious—criterion is that Connectors know lots of people. They are the kinds of people who know everyone. All of us know someone like this. But I don’t think we spend a lot of time thinking about the importance of these kinds of people. I’m not even sure most of us really believe that the kind of person who knows everyone really knows everyone. But they do.”

Amidst the parade of greeters and idle chatter I marched on with a few deeper, more sensitive questions as we wrapped up our lunch.

(Me) What’s been the financial impact on the agency business in recent years, and how do you think it’s affected the average agency person’s income?

(Ron) First and foremost, one must understand and appreciate the basics of our economy. Clients don’t grind on their agency partners because they’re assholes or trying to be mean. They’re pushing to get more for less because their companies and stockholders demand it. That mentality is not going away. In order for an agency to provide more for less, several actions must take place.

Agency leaders must ensure they have the best and most productive employees. This invariably means for those employees, they need to pay above market rates. In order to make that financially viable, the agency needs to be right-sized. Given the option, an employee will almost always admit they’d rather be well paid than to be given an extra pair of hands. Specific to your question, Phil, I think the “average” agency person will be lucky to even keep their job in this economy. The extraordinary employee will, however, always make good money in the agency business.

(Me) In retrospect, it seems that selling ElginSyferd to a multi-billion dollar communications conglomerate was the most strategic decision of your career. Would you agree? Were there stakeholders in the company who may have felt otherwise?

(Ron) First of all, my partner Dave Syferd and I owned virtually 100% of our company. With the help of our extraordinary employees, in eight years the agency grew to be the third largest in the market. It became a very large fish swimming in a pretty small pond. That very fact made us attractive to several of the multi-nations that didn’t already have a local presence. We began paying attention to their overtures after realizing that many of our national accounts such as Holland America Line and Nordstrom could benefit from their billions of dollars of clout. We also felt our employees could benefit from the depth and breadth of experience from the big shops. Plus on a personal note, Dave and I would make a lot of money by selling! So yes, Phil, I agree it was a good decision. As to your other question, we considered each of our employees to be an important stakeholder and wanted all to be comfortable with our decision to sell. I asked DDB Global’s CEO, Keith Reinhard, for assurances that after the sale no one from NY would waltz in and start replacing our people. He laughed and said “Do you think we have a big warehouse in Manhattan filled with talented people in search of a place to roost? We’re buying your company because of your talented people and their brilliant work. I promise as long as you continue doing great work and making decent money, you’ll only hear our voice when you call us.” Keith kept his word to the end.

(Me) Let’s face it, your agency career has been pretty charmed, but nobody bats a thousand in this or any other business. What do you think was your biggest mistake?

(Ron) Let me think about that for a minute while I finish this delicious salmon. Phil, I honestly believe I never made a BIG mistake running our company; lots of small ones to be sure, but nothing major. For example, I wish we had never made a handshake agreement to sell our shares in Hornall Anderson ten years after co-founding it because I’d love to still be a part of their great company.

I’ve often wished we had actively pursued a merger with another small agency about our size in Portland that was (and still is) handling Nike. I wished every day that we would win more business. But even with those and many other little things like them, we were able to claw our way to the top of the rankings faster than any agency in the history of this market. Staying on top as long as we did says a lot about our people, our culture and our work. So you’re right Phil, we didn’t bat a thousand but because of what we accomplished over the last 30 years, I think we batted close to 950.

(Me) Throughout our conversation today you’ve referred over and over to your people. I know that part of being a good leader requires delegating to those people. Can you tell me a little about your approach to continually opening your hands, hoping for the best outcome, taking risks?

(Ron) I learned the value of delegation as a young Army officer. The first “report card” from my commanding officer basically gave me 39 A’s and 1 E. I was pretty happy until he told me he wasn’t recommending me for a promotion. He explained that I probably earned the 39 A’s because I micromanaged everyone’s work. The E I earned was in Delegation. He said if he promoted me, I’d have more people under my command.

At some point I wouldn’t be able to do everyone’s work myself. At that point, I’d start an inevitable slide into mediocrity and probably failure. I vowed at that moment to make it a life-long passion to bring my E grade up to an A. The ability to successfully delegate is the most valuable skill a manager can possess. One of our agency’s founding philosophies was to allow our people the opportunity to fail. We made them aware that we were delegating not abrogating. We’d always be there for advice and counsel to keep them from sinking but we wouldn’t be holding on to the bike while they learned how to ride it. A word of caution: good managers must also know when a person is not capable of successfully handling the responsibility delegated to them and what needs to be done about it.

(Me) If you could make one rule every ad person had to live by, what would it be?

(Ron) That’s a great question, Phil, and one I’ve never considered. Since we’re nearly out of time let me end with this cornball but heartfelt rule: Every person should treat every other person with the same integrity and respect that they would hope for themselves. When that person happens to be in the advertising business, that integrity and respect should also be applied to every message created for their client’s customers.

Perhaps the most poignant part of our meeting came at the end. After lunch Ron and I walked out the restaurant to the curb and chatted next to he electric bike I’d ridden off the Bainbridge ferry up Madison and Fourth Street. While frisking my coat in search of the key to unlock the bike a distinguished looking young man approached us and introduced himself to Ron.

I overheard only parts of the conversation, but what I gathered was that he’d followed us out the restaurant door and stood patiently for our visit to end so he could connect with Ron. He was a marketing buy who’d crossed paths with Ron through some previous agency work. Out of the corner of my eye I watched the exchange.

Ron, once again, stepped into his Connector mode, gave his undivided time and attention to a fellow colleague aspiring to climb the agency ladder. Once again, I watched him practice what he’d consistently preached for thirty years—Follow the golden rule.

Phil Herzog is CEO of SmoothStone Partners. He’s served as new business director for Seattle’s top marketing agencies. He is currently building a sports and entertainment marketing practice to promote entertainers, recording artists and sports personalities. Reach him at Phil.Herzog@smoothstonepartners.com.