36 Years Between Follies

Last night at St. Louis U High, the class of 2012 put on their rendition of the Senior Follies.

Overall, it was a well done show, though if you didn’t know some of the teachers being referenced in the skits, some of the laughs may have passed you by.

Tom Jr. was on stage at SLUH for his final high school performance. He is in a class that features several extremely gifted actors and I count him among that group. Tom has a very commanding stage presence – he’s portrayed Lenny from Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”. He’s been Henry the VIIIth in “A Man for All Seasons”. In his most recent role, he was the bad guy gangster in a play set in the 1940s called “Filthy Rich”.

But last night was fun and games time. Not only did he perform in several skits, he also wrote quite a few of them, as well as shot and edited a short video that featured crisp editing, great title graphics and a funny story to boot.

He is a talent far beyond where I was when I took to the stage with my fellow members of SLUH’s Class of ’76 for our own version of the Senior Follies. There were about 25 skits last night and the show lasted around three hours. I was exhausted when it was finally over and marveled at the level of dancing, singing and acting – not from everyone, of course, but that’s kind of what makes the evening fun in the first place.

I certainly don’t remember that level of commitment from myself or my fellow classmates – let’s just say our commitments were elsewhere. I do remember that I authored a skit or two though apparently they were so memorable, I have absolutely no recollection of what they were about.

I vaguely recall a Hollywood Squares rip-off portraying different teachers. I also remember some skit where we were all dressed as Jesuits doing some sort of song and dance and one other skit was similar in style to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In where everyone danced around. Then the music would stop and someone would deliver some witty line.

Apparently, we didn’t go too deep or perhaps, my memory just flat out fails me on this one.

I do know one thing though – when it comes to acting, I know who the amateur is and he doesn’t have a Jr. after the name Tom.

So on his final performance, I have just one thing to say …

Bravo, Tom. Bravo.

How to become more creative #6 Make a metaphor

This is the sixth of nine posts from my now not-so-recent “Unleash Your Inner Artist” presentation where I showcased a few thought-starters on how everyone can become more creative. I will state again that this whole presentation was based on ideas found in Roger von Oech’s book, “A Kick in the Seat of the Pants”. I believe in giving credit where credit is due and Mr. Von Oech deserves the credit.

When you’re stuck for an idea for whatever project you may be working on, try using a metaphor as a springboard for your thinking.

Here’s a quick list of thought starters: cooking a meal, having a baby, making a birdie, throwing a party, running a marathon, breaking a nail, losing your wallet, winning the game, opening a window, attending a funeral, seeing a sunset, making a mess, riding a train, dropping a dish – I could go on but I won’t.

Now, take your basic problem – let’s say it’s attracting more customers during non-peak hours.

Take any of the above and combine them so you have something like: Attracting more customers during non-peak hours is like having a baby. And how would that be true? Well, it may take a while for your plan to develop. Or you could say attracting those customers is worth waiting for. Or that you can’t drink alcohol during your non-peak hours. The answer doesn’t really matter. But could there be an idea lurking somewhere in your answer? Maybe you have guaranteed no-waiting for any customer or you get a percent off your bill. Maybe you have a special on drinks during your non-peak hours.

You really could take any of the various thought starters and turn your problem into a metaphor. Attracting more customers during non-peak hours is like losing your wallet. You’re initially mad when you find out that no one is there but overjoyed if someone shows up. Maybe that leads you to some sort of customer rewards program that provides discounts based on time of day. Who knows what it might lead to?

A simple thing to do is create your own list of some sort of action taking place. Then take the core problem of what you’re trying to figure out – sell a new service, attract more customers, build repeat business, create a product extension – whatever it may be – then, combine your problem with the action and find the correlation. The clever analogy you come up with might just contain the new idea that leads you to the big idea.

If not, try another one.

Writing a creative blog post is like attending a funeral. You dread doing it at first, but once you’re done, you’re glad you did.


The importance of systems

Tom Blood I can totally relate to the commercial for Office Max where the one guy does everything in his business.

Being an entrepreneur is frightening at times. There’s no one there other than yourself to kickstart you into performing. You’ve got to be motivated every day, even on those days when motivation is low. And it’s so important to have systems in place – on your computer so you can find what you’re looking for, in your work space and yes, in your life. It’s so easy to head off in multiple directions, so easy to get sucked into the worm hole of the internet, looking for one thing and then suddenly you’ve clicked on another link that took you to another place and before you know it you’re not doing what you set out to do and more time has passed you by and you’re no further along than when you first started whatever it was that you were doing. (How’s that for a nice run-on sentence?)

I’m in a Mastermind group and received a bit of advice from a new member last meeting. She told me to get my systems in order. And she’s right. The desktop on my mac looked like some overpopulated city with no zoning laws. There were files and folders and images everywhere. I tried to restore some order to that mess. Next, I need to attack my email. I’m in about 15 different LinkedIn groups that send out messages every day. My inbox is littered with unopened emails and it seems to be a losing battle with the delete button. I receive about 100 email messages a day. You would think with all that email activity that I’d have a lot more business activity. I’m working on it but right now, there is no correlation.

I have tried to follow my own time tracking system for myself and the art directors I’ve been working with but that needs an overhaul.

I try and create a daily agenda, giving myself at least five or six tasks to accomplish. I am generally happy if I can accomplish two or three of them. The only problem is when I continue to have the same items on my agenda day after day.

That is failure. Failure is not allowed here.

And, in trying to be a little more brief with my blog posts, let’s just say that it’s time for both you and me to get back to work.

Accomplish great things today!


The Day Blood Came Through The Wall

A friend of mine mentioned to me the other day how much he enjoyed re-living some of my Kenrick Advertising tales and asked when the next one would be. Here it is.

The year was maybe 1984 or 1985. Kenrick Advertising was growing by leaps and bounds, adding employees and running out of office space in the Aragon building located in Clayton, Missouri. Plans were announced for a major expansion as we would be taking over the entire floor. Architects came in and developed a modern looking floor plan that featured lots of open offices featuring crenelated walls. Most of us had no idea what that was – other than the fact that there were no doors. So every one of us working at Kenrick (I think it was about 60 or 70 people) was affected. I had an interior office that adjoined our traffic manager/proofreader’s office. Her name was Ellen Williams.

Ellen was a nice lady and was probably very close to retirement. I’m sure she often wondered how she got mixed in with all these crazy ad people. She used to go to lunch with Wally Platz. Wally was a great guy who was about Ellen’s age and in our print production department. I always enjoyed conversations with Wally.

At the time, I was working with an art director named John Moore who was always hyped up and seemed to be continuously on the prowl for anyone of the opposite sex between the ages of 16-60. John was really talented – you just had to sit him down and force him to use those talents. Otherwise, you’d end up talking endlessly and accomplishing nothing. When plans for the office expansion were announced, he and I cooked up the idea of having a “Wall Smashing Party”. Many interior walls were coming down and we thought it would be great fun if we could be the ones involved in that destruction.

I approached Ric Sides, the President of Kenrick with the idea and told him we could get a news crew to tape the proceedings, talk about our recent growth and get some great press in the process. He agreed that it would be fun and I told him I’d like to start the festivities by punching and kicking my way through a wall. I was a black belt in karate at the time and had always thought it would be great fun to do something like that. Ric thought it would be fun as well.

So John and I were sitting in my office and he asked if I thought I could punch right through a wall versus kick my way through and I said of course I could.

“Prove it,” he said and since it was just a few days before the destruction party was set to take place and my office was going to be completely obliterated, I didn’t think there would be any harm in doing so. This was probably about 10:30 in the morning.

Ellen was working at her desk on the other side of the wall when all of a sudden a hand punches through her wall and a little chunk of plaster flew out and struck her on the forehead, giving her a tiny cut.

When I looked in to see what kind of a hole I had created in Ellen’s office, I saw her holding her head and I was quick to apologize, not knowing how far plaster can fly. She was a little ruffled but she accepted my apology. Minutes later, Wally came up to me and asked what kind of idiotic thing did I think I was doing. He was furious but seemed to get over it as Ellen said it was all okay by her. Just a flesh wound.

So two days later, the place was all abuzz with the “Walls Coming Down” party that was set to begin about 3 pm. We had invited John Auble and his news crews from Channel 5. Another art director, John Baldwin had brought a hard hat, a black cape and several sledge hammers for fellow employees to take a whack at the walls. I brought along my karate ghi.

The time came and the countdown was on. I measured off my steps and when 3 pm hit, with news cameras rolling, I did a vicious back kick into the wall, followed by two quick punches and I was on the other side.

That kicked off (literally) pure bedlam. John Baldwin was a man possessed. Plaster was flying everywhere and other employees were banging away at the walls. John Auble and his crew high-tailed it out of there fearing for their lives. The walls literally came tumbling down in about a 5-minute period and we were told we had to stop before someone got hurt. The party had come to an abrupt end. But the damage was done.

John Auble never did air his little piece about our Wall Smashing Party. I don’t know if they captured me on tape or not but someone did manage to capture the photos shown here.

Kenrick continued its rapid growth for the next few years before the three partners sold the Aragon Companies and in less than eleven months, the new owner managed to run it all into the ground and filed Chapter 11 in August of ’89. That was a type of destruction that couldn’t be re-built.


How to become more creative #5 Find a connection

This is the fifth of nine posts from my now not-so-recent “Unleash Your Inner Artist” presentation where I showcased a few thought-starters on how everyone can become more creative. I will state again that this whole presentation was based on ideas found in Roger von Oech’s book, “A Kick in the Seat of the Pants”. I believe in giving credit where credit is due and Mr. Von Oech deserves the credit.

So much of creativity involves taking two unrelated thoughts, combining them and the result, sometimes, is magic.

Combine a scooter and a motor and you get a segway. The unlikely combo of math and biology resulted in a whole new field called genetics. A gentleman with the last name of Smith who happened to reside in Memphis connected the airlines’ idea of a hub and spoke distribution method with that of an overnight delivery service to create a little company called Federal Express.

It all seems so simple. But how do you find these unlikely combinations? Some of it is blind luck. But there are methods you can try. One way is to open your mind up to things that have no connection whatsoever to the problem you’re trying to solve. Try writing down two totally unconnected words. Giraffe and geodesic dome for example (I just randomly spit those out of my head). Now, try and find a connection. What if the spots on a giraffe were all the exact same shape made to use geodesic domes? Got that picture in your head? Maybe that could lead you to a new design for a new line of clothes. Maybe it forces you to stretch your neck a bit (sorry) and just see something completely out of the ordinary. Think Buckminster Fuller riding bareback on a giraffe. Why? Who knows!

Other times, it helps to get out of your normal environment. Get out of your office, out of your cubicle and go someplace unexpected – visit a factory, go to a library, an antique shop or art gallery. Then imagine whatever problem you’re trying to solve and combine some facet of where you’ve just been with the result or feature or descriptor of whatever it is you’re trying to generate your new idea for and find a connection. Write them all down. Be playful and let your imagination run wild.

You don’t always need to connect the dots. Sometimes you take those dots and put ’em on a dress or a background for an ad or become like Seurat and turn them into a pointillist painting.

There are so many things out there just waiting for you to find the connection that turns them into something that we all say, “Gee, I wish I would have thought of that.”

Go do it.

My top ten all-time favorite TV commercials

Yesterday, I was lamenting where had all the great television commercials gone and that got me to thinking – could I, just randomly off the top of my head, reel off my favorite ten commercials of all time?

That’s a lot of selective memory retention at work there. Having been in the business for more than 30 years  and having been a fan of TV commercials since I was in grade school, I am quite sure that the list I’m about to provide is overlooking some huge favorites.

If I wanted, I could probably break the list into several different categories. Favorite local commercials of all time. Favorite beer ads, soda ads, car ads, phone ads, candy, cereal – on and on it could go. And maybe it will.

But right now, I gave myself ten minutes to write down ten commercials that I can remember – whether they were made last year or 38 years ago. That’s a pretty long time span and I must admit, this list skews a lot more toward present day.

I can already think of many, many good commercials that I have left off the list. But lists are for debating, right?

So here are mine. Enjoy!

10. Coca-Cola “Mean Joe Greene”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xffOCZYX6F8 – Have a Coke and a smile. This commercial totally delivered on that line.

9. ESPN Sportscenter “Albert the Machine” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wY_N2ewiCsQ – I could easily do an entire post on ESPN SportsCenter commercials. The writing on these has been tremendous year after year. I chose the one where Albert Pujols is revealed to be a machine. I also chose it because I  think “the Machine” is beginning to show some wear and tear this year.

8. Alka-Seltzer – “Spicy Meatball” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErgdUhZteqw – Mama mia, that’s a spicy meat-a-balla. Cut. Take four. Take eight. It was a commercial that made fun of commercials and was totally focused on delivering the product benefit. Too bad people 40 and under have probably never seen it.

7. Snickers – “Betty White” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXL8QPWLbBo – Snickers is another brand that has done some wonderful, memorable commercials. Who can forget seeing Betty White tackled into a puddle of mud? You’re not you when you’re hungry. What a great thought, brilliantly delivered.

6. Old Spice – “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owGykVbfgUE – Great casting, great writing and a continual onslaught of messing with you, shifting from one scene to another – all for a brand that was all but dead several years ago and has been completely brought back to life thanks to brilliant advertising.

5. Skittles – “Taste the Rainbow – Everything turns to Skittles” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxItH0I6xmQ – Again, the Skittles ads have been absolutely brilliant. So twisted. So strange. Here we see a man who is tormented by the fact that everything he touches turns to Skittles. Why? Who cares – it’s a candy.

4. Honda – “Mousetrap” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOJIE4S5uaY – In this 60-second commercial a Rube Goldberg type contraption entirely made up of Honda parts takes you on a journey that is tremendously fascinating to watch, all done in one take and ending up with the actual vehicle. I loved watching it over and over and was glad it was available online.

3. Apple – “1984” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYecfV3ubP8 – Yes, this commercial has to be on the list. It stunned everyone back in 1984 when it ran on the Super Bowl and generated even more buzz because it never ran again (at least on TV). It was the perfect messaging for Apple and the line of, “see why 1984 won’t be like 1984” was perfect.

2. Federal Express – “Fast Talking Man” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeK5ZjtpO-M – FedEx has consistently produced some of the best commercials of all time but this one for me is a personal favorite, featuring the fastest talking man in the world, John Moschitta delivering about 3 minutes worth of copy in a 60-second commercial. The writing in it was so brilliant that I printed out the script and memorized it and used to see if I could deliver it as fast as John. It was the ultimate tongue twister and full of such inane talk that most of it flew over everyone’s heads including when he addressed Jim, Bill, Bob, Carl, Fred, Don, Dick, Dork, Tatham and Ted. (Please forgive me if I got the order wrong as I’m going on memory here!)

1. Alka-Seltzer – “Prison Riot” http://www.experiencefestival.com/wp/videos/alka-seltzer-prison-protest/sq_DUHObE6M – Anyone that knows me well knows that this was the landmark commercial that made me decide that I wanted to get into this business. It opens on a bunch of prisoners being marched into their dining quarters. They sit down and commence eating. One man is not happy. He picks up his tin cup and slams it on the table. Then does it again. The other prisoners join in and begin chanting, “Alka-Seltzer! Alka-Seltzer!” Next they cut to a wide shot of the entire prison dining room and they’re all going nuts, all ready to riot, all slamming their cups and screaming, “Alka-Seltzer! Alka Seltzer! Alka-Seltzer!” The name Alka-Seltzer is supered over the rioting lunchroom. No need to say anything else.

That’s my Top Ten. How about you?

Where have all the great commercials gone?

Maybe it’s my television viewing habits which I must admit, are fairly limited to sports, the news and an occasional episode of The Voice or America’s Got Talent (resuming in a few weeks with Howard Stern).

Yet I cannot, for the life of me, remember a single commercial that really stood out and made me take note. I like the Bud Light spot with the pooch named ‘We Go’. But after viewing it for the 74th time, it has lost all of its appeal and at this point, even the most spectacular commercial ever made could not turn me into a regular Bud Light drinker – I simply do not like it. I wish there were more Dos Equis commercials with the Most Interesting Man in the World. I love those spots but they must be running out of steam or perhaps the actor wants too much money now.

Fast food advertising is abysmal. Burger King – blah. McDonald’s – I can’t even remember a McDonald’s spot other than one which I think is locally produced with a psycho blond wife telling her husband she hates him, no she loves him thanks to the mint shake he gives her. I did like the casting of that one, though but not enough to say that’s a good, much less great commercial. Wendy’s? Awful. Hardee’s? Let’s push the bounds of taste every time out. Sonic? Nah. Jack in the Box continues to carry on their brand and generally, their commercials are fun and wickedly twisted, but rarely great.

Coke and Pepsi? They try at least but nothing’s really done it for me recently. I do enjoy the Coke Zero ads. But great? Sorry.

What about FedEx? They used to always do great advertising. But not so great anymore. Even Nike is only hitting singles and doubles – no real home runs with their broadcast commercials.

Car ads? Chevy is doing some nice spots occasionally courtesy of Goodby Silverstein. I kind of like Kia ads from time to time. And I think Chrysler has done a strong job of branding the made in Detroit story and I salute them for that but there’s not much that they’re doing that makes me say, “Oooh, I wish I would have done that.” Even when they use Clint Eastwood as a voiceover they are easily forgotten.

Maybe I’m too jaded. Maybe the American public is too jaded and just don’t really respond to advertising the way they used to do. Special effects no longer get us talking – we’ve seen them all before. Advertising simply doesn’t create much of a buzz anymore and that’s a shame.

Am I wrong? Am I overlooking any great campaigns recently?

Let me know. This is a topic I would love to see a little back and forth dialogue on so comment away!

Have a great week ahead.


How to become more creative #4 Reverse your thinking

This is the fourth of nine posts from my recent “Unleash Your Inner Artist” presentation where I showcased a few thought-starters on how everyone can become more creative.

     Sometimes, when you find yourself stuck for an idea or solution, you need to take a step back, look at the problem and reverse your thinking.
     Let’s say you’re a restaurant owner, and you’re trying to figure out how to get more customers through your doors. You’ve tried different promotions but they’re just not pulling in new customers like you’d like to be doing. Okay. Reverse that thinking and instead of figuring out how to get more customers into your doors, how could you do a better job of not letting them leave once they’re there? Obviously, you want to turn tables throughout the evening but what if you offered an expanded dessert menu or started a dessert club? What if you added entertainment to your venue? Or set up interactive games where tables could compete against each other in trivia to win appetizers next time they come back?
     It doesn’t really matter what profession you’re in – researcher, engineer, teacher, editor – whatever – if you’re trying to solve a problem, look at it from the opposite direction.
     Want to be a better teacher? Try teaching less, putting more responsibility on the students, forcing them to create their own self-study programs.
     Any time you’re looking for a solution, the answer may not be directly in front of you. Flop your mindset. Stop being the proprietor and instead, become the customer. Look at what you’re trying to sell from your customer’s point-of-view. Everyone’s always trying to be first with something and that’s a noble thing. But what if instead you’re last to market – only you’ve taken the time to study what’s working and leverage that to make a selling difference?
     Trying to sell something to kids? Definitely don’t look at it from your rational point of view. In this case, you don’t reverse your thinking, you revert your thinking – become a kid again and look at your product through the eyes of a child. You just might see something different.
     The key to it all is not to be stuck in one mindset trying to solve a problem. Look at that problem from a reverse prospective. Think of the exact opposite outcome of what you’re trying to achieve – and see if that leads you to any other ideas.
    .gnikniht ruoy esreveR

“Bully” – a real-life movie that is all too real

I went to the premiere showing of the movie “Bully” last night courtesy of my client, SchoolReach.

If anyone doubts that there is a problem with bullying in schools today, please see this film. There is an immense problem, stretching from coast to coast and beyond.

It’s not like bullying hasn’t been around. It’s probably always been around. Weird kids get picked on. Smart kids get picked on. Fat kids get picked on. It happened when I was a kid, it happened when my parents were kids and so on.

Only now, bullying has gotten a lot meaner. And today’s kids face forms of bullying that weren’t around when we were kids. Text messaging can be horrendously cruel. And how would you like to have your pic up on a website that is voting for ugliest kid in the class or stupidest or considerably worse? Some kids these days go so far as to steal a person’s identity online and then post all sorts of lies that spread like wildfire.

The results can be devastating. It can harm a kid for life. It can lead a kid to take his or her life.

This movie told the tales of several kids and their families and how bullying dragged them down, messed them up and quite often, the schools stood by and did nothing. Boys will be boys and girls can be cruel sometimes.

When you see first-hand a kid being bullied, it turns your stomach. It’s just not right and you wonder why other kids don’t stand up and do something. But bystanders are often afraid to speak out, afraid that they, too, will be singled out. It’s better to say nothing than to risk becoming a potential target. And you wonder why the kids who are being bullied don’t speak out more – but sometimes, their parents simply don’t recognize the hurt that’s going on with their kids or they’re unable to get them to come out of their shells to say what’s bugging them.

There were quite a few educators at the showing last night and I’m sure the movie hit home in a big way with them. They may be wondering what they can do. The important thing is to do something.

I’ve been involved with my client on the launch of a program called the CyberBully Hotline (www.cyberbullyhotline.com). It’s an anonymous means for kids to report to their school if they’ve been bullied or if they see someone who has been bullied. It’s a great way for schools to help students and I’m proud to be doing what I can to help create awareness for the program. I hope to do a lot more.

When I was a kid, I can remember a few instances when I was a bully. Other times, I was bullied by others. I’ve seen both sides and neither one was good.

Now I have the chance to help prevent bullying and make a difference in a child’s life. That’s a thrill and an honor and something I’m proud to be a part of.