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.”

Coming Clean

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

One of my goals for 2009 is to organize my home office and streamline my business systems, which, at the moment, means I am switching email programs. Like many entrepreneurs, I have several email accounts, which seems to multiply my frustration, rather than make my life easier. For some reason, setting up email accounts is an exercise in exasperation and I have spent too many hours to mention on the project. However, on a positive note, I am now two email addresses lighter and have successfully transferred to a brand new system. I thought about taking my old mail with me but have decided it’s better to start fresh and get a jump-start on my goal to keep my inbox clean and manageable.

If you are like me, then you have way too much email clutter. I just came across an email from my mother-in-law congratulating my wife and I on our eldest daughter’s graduation from kindergarten. Since she is about to graduate high school, I’d say that qualifies as outdated. If you share my goal to eliminate electronic clutter, I’d like to offer you a couple quick tips to get you started.

1. Check and manage email on a daily basis. Schedule one or two consistent time periods each day to go through your email inbox. Get rid of as much email as you can each day. If possible, don’t go to bed at night before clearing out your email inbox.

2. Take action. Just as it’s easy to paper shuffle, it’s also simple to ‘email shuffle.’ Take action on each email you open.

You’re welcome. Now get back to work!

To help you achieve a high functioning work environment, and avoid work-ending carpal tunnel, today’s offering is the Ergo-Gel Mouse Pad, which boasts a cushy gel-filled wrist rest and no-slip bottom. So you (and your clients) can scroll, click and mouse your way to an empty inbox and a more productive work life. Don’t forget to put your name on it!

As my Dad always says, “It’s hard to come up with a fresh marketing slogan if your head and desk are cluttered with junk.” So, to heed his advice, I’m off to tackle my filing cabinets—I’ve two years worth of credit card statements, meal receipts and ticket stubs so I should be done sometime next month if I work quickly. If you don’t see a blog next week, it probably means I’m buried under a stack of bills…send help.

Groundhog Day

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I’m thrilled to announce that this year I am celebrating Groundhog Day (February 2nd) at ground zero—Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. I have been invited to attend the official Groundhog Day event and watch Punxsutawney Phil pop out of his hole and look for his shadow. For those of you still in the dark about this midwinter tradition, legend has it that if the groundhog sees his shadow (a sunny morning), there will be six more weeks of winter. He then returns to his den and goes back to sleep. If however, he does not see his shadow (cloudy days), he plays around outside of his hole for a while. If he does not see his shadow, spring is just around the corner. I’m predicting a long winter.

As you have probably guessed, I will not arrive at the event empty handed. I am bringing 150 imprinted Ice Scraper Hand Mittens to hand out to the dignitaries and spectators who attend this time-honored ceremony each year. Since I believe winter is far from over, my gift fits the occasion like a glove. Which brings me to today’s Marketing lesson—make it fit. As important as it is to put your name on promotional products, it’s just as vital to give gifts that match the occasion. Seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many tank tops I’ve received in the dead of winter. Matching your gift to the occasion doesn’t mean you have to be on the nose, or boring, but you should exercise common sense. Passing out beer steins at an AA Convention is frowned upon.

Well, I’m off to the video store to rent “Groundhog Day” on Blu-ray. Bill Murray really cracks me up. I’ll leave you with a quote from one of the finest comic actors of our time. “There is no way this winter is ever going to end, as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. I don’t see any other way out. He’s got to be stopped. And I have to stop him.”

A Day To Remember

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

If you are one of the roughly 33% of Americans whose employers recognize Martin Luther King Day by giving you the day off from work, then you probably know that this year it falls on January 19th. You probably also know that Dr. King was the main spokesperson for the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement in America and that he was assassinated in 1968. You might not know that his birthday, which is actually January 15th, is one of only four federal holidays that commemorates an individual person (can you name the other three?) and that the holiday was not widely embraced at first. Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed in 1986. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was only in 2006 that the day was officially observed in all 50 states. As my grandmother Winston was fond of saying, “Right minded things sometimes take time to settle in.” While she may have lacked a certain eloquence, she did know what was what.

I cannot help but think about the historic election of 2008 and marvel at the irony of the Inauguration of America’s first African American president coming one day after we celebrate the life of the man who accomplished so much for Civil Rights in such a short amount of time. It reminds me that, although this country may have a ways to go to be a truly equal land, we’ve come a long way. And for that, I am proud.

Those of you who tune in regularly know about my pen fetish, so it should come as no surprise that today’s offering is a Cross Pen. I imagine President Reagan signed the holiday into law using a Classic Century 10 Karat Gold Filled Ball-Point Pen, a pen worthy of such a weighty task. Of course it’s entirely possible he used a plain old Bic, but given Mr. Reagan’s theatrical past, I assume he preferred a writing instrument with a bit more flair. I love this pen so much that I am sending one to the Oval Office in the hopes that our new President will use it to sign a few bills into law. I too, have a dream.

Well, I’m off to listen to the “I Have A Dream Speech” on my ipod. Until next time, remember, “The time is always right to do what is right.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mrs. Winston’s Test Kitchen

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I awoke this morning to the smell of cinnamon and spice, chocolate, apples and a myriad of other delicious odors melding into a cacophony of delicious scents I could almost taste. I leapt out of bed with the vigor of a much younger man the moment I realized what was happening. Today was ‘Test Kitchen’ day—and next to Thanksgiving, it’s my favorite day of the year! On Test Kitchen day, Mrs. Winston rises before dawn to test her new Christmas cookie recipes. Since she participates in numerous bakes sales, cookie exchanges and gives holiday cookie baskets to all of our neighbors and friends, my wife is always on the look out for the next big cookie recipe and today is the day she puts them to the test. I look forward to it because my job is simple—I smell, taste and eat every cookie she bakes.

Not every recipe is a success of course. I still remember the ginger-carrot bars that tasted like Thai food, and not in a good way. The carob-flaxseed brownies were a miss—but I give her points for trying to make a healthy treat that tasted good. Those missteps are eclipsed by the success of her triple fudge peanut butter brownies, chocolate shortbread and caramel apple-betty cookies that have become favorites. I’ve been skipping dessert for two weeks in order to prepare for this day. I’ll probably eat 2-4 dozen cookies before noon! It’s a tough job, but I’m up for the challenge.

This year promises to be a good one for new recipes and I look forward to sampling persimmon bars, pumpkin crunchies and chocoholic dream cookies. It is a glorious day indeed and reminds me of the value of trying new things, branching out and stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. And not just in the kitchen, but in all areas of life—especially when it comes to marketing your business. Of course, not every promotion works—for every double fudge coconut crunch bar, there may be four garlic banana cream cookies—but if it weren’t for trying new recipes, the sublime taste of a lavender milk chocolate bar would never cross your lips. You get my drift?

When it comes to creating promotional plans for your company, try thinking beyond chocolate chip cookies and lemon bars and give them something to really chew on. Sure you can give away t-shirts, coffee cups and pens—those things are all great, but why not try something out of the ordinary and put your logo on a more memorable promotional product…like a Light Bulb Walking Winder. You’ll definitely hit a homerun in the creativity department and it may just become a favorite. You’ll never know unless you test it out.

Well, I’ve got work to do in the kitchen, so until next time, remember, “to bake a great cake, you’ve got to break some eggs.”

The Audience Is Listening

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I love watching films, but I hate going to the movies. As a card carrying curmudgeon, sitting in a movie theatre with people who think nothing of talking, coughing and crunching their way through 120 minutes of cinema is, at best, difficult and, at worst, intolerable. At a 2pm screening of MILK this afternoon, I experienced the latter. Having watched 80 minutes of a 2 hour film, I can tell you that Sean Penn gives an Oscar worthy performance. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how it ends because, at minute 81, I had to leave.

The afternoon started out well—Mrs. Winston, having read a good review of the new Gus Van Sant film, suggested we take in a matinee. We purchased tickets online, selected the perfect seats and arrived at the theatre in plenty of time to buy popcorn and Junior Mints—so far, so good. Until, over an hour into the movie, during a quiet, contemplative scene, I heard a strange, repetitive sound—Tssst, tsssst, tsssst, tssst. I thought it was a glitch in the sound system and looked around for an usher to complain to, until my eye caught the shiny glint of an oxygen tank sitting on the seat a row in front of me. Apparently, the emotional nature of the film caused an elderly woman to require a bit more oxygen in order for her to stay and enjoy the movie. Now, before you get all worked up and decide that I am an insensitive lout, let me assure you that I’ve got nothing against the aged. I rather enjoy older people and hope to become one myself some day. What I am vehemently opposed to, however, is people making noise while I am attempting to watch a movie that cost me over $14 a ticket.

The intermittent hissing was making it impossible for me to concentrate so I pondered my next move. I toyed with the idea of alerting the woman to the noise disturbance and politely asking her to turn it off. As I pictured the inevitable ruckus my request would cause, I quickly came to the conclusion that this was not an option. “Pardon me, Mamn,” I would ask, “Can you please turn off your breathing machine?” She’d look at me helplessly, “But it’s keeping me alive.” “Still,” I’d say, “It is rather loud.” I imagined her burly son jumping to her defense and starting an old fashioned brawl. There’s no way I’d come out of the situation looking like anything but a really bad guy. And I’m not…really.

It just doesn’t seem fair that one person’s ailment should interrupt another person’s enjoyment. Should it? Maybe I’m in the wrong here, but I think that if your health is so frail as to require noisy life saving measures, you should wait for the movie to come out on DVD. After all, crying babies aren’t allowed in the theatre. You don’t see people being wheeled in an iron lung to take in the latest 007, do you? In any other situation, I’d have been able to tell an usher about the noise and the person would be asked to quiet down or leave. But this is what is commonly referred to as a ‘no win’ situation, so we did the only thing possible under the circumstances—we left.

I am still not completely satisfied that we did the right thing, or that it was entirely fair that my wife and I had to leave while “Breathless” enjoyed the movie. So dear readers, what do you think? Leave a comment telling me what you would have done in my situation and/or tell me your movie horror stories. I’ll publish the best ones in an upcoming column. Until next time, remember, “The audience is listening.” And so am I.