R.I.P.

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

April 25th was a sad day indeed and although I wouldn’t want Mrs. Winston to know it, I still haven’t quite recovered from the news that the much beloved Bea Arthur has passed on. She was eight-six years young and, I am not ashamed to admit, I had quite the boyhood crush on the old gal. I don’t know if it was her deep voice, her liberal outlook or her razor sharp wit, but I really had a thing for Maude. I remember when she appeared in “All in the Family” as Archie’s perfect foil and never missed an episode of “Maude.” Even then, she was ahead of her time, playing a thrice divorced single woman with an actual opinion. I often fantasized that my future wife would be just like her. I was a little disappointed when she signed on to do the “Golden Girls” as my fantasy was somewhat dashed by geriatric nature of the show. Fortunately, those old gals still had a lot of fire in them so my image of Bea remained intact. I did watch that show in secret however, since I had grown up enough to realize that others might view my Bea Arthur fantasy as a little weird.

She had a long, glorious career that included stage and screen, winning a Tony and two Emmys. Bea was not only funny and smart; the woman could act and was never afraid to poke fun at herself. I know her friends and family will miss her, but she will also be missed by me—her biggest fan.

I am too broken up to include a marketing message, but instead leave you with not one, but two quotes that bring a smile through the tears. Dr. Arthur Harmon says to Maude, [Looking at her black eye] “If the ‘Our Gang’ comedies ever come back, you could be the dog.” Not one to be out quipped, she retorts, “And if Mister Ed ever comes back, there’d be a part for you. I’m not talking about the part that talks.” And as the ever-sarcastic Dorothy, “You’ll have to excuse my mother. She suffered a slight stroke a few years ago which rendered her totally annoying.”
Rest in peace dear Bea. You will always hold a special place in my heart.

Rhyme and Meter

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

T. S. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruelest month.” And Edna St. Vincent Millay asked, “To what purpose, April, do you return again?” I bring this up, not to show off my knowledge of great poets of days past, but because April is National Poetry Month and had been since 1996, but I am willing to bet you didn’t know that. It seems the Academy of American Poets, who are responsible for making April the official month to read, write, celebrate and enjoy poetry, could use a little help in the marketing department. I must remember to send them a note. My point is, since the infamous April showers are keeping many of us indoors and the economy is keeping us away movies and pricey dinners, now is the perfect time to explore the poet lurking in the dark recesses of our minds. And being something of a wordsmith myself, I thought I’d try my hand at something a bit loftier than my usual prose.

April is waning
Taxes are paining
Kids are complaining
Wife is blaming
Arthritis is flaming

That’s as far as I’ve gotten but I think I may be on to something. Yeats I am not, but I do know that a few words stitched on a cap or imprinted on an Aluminum Alpine Bottle can make the difference between being a distant memory and company they remember. You don’t have to have a way with words to market your business; all you have to do is, “put your name on it.” Well, I’m off to dust off my old copy of Emily Dickenson—turns out Mrs. Winston swoons over verses.

Craigslist

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

When I grow bored of reading the dictionary and playing Scrabble online, I turn to craigslist to help me while away the early morning hours of sleeplessness. If you are one of the few who don’t already know about craigslist, or CL as regular users refer to the high-tech version of the classified ads, a guy named Craig started it in 1993 as a series of emails sent to friends about local events in the San Francisco Bay Area. It soon became an online service and has since expanded to include most major cities in the U.S. and beyond. Not only can you buy, barter and sell practically anything from real estate to a pile of dirt on CL, you can also find a hiking buddy, meet a mate or a date, locate the perfect apartment or simply rant about your annoying roommate, traffic or the guy in the next cubicle who clips his nails during lunch. The romantic in me loves “Missed Connections,” where shy coffee drinkers try to connect with the cute barista whom they are certain made eye contact with them over a double espresso earlier that day. It is fun to imagine an old couple telling their wide eyed grandchildren about a guy named Craig who reunited them after a lost cell phone number threatened to part them forever, but the curmudgeon in me knows that it’s unlikely the buffed man in the red Nikes a reticent librarian saw poring over organic produce at the farmers market on Saturday will ever actually read the posting begging him to stop by the Main Branch and check out a book on pesticide-free tomatoes she is holding for him behind the counter…just in case.

Since I found my missed connection long ago, I use CL for more practical endeavors, like searching for rare promotional products. Just last week I discovered a lanyard said to be worn by Ronald Reagan when he attended a Screen Actors Guild meeting in the 1930’s. One of my favorite finds was a button purportedly worn by during the women’s suffrage movement by Susan B. Anthony. Even though you can find almost anything on CL, you probably want to stay away from the vintage stuff when looking for promotional items on which to affix your new logo. Sure finding cheap goods on CL is tempting, but you can still save a bundle on brand new magnets, lanyards and key chains at Rush Imprint.

Well, I’m looking for a T-shirt with a Mr. Bubble logo to complete my collection of soap related promotional tees and I have to post ads in every city in North America. Until next time, remember, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and if it’s not in the city dump, you’ll probably find it on craigslist.”

Scrabble Day

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I don’t know how I missed it for so many years, but I recently learned that April 13th is Scrabble Day, a day that celebrates the popular board game that was created in 1938 by Alfred Mosher Butts. Hasbro’s Scrabble is currently sold in 121 countries, in 29 different language versions. To date, one hundred and fifty million sets have been sold worldwide, and sets are found in one out of every three American homes. My home has four—including one travel version. I also play on online at pogo.com, lexulous.com and facebook—you might say I’m a bit of a word addict. I blame my grandmother. She was a crossword addict and taught me to play Scrabble as soon as I could spell. The woman was ruthless and never let me win a game, not once. I was eighteen before I finally won and I have been winning ever since. Call me cruel, but I played with Grandma Winston on her death bead and beat her by fifty points. It was the last game she ever played. The thing is, the old bird wouldn’t have it any other way. Once, when I had beaten her in ten straight games, I tried to let her win, but she wouldn’t have it. She rapped my knuckles with her cane and said she’d rather break her hip than win the easy way. She was tough, but taught me well. I miss the old girl, but remember her fondly every time I lay a tile on a Scrabble board.

Scrabble Day is a perfect day to remember that playing games doesn’t have to be a bad thing and, especially in business, sometimes it’s the only way to get ahead—as long as you play fair. Show your traveling sales team that you care about their mental acuity by gifting them with a Magnetic Chess/Checkers Travel set. Naturally, you’ll want to imprint your logo directly on the case to make it a gift with legs. That way, mixing business travel and pleasure is seamless.

Well, I’ve got to dust off my boards, the kids will be home soon and we have decided to remember grandma by playing a Scrabble tournament in her honor. As my Grandma Winston used to say, “A word a day keeps dullness away.”

Death and Taxes

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I woke up in a cold sweat last night, certain that the grim reaper had descended upon me to ferry me away to the white light. It’s a dream I have every year, just before April 15th. I’ve spoken with my analyst about the dream and learned, to no great surprise, that the grim reaper is not death at all, but rather symbolizes the headless, blood-thirsty organization know as the Internal Revenue Service. Like many Americans, I do not look forward to April 15th, since I usually find myself speeding toward the airport mail drop at 11:50PM, hoping I make the 12AM tax filing deadline. I know I shouldn’t procrastinate; yet I do…every year. It’s a Winston family tradition. This year, I am hoping to break with tradition and get my taxes to the post office by April 14th. My analyst says taking baby steps toward a difficult goal is the best way to ensure success. Since I know I am not the only American shivering in his figurative boots from now until April 15th, I thought I’d share a few tax tips to help fellow procrastinators take a baby step as well. I’m no expert; so make sure you check with a certified tax preparer to make sure these tips will work for you.

Did you know?

1. While you can write off charitable deductions (if you itemize), you cannot write off contributions to individuals, nor can you deduct the value of your time spent volunteering or services you provided the group at no cost.

2. If you moved to start a new job, or to seek work in a new city, you may be able to deduct the cost of your moving expenses from your income. If you’ve been looking for a job in the same line of work you’re currently in, many of your expenses like phone calls, the costs of preparing and copying your resume, and career counseling are deductible.

3. You don’t need to report worker’s compensation, child support payments, military allowances, veteran’s benefits, welfare benefits and cash rebates from a car purchase—they are not considered taxable income.

Since your clients are probably looking forward to tax time as much as you are, show them you understand by giving them a gift that helps ease the pain…fashionably. The iCalc-Calculator has a circular keypad designed after the ipod and comes in pink, blue, black or silver. Simply add your logo and you have the perfect promotional product to ease your client’s into tax time and help them remember you when they receive a big refund.

I’m off to play golf—it’s the only thing I do that is more frustrating than preparing my tax return. Remember, “People who complain about taxes can be divided into two classes: men and women.”

Peep, Peep!

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

My kids are under the impression that Easter Sunday is the day the Easter Bunny makes his annual visit with baskets full of Cadbury Crème Eggs, chocolate Easter Bunnies and PEEPS®. They wake up at the crack of dawn (even the teenager pretends to be a believer) to hunt for treat filled plastic eggs that my wife has hidden all over the house before they dress in their Sunday best and head off to church. I love hearing my six-year-old squeal with delight as he fishes a pink egg out of the bottom of the laundry hamper. So, in honor of the Easter bunny, I am devoting today’s column to my kids favorite treat, marshmallow PEEPS®.

Did you know?

• The amount of PEEPS® chicks and bunnies eaten at Easter could more than circle the Earth’s circumference.
• PEEPS® are so popular, they have been the best-selling non-chocolate Easter candy for the last ten years. (I have single handedly purchased over 367 packages)
• Each PEEPS® chick contains 0 grams of fat and only 32 calories. (My wife will be happy to learn that)
• PEEPS® chicks and bunnies come in five colors—yellow being the most popular.
• PEEPS® were introduced to the Nation in 1958 by Pravin Pant Sr., a Nepali immigrant.
• PEEPS® are made from marshmallow, sugar, gelatin, and carnauba wax.
• PEEPS® cannot be dissolved in pure water…not even hot water. (I found that out when my eldest took a bath with hers)
• PEEPS® were invented by a candy company called, Rodda, best known for its jellybeans.
• Rodda was purchased by Just Born who mechanized the marshmallow forming process and made Just Born the world’s largest manufacturer of novelty marshmallow treats.
• My six year-old eats an average of thirty-three PEEPS® each and every Easter.

For those of you who enjoy more grown-up treats, order a Business Card Box With Gourmet Fills now and you’ll receive them in time to treat your clients to a sweet something with an important message.

Well, I’ve got to go help Mrs. Winston fill Easter baskets. Until next time, as my wife always says, “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”

Rotten Apples

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

If you follow my twitter updates, you know that I purchased, and recently returned, the must have gadget that every geek from here to Cupertino has in his (or her) Crumpler bag. There was an audible gasp when I walked in to the Apple store to give back my beloved iphone. I admit I did love that gadget almost as much as I love my wife, but the phone service left something to be desired. After dropping calls from my editor, my wife and my mother-in-law (the last one may have been user error) within a two-hour period, I decided I had had enough and made the decision to take my baby back to whence she came. I don’t shill for any particular mobile phone provider, but after my experience with AT&T, I switched to Verizon and haven’t looked back. While service isn’t perfect (it is a cell phone after all), I haven’t dropped a call yet. I do miss the fun apps that do everything from tell me what constellations are on the horizon to locating every Starbucks within a five mile radius of where I’m standing, which is highly important when on a writing deadline, but probably not as important as actually being able to talk to my editor when he calls.

The point is, while Apple is a great company and makes an excellent, highly desirable product, they didn’t pick the best partner when choosing a service provider. I know a lot of folks out there are willing to forgo good phone service for a killer app, but I am not one of them and I am willing to be there are hundreds of thousand of curmudgeons out there just like me. While this probably won’t hurt Apple’s bottom line enough to make a difference, making a similar gaff could cause irreparable damage to your small business. The lesson is simple, when choosing a company with whom to partner, choose wisely. Their reputation will rub off on you. And speaking of reputation, no one has a better one than Cutter & Buck—from watches to wine openers—you’ll never go wrong when choosing to put your logo on one of their quality promotional products.

Well, I’ve got to go learn how to use my new blackberry. Until next time, heed the words of innovator Steve Jobs and,” Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” Well said Mr. Jobs, well said.

Luck O’ the Irish

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

If you believe the Irish saying that, “There are only two kinds of people in the world, the Irish, and those who wish they were,” then you are probably well aware of the fact that St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner. Before you know it, it will be March 17th and Mrs. Winston (who is half Irish herself) will be in the kitchen preparing corned beef and cabbage with Irish soda bread. As I’m sure you’ve heard, Ireland is not known for producing top-notch chefs and my lovely wife is no exception, but she at least has the sense to serve the meal with a nice glass of Guinness. The kids get into the act by wearing green to school and pinching everyone who forgets, and I usually start the day off by making my now famous green eggs and ham. Truth be told, the first time I made green eggs, it wasn’t St. Patty’s day and the green was not food coloring, but that’s another story altogether. So, I guess the Winston’s are like many American families who are Irish for one day—and why not? The Irish don’t seem to mind that we join their party…the more the merrier!

In fact, why not take this opportunity to leverage the luck o’ the Irish for yourself and find a way to celebrate the fun, festive holiday and promote your company at the same time? Last year, I threw an old fashioned Irish Coffee Party and gave all my guests traditional clear-glass Irish Coffee mugs (imprinted with my logo) to make sure they remembered the party, and me, fondly. So, take this time to ponder the question, “What can I do to ensure that I am remembered by those who matter?” I think you’ll find the answer involves creating an effective promotional campaign and Rush Imprint is here to help you. So, make your own luck this St. Patrick’s Day and give them something to remember you by.

I’ve got to go prepare for my latest speaking engagement. My son’s school is having a St. Patrick’s Day pageant and since I am a professional speaker, they asked me to MC. It doesn’t pay much, but I hear they are serving punch and cookies. Remember, “If you’re enough lucky to be Irish…You’re lucky enough!”

Top Chef

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

The only thing I love more than words and promotional products is food—I love eating it, preparing it and watching it be prepared, especially on television. I tuned in to the reunion special of “Top Chef” to see some of the “never before seen” scenes, relive memorable moments from the past season and, of course, find out who won the “fan favorite” this year. SPOILER ALERT. To no one’s surprise, Fabio, the Italian Stallion graciously took home the ten thousand dollar prize, which he said he plans to invest in his restaurant. He seemed to win more with his charm than with his cooking skills, so I wasn’t surprised that he won. He proved that a cute smile and an Italian accent can take you almost all the way to the top—and make you ten grand richer.

Personally, I was rooting for Carla because, while the judges didn’t always appreciate her, in the end it was her endless love for the food and her fellow man that put her in the finals. She may be the only chef in “Top Chef” history that made it to the top three without backbiting, sniping or criticizing her competitors. She was odd, eccentric and nice—something you don’t often find in the world of reality television. Her attitude and behavior was refreshing and I was happy to see that, although she didn’t win it all, she proved that you don’t have to be mean to make it big.

We can all take a cue from Mrs. Hooty Hoo and smile, think positively and just be nice! Being nice is something we take for granted, but is always appreciated. Remind your employees and clients that a little smile goes a long way. Promote positivity by giving them a Smiley Face stress ball imprinted with your company logo. After all, there is nothing wrong with getting a little recognition for your good attitude.

I’m off to my meditation class because due to a recent financial misstep, my attitude could use a little fine-tuning. Until next time, take advice from Mignon McLaughlin, “Don’t be yourself – be someone a little nicer.” –from The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, 1966.

A Word is a Word

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

As a life long word aficionado, I was ebullient when I discovered that Dr. Goodword of AlphaDicitonary.com fame, had published a list of the 100 most beautiful words (sound and meaning) in the English language. I agreed with many of his picks and even used a few of them in this blog as a way of paying homage to his greatness, but as is often the case, there were a few choice words I found questionable. For example, I love the word missive (a message or a story), but for the life of me cannot understand his reasons for including pelagic (related to the sea or ocean), which is neither felicitous in meaning or in sound. It reminds me of the noise my childhood cat made when hacking up a particularly stubborn fur ball. I was also dismayed that he left out the word festoon (to decorate with a string of flowers), because not only is it fun to say, but it is unquestionably lovely when actualized. I also adore the word conundrum (a difficult problem), which is such a beautiful word; it has a wine named after it.

I could go on but to do so would be jejune, so I won’t. It’s enough that you know that I could, yet chose not to. The point is, the list started me thinking about the power of words to inform, infuse and infect the imagination. A word can change a mind, a life or a brand. Which brings me to today’s simple, yet carefully considered, marketing lesson: Choose your words carefully, especially if you plan to imprint them on a promotional item to give to your most important clients. I adumbrate you to spare the rod and spoil the picture by choosing a gift like the Bamboo Digital Photo Frame, which has ample room for your logo or message and can display numerous pictures at the same time. Since each picture is worth 1000 words, you (and your clients) will get the best of both worlds.

I am off to cash in my chips—Las Vegas was good to me this time. Until next time, remember, “Every customer appreciates a lagniappe,” so be generous and don’t forget to “put your name on it.”