Thursday, May 28, 2009

Did I Really Ask That Snobby Question?

My son was thrilled, he told me. When his work appeared in his college's literary magazine he felt made. I read the two pieces that were chosen with some motherly pride. Then I got to the author credit and found this:

About the Author
Emmet Penney ’11 grew up just outside Chicago. He reads, writes, records, studies Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and watches UFC with his little sister. One time, his mom asked his first grade teacher how good his prose was.

Jeez! Did I really ask that? To a 1st grade teacher? What a striving lunatic snob he had for a mother, for God's sake. Well, he did get published, right?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How to Create Personal Content People Will Love

When is sharing personal information TMI--too much information? Twitter, blogs and Facebook have created an era of oversharing. Yet, sometimes, the reason personal information is so compelling is because it's helps us improve. Cautionary tales, how-to's, and even the empathetic stories that help us develop shared social bonds all have important value.

Take for example the Pull Ups sponsored "Potty Project" featuring real families toilet training their toddlers. Any parent will tell you, potty training is a pain in the ass. Yours, not the kid's. For one thing, it's hard to know when you are being appropriately firm and when you're inflicting serious psychological damage. Entire books have been written about the traumas that result from poorly handled potty training.

So, is a topic like potty training TMI? No, for the reasons below.

Here's when personal information is compelling in a culture:

1. It teaches. The trials of the families featured are instructive.

2. It forms shared social bonds. Most of us don't live in extended families. We rely on the Web and other parents, sometimes older sibs to show us the way.

3. It's relatable. Marketing and advertising must make the shift with the rest of the culture. We live in a world where what's relational trumps what's aspirational.

4. It's funny. Kids, potties, anxious's an inherently comic mix.

5. It's cultural bedrock. Face it. Potty training is a rite of passage. No matter how much change we experience, things that are bedrock in the culture will endure.

When you got your morning coffee, if your date is on time, and if your shoes match your pants-- who cares? Nobody. Unless you're Lindsay Lohan. But tackle a high stakes issue that people struggle with and you've got content that creates meaning in people's lives.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Garbage Trucks as Art

Last month, Philly joined Chicago as a city that artfully paints its recycling trucks with stunning, full-body paint jobs. In Philly, the project was a collaboration of the city of Philadelphia, its Mural Arts Program, and The Design Center. The timing was coordinated with the launch of the city’s “single stream” recycling program.There are more photos at wejetset.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How Brands Invoke User Creativity and Win

People sometimes ask me:

"What's the easiest way to get the attention of creative people?"

The answer is simple. Fill in the blank. That is, create a way for users to add their ideas or lend their voices. Offer then an empty canvas. Let them do what they do best--be creative.

Miracle Whip is staging a comeback. So it created a cute little web-app for Facebook to help users drop in dialogue bubbles. Bubbles are branded with recognizable Miracle Whip "blue" from the product label. Otherwise, it's a fun give away.

In another example, Areej Khan is helping Saudi women protect their right to drive. It's not illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia--it's just culturally taboo. Areej used to dress like a man to be able to drive in her native Saudi Arabia. Now, an MFA student at the School of Visual Arts in New York, instead of covering up, she is encouraging women to stand up for the right to sit behind the wheel. It's all part of Khan's master of fine arts project. Through downloadable dialogue bubbles people participate in the "We The Women" project by putting their own thoughts into the bubbles.

Both are examples of how a campaign can facilitate the three things the RenGen value most:
1. Creativity
2. Connection
3. Collaboration

The fact is that people want to speak out. They love to publish online, even if it's as little as 140 characters a day on Twitter. Offering creative vessels that make it simple for people to express themselves, and do so with flair or conviction, is the killer app for engaging the RenGen.

Hat tip to Steven Heller for turning me on to "We the Women"

Monday, May 18, 2009

Winning a Sponsorship Deal Often Means Mastering the Cold Call

I recognize that voice telephony seems so last century. But in the world of sponsorship marketing, the cold call still rules. According to IEG, 54% of all sponsorship deals are initiated by people cold calling their prospects.

You are cringing right now, aren't you? Probably because cold calling is stressful, loaded with frustration, not to mention rejection. Frankly, it'd take a freak of nature to dig the process. I am no such freak. But I have taught myself how to take the chill out of cold calling.

Let's start with your mind-set. Lighten up. People make cold calling disagreeable when they use the call itself to sell. The reason to cold call is to learn whether it makes sense to communicate further. In my experience a bright and breezy cold call can be pleasant for both parties if you adhere to the following rules:

Cardinal Rules for Taking the Chill Out of Cold Calling

1. Be prepared. The most common mistake is to assume you’ll get voice mail. When you actually connect with a human being, you fumble the call because you’re not ready.
2. Be real. Act as if this is someone you already know so that your voice takes on a more natural quality.
3. Listen. Actively listen and take notes.
4. Keep your energy up. Energy is attractive. Induce it if you have to with chocolate, hot tea, lit candles, whatever works for you.
5. Never push too hard. Speaks for itself.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sick of the Word "Authentic"

I've grown to hate the word "authentic." What does it mean, anyway? Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick would consider it an ambiguous term. In other words it's a no-no. A vague non-starter, like "synergy" or "vision." Bad marketing is loaded with these words.

What's truly authentic? Like pornography, I suppose we know it when we see it. Rehearsed or impromptu, it sparkles with genuine feeling.

Because most of us spend our days persuading, pitching, exhorting, and otherwise spinning content to make it look like it's well, authentic, I wanted to share this brief little vid. It features Anna D. Shapiro from Steppenwolf Theatre Company accepting her Tony Award for August:Osage County. And it's a gem.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Alternative Energy: Rebirth of Our Economic Engine in the Wind

Pundits are fond of comparing Americans to Romans and forecasting our imminent fall. The plain truth is that we're living up to the reputation. But as we enter the death spiral of our civilization, history also teaches that this is what it looks like right before a renaissance. Nothing drove that home better than a recent gathering of the wind energy industry in Chicago. Read more of this entry on the Huffington Post...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Journalism Upside Down Interview

Recently, I was asked to give my opinions about the future of journalism in a digital world. I was interviewed by Sheila Conlin, News Producer at NBC in the Washington, D. C. Metro Area. The project looks at how the internet is changing the way people obtain news and information, and how those changes are impacting the world of journalism.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Will Books Survive?

Recently, a journalist asked my opinion on the future book. Will books be shed as part of our cultural devolution, or will people cling to them? Good question in light of the launch of Kindle DX, which looks so appealing.

As I glance around my writing studio, I see books piled everywhere. Their presence is comforting. They define me. Pixels don't. A screen may thrill. It may invite our attention. No matter. I predict there will remain a fetish for the book. No matter how much change floods our lives, books will find their place. Here's why:

1. Books serve multiple functions: A book delivers a tactile emotional bond. They are cultural artifacts that deliver a sense of identity and emotional stability. It's harder to shed something that delivers on multiple levels-- education, imagination and emotion.

2. When people adopt a new technology they abandon the previous technology because it lacks utility: inconvenient, clunky, hard to maintain, breakable, costly. Hence the death of the 8-track tape.

3. There is a societal infrastructure to support books. Libraries, bookstores, book groups all form an eco-system in which the book survives. Books may go on the endangered species list after a period, but will never be extinguished.

Of course, change can be expected from the publishing industry once it awakens from its coma to discover that the rules for intellectual property have been re-written by technology. That may throw a wrench into things, but I doubt it.

Still, books are the most reliable analogue system going. This spoof on a medieval help desk shows why.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sponsors Begin Spring Planning Cycle

Spring is planning season for many sponsorship marketers. I recently led a roundtable of CMOs who make sponsorship decisions. Here's a list of features they'll be looking for:

1. Partners who help them transfer goodwill from your brand to theirs

2. Ability to target with precision and proof they've hit their mark

3. Consumer-trusted content and experiences that make their brands relevant

4. Opportunities to integrate, innovate and tweak new technologies, especially social networking platforms

I've said it before, I'll say it again. There are partners out there. It's a matter of persistence and having the right stuff. I have some tools and tips for you in the latest newsletter that'll help you with both. Check it out, it's free.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Switching from Sports to Music Delivers More for Sponsor

A long-time sponsor of a sporting event wanted to know if it was still a good investment given the amount of change in their demographic. Like many American-based companies, their customer base was becoming ever more Hispanic. An interesting case study from Yankelovich, reveals hard evidence on the power of cultural experiences to transfer brand allegiance across a broader base of customer types.

Top findings include:

1. Music is a more universal interest than sports.

2. Music is more relevant across Hispanic sub-segments

3. Concert attendees are generally of higher income than sporting event patrons.

The sponsor made the switch. Results? Their sponsorship of a concert series earned them more and better qualified leads.

So why do 69% of all sponsorship dollars go to sporting events?
It's a failure of imagination. Most people can't picture what it might look like to shake up the portfolio and actually create some true differentiation. Consider also that CMOs like buying those deals. They reinforce the values of many of the executive suite. Besides, who's gonna get fired for sponsoring a golf tournament or a sky box? Finally, its a shell game. At some point, it became more important to sponsor sporting events and provide perqs for employees and C-level talent. Making real marketing impact was an afterthought.

Perhaps that's why sponsorships are coming under scrutiny from the Feds and the media. Not because sponsorship needs regulating, which is the freak out being had over at IEG, but because sponsors shouldn't use tax payer's dollars to finance employee perqs. William Chipps, editor of IEG's newsletter puffed more smoke and adjusted the mirrors by saying Northern Trust's controversial PGA deal was a "bona fide marketing platform." Huh. A CMO at a financial services company, and client of ours I should disclose, considers his golf sponsorships to be more about making the internal troops happy and financing a giant cocktail lounge off the 18th hole.

As for what impact cultural experiences can deliver for sponsors versus sports, that's a conversation for serious marketers looking to get some traction across as many segments as they can. More highlights on the Yankelovich study here.
Photo courtesy of Dan Durango99

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sponsorship Re-boot

I'm in Detroit today giving a Sponsorship Boot camp. It's one of my most popular workshops. Lays down the basics and arms people with tools and tips. But times are tough in marketing and advertising--and hence sponsorship.

So I've rebooted the boot camp content. More trends, more about where to spot opportunity, and much more about how to stay focused when everyone else is freaking out. Let's face it. The people who make things happen in any economy maintain an outlook that inspires hope. No optimism, no sale. It will be interesting to see how these messages are received in a city that is the emblem of changed times. Start your engines.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Why I'm A Workaholic (Hint: Because I'm Not a Genius)

As spring warms things up, I have yet to "turn" my closet. That is, store away black woolens and break out brighter linens. Today, I rifled around for something more light weight to wear, and as I stepped into the skirt, I discovered it no longer fit me. Too big.

Last summer, I came off an 11-city book tour for RenGen fat and breathless. Over half my wardrobe no longer fit. Furious at myself, I headed to the gym. With gritty persistence, I clawed my way back to some level of fitness. Six months into it, I felt great, but little else changed. Rather than give up the work outs, I gave up caring about my looks. I just kept dragging my sorry ass to the gym.

Nearly a year later, I have results. I feel stronger and have more staying power. Great! But my fascination is more about the working at it. Challenging myself. The results are gratifying, don't get me wrong. But I'm more proud of the effort.

David Brooks takes up the issue of genius in a recent Op-Ed. Brooks debates the merits of pure talent versus hard work to produce extraordinary results. He considers also that genius may be divinely inspired. Writer Elizabeth Gilbert, gave a rousing speech at TED this year on divine inspiration that holds a message for all creative souls.

Like most people, I'm no genius. And while I have a relationship with my God, in my experience, divine inspiration is rarely available on demand. Instead, I've learned to rely on effort. The work is what I control. By staying everlasting at it, a lot of regular folks like me can achieve things that make us proud.

A grey linen suit sags at my hips. I feel proud. And now to the tailor.