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Sorry for the serious drop in the frequency of our agency blog of late. However, it can be a not-enough-hours-in-the day challenge to generate content for yourself when you are also generating content for others. The old shoemaker’s kids going shoeless dilemma.

Several stories this week resonated in an intertwining way to touch nerves for me as someone in the creative business. The problem is that too many creatives don’t run their businesses as businesses (emporiums of wit and awesome graphics, maybe) and too many businesspeople who purchase creative services realize that and take advantage accordingly.

This Advertising Age article about a panel from a Mirren New Business Conference on agency compensation contained an all-too-familiar anecdote from one of the panelists, Christine Fruechte, CEO of the Colle & McVoy agency. She recounted about having gotten to the last round of a pitch, but losing to another agency because Colle & McVoy elected not to lower their fees in a race to the bottom. The winner of that race went out of business within a year of getting the business. Ironically, the client approached Colle & McVoy again and Ms. Fruechte got the account (and in a rare turnaround for this industry) plus even higher fees than what cost her the nod in the original pitch process.

That story made me feel smug about the agency side of the business for all of a few hours until reading an amusing interview with the Black Keys by Danny McBride in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly. In an especially ironic turnabout, it seems agencies have been blacklisting the Black Keys when it comes to licensing of their music. The reason is appalling — once the Black Keys and their infectiously memorable hook-loaded music became omnipresent on radio and music services, they had to go to court on multiple occasions to stop brands, agencies, and jingle houses from using obvious knockoff versions of their songs.

So, this is an especially galling case of pot, kettle, black. Creative shops have no business whining about clients not wanting to pay them for original creative when they turn around and borrow a popular sound or look from other creative artists but conveniently don’t pay them for it.

Fortunately, some brands are thinking in different ways. It was refreshing this week to see Adweek report on how Chipolte has figured out a new way to attract business by featuring original content from Real McCoy big name writers like Toni Morrison and Jonathan Safran Foer on the restaurant’s cups under the theme “Cultivating Thought.” Hell, I might even pay a little extra for something pithy or witty from a favorite writer while enjoying a taco meal. And that little extra multiplied by the business it brings in might more than compensate Chipolte, Toni Morrison and other featured writers, while building brand loyalty for the chain (and new readers for those writers). Hallelujah. A rare win-win in the creative compensation department.

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I am about to piss off 1,200 CEOs. Or I will if any of the participants in the “2013 Global Marketing Effectiveness” online survey read this blog. A short article in BtoB Magazine summarizes the results of that study with a gut-punch headline reporting that “78% of CEOs say ad agencies not performance-driven enough.”

But first some advice to ad agency CEOs — get off your asses and start educating prospects and clients what it is that we do. I know you are already spread thinner than private label peanut butter, but prepare to add proselytizing about the power of advertising (not just your agency’s credentials) to that daily to-do list. Advertising is the business of great ideas. Ideas that stop people in their tracks. Ideas that inspire people to take action (including making purchases). Ideas that build brand loyalty. Ideas that cause other shops to subsequently copy and ultimately water down what was original and ground-breaking. Ideas that often scare C-level execs looking for immediate results. Clearly, when 936 CEOs (or 78% of 1,200 for those CEOs who think agency people can’t quantify) believe our business does not focus on generating quantifiable business results, we all have our work cut out for us.

The survey went on to add that 76% of respondents believe agencies are not business-pragmatic enough, 74% think agencies are disconnected from short and medium-term business realities, and 72% say agencies are not as data and science-driven as expected. To that I would add 87% of the same CEOs believe agencies are as worthless as chewing gum (or worse) on the bottom of their shoes. The study noted that the 1,200 CEOs represented small, medium, and large companies globally. So, it doesn’t matter whether they answer to a board and investors or to themselves as entrepreneurs, these CEOs don’t believe agencies have anything much of value to bring to the table. What would John Wanamaker say, who recognized that 50% of his advertising budget was wasted but was satisfied because the other 50% was working wonders?

Don Draper would answer a call for performance results with storyboards that tell stories.

Don Draper would answer a call for performance results with storyboards that tell stories.

More importantly, what would MadMen’s Don Draper do? I think he would turn the tables and ask tough questions of today’s CEOs. Clearly, we are living in the age of data and with so much of it at their disposal, CEOs have become know-it-alls. Miserly, risk-averse, short-sighted, attention-deficit, know-it-alls. Here is a list of additional questions that the Fournaise Marketing Group might have added  to their survey if Don Draper had gotten his hands on it.

Have you ever truly partnered with an agency before? Explained what your unique business challenges are, helped educate them about your business and industry and competitors, and made them an integral part of your team?

Do you realize that if you devalue marketing and entrust it to junior people inside your own company, who parcel out parts and projects to a variety of firms, your branding, corporate identity, and overall messaging will likely suffer and deliver sub-par results?

Can you chart a direct correlation between how little you budget toward branding, marketing, advertising, and PR and how flat sales are?

Are you satisfied that your marketing content and materials look and read like your competitors’ and do you expect commoditization or would you yourself prefer to be excited by on-target creative work that elevates your brand?

How well do you know your own prospects and customers? Are you capable of putting yourself in their skins or do you believe that they will naturally gravitate to the greatness of your products and services? And become aware of them through osmosis (thought I’d throw in a gratuitous science term)?

Do you recognize how truly fragmented the media universe is today? How few shared experiences remain out there from a mass audience standpoint? How much power has shifted to purchasers and how critical it is to hire the best communications people you can find to build awareness, communicate your messaging, your unique selling propositions, and your overall brand value to them?

Can you truly appreciate why the world of advertising is characterized by mad men? Creative geniuses who don’t fit into MBA textbooks? Graphic artists and videographers who can tell your story visually, compellingly, and uniquely? Agency types who willingly work long uncompensated hours because they appreciate clients who put their faith in them?

Are you willing to settle for mediocrity and short-term blips in profits because striving for greatness is scary and carries with it greater public attention and pain in the event of failure?

Does your company’s current advertising/branding/marketing carry your stamp or is it legacy work whose coattails you are riding on?

Are you the market share leader in all of your markets? Any of your markets? Are you a follower of competitors in your marketing efforts or do you blaze your own trails?

Do you honestly believe that most agencies don’t want to deliver performance? What is more important to you, the ability to measure the results of every expenditure or to be surprised and excited by creative that no one saw coming?

What are you going to do with all that additional data? Will it pay for an expansion of your business? Will it convince you that cutting more costs and staff was the right thing to do? Are you constantly checking your smartphone in today’s meeting because someone is telling you something that truly rocks your world or are you just bored?

Are you like 78% of the CEOs out there and the world of advertising makes you uncomfortable because it doesn’t fit easily into a spreadsheet? Where are the visionary entrepreneurial CEOs of other eras who built great products and understood they still needed great advertising and they insisted upon it?

Last one I can truly put in that category was Steve Jobs. Do you want to be like him?

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Lots of things happen for a reason that isn’t always clear at the time (more on that later). Earlier this year, Mike Bodnar, GM of Security Partners, a Lancaster-based central monitoring station and security services provider, reached out to me to ask if I’d do a presentation on security marketing at their first-ever dealers conference. Impulsive me, I said sure. In April, when I visited their hospitality suite during ISC West in Las Vegas, I asked Joseph Mitton, Marketing Director for Security Partners, more about the event. He told me that they had done a survey of their dealers and marketing was the topic that the majority were interested in. That both surprised and encouraged me.

As the event drew closer, Debbie Stremmel, who was coordinating the conference for Security Partners, shared more details and I was struck by something obvious — the complete event package was a terrific way for Security Partners to market to, and solidify relationships with, its existing customer base.  Smart guys.

Marketing Security to a Short Attention Span World

Marketing Security to a Short Attention Span World

Generous, too — Pat Egan, Principal of Security Partners, paid for accommodations for 50 plus of his dealers from across the nation at the very cool Lancaster Arts Hotel, had presentations and a second day mini products expo at the Lancaster Barnstormers minor league ballpark, wined and dined them at Lombardo’s one night and on a murder mystery dinner excursion on the Strasburg Railroad the next.

The view from the Lancaster Barnstormers' main hospitality suite

The view from the Lancaster Barnstormers' main hospitality suite

Security Partners hosted their dealers conference in one of the Lancaster Barnstormers hospitality suites.

Security Partners hosted their dealers conference in one of the Lancaster Barnstormers hospitality suites.

Scenes from the Accelerate dealers conference of Security Partners

Scenes from the Accelerate dealers conference of Security Partners

Everything was neatly tied with a branded bow under the conference theme of “Acclerate” as in accelerate your business — from PowerPoint templates, to printed conference materials, to even welcome and sponsor messages on the Barnstormers’ digital scoreboard.  There was a nice blend of presentations: from “Trends and Overview of the Security Industry Landscape” by Shannon Murphy, VP of Sales and Marketing for Electronic Security Association; to “Business Growth Strategies” by Rob Pianka, Coach, of ActionCOACH; to “Attrition Management” by John Brady, Principal, TRG Associates; to me with “Marketing Security to a Short Attention Span World.” Day 2 featured that mini product exposition followed by several roundtable discussions with Noah Bilger (Alarm.com), Dean Mason (AlarmNet), Tad Lamb (2GIG Technologies), David Donovan (Honeywell Alarm Security), Alicia Pereira (Video IQ), and Ed Warminski (Videofied). Over the years, I’ve been to a lot of these kinds of events and this was one of the best, which is saying a lot given it was a first time for Security Partners. It surely resonated for all of the dealers who participated locally and from across the country.

A murder mystery dinner on the Strasburg Railroad was a great way to cap off a day of sessions at Security Partners dealer conference

A murder mystery dinner on the Strasburg Railroad was a great way to cap off a day of sessions at Security Partners dealer conference

EC Key, makers of a smartphone controllable/Wiegand compatible access control add-on, was a sponsor of Security Partners' dealer conference

EC Key, makers of a smartphone controllable/Wiegand compatible access control add-on, was a sponsor of Security Partners' dealer conference

The Lancaster Barnstormers' scoreboard is a great promotional addition to events held there.

The Lancaster Barnstormers' scoreboard is a great promotional addition to events held there.

The value for me was sharing a lot of agency history and experiences in security marketing: over 18 years with Linear, several more with SafetyCare, more recently with 2GIG Technologies, Secure Wireless, and Time and Parking Controls; plus, the way that the marketing landscape keeps changing dramatically on all fronts, creating new opportunities, especially through technology. But there is also the benefit of getting feedback from dealers. It was useful to hear how hard it is on the sales side to get access to quality leads, especially in quantity, to do phone sales for a product that most homeowners need but few currently have — a security/home automation system remote controllable from anywhere by smartphone (yes, there’s an app for that). On the business-to-business side, it is equally tough to find the right marketing message and media to reach decision-makers with current needs.

Ironically, the one thing that has stayed with me the most since the conference was a point I made that came back to haunt me the next day. I stressed that when you are building a web site today, you should avoid Flash because most mobile devices do not support it. Of course, a dealer came to me the next day to tell me something I already knew, that our main web site uses a lot of Flash videos that do not play on iPhones. It is a nagging problem we have lived with in recent years, but I decided to see if anyone had developed a recent workaround. A Google search led me to a promising conversion application, so I posed it to George Rothacker, Renaissance artist/marketer, long-time agency friend, Flash expert, and collaborator on our web site. George, problem-solver that he is, saw the process through to a semi-gratifying conclusion. While this app can’t convert large complex files like our web site videos, it can be used to convert smaller Flash-based files that DO play on mobile devices and are consistent cross platform and across all web browsers. George has been able to perfect the technique for a series of Berenstain Bears online games for a credit union client of his. Lemons into lemonade. If anyone out there would like to use Flash on mobile devices to do animation and effects, talk to me. The answer all began with a conversation at another highly effective marketing technique — a dealers conference.

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Sometimes in life, you just get lucky.  You are in the right place at the right time and someone gives you your first break at doing what you love. That was the case with me when I answered a classified ad for an advertising copywriter at Bofinger and Associates, a local agency in Glenside, PA. I was a recent graduate of Susquehanna University with a seemingly useless degree in English (seemingly useless for getting hired for a journalism job unless I wanted to try my hand at writing obituaries part-time for the Quakertown Free Press). However, I submitted my resume and I got a call from the agency owner, Charlie Bofinger. He asked me to come in for an interview for the entry level PR job, also in the same ad. He told me on the phone he was looking for someone with a little experience for the copywriter post. And so, I went for my first agency interview and got hired to write for a living.

Charles Bofinger, former principal of Bofinger and Associates ad agency

Charles Bofinger, former principal of Bofinger and Associates ad agency

I was saddened to read Charlie’s obituary last week, but glad that he lived a long fulfilling life to age 88. Reading it brought back a flood of memories. His agency was small by Madison Avenue standards, but I quickly learned that Charlie had a lot of talented people working for him, each one of which I learned different skills from, including: Herb Smith, Account Service; Bernice Slosberg, Media; Marc Ellis, Copy Chief; and Pat Burns, PR.

As a graduate of the Milton Hershey School, Charlie Bofinger learned how to leverage his considerable artistic talents and business acumen through various connections he had made in Hershey. The result of that was a solid core of accounts from Chocolate Town, USA. The agency handled advertising for Hersheypark, all of the Hershey resort properties (Hotel Hershey, Hershey Motor Lodge and Convention Center, Pocono Hershey Resort), the Milton Hershey School, various HERCO projects, as well as some Hershey Foods assignments, such as San Giorgio brand pasta. On this solid base, Bofinger and Associates built additional account business, including CRC Chemicals, Van Sciver furniture, Malo marshmallow cup candy, and a number of other clients.

Bofinger handled all of Hershey's resorts, including the Hotel Hershey

Bofinger handled all of Hershey's resorts, including the Hotel Hershey

Heady for me was the chance to learn PR on behalf of CRC, whose various cleaning chemicals were staples for degreasing. It is where I learned about brand extensions with one line of formulations for automotive, another for marine, and another for industrial use. One of my earliest assignments was writing regular news releases about CRC’s various market-specific products. Things got a lot more interesting when the decision was made to raise awareness of the automotive line by sponsoring a NASCAR driver. CRC didn’t have a huge budget, so it was looking for a top 10 driver who might crack the top 5. They settled on a good one — a guy who did manage to make the top 5 a few times, but also made a bigger name for himself later on as the head of one of today’s premier racing teams — Richard Childress.

Richard Childress as a driver sponsored by CRC Chemicals

Richard Childress as a driver sponsored by CRC Chemicals

Bofinger press kit for CRC automotive chemicals

Bofinger press kit for CRC automotive chemicals

My recollections of Charlie was a guy who was very hard-working and often out of the office, spending time with his clients, learning their needs and their business challenges. When he was in his office, he was always working hard on ad designs.

I remember doing some of my own market research at Hersheypark in the spring with my college roommate, Bob Nisley, who lived in nearby Hummelstown and had had a thankless summer job during school working as a park mascot in one of those heavy character costumes. We tried out various park rides, including the old wooden coaster and the newest one called the SooperDooperLooper. My own kids just returned from a band trip to Hersheypark on Friday and announced to me that those are now the kiddie rides. I also toured the hotel properties in town and was impressed by how well all the tourism synergy works together there.

"Hersheypark Happy". . .one of Bofinger and Associates' many accounts (and jingles)

"Hersheypark Happy". . .one of Bofinger and Associates' many accounts (and jingles)

I worked for Charlie Bofinger the better part of a year and even got promoted to that ad copywriter job when the original person hired didn’t stay past the first few months. Then, one day, I came into the office and learned a tough but valuable lesson about the capricious nature of the ad business. Van Sciver Furniture, a big broadcast account for us, had decided to take its account elsewhere because sales had been down. Although I never worked on the account, I learned that job security was a lot like the LIFO accounting method (last in, first out). On Friday of that week, I got layed off from the agency and discovered unemployment insurance. Charlie was very sad to have to deliver that decision personally, but was very fair in how he handled it.

I can’t complain because, thanks to the Bofinger experience, I soon landed another advertising job at Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company, where I got to work with a lot of other young hires and eventually met my wife Drina. One day I was pleasantly surprised to read in the Inquirer that Bofinger and Associates had been acquired by Spiro, one of Philadelphia’s largest agencies at the time. Smart businessman that Charlie.

After two years at Provident Mutual, I got hired at Newton Associates, by two other great mentors, Jon Newton and Harry Streamer, who gave me many more opportunities (all of which is future blog material). During the early days of Newton, I would occasionally hear of Charlie. I knew he had loved painting and the Jersey shore. Somewhere I learned that there was a gallery in Stone Harbor that carried his work. Drina and I stopped in one weekend and bought one of his serigraphs. Another is hanging near the front desk at Newton and came courtesy of Charlie’s brother Ken, who used to call on Newton regularly representing many of the area’s printers.

Besides his agency career, Charlie Bofinger was also a talented fine artist.

Besides his agency career, Charlie Bofinger was also a talented fine artist.

Thanks, Charlie. You helped a lot of associates and clients over a long career in the crazy business of advertising. Including a young wet-behind-the-ears kid who now co-runs his own agency and tries to follow life lessons learned from some great mentors, you being the first.

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A fascinating advertising media story broke this morning courtesy of the Philadelphia Business Journal and City Paper.  It encapsulates many of the problems faced by city newspapers struggling with print sales, but has a particularly Philadelphia spin. The brief article in PBJ raises lots of questions, but obviously doesn’t answer all of them, because the issues are far from resolved.

Philly.com has long carried free Inquirer and Daily News content. Now, controversy is brewing.

Philly.com has long carried free Inquirer and Daily News content. Now, controversy is brewing.

Longtime readers of digital content from the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, both owned by the same newspaper group, have conditioned themselves for years to go to Philly.com. In March, without a lot of fanfare, separate sites for both newspapers were launched, Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com. Now, reporters from both papers are upset because people are still going to the more sex/entertainment/sports-driven content of Philly.com for Inquirer and Daily News stories co-carried there for free. That last point sounds like either a clear contractual sore spot or a grey area mess for lawyers to sort out. Philly.com has been a long-running web site intended to meld content from both papers. Now, with each paper wanting to establish a separate online identity (separate from each other and from Philly.com), the plot is definitely thickening.

Drop down to the very bottom of the page on Philly.com and you see that the site is owned by Interstate General Media. Under About Us and Contact Us, there are many editorial contact numbers for both the Inquirer and Daily News news and sports desks. There are also separate banks of links for The Inquirer and the Daily News, as well as links to additional media partners, Philadelphia City Paper, Philly DealYo, and Parade Magazine. The former links take you directly to the new Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com home pages; the latter open new tabs to the partner sites.

On Philly.com, there are advertising links to the Philly.com advertising media kit. On Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com, there is no advertising information or media kit link. In fact, there are no ads (possibly there are beyond the home page, but I am not a digital subscriber, so I don’t know with absolute certainty). Ads  appear prominently on Philly.com, however.  All three sites carry the copyright lines for Interstate General Media, LLC. How’s that for the ultimate separation of editorial and advertising? What a mess!

Inquirer.com is the new online Inquirer site (playing second fiddle to much of the same content free on Philly.com)

Inquirer.com is the new online Inquirer site (playing second fiddle to much of the same content free on Philly.com)

So, reporters at the Inquirer and Daily News don’t like to have their content or brand diluted through Philly.com. But yet, for years, subscribers have been conditioned to go to Philly.com for Inquirer and Daily News co-content. And Philly.com is where all the advertising resides, along with ancillary sex/entertainment/sports content that seems to be helping to attract additional visitors who are neither Inquirer nor Daily News subscribers.  To that off-kilter branding/business model, you can roll in print versions of both papers. Current cost for an annual 7-day delivery of the Inquirer is just under $250 (while well under a buck a day, it is still a big number on the subscription side).  There are also digital subscriptions for both papers, which can be separate or combined with print subscriptions. When you attempt to go beyond the home pages of the new Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com, you are prompted to either log-in to your digital subscription or to sign up for one. Yet, that same content can be found on Philly.com for free. Confused yet? As a subscriber or an advertiser? Subscribers can enter promo codes to reduce their costs.  Who knows, maybe there is even a special offer on Philly DealYo.

PhillyDailyNews.com has its own look, but also shares content (free) with Philly.com

PhillyDailyNews.com has its own look, but also shares content (free) with Philly.com

Not sure why the new Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com sites now exist in their alternate ad-less universes (alternate from Philly.com). All I know is that it currently equates to either a great media buy on Philly.com, where most of the visitors are (because of free and additional content), or a questionable digital subscriber buy on either Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com where editorial is purer and ad-free but a lot more expensive. This sounds like it was a business model concocted by the best minds at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

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It all started in December at the annual Warriors holiday luncheon organized by long-time Newton friend, Art Niedosik, just retired from a distinguished career in b2b ad sales, most recently for SDM magazine. The Warriors are made up of many other b2b ad sales reps like Art, members of the now-defunct (or in dormancy) Philadelphia Advertising Golf Association (PAGA), a number of b2b clients, and agency folk like yours truly. This was my second year attending and it was a good way to catch up with old friends and make a few new ones. That was the case this year when I had the good fortune to be seated next to Ted Regan, whom I assumed was there on the b2b side, but came out to the Warriors as a long-time Merion and PAGA  member. More importantly, I learned he was a kindred spirit — before he semi-retired, Ted was a creative director and copywriter for the legendary Ayer Worldwide in New York (and while still based here in Philadelphia).

Ted Regan, CD, Copywriter, and local N.W. Ayerthority

Ted Regan, CD, Copywriter, and local N.W. Ayerthority (photo courtesy of Chuck Lubking)

After trading creative war stories and business cards, Ted and I agreed to continue our discussion over lunch in the New Year. I was dying to know more about Philadelphia’s greatest advertising story (before there was Madison Avenue, there was N.W. Ayer) and Ted wanted to hear what causes thrills and ulcers in the agency business in 2013. When we got together last month, Ted brought along a book, “The 100 Greatest Advertisements” by Julian Lewis Watkins, this edition published by Dover in 1959.  He followed up by mail with another, “125 Years of Building Brands,” a commemorative published upon the 125th anniversary of the founding of N.W. Ayer. Between these two volumes, and two lunches worth of stories from Ted, I realized I had been graced with a treasure trove of advertising history, particularly Philadelphia advertising history, most of it blog-worthy. Over the past few weeks, I’ve wrestled with how best to present what I was learning, and I realized that there was enough material here for a series. So look for some familiar hits and some surprises in the weeks ahead. This is a decidedly rich vein.

Ted had many great lunch stories, including what it is like pitching memorable slogans to the U.S. Army. Also, how creative presentations go at the Department of Defense, where rank and eye contact are well defined. Sounded a lot like the high level conference room scene in “Zero Dark Thirty” when the certainty/uncertainty of Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan whereabouts is officially presented to Leon Panetta.

What surprised me is how much I thought I knew about N.W. Ayer but really didn’t. We are talking about an advertising agency that all but invented the agency business. In the process, they helped establish and build some of the best known brands in the world. Agency years are like dog years, so for multiple generations of owners and managers to take a shop far past the century mark, you are talking about one of the great American business success stories. For a pretty good Ayer chronicle, Ad Age published this history. And here is the Wikipedia version. And for some sense of Ayer success, here is an excellent video tour of the exterior and interior lobby of the majestic Ayer building in Philadelphia (now condos) at 210 West Washington Square.

To me, what’s sad is the legacy loss of Ayer as an agency entity, which officially occurred in 2002 when then parent Bcom3 (there’s a name that rolls right off the tongue) bundled agency assets into the Kaplan Thayer Group but discontinued the Ayer brand. Ten years later, Kaplan Thayer itself just got bundled into Publicis at year-end creating Publicis Kaplan Thayer. Well, at least Ayer is still resident in the last four letters of that new mongrelized brandname.

In the coming weeks, look for some historical ground-breaking work from Ayer and other top agencies, along with some thoughts on historical context and cultural changes and/or continuity.

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I am fully prepared for the page views of this blog to drop by 50%, because sadly we just lost our most loyal reader, a family friend who even at 90, was the living embodiment of the phrase “Carpe Diem,” (Seize the Day for all you non-English majors).

Speaking of which, for those of you who didn’t know Charlotte Melville, she might sound like a fictional character, but trust me when I say she was the realest person I have ever met. My last correspondence with her (again, it started with a reaction to a blog post) was December 2. In every contact I had with Charlotte, I always learned something (and often something extraordinary about her). In this latest instance, it was that she had once performed in Gilbert and Sullivan productions in Philadelphia during the 1930s. She was returning to her home in Bristol, PA mid-month from an extended stay with daughter Ann and husband Jeff, who currently live in Budapest working for the foreign service. Everyone would be home for Christmas. She was already planning her next international excursion, to Burma in the fall of 2013. Unfortunately, a few days upon her arrival here, Charlotte suffered a stroke, followed by a brain hemorrhage on Sunday. Very early Thursday morning, she died at home surrounded by her family.

If Dos Equis beer had a “Most Interesting Woman in the World,” Charlotte would be her. Everything about Charlotte was fascinating, starting with growing up in a privileged family in Bristol, a descendant of the founder of the D. Landreth Seed Company, which began in 1784 and introduced to the United States the Zinnia, the white potato, various tomato varieties, and Bloomsdale Spinach. Landreth remains in operation under non-family ownership as the oldest seed house and the fifth oldest corporation in America.

Charlotte's family founded the D. Landreth Seed Company, the oldest seedhouse in America.

Charlotte's family founded the D. Landreth Seed Company, the oldest seedhouse in America.

Early on, Charlotte developed an appreciation for just how wide and diverse Planet Earth is, and she became a global traveler abroad and a hostess with the mostest at home, welcoming foreign visitors to this country through various organizations. At times, she seemed like she knew everyone in every country, on every continent. This last trip at age 90 included the following itinerary: Croatia, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and to celebrate her birthday, a gondola ride in Venice.

Despite a Social Register type upbringing, Charlotte eschewed luxury accommodations for hostels, huts, and the homes of her many contacts. For instance, last summer in Lublijana, Slovenia, she stayed in a prison converted into a youth hostel. Despite roughing it, Charlotte had very few unpleasant travel surprises — one of the few was finding herself behind the Iron Curtain during a Soviet crackdown  in 1968.

Charlotte was a force of nature, proving that if you rest, you rust. Every morning, she took a long, brisk walk with her good friend, Herta Mackay. If you were a friend of Charlotte, you knew that she never stopped talking or walking. Energy drinks would be lost on her because she had so much natural get-up-and-go.

There wasn’t anything she wasn’t curious about, from history, to culture, to politics. When she was home, she wrote travel articles for the Bristol Pilot community newspaper. She attended meetings, outings, and lectures. She kept in touch with a myriad of fellow travelers, old friends, new friends, and personal acquaintances.

If you can believe it, Charlotte also squeezed in a stint in the U.S. Marines into her busy, busy life. As a result, she made a point in recent years of attending the annual USMC Ball. Most recently, she was the oldest marine there at the one held in Hungary in November. She was honored in the same fashion at an earlier USMC Ball in Beijing and got to meet President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush.

Charlotte was honored as the oldest marine at two recent USMC Balls in Hungary (here) and earlier in Beijing.

Charlotte was honored as the oldest marine at two recent USMC Balls in Hungary (here) and earlier in Beijing.

While back home in Bristol during the late 1980s, Charlotte met Gregory Peck when he was in town to see his daughter in a production at the Bristol Riverside Theatre. Charlotte had a knack for being at the right place, at the right time, with the right people. By comparison, Forest Gump was a piker.

Even now, I am having a hard time imagining life without Charlotte. She was a wonderful neighbor and friend to my in-laws. She was a great mentor and friend to my wife when she grew up with Charlotte’s daughters. She instantly became my friend, too, after my wife introduced us several decades ago. She has been a terrific role model to my kids. She has been an amazing mother to daughters Ann and Linda and a loving grandmother to her two grandsons.  And she has been both a great patriot and a world citizen. Not a bad resume for someone born to tremendous privilege, who, while enormously proud of her own heritage, chose to make her own way and her own name.

Charlotte passed away at home, less than half a mile from where she was born. That’s a pretty poetic circle of life for someone who has been one of the great globetrotters and goodwill ambassadors. Semper Fi, Charlotte. Semper Fi.

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Every entrepreneur tries to hit a homerun with branding a new enterprise (name, logo, and entire corporate identity). It is not easy to do, because too often entrepreneurs try to do it on a shoestring. Usually the graphic design side suffers because a friend’s daughter in art school gets the assignment for a couple hundred bucks. Or the entrepreneur has a strong preference for other marks, hence the Nike swoosh craze of not too many years ago.

The naming challenge is in its own way even tougher. For one thing, it seems like there is nothing new under the sun and to find a unique DBA (doing business as) name that gets attention, defines what you do, and will stand the test of time isn’t so easy. Coca Cola, Microsoft, and Apple did not become industry giants overnight and without perpetual advertising exposure.

This is a pretty good overview from Entrepreneur magazine on a naming approach and pitfalls to avoid. It conveys how really hard it is to find that sweet spot that captures everything you want to convey in a first glance as well as a lasting impression. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t swing for the fences.

Yesterday, I was in NYC/North Jersey for a trade show at the Javits Center. While sitting in traffic, waiting to get on the New Jersey Turnpike, I saw a fully vehicle wrapped service van with a name I had never seen before — a name that conveyed a lot. FRSTeam! This name struck me as a unique and well thought out approach to the challenges of saying a lot in a short burst. Plus, it hit upon a somewhat new formula from all of those contained in the Entrepreneur article.

FRSTeam is a corporate name that manages to convey a lot.

FRSTeam is a corporate name that manages to convey a lot.

Immediately, FRSTeam says two things. It implies FIRST in a way that your mind completes the word and fills in the missing vowel. Of course FIRST implies number one, but more importantly in this case, it implies fast response as in the team that is first on the scene to help you. It also says Team, which underscores that you are not dealing with a lone contractor spread too thin. That’s a very good thing, because FRSTeam is in the business of helping homeowners and businesses respond to property damage from fire or flood or mold.  SERVPro and Service Master are the two best-known names in this space.

Ultimately, what struck me about the FRSTeam name, however, is that it also combines an acronym — Fabric Restoration Service — which happens to be the specialty of FRSTeam. As anyone who has ever tried to get smells or stains out of fabric can tell you, that is an enterprise that cries out for a specialist with skills, equipment, and know-how. Their web site suggests that they have all that, plus a solid customer service emphasis. I found nothing that said they do STEAM cleaning of fabric, but if they do, that is yet one additional meaning you can get out of the FRSTeam name.

As for the FRSTeam logo, it is a strong font with a fire and water symbol hanging off it. Interestingly, they split the R in FRST to visually convey the I, but upon closer look, it is also a 1. Clever.

What’s in a name? Sometimes confusion. Sometimes a company that has outgrown its original name and is now an acronym (IBM). But sometimes just the right mix of letters and impressions.

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It has been a difficult week or so since the Presidential election. Thankfully, we had a clear winner of both the electoral votes and the popular vote. Still, President Obama’s re-election did little to heal divisions. A disturbing number of petitions have been launched calling for states to secede from the federal United States. A woman was arrested for running down her husband for not voting. A man began flying the American flag upside down as a sign of distress. Comments boards have been full of the same trash-talking nastiness that preceded the election, much of it treating the outcome as if it was a Monday Night Football beating.

Meanwhile, both sides of the aisle in Congress, along with President Obama, continue to posture from their entrenchments over positions taken with regard to the approaching Fiscal Cliff deadline. Most of it is attributable to politics as usual while Americans and American businesses and American investors await Federal tax decisions that will have real consequences for 2013 and beyond.

Then, without a breather, we’ve had the resignation of General David Petraeus as CIA chief in the wake of an extra-marital affair, leading to the extra-bizarro world of scandals cascading to the FBI agent who began the investigation, a socialite with lots distracting side-stories, and linkage to the current general in charge of the Afghanistan theater. All of it representing layers of distraction from the real scandal — the deaths of four Americans, who went without requested security and aid, during the attack on our consulate in Benghazi.

I don’t know about you, but I am thoroughly disgusted by the profiles in cowardice on exhibit in recent weeks. We are all human and we all have our weaknesses and failings, but no one on the horizon appears to be taking a long view, or thinking of whether their actions are corrosive and ultimately self-defeating in pursuit of momentary satisfaction, or giving anyone else consideration or even the benefit of the doubt.

"Claudette Colvin; Twice tward Justice" by Phillip Hoose won the National Book Award

"Claudette Colvin; Twice Toward Justice" by Phillip Hoose won the National Book Award

At times like this, grace can sometimes be found in unexpected places. When I was at my low point surveying the current landscape, I discovered uplift in of all places, my daughter’s latest school project: a non-fiction book report. She chose a recent National Book Award winner, “Claudette Colvin; Twice Toward Justice” by Phillip Hoose.

Whereas most Americans know who Rosa Parks is, few of us have ever heard of Claudette Colvin or her inspiring story. You owe it to yourself to learn who Colvin is via either Hoose’s excellent account or other resources. Frankly, Colvin was a solo spark in the fight against bus segregation, and all forms of segregation. She was a lonely teenager who had big dreams, recognized simple right from wrong, and demonstrated a remarkable personal courage made all the more remarkable because of her youth.

In a nutshell, well before the courageous but organized bus protests and civil rights marches of the 60s, Claudette Colvin was riding a Montgomery, Alabama public bus and refused to give up her seat to a white woman standing in the aisle. Her three friends and seatmates got up, leaving three available seats, but the white woman would not sit down and insisted that Colvin get up from the row as well. Colvin stood her ground, which led to her arrest for violating bus segregation laws, disturbing the peace, and “assaulting” police officers. Quite simply, she knew she was within her Constitutional rights, but it took tremendous presence of mind and moral focus to not bend to the pressure of the woman in the aisle, the bus driver, a transit officer, and finally two police officers who subsequently boarded and dragged her off the bus. She went to jail, had to brave bullying by law enforcement, ostracism by classmates, and a judge who found her guilty, even maintaining the “assault” charge in a subsequent appeal, so she was branded with a criminal record.

There are many other aspects to Colvin’s story, but ultimately it was her decisive action that helped lead to the Supreme Court upholding the abolishment of segregated seating and to spurring on Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights leaders to vigorously carrying on the fight.

Colvin, now in her 70s and having subsequently lived a quiet life out of the limelight, stands as a shining example for all of us at this particular moment in our history. The time is always right for each and every one of us to do the right thing.  Taking a stand against hate and for freedom and individual rights often requires courage and the potential for mistreatment by others. This is what leadership looks like. If more of us were willing to take such principled stands against popular opinion, withering criticism, and hard-nosed  entrenched authority and special interests, we might be able to effect positive change. Sometimes it means picking your battles, but in Colvin’s case, her battle picked her, and even as a young teenager without any adult to guide her, she rose to the moment and made a lasting difference. Her personal courage really resonates at this time when so little is on display from our elected and appointed leaders.

 

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Hurricanes have a way of getting your attention. Being part of the Mid-Atlantic path of Sandy has made me aware of many things out of the normal course of daily business. Storms of all sorts are increasingly opportunities for local news stations to push weather expertise and project themselves as round-the-clock regional communications centers. The result is typically a lot of supermarkets benefiting from bread and milk sales and a lot of snow shovels and sidewalk salt sold at Lowes and Home Depot.

Erie Insurance and State Farm took to the air pre-Sandy promoting emergency preparedness.

Erie Insurance and State Farm took to the air pre-Sandy promoting emergency preparedness.

However, the potential for serious flooding, property damage, and power outages with Hurricane Sandy over such a wide path of the Eastern seaboard has upped the ante in many directions. Yesterday, a number of smart retailers like Wal-Mart and Office Depot had moved essentials to the front of their stores, including bottled water, flashlights, batteries, etc. Perhaps the only exception — portable generators are still tough to be had at a time like this.

Especially surprising were some smart radio commercials yesterday by two different major property/casualty insurance giants — State Farm and Erie Insurance. Both spots were direct, full of good preparatory advice, and reassurance that they would be there for policyholders. That is a solid message for corporations to send ahead of what will be a costly quarter for them as they help customers settle claims post hurricane. The media buy was expensive, but likely more than offset by the new customers they will gain from competitive property/casualty insurers who don’t treat their insureds well in the days ahead.

Travelers sent a safety email to customers in advance of Sandy.

Travelers sent a safety email to customers in advance of Sandy.

I wondered about my own company, Travelers, but found a similar message emailed to me, along with important details on storm preparedness and claim follow-up. This is a terrific use of a Customer Relationship Marketing database, and while it may seem like a no-brainer, it requires advance planning on the part of the insurance company’s marketing department, along with coordination with all the departments within the company to ensure accuracy of information.

One of the biggest concerns related to Sandy appears to be about loss of electricity from downed trees taking down transmission lines and water affecting the power grid. I had one unexpected level of assurance from my friend Steven Brush posting to Facebook on Sunday — he snapped a smartphone picture of electrical crew trucks traveling north from Alabama via I-95. Now, that’s emergency preparedness and much appreciated out-of-state assistance even before it is officially needed.

Power crews from Alabama already headed north in advance of Sandy.

Power crews from Alabama already headed north in advance of Sandy.

In the information age, all of us are getting better prepared to handle whatever nature throws our way, certainly following painful lessons learned during Katrina. And government, utilities, media, non-profit relief agencies, and businesses are getting smarter in helping citizens weather these storms.

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