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

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.”

The Power Table At Capital Grille

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Ron Elgin’s Three Commandments of Advertising

IF YOU’VE SPENT ANY TIME AROUND SEATTLE’S HIGH-FLYING AD AGENCY SCENE you’ve heard the name Ron Elgin. Power broker, philanthropist, husband to the divine Miss Bonnie—whatever you call him, he’s earned a fitting reputation as Seattle’s patriarch of advertising.

Over three decades, mostly in the role of Chairman and CEO of DDB Worldwide-Seattle, he’s assembled legions of account teams that have helped build some of Seattle’s and North America’s most respected brands—Microsoft, Holland America, Jansport, McDonald’s and many others.

Two weeks ago I caught up with Ron at the venerable Capital Grille to learn about re:Connects, his new marketing talent consortium and, well, to reconnect. As his company name implies, no one does it better than Ron Elgin.

What he shared with me on a deeply personal level during our whirlwind visit still has me dizzy.

Ron’s insights and personal disclosures were so engaging they must be shared with a broader audience. He consented to this blog post about our lunch and generously added a few color details in an email the next day.

Ron’s wisdom could and will fill a book (which is at about page 160 in its current draft stage). His career take-aways are a primer on “How to thrive anywhere in the agency world—Seattle, San Francisco or Singapore.”

Here’s the first installment, Part 1…

COMMANDMENT 1—Foster Thy Dream Team

Me: While waiting for our salads at the infamous power table (explained in my Commandment 2 post next week) I leaned forward in my chair and asked: “Ron, if you remember back in the summer of 2000 I flew up to Seattle from East Texas to job hunt. Among the dozens of agency presidents I reached out to you were one of the first to give me an interview. Why?”

Ron: The day we opened our agency 30 years ago I made it my business to seek out the most talented people I could find. You may have come from obscure East Texas with precious little “big” agency experience (by your own admission), but I saw someone with potential. I’ve learned that great talent and potential can come from out of nowhere, and I’ve seen some of the best agency people take long and arduous routes to get here.

Me: Up until your recent retirement DDB experienced over three decades of brisk, steady growth. How did that happen?

Ron: I’m going to give you several answers, not because I can’t decide but because good, sustained growth is hardly ever the result of one factor. The first strategic decision was to always try to hire people better than ourselves. We didn’t need to make heroes of ourselves when other people could do it for us. The second was to vow to never to work with or for assholes. Irrespective of how much better than us they were, if the person could not fit within our culture they could not be part of our family.

As far as clients go, it didn’t really matter the size of their budgets. If they were not good people they couldn’t become part of our family. The third decision was to give equal respect and consideration to all marketing and communication disciplines.

A marketing challenge is rarely met with a single discipline. But when a single discipline overpowers the process, the results are often disappointing. So embracing and integrating every relevant discipline in this new era of advertising is critical.

Next week, Commandment 2—Make Your Passion Your Life’s Passion

Written by Phil Herzog, SmoothStone Partners

Authenticity—The Ultimate Brand Aura

authenticity

In William Shakespeare’s As You Like it one of the scenes in Act ll opens with a monologue and the phrase “All the world’s a stage.” The speech goes on to eloquently liken the world to a stage and life to a play.

Personally, I’ve found the notion of life playing out on the world’s stage a dead-on analogy in a number of contexts, especially in business and commerce. In fact, five years ago I felt so strongly about the role of “theater” in the world of sales and marketing that I built my company on the premise that to break brand parity among competitors–to capture the attention and emotions of your target audience–you must create a sense of theater.

Nowhere on Earth is this more evident than Las Vegas, the convention capital of America. But beyond the decadent casinos and bawdy shows, what I experienced last week in Vegas was a curious intersection of old-school fun and urban funk. What’s that?

Interbike, North America’s largest annual bicycle show.

While attending Interbike to present a marketing campaign on behalf of the International Light Electric Vehicle Association (to help independent bike dealers sell electric bikes), I had time between seminars to stroll the exhibit hall aisles among the 11,000 attendees and 3,000 exhibitors.

What I witnessed those three days in mid-September were the newest fashions, gadgets and innovations for an ever-evolving mode of transportation and recreation–that archetypal pedal-powered vehicle commonly call “the bicycle”.

Whether you were a recreational mountain biker, ebike commuter or shaved-legged criterion racer everyone felt a special vibe, a palpable “cool factor” in the air. Between the latest fashions in herringbone clip-in cycling shoes, Spandex knickers, neon CoolMax socks or the freshly minted 1000 watt e-bikes,e-trikes and e-unicycles, heads were turning everywhere.

Until you wandered over to the Urban Yard. That’s when most people stopped dead in their tracks.

Set amidst exhibit hall mayhem was a visually modest 50 x 50 foot island of quiet confidence and authenticity. It was the exhibit space for one of Interbike’s brightest stars: Chrome, arguably the hippest brand of the planet for messenger bags and too-hot-to-handle commuter fashions, footwear and accessories.

chrome

What makes Chrome so cool? What’s the secret sauce that drew crowds to their exhibit like moths to a headlamp?

Authenticity.

Perhaps it was the legions of professional messengers laden with tats and-gauges from San Francisco’s Battery Street, sitting around Embarcadero-imported picnic benches waiting for party time. Maybe it was the assembly line of seamstresses who were feverishly stitching custom messenger bags for the ever-growing, ever-gawking crowd waiting patiently to grab their iconic piece of Interbike history…living proof that they were actually there. At Interbike 2012 in Las Vegas. And to boot, they even got a handmade Chrome messenger bag, the ultimate bragging right for anyone riding BART, Seattle’s free zone buses or the Bainbridge ferry.

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Whatever it was, the Chrome’s brand magic served as a clear message to the likes of Timbuk2, Pearl Izumi and Cannondale: This new kid on the block is leap-frogging over incumbent metro bike apparel and accessory brands with a quiet authenticity mixed with a dash of gritty, street-cred attitude.

How did Chrome pull off such a surprising David-and-Goliath feat so quickly in an over-saturated market?

In my opinion, real authenticity and the cult following generated in a great brand’s wake begins with the author—the founder of the company.

In Chrome’s case, that would be Mr. Steven McCallion.

Amidst the merchandising chaos I visited with Steve and his lieutenant Adrian for a few minutes at Interbike. In my exchange with both guys it took me no time to realize this whole scene had little to do with selling stuff to as many people as possible. For them it was about embracing a lifestyle, a calling to provide a super-quality product with a great back story for every Chrome customer to make a subtle statement about who they are and what they’re about. For the Chrome executives it was about projecting their personalities into the marketplace as an extension of the brand…

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Very smart, very funny, very unpretentious.

And did I mention the most important thing?

Very real.

You can’t fake authenticity unless your company or your brand exudes it from the core.

As they say…“An apple never falls far from the tree.”

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The First Guy Naked Wins

naked
Before you get too excited let’s establish something up front. This post is not going to feed your sexual fantasy. It’s the title of a book my friend David Hazard and are writing on the pandemic of white collar depression, invading the boardroom, bedroom and beyond (a later blog topic).

It’s a title, a subject line that’s intended to tease you, to lure you in. Call it a hook, grabber, tease. But whatever the name, it’s got the power to grab your attention and keep it there until the advertiser, author, publisher or producer can take you to the next step in the sales cycle: consideration.

Since the dawn of man nothing has done this better than the second most popular word or concept in the English language. The magic word?

Sex.

To make a point about how sex is used in entertainment and marketing to capture and keep an audience on the edge of their seat, I give you the wholesome version of this, done tastefully, exceedingly well (Parental and clerical warning: this may not be suitable viewing). Do I have your attention?

Here we go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsMN1ywJkQY.

What’s this video about? Fashion, if you’re a designer. Bras if you work for Maidenform. Heaven or a peculiar glimpse thereof if you’re clergy. John Mayer or J-Zee if you’re a John Mayer or Jay-Zee fan. For a junior in high school boy (or girl for that matter)? You’re getting warmer.

If you’re a Shania fan you’ve already seen this video. If not, feast your eyes on this:  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqFLXayD6e8)

Look into her eye…what is Shania saying to you? “I want you?”
But here’s the problem. You can’t have her. Nor can you have big muscles in 30 days. Or a 32 inch waist at age 40 (25 if you’re a woman). Or a waterfront home. Or a perfect marriage.

Here’s another one: Look at the massive smile on Shania. What’s she saying now?

To set the record straight, in my opinion none of these video images is about cleavage or a suggestive “lie with me” message. They’re simply images of breathtaking beauty and fashion. What’s not to love about that?

Oh, one last thought. What’s the single most powerful word in the dictionary, far surpassing sex?

Free.

It’s lured you and legions of others into watching countless videos and listening to downloaded songs (that 10 years ago would have cost you thousands). But don’t be fooled. Like the free oil check and full service at the gas pump, that’s going away soon, almost as quickly as it entered the mainstream marketplace…my next blog topic.

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