Pitching Martha Stewart

A few years ago a business colleague and I embarked on a much-heralded “mission-impossible” business trip with the expectation (albeit woefully unfounded) of conquering the magazine publishing industry. More precisely, we were sent out by our fearless leader Gilbert Sherrer, the company CEO, to unveil what we believed would become the holy grail subscription model for the nation’s top magazine circulation directors, to help them acquire a treasure trove of new subscribers in the epicenter of magazine publishing—Midtown Manhattan.

Our quest, we were convinced, was the embodiment of Webster’s definition of mission: an important assignment carried out for political, religious, or commercial purposes, typically involving travel. My deep faith in our cause was indeed political (we were trying to convince the naysaying magazine leaders of America our company, Passage Events, had built a better acquisition mousetrap. It was religious (in my world there’s no invisible line between the secular and sacred…everything’s sacred if done with the right motive). And it was certainly commercial in the sense that we were storming the shores of the Isle of Manhattan like buccaneers hoping to plunder the riches of publishing’s biggest nameplates—Time, Newsweek, Business Week, Readers Digest, Men’s Health, Spin, Rolling Stone, Outdoor Life, Shape, etc.

Before we go further, a little about me and our company, Passage Events.

Though I’m sorry to say Passage is no longer the formidable company it once was (a shadow of its former self, Rally Marketing Group is the rising phoenix of the company), my boss, the VP of Sales and I were Sales Captain and Wingman for what was at the time the largest and most successful event marketing company on the west coast (with clients including Starbucks, American Express, DirecTV, CitiCard, etc). And while Larry was an extraordinary event marketing and marquee sponsorship expert, I was the cold-calling guerilla. We made a great team, and we got into places most marketing agencies would kill to get a seat in the boardroom.

Back to the problem with our mission of magazine marketing conquest…

With my dogged take-no-prisoners door knocking we found we could get through the hallowed halls of just about any major publisher to do our dog and pony show and win them over with our model that we were certain would acquire thousands of subscribers at events like Cochella or the Newport Jazz Festival or State Fairs. But a problem loomed large, and we sort of new it. Our model was flawed.

I won’t go into the details of why it was fraught with defects, I’ll just say it had “issues.” No, worse. It sucked. And the Circ Directors, one after another, let us know by the blank faces staring back at us and the unsigned contracts we stuffed in our briefcases as we hustled out the boardrooms on the 60th floor of the Time-Life building, the Chrysler building and other iconic skyscrapers.

The schedule I set for our magazine publishing blitz was punishing, usually 5 major meetings a day, running up and down 7th Ave, Broadway, up to Brant Park, down to Wall Street. I did it on purpose…it was part of the political angle of the mission—to show Larry that I could bury him, and Passage Events, with more opportunities and wins than they could imagine.

But after the first day, after the first five meetings with the blank stares, sweat dripping onto our blank note pads, my bravado swiftly turned into a deafcon bunker retreat mode.

Beyond our conundrum of an insane schedule and a lackluster product was the timing of our trip held over a four day period in August, the hottest weather of the summer for New York City. From the time Larry and I walked off the plane Monday night from the SeaTac to LaGuardia red-eye till we parted at Grand Central Station of Friday noon, we were dripping hot messes, to quote a favorite Tim Gunn saying.

Consider for example, if you’ve ever tried to hail a New York cab in a full suit on a scorching August afternoon, you get the picture. Now imagine you’re already 10 minutes late for your presentation because you got the wrong address. Then add another 5 minutes because of the insane 7th Avenue traffic. You walk off the elevator on the 60th floor, the receptionist greets you with a “Hello, gentlemen. Are you Mr. Herzog and Mr. Weil? They’re all waiting for you in the boardroom behind those double doors.”

To be continued…check back soon.

Selling Electric Bikes –The Bicycle Industry’s New 800 Pound Gorilla

 

The term “old habits die hard” has never rung truer than with the bicycle business, be it for the manufacturers, independent bike dealers (IBDs) or the cycling purists who ride them—especially in the United States. This clear and present reality first slapped me in the face several years ago when I gave a presentation at the infamous Interbike Convention in Las Vegas, North America’s largest annual bicycle gathering.

Prior to the convention I’d been hired by the International Light Electric Vehicle Association as a marketing strategist, to refresh the value proposition and key messages for the LEVA website (www.levassociation.com) and other member marketing materials. Once completed, I was given a plum opportunity to create the first-ever global marketing campaign to drag die-hard IBDs onto the shifting landscape of electric bike technology and embrace this new phenomenon on behalf of their customers—from Seattle to Singapore.

I was hardly a newcomer to the industry. My foray into what was considered a fringe bike segment began in 2008 when a former fitness equipment client of mine, Bill Hebb of Hebb Electric Bikes fame, commissioned me to a study of the emerging trend he’d witnessed first-hand in Asia. The question he wanted answered—with data to back it up— was simple: “Is it the right time to start an ebike company in the US?”

After my thorough conclusions led to a green light on Bill’s idea to start a US-based ebike company, we quickly set out in earnest to become—and succeeded in becoming—the #1 rated independent electric bike brand in the mid-priced category in 18 short months.

It was not easy work. I won’t get side-tracked and bore you with all the challenges we faced with Chinese manufacturing, shipping, customs, and quality control. Those were mere speed bumps in the road. The real Mount Everest challenge was selling the ebike category–and an untested brand–to the 4,000 IBDs in America, 90% of which had zero interest in carrying an electric bike on their showroom floor.

It took me the better part of a year– after many hundreds of phone calls, demo videos, and emails– to discover a deeply etched pattern of resistance carved into the psyche of the dealers we were targeting to join our distribution network. I heard the same belly-aching over and over. “Electric bikes are a fad, they’ll never catch on…ebikes are crappy and unreliable…they’re dangerous when it rains…they’re illegal in most cities…they’re too heavy.” But the one that proved the most daunting—the one that persists today, albeit in diminishing intensity, is this one: “Ebikes are for cheaters. Our customers like to get a workout and wouldn’t dare sit on an ebike for recreation OR commuting.”

I won’t dignify that last comment with a response because anyone who owns an ebike will tell you they get just as much exercise as they want, but with two exceptions—they either go way faster or way farther than their conventional bike-riding counterparts. Plus, they have twice the fun.

Even in Portland, bike capital of America, there was staunch resistance to ebikes. In fact, in the early 2010’s I found skepticism rampant, especially among the Chrome-branded, messenger bag-toting bike commuters who rode, rain or shine, to and from work and the corner coffee café. Like a modern-day John the Baptist crying in the wilds of the Northwest with a solemn declaration ”Get ye on an ebike,” I feared a day would come when I’d get stoned in one of Portland’s many elitist bike shops, or at the annual bike show where I was slated to speak: http://smoothstonepartners.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Pedal-Nation-Portland-Bike-Show-2010.pdf.

Contrary to my fears, the presentation was a big success and paved the way for me to do additional work for LEVA and its ebike industry pioneer guru Ed Benjamin.

What I hear these days from manufacturers, distributors, dealers and their staff is clear and simple: “Our future is electric.” We’re now living in the bright, long-promised future for electric bikes.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about how to successfully sell electric bikes to even the most skeptical prospects–including the shaved-leg, carbon-frame criterion riders and custom bike shop owners. Here’s what I’ve learned, the rules for engaging potential ebike dealer customers and their ebike riding consumer prospects…

1. Shake the dust off your feet when dealing with doubters and haters — My friend Seth Godin once taught me that some skeptical buyers who are immediately dismissive to a new idea will always say “no”. For years I beat my head against the wall trying to persuade naysayers to carry the ebike lines I represented for two of the nation’s top-rated brands. Over time I learned a vital lesson: Avoid “casting your pearls before swine.” With a few exceptions, I’ve  never looked back. Those two brands that earned their top-ranking in the ebike industry got there quickly, partially by me figuring out which dealers to recruit and which to avoid.

2. Go where you’re celebrated — Similarly, it’s also critical that you get unilateral buy-in from several key stakeholders in any traditional bike dealership–the owner/manager, the lead service tech, and the star sales person. Any of the three can be the one bad apple that spoils the whole bunch. When the star sales guy with massive quads, shaved legs and bike pants saunters up to you (if you’re making an unannounced sales call) and asks Can I help you with something?, be prepared for a bit of banter and bluster. Better yet, opt for #1 and move on quickly. Your time is too valuable, and there are too many other open-minded IBD teams out there who are looking to enter the ebike foray with a solid ebike line to add to their traditional bike brands.

3. Start with 10 bikes — The worst thing an IBD can do is commit half-heartedly to the ebike category. No, even worse is when the owner buys two ebikes, they never sell so he gives up on the category. Big mistake. If you’re going to take ebikes seriously you’ve got to make a whole-hearted commitment to 10 bikes on your floor (with at least three of those ebikes in the sub-$2,000 retail price point). Otherwise, you’re ebike footprint looks like an afterthought and will be buried with other inventory. Worst of all, if the prospect walks out of your store and into an ebike retailer like a Pedego-branded store, well, you probably just lost a sale.

4. Do demo events often — Every successful ebike retailer will tell you, you must get prospects on the bikes to get them engaged emotionally, and consequently appeal to their rational left-brain sensibilities when explaining the financial benefits of ebike commuting. They must go together —  the head and heart — when making an important purchase decision.

5. Give stuff away — I’ve never met a successful dealer who wasn’t willing to wiggle at least a tad on either pricing or accessories. It’s just part of the “art of the deal.” Everyone needs to know they got a great deal on a big purchase, especially when plunking down $2k on an ebike when the similar-looking non-electric slow-mo bike next to it is priced at $500. Prospects need to feel the rush, the fun of a demo ride, then pencil out the savings over a one or two year period, which then becomes a no-brainer.

6. Charge $125 per hour for service — My friend Mike Wolfe runs one of the largest ebike dealerships on the East coast. He charges service and maintenance fees similar to cars and motorcycles. Why? Because an ebike, once it’s properly integrated into a person’s lifestyle, becomes a car. And motorcycle.

7. Always upsell — It’s not about how much you can add to your average monthly ticket or boost of incremental sales. It’s about providing safety, utility and style solutions for the rider that could be worth another $300 in gross revenue per unit sold. Always think of the win for the customer, though, before your own financial gain.

8. Make customers for life — Do you know how much each new customer is worth to you? If you are thinking transactionally you’re probably thinking $1,000. The truth is that each customer could be worth $10,000 at a minimum in net revenue. Why? Because if you treat them with respect and dignity they will buy again…and again…for themselves, their family and friends. And they’ll send you referrals.

9. Have fun — No one knows more about how to make ebikes fun than Don DiConstanzo. As he constantly proclaims (like he did with me back at Interbike when we shared the podium together), “At Pedego we sell fun!” Maybe that philosophy is part of the reason Pedego is the # 1 electric bike brand in America.

10. Become a Pedego dealer —  By the way, if you aren’t an IBD but have toyed with the notion of opening your own ebike shop with a modest franchise investment, call Don. If you’re in a good local market and you’ve got a sensible head for business, hanging a bright neon Pedego sign in your shop window may be your quickest way to fulfilling that dream of yours, of owning your own lucrative business.

As most of us old-timers in the ebike business will attest, the US has for over a decade been woefully behind the Europeans and Asians in electric bike adoption. But as Ed Benjamin has so often stated — with fierce conviction (and data to back it up) — “In the past few years many dealers have finally discovered they can make good money on ebikes. And what manufacturers, distributors, dealers and their staff tell me is simple: “Our future is electric.”

Indeed, we’re now living in the bright, long-promised future for electric bikes.

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SmoothStone Partners is a business development firm that carefully crafts 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. Reach him at phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com.

On Direct Marketing, Jeff Bezos, Seth Godin And Electric Bikes

Hunting for new ideas on my eJoe Epik Sport Edition

Continued from the post “What I Taught Jeff Bezos That Forever Changed The Marketing World…”

Freeman was DM’s hero in the 70s and 80s much like Seth Godin is today’s pop marketing rockstar (Seth gave me permission to say this). He was, as I described in a previous blog, “a brilliant mad scientist in an ad man’s body” (http://ripple-effect-blog.com/new-business/new-business-development/i-was-cable-before-cable-was-cool-2/). He relentlessly schooled me in the theory of left brain-right brain functioning and where the application of creative themes, copy and graphics fits into the proper sequence of developing record-breaking direct marketing campaigns. Which by the way, is at the very tail end.

You see, what Jeff Bezos and his team do for every marketing test, tactic or iteration of offers is “keep the main thing the main thing.” That is, knowing your audience like the back of your hand, then offering them things they need, want, or want to need. Let me explain…

What Freeman and Jeff have so skillfully taught me, and legions of assistants, teams and students, is that any successful direct marketing strategy must follow the 40-40-20 formula for success. Which in its simplest form can be summed up by saying that ‘EVERY successful direct marketing campaign must be comprised of three critical components–and their respective percentages–that will ultimately influence the outcome of a campaign’:

  • 40 % Audience—Selecting your target audience with such criteria as demographics and psycho-graphics, geography, etc.
  • 40 % Offer—A combo of who you are, what you’re selling, and the price or deal.
  • 20% Creative—Themes, copy, photos and graphics.

Unfortunately, when developing a campaign most inexperienced marketers will immediately jump to the creative—what the campaign will look like, a pretty picture, a slogan or even a style or voice that defines the brand. And they’ll spend 80% of their time, effort and budget on such a losing proposition. This is part of the basic math equation that most poorly trained folks get wrong. But they don’t seem to care, because this is the fun part—the touchy feely part—of marketing.

The other two components speak for themselves. For example, if you’re selling a great electric bike at a great price with a special discount to an avid bike enthusiast who’s just had heart surgery, you can hand-write the deal on a shopping bag and the person will buy. I know because I did it. Not once but twice.

If you’re a marketing professional, there’s only one take-away I’d like to leave with you. The next time you’re planning a campaign pretend the 10 hours it will take you for  planning is represented by ten one dollar bills. Spend the first four dollars on figuring out your audience. Spend the next four deciding on the most compelling offer. Once you’ve done that the two bucks you have left will be spend very quickly and with confidence. Why? Because you initially invested your budget and time on the right things in the right sequence.

By the way, if you want to get to your destination faster and funner–whether it’s direct marketing success or the corner coffee shop, hit me up. My side hustle, eJoe Electric Bikes, is where I personally apply the 40-40-20 rule as VP of Business Development. Check it out…just be prepared to see me in marketing-action if you sign up for the newsletter! www.ejoebike.net. We have some very compelling offers!

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. Reach him at phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com.

 

On Big Game Hunting And Deal Making

Me with young 4 x 4 Rocky Mountain Elk rack bagged near the Cimarron River / Montrose Colorado

In my previous post I told the story of my exploits in the woodlands of upstate New York with my best friend and hunting-fishing-trapping partner Dale. As I explained, he gave me an Encyclopedia Britannica’s worth of outdoor knowledge in my formative years as a woodsman.

Those scouting and hunting expeditions back then gave me the foundation for successful hunts to this day. As such, I’ve made it my mission to keep getting better—better at hunting, studying nuance, body language and the art of closing.

Here are 10 things I apply to nearly every target I’ve studied, stalked and closed–be it fish, foul, man or beast.

  1. Research thoroughly—If you don’t intimately know your target–what’s important to them and how they behave–you’ll never get close enough for a shot, nor even a glimpse.
  2. Be properly armed—Match the right firepower with your target. Too much and you’ll have carnage. Too little and it’ll slip away.
  3. Get comfortable—Whether standing, sitting or stalking make sure you’re physically and mentally comfortable. Pee before you climb a tree. Wear proper clothing. In a boardroom that means dress like your audience, test your presentation technology, practice your pitch, that sort of thing.
  4. Plan your shot in advance—Know where the idea kill zone is. Shoot for the heart. Always. But if there are bean counters in the room go for a head shot.
  5. Plan the second shot –Always be thinking of closing and what happens after the initial close. Think in advance of how your target will react, then be ready for round two.
  6. Don’t call attention to yourself— Stay low and stealthy–whitetail can spot and smell you literally a mile away. So can potential deal-makers who quickly become deal-breakers if you’re annoying or exhibit flashy behavior. For many hunters the North American whitetail is a more prized trophy animal than the majestic Rocky Mountain Elk. Why? Because they’re smarter and sportier. It’s like comparing a salmon to a steelhead. (I’d fish for steelhead any day over salmon for the same reason.)
  7. Be quiet—Everybody talks too much. It applies equally to people in boardrooms and game trails. Silence is golden in most cases. Take your turn to speak—to shoot—only when the time is right.
  8. Watch for movement—Body language of a deer or elk can tell you everything about what it’s going to do. So can the body language of deal-maker in a boardroom.
  9. Choose the ideal shot—Wait for it. I can’t stress this enough. You’ll know when the time is right. When it comes, aim and fire with 100% confidence. With the deal pitch, there’s incredible power in brevity.
  10. Wait–After your kill shot, don’t move. Keep your mouth shut and your eyes open and see what happens. Don’t impulsively chase after your game just because they’re suddenly startled or hyper-react. Pause in completely silence, then cautiously backtrack or follow the trail of blood. If necessary, sneak up again and fire for the close.

Of all the misdeeds of the average hunter—or deal-maker—the one most are guilty of is talking too much. It’s the reason I mostly hunt alone. Most guys want to talk and hang out. You don’t do that when you hunt. You hunt in silence when you hunt, at least on the game trail or in the blind. Hold your tongue. Save the chatter for the ride home in the jeep or on horseback.

There’s a saying that goes something like “Even a fool sounds smart when he keeps his mouth shut.” That’s so true–in the woods, boardroom and even the bedroom.

My friend/social media buddy Charlie Peacock, one of Nashville’s most  distinguished singer/songwriter/producer triple-threats, says it so well in his Mississippi Delta root- inspired tune Death Trap >>> https://youtu.be/igrDTWzQb4A. The tune’s takeaway is simple and applies to wherever the winds of promise and opportunity might lead you, personally or professionally:

“If a man can’t hold his tongue…he’ll be walking into a death trap.”

The other ancient saying that relates to this notion of being quiet and measuring your words with the right timing is this: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver”

I know precious little about heaven, almost nothing. But if there are streets of gold is some say, there may also be golden apples hanging from silver trees in the boundless orchards of heaven. That would be a good thing. Because where there are lush apple trees there are usually deer. And where there are deer, and you just happen to be carrying a rifle, then, if you’re a hunting enthusiast like me you’ll know you’re in heaven.

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. Reach him at phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com.

Hunting Whitetail In Upstate New York

 

I didn’t want to make you crazy

I didn’t want to pitch a fit

I didn’t want to make you pack your bags and ready to call it quits

The devil’s got a hold on me

He’s hoping for a killing*

One of the most painful events of my adolescence came at age 15 when my parents yanked us by the roots from our comfortable New York bedroom community of northern New Jersey and transplanted us into the rural pastures of Upstate New York during my high school years. Three reasons were behind the move. One was my parents’ forthcoming retirement to the area Pop called home during his own youth (the Utica area). The second was his career as a Pan Am pilot that allowed him to deadhead from Hancock Field in Syracuse to New York’s JFK, where he’d depart on his monthly runs to London, Paris, Munich or Rome.

The biggest reason, however, was the increasing sleep deprivation my parents were experiencing due to my mounting deviant behavior. They were watching me slowly but gleefully glide down a slope covered with easy-access drugs and alcohol during my junior high years.

The move was torture on me. To the mostly backwater dairy farming and poultry producing kids who lived on farms in the rural Finger Lakes region where we made our new home in the country, I was the brash city slicker new kid, an alien from that terrible place called Manhattan. I dressed different, talked different, partied different, danced different, and sorely resented my parents tugging our deep 12-year roots from one of New York’s most comfortable “Mayberry-esque” bedroom communities–Glen Rock, in North Bergan County.

But as is often the case in life, my most heinous misfortune flip-flopped into God’s spectacular, perfect divine appointment. That divine appointment would come in the form of a brotherly bond of love and respect–a “David and Jonathan” friendship–that within a few short months catapulted me from social obscurity to one of the cool kids. It was if I’d gone from urban hipster to hokey country boy in the blink of an eye.

That divine friendship was with a boy named Dale DuBois with whom I initially became best buddies by clever mutual cheating in our Algebra 2 class—and who, next to the cool football and lacrosse stars like Bob, Brian, Roger, Bennett and Tony–was arguably the most popular kid in school.

Dale had the world by the tail…a raccoon tail (he never called it by its proper name, it was always a “coon”). In addition to being a strapping, ruggedly good-looking six foot four inch 260 pound tower of muscle, he was the only kid in the league who threw a 90 mile per hour fast ball with dead accuracy. And hit grand slams every so often, but only when he felt like it.

What Dale mostly felt like doing on weekends or while playing hooky was explore the woods of the Finger Lakes with me, his fresh-faced hunting understudy. It was that sacred connection, a mutual love for the outdoors that cemented an instant bond that lasted until Dale’s untimely death from lung cancer 25 years ago.

Though the Finger Lakes may have been a cultural wasteland for a boy like me who’d routinely hop trains and buses to New York’s Shea Stadium or Chinatown to buy illegal fireworks starting around age 13, it was an exciting landscape that held the promise of one thing I’d always dreamed of becoming—a deer hunter. As such, Dale made it his nearly daily mission to teach me about the wilds of the vast Finger Lakes woodlands, and in short order I became his de facto woodsman protégé and game porter.

Dale taught me everything about the woods. How to survive in a 10 degree blizzard with nothing more than a few pieces of warm waterproof clothing, snow shoes, a blanket for a lean-to and a pack of matches. He taught me to fish for pike and perch, bass, smelt, trout and even walleye through the ice. He schooled me on trapping raccoon, mink, fox and muskrat, hunting ducks and geese, pheasant and grouse. But we didn’t just hunt. We killed game. Lots of it. Dale was a born woodsman and hunter and had a knack for bagging trophy birds, fish and anything with fur.

But the most fun—and the object of my fantasy–was big game hunting. Every part of it–tracking, stalking, standing and occasionally shooting the Northeast’s most prized of all big game trophies—the wily whitetail.

I could go on about our many hunting expeditions and the excellent success (and luck) we had, but I’d rather share what Dale’s expert hunting skills and canny intuition taught me that has so profoundly affected how I do business: the need to keep quiet and still, which applies in spades to deal-making.

Almost all of our successful hunts over a period of five years (until I moved to Redondo Beach following my college graduation) took place on private land along the base of Song Mountain Ski Resort north of Preble and Little York. It was thick forest, the perfect place to be schooled in the art of patiently waiting, watching, waiting and watching. Sometimes for 30 minutes, sometimes for four hours. Sometimes in a tree stand near a watering hole, sometimes on a bluff, occasionally in a blind near a game trail. But always in stealth silence…watching and waiting.

To this day I credit Dale for instilling in me the discipline of listening for sounds, movement in the brush, and watching for a tail or ear flicker. Curiously, I’ve applied that same discipline to the art and science of national account sales and doing deals with all types of businesses–from big consumer brands to tech start ups. Listening, watching and waiting…it’s what often separates the men from the boys.

Here’s what hundreds of hours waiting for a shot at a trophy whitetail has taught me about patience and listening, and how I use it in deal-making situations…

Continued tomorrow…

*Lyrics from Death Trap by Charlie Peacock (further explanation to come) >>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVA5fFbAVEI

“What I Taught Jeff Bezos That Forever Changed The Marketing World”

Before we go further let’s establish two things. First, Jeff HAS changed the marketing world—not single-handedly but through that monster marketing portal called Amazon.com and by following several immutable principles of commerce. Second, though I’ve worked with some of his top people I don’t know him; I’ve never met him in fact. That’s not my headline quote.

But if I WERE Jeff’s marketing partner or consultant during the beta testing of Amazon.com I would have the legitimate bragging rights to such a claim in this headline.

Because Jeff learned and routinely practices the de facto formula for direct marketing success. What’s that? It’s the infamous 40-40-20 formula. Let me explain…

Before there was AI, big data analytics, geo-targeting, digital cookies and social media there was that thing called direct mail, the holy grail of direct marketing merely two decades ago.  As any marketer will tell you, however, direct mail is hardly the media darling it once was, but rather has become the underperforming ugly step-sister of today’s split-second digital marketing industry.

In its heyday there was a direct marketing advertising agency on the West coast that was pioneering the best practices of catalog marketing, frequency programs, membership programs to generate enormous LTVs (customer lifetime value) for their clients and space ads with bold 800 numbers pasted below bodacious LTOs (limited time offers). It was the nation’s largest independent DM agency (before it was sold for a fortune to Foote Cone and Belding), and the 10th largest agency of any kind West of the Mississippi. The name of the agency was a household word in the West—Smith-Hemmings-Gosden, or SHG for short.

As miraculous fortune would have it, at the age of 26 I found myself as the head of new business development for this venerable agency and, through baptism by fire, learned many of these classic tried-and-true marketing tools and quickly applied them with abandon for my clients—Bausch and Lomb, Sheraton Hotels, Western Bass Fishing Association, Princess Cruises, Safeco Insurance, JD Power and Associates and many other notable clients. More astonishing, I was one of the luckiest men in marketing serving as right-hand assistant to the legendary Freeman Gosden, Jr, one of the true forefathers of direct marketing who pioneered the principles that Jeff Bezos and his team now apply a million times a day.

So what is the 40-40-20 formula for success and why did Jeff stake his reputation and personal fortune on such a risky algorithm? More important, who was Freeman Gosden, Jr (we called him FG) and why was he such a brilliant marketer?

Continued on my latest post: On Direct Marketing, Jeff Bezos, Seth Godin and Electric Bikes

 

 

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.

 

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.”