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

Gumbo Give You Bad Breathe? Try Supermints!

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

My wife just completed an online course in Cajun cuisine and was excited to try her hand at making seafood gumbo. Now, I love my wife and I am quite fond of the New Orleans staple, but I was a bit suspicious—how much could one actually learn about food preparation online? The answer is, quite a lot actually. She decided to make shrimp, my favorite, and was planning to make her own shrimp stock. I was nervous, but impressed.

I watched my normally impatient wife set out in the morning to shop for ingredients—starting with scouring three different supermarkets for Gumbo file´, a little used spice made from the sassafras plant and used for thickening soups, stews and gumbo while adding delicate flavor. Her half-day sojourn ended at the fish market where she purchased head-on shrimp. She was serious.

Mrs. Winston returned home in a remarkably chipper mood considering all the shopping and driving she had done. She promptly shooed me out of the kitchen and began to prepare homemade stock, which involved beheading and deveining about three pounds of shrimp. She was a whirlwind of chopping, sautéing and boiling for the next hour, at which point she started making a roux—a soup or gravy base that is made by cooking flour in fat. Hers was the dark variety and, in addition using two sticks of butter (this dish is not on any diet plan), it took well over an hour of constant stirring to make. After over three solid hours of cooking, my wife emerged to let us all know that dinner would be ready in forty-five minutes. Knowing that the meal had taken all day to prepare, I ran upstairs to inform the kids that they would not only eat the gumbo with gusto, but would act like it was the best meal they had ever eaten.

As it turns out, I didn’t need to; the gumbo was absolutely sublime. When I asked my tired but very proud wife how she did it, she smiled and said, “Patience.” It was as if she had discovered to secret to happiness, and you know, maybe she had. I think we all could learn a lesson from Mrs. Winston and practice patience in our businesses. So, if your marketing campaign is not yielding immediate results or your last round of direct mail fliers have not resulted in instant sales, stop for a moment and remember that building a business takes time. After all, if you want a quick meal, you can pop some instant soup into the microwave and be eating in less time than it takes to shuttle through a commercial on TiVo. But if you want a delicious meal that sticks to your ribs and is worth remembering, you’ve got to let it simmer.

Today’s featured promotional product is Tall-Boy Tins – Super Mints because, take it from me, after two bowls of shrimp gumbo, you need more than a regular mint. Well, I’m off to New Orleans—after that meal I decided to surprise the wife with a trip to the Big Easy. Maybe she’ll try making an Étouffée next. Until next time, no matter what you are doing “Have fun. Do something nobody else had done before, or has done since.”
Paul Prudhomme, world-renowned Chef.

Hearts and Flowers

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Valentine’s Day is all about love, romance and coupledom. Gifts of hearts and flowers, chocolate and roses, lingerie and lace are hallmarks of the holiday celebrated by lovers everywhere. Husbands, boyfriends and suitors start feeling the pressure as January slides into February and singles groan as they are inundated with the sickeningly sweet decorations, cards and gifts that flood stores as soon as the Christmas decorations come down. Heck, I’m married and I think I might barf if I see one more cute bear holding a pink puffy heart emblazoned with a sappy sentiment such as, “Free Bear Hugs,” “Be Mine,’ and “”I Wuv You.” Of course, my distaste for all things pink and red won’t stop me from giving Mrs. Winston a dozen roses and a pink negligee. I’m a grump, not a dummy.

I also recognize a good opportunity when I see one, so if you want to forgo the sap but still take advantage of the holiday, use Valentine’s Day as a way to express appreciation for those who work hard for you every day—whatever their relationship status. Reward your sales team, office staff and R&D folks with a gift that shows you care—in a professional, non harassing kind of way. Every one likes brownies, so a Gourmet Brownie Assortment they can share is the perfect way to say, “I like you a lot—and you’re doing a great job here.”

Well, I’m off to prepare my keynote for the “Anti-Valentine’s Day” parade. Until next time, as my good friend Melanie Clark is fond of pointing out, “You can’t put a price tag on love, but you can on all its accessories.” Ain’t love grand?

Eight Is Too Much

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

As a proud curmudgeon, I am loath to admit that I love the TLC program, “Jon & Kate Plus Eight.” For those of you who haven’t tuned in, or read about the now famous family in Us Weekly, the show follows the daily routine of a young couple ‘blessed’ (their words) with two sets of multiples, eight-year-old twins and four-year-old sextuplets. I tend to celebrate the cloud, rather than the silver lining so it’s with hesitation that I admit to loving this large, noisy, yet ultimately loving family.

Of course the Gosselin’s were not the first TV family with eight siblings. Who can forget the 70s classic, “Eight is Enough” with Dick Van Patton as the patriarch of a family of eight kids? Sure, it was a fictional TV show, but it was modeled after real life columnist Tom Bradford who really did raise eight kids. Of course, that’s not the same as raising a set of twins and a set of sextuplets. I can only imagine what it must be like when six kids are going through potty training, entering kindergarten or, shudder to think, entering puberty. I can tell you from experience, one at a time is hard enough.

Not surprisingly, my wife does not enjoy the show as much as I do. She sees it not as the charming story of a young couple valiantly struggling to raise eight small children, but as a cautionary tale, or a horror movie. As she points out, Kate is the one doing all the work while Jon goes off to work all day to “have fun.” What is marriage without a little healthy disagreement? Mrs. Winston and I may not agree on what cable programming to watch, but we do agree that it’s important to, as Kate often says, “Count your blessings.” And she should know—she has at least eight to count every day. This applies to your business as well—if you have a few great employees, faithful clients and an office to call home, consider yourself blessed. I know I do.

Today’s featured product, in honor of those adorable Gosselinettes, is Color Brite Crayons which are certified non-toxic because, as Kate would probably tell you, kids like to eat crayons—especially Joel.

Well, I’ve got to go prepare for a speaking engagement in Dallas—I’m map questing all of the barbeque joints near my hotel. Until next time heed the words of literary great, Charles Dickens, “Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has many – not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some”

Heavenly

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

During a recent trip to New York My wife and I found ourselves in the East Village on a particularly cold and snowy evening and decided to pop in to what looked like a popular spot for dessert. Truth be told, it was a no-brainer because the restaurant was Max Brenner’s and he is known as the Chocolate Guy—it says so right on the window. Mrs. Winston loves chocolate at least as much as she loves me and I know there are days when I come in second. We walked in to the packed eatery, took seats at the counter and opened the thick menus filled with a multitude of delicious sounding choices. Frankly, it was a bit overwhelming—there were five different kinds of chocolate heart cakes, chocolate pizza, chocolate soup, five different ice cream treats and a plethora of other tempting confections, creams and cakes. We, or rather my wife, decided to share chocolate fondue, which was, in a word, delectable.

The whole experience was a heavenly respite from the freezing temperatures and we enjoyed every last finger licking drop. I haven’t seen Mrs. Winston that satisfied since, well…never mind. Suffice it to say, the rest of the weekend was blissful. We laughed, chatted and snuggled our way through the rest of our mini vacation and Mrs. Winston didn’t even complain when I went to a daylong Marketing seminar. The lesson here is simple—happy wife, happy life.

You can accomplish the same thing with your clients if you pretend that they are your wife and do what it takes to make them happy. Usually, happy clients are created by giving them what they want—high-quality service, great products, fair prices, and for dessert, chocolate. Accomplish that, and you will have a very happy work life.

Well, I’m off to clean the garage…as I said, happy wife, happy life. Remember, “Your business is only as good as your last customer.”

Commitment

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I just sat down to watch “The Colbert Report” and was tucking in to a pint of Cherry Garcia when my wife sauntered into the room and announced that she wanted to get married again. Naturally, I was taken aback since Mrs. Winston was currently legally and happily married to me, has far as I knew, and we were about to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. Was it all a lie? Was Mrs. Winston eyeing men at the super market or, worse yet, were her weekly ‘girls nights’ actually secret rendezvous with other men? My world was crashing down all around me until I realized, with a whole different kind of panic, that she wanted to marry ME again.

Another wedding? Don’t get me wrong, I love my wife, but one wedding was more than enough to last a lifetime. I had enough pomp and circumstance, in-law meddling and bad dancing the first time around. But after twenty years of marriage, I know one thing for certain—when my wife gets an idea in her head, she is relentless. She has been talking about it non stop for two straight weeks and leaving less than subtle hints around the house. I went to the bathroom this morning to find Modern Bride had replaced my Sports Illustrated and we have had wedding cake for dessert five nights in a row.

As tired as I am of listening to her hum the bridal march while she gets ready for bed, I do admire her commitment to getting her way. Mrs. Winston is nothing if not persistent. Truth be told, her unbridled (pun intended) enthusiasm, word of mouth campaign (the kids are all pestering me about being in our wedding) and persistence have kind of gotten to me. I am proud of her commitment and more than a little pleased that being married to a Marketer has rubbed off. Take a cue from my Mrs. and you too will get what you want in business. By being enthusiastic about your product or service, utilizing word of mouth and, above all, being persistent, you will enjoy the same success that my wife has. The wedding is next month.

A great promotional products campaign can give you the edge you need to push your business up the ladder of success—it shows enthusiasm, commitment and if you choose a product with legs, is a great way to spread your message far and wide. I like to give away pens, travel mugs and water bottles because those are items people take out into the world. It’s true that they are simple, but they are also extremely effective. It’s not rocket science people.

Well, I’m off to a cake tasting—I hope they have carrot. Remember, “Persistence pays off but if you have to pay for a wedding, it can be expensive.”