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.”

Coffee, Tea or…

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I am a confirmed coffee addict—and by coffee, I mean coffee. I don’t go in for lattes, half decaf cappuccinos or Americanos with soy and a shot of vanilla. I like my coffee straight up, with nothing to contaminate the strong, slightly bitter taste of the liquid black gold with which I begin each morning. My wife and I used to share a pot of coffee every morning but she recently switched to tea, with a vengeance. The woman is obsessed. Not only does she prepare her morning tea with the precision of an alchemist—creating her own blend of green and red tea with a spoonful of yerba mate—but she is a purist and insists on using only whole leaf tea. She won’t go near a tea bag, claiming the leaves need room to roam free in order to reach their full flavor potential. I don’t really understand it, but I admire her passion.

Last weekend her passion led us to Chinatown, with a quick stop at Starbucks for me, to stock up on Gunpowder Green Tea, so named for it’s resemblance to old fashioned gunpowder. The tea emporium we visited had every variety of type of tea you could imagine and quite a few you couldn’t. The more expensive varieties were housed in locked glass cases and some cost over $100 a pound…and I thought coffee was expensive! Thankfully the green tea my cost conscious wife prefers is less than $5 for 1000 grams. She also splurged on a small amount of rose tea that smelled an awful lot like my Nana’s toilet water, but the saleslady insisted that it would add just a hint of rose and take away the bitterness of stronger teas. I have to admit, our trip to the Chinatown tea shop was far more interesting than any experience I’ve ever had a Starbucks or Coffee Bean, but then again they didn’t have wi-fi and jazzy music.

I also had a thought—promotional “coffee” mugs can also be used for tea. Don’t be afraid to gift your tea toddling clients with a Bone China Mug from Rush Imprint because, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Well, I’ve got to sign off, it’s “tea time” and I promised Mrs. Winston I’d at least try her rose tea. I just hope it doesn’t smell too much like my Nana.

The Staircase

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Like a lot of folks, I am fascinated with the question, “Did he, or didn’t he?” and a ‘new to me’ documentary called, “the Staircase” asks that question brilliantly. I have never claimed to have my finger on the pulse of what’s new in media, so it’s no surprise that I happened upon Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s 2004 documentary on the Sundance Channel only a few days ago. Thanks to a nasty flu bug that has rendered me incapable of doing much more than couch surfing, I watched the first six episodes of the eight part series in one sitting. The series follows the investigation and trial of writer Michael Peterson, who was accused of murdering his wife Kathleen after she was found dead at the bottom of a narrow staircase in the couple’s home. Although the trial is over and a verdict rendered, the case remains unresolved in my world and I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Netflix envelope to find out how it ends. The film bounces back and forth between the prosecution and the defense, spending a great deal of time with Michael himself, and as new information is revealed and secrets are exposed, the viewer goes on a roller coaster ride—at first believing in his innocence and then thinking he’s guilty and so on. I won’t ruin it by revealing any of the sordid details, but suffice it to say, this real life murder trial has more twists and turns than the sudsiest soap opera and I am on the figurative edge of my literal seat.

The most immediate effect of my morbid obsession with this particular show is that I have officially banned my daughter from dating anyone with the last name Peterson. Irrational as that may be, I don’t want to take any chances. After all, Scott Peterson was convicted of killing his wife Laci and ex-cop Drew Peterson is currently under investigation for the disappearance of his fourth wife and the suspicious death of his third. This is once instance where if “it’s all in a name,” Peterson is one to avoid. If your name does happen to be Peterson, and changing it is not an option, you might consider a serious re-branding campaign to ensure that your name is associated with more wholesome endeavors.

Well, I’m off to wait for the mailman (and no, I am not sexist, my mail carrier happens to be a man) and the little red envelope that will answer all my questions. Until then, Mrs. Winston is sleeping with one eye open. Remember, “Innocent until proven guilty” is still true in the courtroom, if not in the media.

Survival Mode

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Did you know that by raising your legs slowly and lying on your back, you can’t sink in quicksand? Or that snakebite rarely causes death? The treatment involves keeping the person calm and getting them to an emergency room, and not, thankfully, sucking venom out of their wound. Also, you should also never run from a bear but rather talk to it and back away slowly because if you run, it will chase you. Good to know. I learned these fun facts watching a survival show on PBS, and while I hope I never have occasion to test any of them out, I’m glad to be armed with the information. Fortunately, most of us don’t have to worry about surviving in the wilderness but we do need to be concerned with surviving—and thriving—in business, which can be just as treacherous…especially if you are running your own show.

There may come a time when your business must run without you—you may fall ill, have an accident or other trauma that takes you out of the office for an extended period of time. That’s why, if at all possible, you should have your spouse work in the business with you for at least three or four weeks per year. The important thing is that if for any reason you are not available to run the business, your spouse will be familiar with certain people and situations about your business. These people should include your attorney, accountant, any consultants or advisors, creditors and your major suppliers. The long-term advantages of having your spouse work four weeks per year in your business with you will greatly outweigh the short-term inconvenience.

I can tell you from experience that having Mrs. Winston dialed in to my business was invaluable when I was truck down for several weeks by a pinkie injury. She jumped right in and saved the day while I nursed my sore hand back to health. Well, I’m off to buy a wilderness survival kit…you can never be too careful. Remember, “It’s better to be safe than sorry