Home Spun

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

There’s no denying it, America’s economy is on shaky ground. You can’t pick up a newspaper, flip on the TV or tune into talk radio without getting a whiff of sour financial news. We’re hopeful, but our hope is tempered by news of proposed layoffs at GM and more bank bailouts. At least gas prices are falling. Sadly that doesn’t distract us from the fact that the housing market is falling just as fast. As with all bad news, there is a silver lining for potential homebuyers who face a friendlier market—provided their credit is good and their income verifiable. And while it may not be the market it once was, homes are still being bought and sold every day, which means that real estate agents and mortgage lenders are still in business.

My neighbor has been an independent real estate agent for over thirty years, so this is not the first downturn she’s seen and, as she is fond of saying, “I’m still here!” Doris still puts on her “show clothes” and “war paint” to host open houses where she serves coffee, tea and homemade cookies to sweeten the deal. Doris is a smart lady and knows that now is not the time to pull back—she is as gung ho as ever and seems to thrive on adversity. She proudly lives by her mother’s motto, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” As I watch her heft ‘For Sale’ signs into her car, I can see that she is very strong indeed. I am pretty sure I won’t find her knocking on my door asking me to open a jar of pickles. That woman’s biceps are bigger than mine and her will is even stronger.

Just last week, Doris ordered 250 Translucent House Banks imprinted with her company logo and the message, “Don’t Stop Believing (or Saving)!” She plans to distribute them to all of her clients and potentials as a reminder that buying a home is not out of reach. She also placed an order for 500 house shaped Oz Stress Balls because she knows that both sellers and buyers have more than the usual amount of stress to deal with these days and she wants to remind them that she is here to help. The point is, Doris refuses to give up or be defeated and continues to persevere as she has for thirty some odd years…with a smile on her face and a pithy saying on her lips.

We can all take a lesson from my entrepreneurial neighbor and, “Laugh through the hard stuff—it doesn’t make it any easier, but you’ll have a lot more fun.” Well, I’m off to the gym—I don’t like it, but I’m going to smile anyway.

Top 10 Things I am Grateful For This Thanksgiving

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

#10 I’ll start with the obvious. I am exceedingly grateful for my beautiful wife. I would say it goes without saying, but if I didn’t say it, I might end up being grateful we have a comfortable couch in the den.

#9 Next up, my charming children—and while they are all wonderful, I am particularly thankful that my youngest is turning out to be a chip off the old block and will someday take over the mantel of marketing guru.

#8 I am also thankful for “Law & Order” reruns—what can I say? I’m a purist. The new shows just don’t do it for me.

#7 The Good Book, otherwise known as the dictionary, has been my closest companion on the sleepless nights I often endure due to my incurable insomnia.

#6 Cheese—Hands down, it’s my favorite food. I love it on pizza, on pasta, in salads, over eggs and all by it self. It’s a perfect food and I’d eat it every day if my waistline would allow it. I know I’m not alone in this and if you want to show your gratitude to important clients, top performers in your company or even your friends and family, the Wisconsin Variety Package is the absolute ideal way to accomplish that. This cheese package includes half-pound blocks of medium and mild Wisconsin cheddar, a 5-ounce stick of beef salami and a 5-ounce stick of tangy summer sausage. Your logo or promotional message is fired-in to the black walnut and maple cutting board. A handy cutting knife completes this gift set that is sure to be appreciated by all who are lucky enough to receive one.

#5 Platinum Status—This one must be experience to be appreciated. I cannot count the times I have been late to the airport and thanked the travel gods for being able to go through first class check-in on a coach ticket. Plus, since I usually travel with a whole suitcase filled with promotional products, I really appreciate the free checked baggage and my long legs are always grateful for the exit row seat my status affords me.

#4 I am also indebted to my book editor, without whom my marketing books might never be read.

#3 Strong coffee—let’s just say I single handedly keep Starbucks, Peet’s, Seattle’s Best and the Coffee Bean in business.

#2 My blue Bic—a writer is nothing without his favorite pen.

#1 And finally, the number one thing I am grateful for (insert drum roll) is…promotional items! After all, marketing is my business and my passion. It’s fair to say I live for marketing. This month, my favorite promotional item is the Turkey foam stress ball. It’s a fun way to promote your company, organization, hospital or school, while also helping everyone who receives one squeeze away the stress of everyday life.

Pilgrimage

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

For the first time in recorded history, the Winston’s are going to celebrate Thanksgiving away from home. I was recently invited to take part in the official 2008 Lighting Ceremony of the Pilgrim Monument at the Provincetown Museum. It promises to be an exciting day and, as it is touted as “Cape Cod’s most beautiful tradition celebrating the Pilgrim’s First Landing in America at Provincetown,” the whole family is looking forward to the trip.

Even though I am a proud American, I must admit that, before being asked to participate, I didn’t know a whole lot about The Pilgrim Monument. The 252-foot tall campanile is the tallest all-granite structure in the United States and was built between 1907 and 1910 to commemorate the first landfall of the Pilgrims in 1620 and the signing in Provincetown Harbor of the Mayflower Compact. As you probably remember from history class, the Pilgrims spent five weeks exploring Cape Cod before they sailed to Plymouth, MA. After spending weeks at sea, the pilgrims would not set foot on land until writing and signing the Mayflower Compact, the first instance of a democratic society in the New World. In 1907 the cornerstone was laid by President Roosevelt, and so began the building of the 252-foot all granite tower. The Monument was designed by Willard T. Sears and inspired by the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy designed by Arguolo and Agostino in 1309.

Learning about the origins of the Pilgrim Monument made me realize that there is quite a lot about America that I don’t know, so I decided to extend our adventure and make the trip out east a road trip to remember. The kids are going to take a few days off school (they have to turn in a report on our journey to make up for the missed days), Mrs. Winston is going to skip the annual Turkey day bake sale and we are going to hit the road, Winston style.

Of course, I expect the children to take copious notes during the journey but there is bound to be some down time. That’s why I’m bringing the Case Logic Rear Seat Entertainment Center. It promises to keep the kids entertained even on the longest of road trips. There is a flip-down 3-in-1 game board (checkers, chess and tic-tac-toe) with Velcro game pieces, a viewing platform and security harness for a portable DVD player, three storage pockets and six CD/DVD sleeves. It looks so entertaining, I may let my daughter drive while I teach my youngest the finer points of chess.

Well, I’ve got some planning to do—I wonder where the world’s largest ball of string is located? Remember, as my good friend W. T. Purkiser always said “Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.”

Reuse It Or Lose It

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I took my last swig of diet soda and was about to toss the empty in the trash when I was treated to an ecology lesson from my oldest daughter. She starts college next year, so I guess she is practicing spreading her wings and feels she can finally teach the teacher—as they say. “Dad!” she admonished shrilly, “Don’t throw that in the trash—it’s recyclable!” I had to smile as I pulled the offending can out of the garbage and prepared to toss it in the recycling bin we keep in the garage when she stopped me again. “Rinse it out first. Gawd! Don’t you know anything about how to recycle the right way?” I was loath to admit that apparently, I did not. Being schooled by a seventeen year old is a humbling experience so I decided to do a little research on the subject and I discovered a new holiday—America Recycles Day (ARD).

I love holidays, especially those that are a bit unusual and overlooked by the rest of society, so I decided to atone for my recycling sin by letting all my readers in on the secret. ARD takes place on November 15th and is the only nationally recognized day dedicated to encouraging Americans to recycle and buy recycled products. Celebrating its 11th year, it has grown to include millions of Americans pledging to increase their recycling habits at home and work and to buy products made with recycled materials. On this day each year, millions of people become better informed about the importance of daily recycling and buying recycled products. After all, as stewards of the environment, we are responsible for preserving and protecting our resources for ourselves and for future generations. I think that’s why my daughter is such a stickler for recycling and doing it right—she knows that her generation will be left holding the bag if we don’t step up now.

The good news is, the nation’s composting and recycling rate It’s currently up to around 33% and last year the amount of energy saved from recycling aluminum and steel cans, plastic PET and glass containers, newsprint and corrugated packaging was equivalent to:

• The amount of electricity consumed by 17.8 million Americans in one year.
• 29% of nuclear electricity generation in the U.S. in one year.
• 7.9% of electricity generation from fossil fuels in the U.S. in one year.
• 11% of the energy produced by coal-fired power plants in the U.S.
• The energy supplied from 2.7% of imported barrels of crude oil into the U.S.
• The amount of gasoline used in almost 11 million passenger automobiles in one year.

As you may know, there are three parts to the recycling process; each essential to making the system work: collection, manufacturing and buying. In fact, the three chasing arrows that make up the recycling logo each stand for one of the three components. I just love a logo with a deeper meaning! Being a die-hard marketer, I choose to emphasize the importance of buying. In order to make recycling economically viable, there must be a market for recycled products. If people buy them, companies will be encouraged to make them, and the whole system works.

Naturally, Rush Imprint is doing its part by offering a plethora of recycled products that are ready to be imprinted with your logo and sent out into the world to promote your company in an eco-friendly way. One of my favorites is the Recycled Cardboard Jotter because it’s small enough to fit in my shirt pocket and features an innovative scored cardboard pen port stitched onto the front cover so I can use my lucky pen to jot down important thoughts. Plus, it’s as eco-responsible as you can get—the cover is made from 100% recycled cardboard and each jotter contains 100 sheets of unlined recycled paper with recycling symbol printed on each page. November 15th is right on our heels, but Rush Imprint is nothing if not speedy—sometimes it is all in the name—so place your order now and you’ll still have time to celebrate.

Well, I’ve got to go help my son make a paper-mache turkey, with recycled newspapers of course! Until next time, heed the words of my old Auntie Mae: “I love recycling! Why, just this week, I had dinner with my ex-husband, my ex-boyfriend and my ex-roommate.”

Star Struck

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Last night I dreamt that my wife and I went to the movies…and with three kids, going to a movie alone really is a dream. To get there, we had to walk through a crowd of country singers, break dancers, girl scouts and geriatric pogo stickers—only to end up in the middle of a cat circus. I started sneezing uncontrollably and we were transported by a particularly powerful “achoo” to the theatre’s box office. I was ready to purchase our tickets when I noticed a rather suspicious looking gentleman with more tattoos than Kat Von D lurking just inside. Upon closer inspection, I also saw a group of ne’er-do-wells having a popcorn fight and what appeared to be a biker gang barbequing a pig on a spit right under the sign for “High school Musical III.” I was literally gripped by fear (he has very strong hands) as I imagined the horrors that must await me inside the theatre. Visions of thugs throwing slurpees at the screen and helpless movie watchers, parentless children running up and down the aisles carrying scissors and matches and rowdy clowns making balloon animals that come to life swirled in my head. As sweat started to bead on my forehead, I grabbed my wife’s hand and was about to high tail it out of there when I spotted veteran comedic actress Catherine O’Hara exiting the theatre looking relaxed and calm. Suddenly the theatre didn’t seem quite so threatening. If a B-list actress whose work I enjoy very much could not only survive, but enjoy her visit to this shady theatre, then so could I.

What actually did await me, I will never know because I woke up just before I opened the theatre door. In remembering my rather odd dream, I marveled at my own shallowness. Did I really decide to enter a place that I judged unsavory simply because an actress walked out? Was I really so malleable that my mind could be changed by the mere presence of a celebrity? I have some serious self-examination to attend to. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know what the marketing lesson is, but I do know that everybody has keys and most people like stars. So, next time you launch a promotion, add your logo to the Maraca Star Key Chain and give your company a little star power. It’s a cute, fun keychain that lets you shake, shake, shake and insures that your company name will be seen and heard.

Well, I’ve got to go see my therapist so I can get to the bottom of my celebrity obsession. Until next time, ponder the wise words of Anderson Cooper, I know I will. “The whole celebrity culture thing – I’m fascinated by, and repelled by, and yet I end up knowing about it.”

Weight Lifting

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Mrs. Winston came barreling in to my office this morning to announce that her diet was working—she had lost two pounds in two days and was going to have a piece of French toast to celebrate her success. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that, due to gravitational effects, you weigh slightly less when the moon is directly overhead. The truth is, my wife looks great no matter what her weight so I kept my mouth shut and joined her for French toast. It was delicious and reminded me of when we were first married. Mrs. Winston used to make me breakfast every morning—usually it was eggs, but Sundays were French toast days. We’d sleep in late, read the paper in bed and then she’d get up and make breakfast while I finished the crossword puzzle. There were no kids to feed, dress or yell at and we were free to do anything we pleased. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids and we have a great family life, but I sometimes long for the good old days when it was just the two of us. I told her as much over breakfast and we decided it would be fun to play hooky for a day or two.
So next weekend, my in-laws are coming to pick up the kids and my wife and I are going to enjoy a little stay-cation in our own home. We can’t wait to not clean the house, mow the lawn, cook for three picky eaters or fight for the remote. It will be just the two of us, lying in bed, doing the crossword and eating a late, leisurely breakfast. My wife has already informed me that this time I will be the one cooking—which is fine by me. After breakfast we are going to “take a nap” or two (a man can dream) and then go out for dinner to a place that does not have a children’s menu. We may even get crazy and go to a movie or pop in somewhere for a nightcap. I am very much looking forward to the weekend…especially since Mrs. Winston came home with a Victoria’s Secret shopping bag.
The point is, it’s important to remember how you got to the place you are now and bring some of the romance back into your relationship. We didn’t start out with three kids, a house, two cars, a cat, two birds and four goldfish—it used to be just the two of us. The same principle applies to your business. Take a moment and ask your self how you got to where you are now. Chances are it started with a great product or service and a willingness to work hard to gain a client base. So, when you are thinking about your promotional marketing campaign, go back to the basics and give your customers something they can really use…like a little of your time. The At Clock is a whimsical timepiece and a guaranteed attention grabber. The clock’s sleek design gives it a modern flair while the @-shaped face will remind your clients that you are just an e-mail away. This portable analog clock makes an attractive gift for anyone doing business in the virtual world.

I’m off to the flower shop to order a bouquet of roses to kick off the big weekend. Until next time, remember, “ Marriage is forever but you’ll be happier if you act like it’s just for today.”

Sandwich Day

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

With all the hoohah about Election Day, it seems that Americans have forgotten that there are other days in November that are worth honoring. I don’t mean to diminish the importance of voting, patriotism or Election Day, but I think there are a few other days that we, as good Americans, should acknowledge. For example, did you know that the day before Election Day is National Sandwich Day? I have never been able to turn down a perfectly grilled cheese or gooey PB&J. Although many people enjoy sandwiches, some of us on a daily basis, few realize that the luncheon staple enjoyed by millions of Americans was invented in 1762 by John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, when he created the sandwich by putting meat between two pieces of bread. Even fewer know that the Earl, a renowned gambler, did this in order to sit at the gambling tables for long periods of time. Okay, so maybe his motives were questionable, but because of him, I am able to enjoy my daily Panini. Sandwich day should be properly celebrated by gobbling down America’s favorite lunchtime entrée. If you work in an office, head off food poachers by packing your sammie in a Lunch Caddy and keeping it at your desk.

Another red-letter day in November, which coincidentally pairs very nicely with sandwiches, is Book Lovers Day. Readers everywhere celebrate this day on both August 9th and the first Saturday of November—a past time so important, we honor it twice! While it’s unclear who created the day, there is no doubt that reading is a great hobby; one that is not only educational and informative, but a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. For those who have more mundane daytime activities to attend to, the Limelite Book Light will let you get your read on at night—without disturbing your non-literary spouse.

Button Day falls on November 16th and is a fun day to collect, use, and just enjoy buttons. The origins of this day are unknown. So, we can’t be certain to the real meaning of this day. Button Day is Button come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors and designs At last count, I have over 372 different promotional buttons in a myriad of shapes and sizes. My largest button is two feet in diameter—I get a lot of comments (and a backache) when I wear that one! Politicos aren’t the only ones who can use buttons to promote their cause, create a custom button with your logo and a clever saying to give your business a little face time.

Fun and unusual “holidays” are a marketers dream. Capitalize on oddball occasions and use them to promote your business. Give branded gifts to potential clients to celebrate holidays that are off the beaten path—you will score points for creativity and are sure to stand out from the crowd. Until next time, remember what my eccentric Auntie Flossie used to say, “Don’t be afraid to celebrate the unusual—wear purple, put a flower in your hair, stand up and be counted.”

Get Your Vote On

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Everybody knows there are a few topics that are verboten during polite discourse—politics, religion and my mother-in-law’s peculiar proclivities. For the last several months, however, politics has been a tough topic to avoid. It’s seems that the newscasters, pundits, bloggers and even my Aunt Mabel can’t seem discuss anything else but the upcoming elections. And why not? This year’s presidential race is historic—no matter who wins, the outcome will be unprecedented. Even with the economic turmoil, campaign mudslinging and general uncertainty, there is no doubt that it is an exciting time. On November 4th, either the first African American President will be elected, or we will have elected a woman to the second highest office in the land…which ever way it turns out, history will be made. And that, I believe, is the point.

As a responsible marketer, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the election is the perfect time to show your true blue colors when it comes to marketing your business. Use this as an opportunity to highlight your patriotism (without tipping your partisan hand), by choosing promotional items that say, “I love America,” without offending either side of the political aisle. You can encourage people to vote, while simultaneously reminding them of the great service you provide by gifting loyal customers and potential clients with the Patriot pen; or pack up customer purchases in a red, white and blue Flag Bag. Both have plenty of room for your company logo, so no matter which way the vote swings—you win.

The lesson today is simple, Fourth of July is not the only time to get your stars and stripes on, November 4th is an ideal time of year to purchase patriotic promotional products to productively promote your profession. Also, alliteration is fun…but I digress. Until next time, remember what a pretty good writer once said. “Those who stay away from the election think that one vote will do no good: ‘Tis but one step more to think one vote will do no harm.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Wordy – October 16th is Dictionary Day!

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Fellow vocabulary aficionados know that October 16th was Dictionary Day—a sacred holiday that should be celebrated with reverence and gratitude for the late, great Noah Webster. And in the Winston household, it was. For those of you who are ill acquainted with my favorite holiday and have not yet realized why it should be enthusiastically celebrated, Mr. Webster was born on the sixteenth day of October in the year 1758 and is widely considered to be the Father of the American Dictionary. He began writing his dictionary at the age of 43 and it took him 27 years to complete. Now that’s a man who understood the value of patience. The objective of this revered day is to emphasize the importance of dictionary skills and to encourage good vocabulary.

I started the day by reading a couple dozen pages from my well-worn dictionary and memorizing at least three new words, which I worked into every conversation, email correspondence and IM I had that day. After breakfast, I played Scrabble online for a few hours to get my word juices flowing and prepared me very well to play a few live games with the kids when they got home from school. While I waited for the school bus to arrive, I worked two and a half crosswords—and not the easy ones—the NY Times Sunday crosswords are my favorite. When they finally arrived, we played Scrabble—tournament style—and then, at dinner, everyone chose a “favorite” word to expound upon. Whoever’s word is deemed ”the best” wins a special prize. This year, I had a special Organic Cotton Washed Twill Cap imprinted with “Lord of the Words.” I can’t wait to wear it to my next crossword contest!

I hope all of my readers had as much fun celebrating Dictionary Day as we did, and if you missed it this year, then mark you calendars for next October 16th. Until next time remember, “An apple a day will keep the doctor away, but a word a day will keep stupidity at bay.”

Rock & Roll

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

If you have never had the good fortune to travel by private jet, and aside from rock stars and presidents—few of us have, I can tell you, not from personal experience, that it is the ultimate luxury. And it ought to be luxurious—a private flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas runs about eight grand (that’s $133.00 a minute), so even big time celebs usually reserve those trips for when the “company” is paying. I recently moderated a car dealer meeting for a major auto manufacturer that hired some A-list talent to perform after the business meeting. Judging by my paycheck and hotel accommodations, I know I was “C” or “D” list at best, so I was picked up by a town car at the airport and driven to the venue, while my rock star counterparts jetted in on private planes, were whisked into Escalades waiting on the tarmac and chauffeured to the backstage entrance. All I could think, as security ordered me to stand back, was that it must be nice to live the rock star life.

Experience tells me that I am not alone—most people would jump at the chance to live like a star, if only for a moment. While most of us can’t actually live a rock & roll life, we can travel in style. Why not offer your clients a little bit of luxury by gifting them with something that makes business travel more of a pleasure? The Comfort Travel Set contains everything they’ll need to make traveling commercial feel a little more relaxing. The wrap case includes an inflatable neck pillow, eye mask, earplugs and travel alarm clock, and of course has plenty of room for your company logo. Your customers will appreciate your thoughtfulness and remember you every time they insert the earplugs that mercifully drown out their seatmate’s dissertation on why whole life insurance is superior. Believe me, they will thank you for it!

Well, I’m off to the bike store—I’ve decided to go green, save some gas and get some exercise, so I’m switching to two wheels. Remember, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you might just find, you get what you need.”