Branding

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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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My friends and I have had a running gag since senior year of college, every so often suggesting names for the rock band we never got around to forming. This article from A.V. Club renewed the conversation last December and revived another round, still nothing topping our default choice — Insipid Ostrich.
Two memorable songs from the late Jim Croce and the late Johnny Cash underscore the importance of selecting the proper moniker.


Not surprisingly, ad agency naming bears more than a passing resemblance to the rock world, which would help to explain some of the memorable names featured in this Adweek story. Here are the 40 strangest names in the global ad business; the article gives the background on each.

40. Taxi
39. Odopod
38. Bonehook
37. Big Spaceship
36. Droga5
35. The Bank
34. Razorfish
33, Naked
32, Wikreate
31. Steak
30. Creature
29. Lean Mean Fighting Machine
28. High Heels & Bananas
27. Blammo Worldwide
26. Omobono
25. The Chopping Block
24. Captains of Industry
23. The Glue Society
22. Farm
21. Adam & Eve
20. Elephants & Ants
19. Victors & Spoils
18. David & Goliath
17. For Office Use Only
16. Walrus
15. Mother
14. Mistress
13. G&M Plumbing
12. Moosylvania
11. The Barbarian Group
10. Omelet
9. Big Kitty Labs
8. Hello Viking
7. High Wide & Handsome
6. Barton F. Graf 9000
5. Kids Love Jetlag
4, Pocket Hercules
3.StrawberryFrog
2. 72andsunny
1. Wexley School for Girls

In the past week, I’ve taken calls from two creative production houses whose catchy names were carefully chosen to set them apart — Fat Chimp Studios and The Nerdery.

Yesterday, I was reading an industry story on The Pitch and saw a banner for Gyro, the edgiest, buzz-worthiest branding/advertising agency to ever call Philadelphia home. When I clicked through, I realized it was not Gyro Worldwide, but another agency now using the name. A Google search for Gyro Worldwide led me to Quaker City Mercantile, a surprisingly mellow but still memorable (by comparison) rebranding.

The traditional agency nomenclature direction is a lot like the method followed by the legal profession. The name(s) on the door belong to the principals: Ogilvy and Mather; Doyle Dane Bernbach; Della Femina Travisano & Partners; even the fictional Mad Men shop, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

That’s the model followed and continued by Newton Associates. Yes, Virginia, there was and still is a Jon Newton. We continue to collaborate, lunch and kibitz with Jon regularly. In 2003, when Gerry Giambattista and I purchased the agency as long-time employees from Jon and his account service business partner, Harry Streamer, we made a conscious decision to retain the name, carry the torch, and honor the high standards set by Newton Associates. We’ve never regretted our name decision and we’re proud to soon be coming up on marking our first decade.

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Schweddy Balls, for real, courtesy of Ben and Jerry.

Schweddy Balls, for real, courtesy of Ben and Jerry.

This is a post about double entendres so I probably shouldn’t mention that it is also about brand extensions. Now, that I have that out of my system. . .Ben and Jerry’s decision to add a “Schweddy Balls” flavor to its ice cream line-up is one of the strangest branding/marketing decisions I’ve seen in a long time. No, make that forever. There’s a lot riding on whether consumers will relate to the not-so-recent, yet oddly memorable Saturday Night Live sketch spoofing National Public Radio at its quirkiest and featuring a guest appearance by Alec Baldwin as holiday food purveyor, Pete Schweddy, owner of Season’s Eatings.

Ben and Jerry is known for its own sinful fare — homemade ice cream with clever counter culture names like Cherry Garcia, Phish Food, and Half Baked. Founders Ben and Jerry are also recognized as social activists for liberal causes. So, what would possess them to introduce a new flavor based on a somewhat obscure SNL skit from yesteryear, more specifically a skit entirely based on testicular and oral sex jokes?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAMMB_g5YDk&feature=related

Don’t believe me? You can watch the ice cream’s inspiration here. Not really sure what Ben and Jerry were thinking. Is this a fanboy tribute to Alec Baldwin? Is it a deliberate attempt to tweak social conservatives, who already have their panties in a bunch over the announcement? Is it a surefire way to drum up publicity in an anti-sweets nanny-state environment? Is it a tone-deaf mistake because no one in Vermont gets all the inside jokes in the SNL skit? Hard to say, because this is such a strange and out of left field product launch.

Ice cream is a family-oriented, dairy-farm-fresh food category. Even with Ben and Jerry’s hippie-dippie history, naming a flavor after an inside sex joke is beyond edgy. It is an idea cooked up on hallucinogens, then best cancelled when the drugs wear off.  Then, again if Ben and Jerry are mining SNL for flavor names, they can’t do worse than this audio clip.

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Every business decision can be a way to burnish the brand or avoid nightmarish PR scenarios like this one.

Every business decision can be a way to burnish the brand or avoid nightmarish PR scenarios like this one.

Let’s admit it — as marketing and PR have gotten increasingly commoditized and digitized, C level executives have increasingly tuned out this profession. When high level branding and marketing decisions are made, it is often C level executives themselves who craft the messaging. For bread and butter stuff, too often inexperienced and sometimes entry level people are tasked to administrate programs.

This local news story that escalated to national attention is a perfect example of what can happen when corporate decision-makers limit their thinking to what is legal and to what will save them money in the short run. If you haven’t read this story yet, you need to and to draw your own conclusions. I don’t intend to rehash it; however, it is, as Oprah says, “a teachable moment.”

Now, their need for PR is immediate, but it is crisis PR, and frankly, there is no way to “spin” a story like this so the company and the decision-makers come out looking like reasonable people or good corporate citizens.

There may be a very significant backstory here that makes the decision to terminate this woman seem sensible and a practical course at the time. However, it will be forever drowned out by the ripple effect headlines. It will cost a lot more than this employee’s salary during this period to repair the damage to the company’s reputation. In retrospect, it might have even been forehead slapping commonsensical to retain her instead of taking the weasel course of having her “sign a form” before she left. “What were we thinking?” Light bulbs are probably going off now that perhaps a woman taking medical leave for such a selfless reason is the kind of employee any company would welcome back to work.

The truth is that the best companies recognize and appreciate that corporate branding, marketing, and PR is integral to every business decision made by every department, at every level— it is all about customer service, enterprise operations, employee relations, community involvement, industry thought leadership, etc. The littlest things can sometimes have the biggest impact. It is impossible to anticipate everything that might lead to negative headlines or bigger problems, but when experienced marketing and PR people are part of the day-to-day mix, they see things differently and can serve as a conscience and a buffer to what is strictly legal or totally bottom line driven. Without them, even seasoned business professionals can wind up looking very amateurish.

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52 posts in 52 weeks makes for a minor milestone (or a good excuse for a game of 52-card pickup).  But we’re proud to report that NewtonIdeas.net has reached the one-year mark.  In honor of the occasion, here are a few varied mini-stories of interest. Some even have something to do with marketing.

Even in the Wright Brothers era, advertising was helping to build business ventures.

Even in the Wright Brothers era, advertising was helping to build business ventures.

Advertising has long been the wind beneath business’s wings.

Spending President’s Day weekend in DC was refreshing for a lot of reasons. One was seeing this Wright Brothers era display from the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. A long time before Burma Shave ever hit the highways, the medium of outdoor advertising was practiced in some pretty creative ways on some remarkable canvases.

Two other reasons were the guided tour of the Capitol (the building itself gives you goosebumps, the prelude film is magnificent, first-rate audio headsets for all, and our tour guide was a polished gem eager to share information, as well as a very energetic senior who is living proof that retirement is overrated) and a cabdriver from Ghana who was this week’s embodiment of the American Dream. He has been driving a DC cab for five years to put himself through Howard University. He is currently studying five hours a day to take the CPA exam.

Back to earth courtesy of the current Congress.

This story from the Washington Post will tell you all you need to know about what happens when the second oldest profession takes on the oldest profession. Upon first seeing the headline about Harry Reid challenging prostitution, which is currently legalized in his home state of Nevada, I was perplexed. The explanations and the instant poll here are revealing of motives and politics (prostitution) as usual.

Softer side, my a@#.

Nothing agitates agencies more than having to do spec work to win business. Unless it is being told by the prospect that they will own your ideas even if you aren’t named agency of record and you won’t be compensated for them. According to Advertising Age, that is what Sears is doing in its current search and why many shops are fighting mad and turning down the opportunity. Interesting business model. I suggest shoplifters come armed with a copy of this story to discuss with Sears store security and ask why they aren’t entitled to something valuable for nothing as well.

Coupled with this news about Wal-Mart and you begin to wonder if there are any intelligent, common sense-oriented adults left in retail management. Two key takeaways from the Wal-Mart story: “Wal-Mart still is suffering a hangover from its overly aggressive effort last year to broaden its base of customers to include more affluent shoppers” AND “Wal-Mart this year has opted to return its marketing and its merchandise to a focus on its roots: low prices on everyday items.” Sam Walton must be spinning in his grave like a gyroscope.

The difference between PR and news.

A LinkedIn group I belong to has had a spirited discussion going this week on “pay for play” PR placements, and whether as a book author has suggested, it is the future model for public relations.  I don’t see it that way, but then a friend independently sent me this link, which amusingly approaches PR from the other direction — from the consumers of news side. Journalism vs. Churnalism. Are editors getting ever lazier and running press releases verbatim? Now, you can test the story you’re reading via this cheeky site. I am convinced we are all being put through a digital blender these days, for better and for worse. And for constant change and status quo challenges. It’s been an interesting first year of agency blogging. Looking forward to many more.

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Audi's Terrific New "Luxury Prison" Campaign is This Year's SuperBowl Champ

Audi's Terrific New "Luxury Prison" Campaign is This Year's SuperBowl Champ

The hype over SuperBowl commercials gets bigger every year. That’s because the number of advertisers willing to pony up $3 million per 30-second spot has mushroomed. That’s excluding creative strategy, development, and production costs. If you have a celebrity endorser, the price tag goes even higher. Obviously, this is a competition only the biggest brands can compete in. The real value is in the opportunity to cut through the clutter with some truly memorable messaging and brand positioning.

Ironically, with the advent of YouTube and social media, the buzz generation machine was in full swing the last few weeks. The vast majority of the spots, or teaser versions of those spots, are up on YouTube and sites like this and this and this. The best place to take the temperature of hot, hotter, hottest spots, however, is Mashable, which has compiled Twitter results on the ads generating the most advance interest. Advertisers and agencies have caught on to the formula that Hollywood uses, releasing various versions of movie trailers and stills, especially among “fan boys,” to build excitement to a fever pitch when big budget blockbusters hit the theaters.

Even with this unprecedented opportunity to win fans in advance of the big game, some brands still don’t get it.  The posted clips are long-form making of the spot promos (Mercedes) or celebrity behind-the-scenes documentaries (Faith Hill for Teleflora).  And amazingly, Coca-Cola has told Mashable to take down their video because of copyright issues (it’s free publicity, folks!).  David Meerman Scott’s book, “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” recounts a similar tone-deafness to new media opportunities when the soda giant ignored opportunities to leverage the viral video phenomenon created by dropping Mentos candies into open liter bottles of Diet Coke (the ultimate junior high science fair experiment).

According to Mashable’s Twitter tracking results, Volkswagen has won the SuperBowl advertising fan poll with an entertaining spot of a young Darth Vader wannabee trying to marshal the “Force” by interacting with a variety of things around his household. Its popularity is earned and it will definitely be a water cooler favorite on Monday morning.

The real winner, though, came in second in those Twitter results. It is an audacious new campaign for Audi that is so creatively and strategically original that the car company deserves to reap huge rewards in new car sales in the months ahead.  Previously, if pressed, I couldn’t name you a single Audi commercial, marketing theme, or slogan. For a luxury brand, their advertising has been unmemorable as wallpaper. Not any more.

The change started in recent weeks with a spot that was a narrated voiceover takeoff on the children’s bedtime classic, “Good Night, Moon.” That spot began to redefine luxury and set the stage for something totally unexpected that came next.

The new campaign for Audi is a parody of  the landmark 1978 documentary “Scared Straight,” in which lifers from Rahway Prison spoke to juvenile offenders to paint an unflinching unforgettable portrayal of hard times they can expect from the penal system if they don’t turn their young lives around immediately. Not exactly material for selling luxury cars, right?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MIs0sBBwBo

That’s the beauty of the new “Startled Smart” spots and extended YouTube videos that are set in a “luxury prison” where old money convicts are enlisted to talk sense into a group of Generation X drivers who think they understand status and how to spend their inherited wealth. The segments are so new, unexpected, and hilarious that you can’t wait to replay them. The real strategic brilliance is that Audi’s creative team has found a way to entertain baby boomers who remember the rawness of the Rahway inmates, as well as Generation X who are down with spending less to get luxury and to sharing these spots via social media.

Following on the first spot’s heels is a second that adds yet another rich layer. It is devoted to the quelling of riots at this luxury prison. The answer is none other than smooth jazz elevator music sax man, Kenny G, having tremendous fun at his own expense.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXE6L2gUDKQ&NR=1

Audi has managed to turn the luxury category on its head with unexpected, truly inspired humor. In the process, it will make a much bigger name for itself, with all those SuperBowl eyeballs. It deserves to win the big game ad contest hands down over all those beer and snack food retreads devoted to all too familiar themes.

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Everyone’s an art director. That’s a lesson Gap Inc. just learned the social media way in rolling out a new corporate logo via its Facebook page. If Gap was expecting everyone to just click the Like button, they received a rude surprise.
If you’re just catching up with the story, here is the Wall Street Journal’s reporting on it, already updated since the initial posting. Gap proudly introduced a new logo, then quickly rescinded it, following an avalanche of negative comments on Facebook and elsewhere.

Ring out the old new. Bring in the new. Bring back the old.

Ring out the old new. Bring in the new. Bring back the old.

Lots to talk about here. Our agency has branding and corporate identity conversations all the time with clients. Introducing a new or updated logo is always a dicey proposition. First, it is very expensive to replace all those stationery items, signs, packaging, product labels, vehicle wraps, sales literature, trade show exhibits, coffee mugs, videos, web content, Powerpoints, not to mention emotional attachments that customers and employees have with the old logo. Typically, it is not a minor undertaking for an established brand. We tend to not recommend such changes unless there is an acquisition or merger that dictates it, a problem in the marketplace that is hurting the brand, or another really compelling reason to reinvent the brand.
From the outside, none of those reasons seem to apply to Gap’s new logo. However, all of us are on the outside and not privy to what led to management’s decision to explore a new look and to the discussions that took place between Gap and its professional design agency. The key word here is professional, because once the new logo entered the realm of social media, everybody and his brother weighed in. Some of those having fun were other graphic designers, some were upset customers, but most of those stomping on the new mark were casual observers at the scene of the accident. The new logo is not ugly, but the reaction to it sure was.
I can empathize with the new Gap logo team, because we once explored a range of new product faceplate designs for a client, two were chosen, then those two were set up in the company’s lunchroom to be voted on by everyone from the President to the cafeteria staff. Good creative is not a democratic process. Design by committee usually ends in a Dilbert cartoon. Yikes!
What this really smacks of is a repeat of the New Coke introduction. Consumer reaction was swift and terrible. Old Coke made an instant reappearance. New Coke was poured down the drain. Is the new Gap logo an improvement over the old? That’s an entirely subjective question especially when most people see no good reason to change the old. Sometimes well-crafted market research points the way before change is undertaken so painful mistakes can be averted before they reach the marketplace.
If there is anything that customers want to change at nearly every retailer, it isn’t the logo. I suspect it is the customer service experience and finding ways to dramatically improve it.

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Sign of the Times: Will Market for Food

Sign of the Times: Will Market for Food

The harsh economic reality is that during this prolonged economic downturn, most companies are spending as little as absolutely possible on marketing. Chief marketing officers are under intense pressure to show measurable results on marketing dollars allocated. Companies are willing to spend on technology, such as marketing automation systems, if it enables them to track and tweak every program in every marketing channel. Meanwhile, media spending is way down. A lot of good people have been cut loose and are on the street. There is constant grumbling about sales numbers.
What is missing, besides funding of marketing, is any anticipation of, or excitement over, a great idea. With everyone thinking small and smaller, we are all losing sight of the big picture and transformative thinking. When everyone is fearful of losing their job, there isn’t a long line of managers waiting to take a chance on something that doesn’t resemble wallpaper to blend into.
Standing out is what marketing used to be all about, before the appearance of one-size-fits-all templates. Today, I heard a radio spot for the UPS Store promoting their easy 1-2-3 marketing materials (instant brochures, business cards, etc.). UPS does terrific branding, marketing, and ads for its own global delivery services. Why are they trying to sell the opposite (cookie cutter answers) to Main Street businesses?
Great branding and advertising can make a huge difference. People anticipate the Super Bowl every year as much for the Super Bowl ads as for the football game. Why not make coming up with a Super Bowl level idea a daily pursuit instead of just a one-and-done event. There is nothing exciting about current economic numbers and I suspect the bean counters are running out of ways to cut costs and make them more palatable. Those who understand the value of superior marketing, then support and fund it will be the ones coming out ahead when the economy improves.

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College Marketing Materials: From Here To Infinity

College Marketing Materials: From Here To Infinity

We had a new business meeting this week with the marketing director of a local college. That meeting was about continuing ed, but it prompted me to visit a shopping bag I had kept in the corner of my office after my son headed to campus last fall. The bag was a collection point for all the undergraduate marketing materials he’d received over the course of junior through senior year of high school, from colleges large and small, near and far, looking to fill their freshman class. Hundreds of suitors, who all knew that only one would ultimately be chosen. The Miss America pageant and the nickel slots in Atlantic City offer better odds.
I took the occasion to review many of these postcards, direct mail letters, multi-panel mailers, view books, and other forms of solicitation. Most were also replicated in e-mail form and some with personal web pages (PURLs). It was an incredible example of target marketing run amuck. The deluge began some time after my son’s data was entered online for the taking of the SATs. Multiply him by the number of college-bound students in every high school across the country and you start to get a sense of the crazy business model of higher ed admissions. The goal is to fill as many seats as possible, with the best and brightest you can attract. You have them, hopefully, for three additional years. But every fall, it’s musical chairs all over again.
I was struck by how many images and messages blurred together from one institution to another. All were professionally crafted. Only a few stood out as remotely unique. Campuses and ivy covered buildings look like they were shot for National Geographic. Students are shown with blissful expressions of living in a better place (Brigadoon? Away from home?). Each is chosen by central casting to fill a diversity rainbow and for their Ralph Lauren model looks. Touch football games are big. So is the promise of study abroad programs. Slogans with the words future, career, imagine, and vision abound. There were quite a few mailings with “green” sustainability themes. Given the small forest shown here spread across our conference room table, I got a chuckle out of that conceit.
With so many choices, how do kids and families sort them all out? Everyone has their own criteria and methods. But once the short (hopefully, short) list is arrived at, the campus visits become all important and from each school’s perspective, a minefield. At one top name school, the campus tour guide was completely drowned out by the sounds of construction jackhammers a short distance away. At another, much time was spent (unsuccessfully) silencing the alarm on the front door of a student dorm we were touring. At yet another, prospective students were asked to share something about themselves with others in the room; the problem was that the room was an auditorium full of people, most of whom were pressed for time and were there specifically to learn about that college, not about other prospective freshmen.
The effectiveness of presentations is paramount when you get hundreds of guests into an auditorium. Many that we attended were rambling snooze-fests. Some were technology challenged. And a few were very, very compelling. A really well-done video can compensate for too many speeches from too many campus representatives. Even the Q and A should be carefully prepared for, not with pat answers but thoughtful ones that represent the consistent voice of the institution.
There aren’t any easy answers to college branding and marketing. The processes and messages in place at most schools are well thought out, but often derivative of competing institutions. Really hammering home what is unique about your campus and its offerings is critical. When you throw in the challenges of ever-rising tuition and room and board costs, an especially tight global economy, and competition from more and more online education options, something has to give (and I don’t mean the alumni).

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We're all brand names.

We're all brand names.

I enjoyed a really nice long weekend on Long Island. I had a chance to reconnect with the Clarks (no relation to the candy bar), my mother’s branch of our family, attending a cousin’s younger daughter’s graduation party. It was a great chance for me and my family to reconnect with him, his family, and other family members who came out for the happy occasion.
It was also a wonderful reminder of a small but essential truth — we have so much invested in our names. Over the weekend, we bandied about a lot of family names — those of family members who weren’t present, of family friends from childhood and youthful memories. On the wall of my cousin’s living room was a framed newspaper ad from 1935 from Bronzo’s, his grandparents’ grocery store. I was amazed to see specials on brands like La Choy that are familiar today but I didn’t expect to see from that period of American history. We have always been a melting pot.
The point is that my cousin’s grandparents were proud to put their name on the outside of the store. So have a couple of zillion other businesses over the years. Small ones like druggists and restaurants and gas stations. And quite a few bigger ones like Ford.
We would all be much better off these days if we took that kind of pride again. As company owners, but also as employees. Unfortunately, too many of us work for big congolomerates with made-up corporate names or acronyms. We delude ourselves that we do not have much personally invested. From the mailroom to the board room, too many have a phone-it-in attitude about work. It’s just about collecting a paycheck. What has been lost is the pride in one’s work. How much different we would feel if it were our own name on the sign. If it were our customers on the other side of the counter.
We are all brand names. Our family names are gifts and reputations for each and every one of us to carry on. Make your parents (and yourself) proud.

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