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.

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