Out of Gas

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

It seems that all anyone can talk about this summer is the high price of gas. Watching the prices rise to unprecedented and heretofore unimaginable highs is about as much fun as a trip to the dentist sans Novocain, but it has become somewhat of a national past time. Most people see this state of affairs as the glass being half empty, but I like to look for the upside in every situation, and this one is no exception. For example, the price of fuel caused my mother-in-law to rethink her annual cross-country visit. I thank my lucky stars everyday that the woman decided on a Caddy. See what I mean?

Politicians know how to look for the upside better than anyone. Remember McCain’s proposed gas tax holiday? Many thought it was a hair-brained idea meant to win votes, rather than actually help the economy. I don’t like to get too political (there are other blogs for that) but I do think his idea could have been helped by better promotion. Rush Imprint has a huge variety of handcrafted polyurethane foam stress balls. The 55 Gallon Drum, shaped like an oil drum, would have been a fantastic way to promote his plan in congress. I can just imagine all those politicians sitting around, debating issues while squeezing their stress away. I think stress balls are always a fun gift and right now is an ideal time to promote any business with the promise of eliminating or reducing stress.

Some of you may have a little trouble finding the silver lining and my advice is, well to be honest it’s my Great Grandmother Winston’s advice but it’s still relevant, “If you can’t find the good in a bad situation, make your own.” It’s time to start getting creative about promoting your business, so stop whining and start thinking. Do you have an on-line store? How about finding away to remind customers about the benefits of buying while sitting at their computer? Not only is faster, more efficient and, let’s face it, fun, but buying online saves you a fortune in gas. Try adding an incentive, and promoting your business, by giving away shopping totes with every major purchase. A Give-Away Tote imprinted with your company logo is always a winning promotion, especially now that many stores are charging for plastic bags.

Look, there are a multitude of ways to market your company, even when the economy is in a down turn, you just have think a little more creatively. So, the lesson for today is simple, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade…or Limoncello…or lemon bars…or lemon cupcakes. You get the idea.

Fair Play

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I spent all day with my six year old at the county fair. It was great fun and we both ended up with the stomach aches to prove it. I haven’t eaten that many honey roasted peanuts, ice cream sandwiches and corn dogs since, well, since last year. We rode every ride three times, pet piglets, baby goats and sheep and even participated in a root beer drinking contest. My son lost to a chubby eight year old who was visiting from Iowa. He cried for a minute but forgot the trauma of losing as soon as he took his first pony ride. He loved the tilt-a-whirl so much he threw up his slurpee as soon as he got off for the fifth time. Fortunately his mother had the foresight to pack an extra shirt for each of us. I guess the third kid’s a charm.

My favorite part, aside from spending quality time with my boy, was seeing all the grass roots marketing going on around me. The fair provides ample opportunity to market almost any product or service because it attracts such a wide audience. During the day, families fill the sawdust-covered grounds and at night, the teens and young people flock to the fairgrounds to ride the rides, listen to music and have fun without their parents looking over their shoulders. I was please to see a plethora of fledgling marketers passing out all kinds of branded swag. I came home with a bag full of refrigerator magnets and pens promoting everything from pet sitters to plumbers. One enterprising young future marketing genius realized that the only thing better than a magnet or pen, is a Magnetic Pen. I just love a kid who thinks outside the box. Nothing warms my heart more than a fistful of imprinted give-always, except maybe a fistful of honey roasted peanuts—I love those things. All in all, it was a perfect day filled with three of my favorite things–family, food and marketing.

Speaking of food, I’ve got to go prepare for my neighborhood’s annual chili cook off. I’ve got a recipe that can’t miss. Remember, “Marketing is like eating, everybody loves to eat, but not everyone knows how to cook.”

Dream a Little Dream

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I recently dreamt that I was a celebrated bullfighter named Pablo Federico Prometheus Escobeche living in Pamplona. The entire dream was in Spanish, which I don’t speak, so I’m not entirely sure what happened but from what I could piece together, I was on a caliente streak. I was a local hero, taking on bulls the size of small buildings as if they were little more than oversized puppies. I wore a hand made costume with a blood red cape made from the finest silk. I had a long mustache that I was in the habit of twirling while drinking Rioja and smoking imported cigars. I dated a different girl every night of the week and never paid for a meal, as I was a friend to the best restaurateurs in the city. I was living a charmed life and loving every moment…until I was hastily and rather rudely awakened by my rather angry wife. Apparently, I was whispering names like Lola, Perla, Alicia and Gabriella in my sleep. I tried to explain that I was only dreaming but I still spent the rest of the night in the guest room. That’s the last time I watch Telemundo before bedtime.

Truth be told, I’m not sure what the marketing lesson is here because the whole dream was in Spanish, but I do know one thing. If you ever dream that you’re dating a woman other than your beloved you’d better dream that that woman has the same name as your wife or you’ll end up in the doghouse—and on the couch. Oh, and don’t bother trying to explain that a dream is not real and that it doesn’t mean anything and of course you still love her as much as the day you were married and yes, you are still attracted to her and no, you don’t want to be with anyone else. Rational explanations will get you nowhere. I have found that a demonstration of affection is a much better way to dig oneself out of a marital hole. This particular dream cost me a case of Love Custom Chocolates imprinted with my wife’s name. I gave her one a day, every day until I was invited back into the bedroom. Works every time.

I’m off to the annual Marketing Mavens Meet & Greet in Manitoba. Remember, when love is not enough, buy chocolate.

Improve your IQ and Help the Needy at The Same Time?

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Anyone who has read my blog for a while knows that I am a word aficionado and am always on the look out for a new word game to tickle my brain. This week, I found two! It’s like Christmas, my birthday and my anniversary all rolled into one. In an effort to strengthen the filial bond with my eldest daughter, I decided to open a facebook account so I could stay in touch (spy on her) while she is away at tennis camp this summer. For those of you who don’t know, either because you don’t have kids, have an important job or are too dignified, facebook is one of the social networking sites that all the kids are on these days. They trade pictures, comments, check out music and cyber flirt but one of the best features on the site is access to games. You can play everything from poker to scrabble against fellow facebookers and I have to tell you, it’s addicting. Last night I played Scramble for three straight hours. Before you raise your eyebrows at me, let me assure you that, while fun, playing word games is also good for your brain—a type of mental callesthetics if you will. I played with a particularly tough teen from Duluth, each of us vying for first place. I am happy report that my way with words helped me put a very brainy thirteen year old in her place.

Earlier in the week, I was introduced to a website called, “Free Rice” by a long time reader who goes by the name of “Wordsworth”. It’s a sort of do-gooder site for vocabulary fanatics and is a great way to increase your brain mass while helping the less fortunate. You play by identifying, or in some cases guessing, the correct definition of a particular word out of four possible answers. If you get one wrong, the computer gives you the right answer and retests you later in the game. As you play, the site’s sponsors donate grains of rice so you feed others while feeding your brain. I donated 1240 grains of rice just this morning. So not only do I feel good about myself, I’m smarter too.

And speaking of being smart, nothing says more about high intellect (and class and style) than a really great pen. I don’t mean a garden variety pen you can find at your local office supply store, I’m talking about a quality writing instrument that lets the world know you care about words more than the next guy. Today’s featured product is such a writing implement, the Century II Medalist Selectip Rolling Ball Pen is fashioned using a striking combination of polished chrome and 23 karat gold plate and the roller ball tip guarantees a smooth writing experience. Add your logo and you have the prefect promotional piece for your most polished clients.

I’ve got to go prepare for a rematch with “Duluth Dynamo, ” and if you want to play, my facebook handle is “Mad Marketing Man.” Remember, the English language is like a diamond, polish it and it sparkles, otherwise it’s just coal.”

Marketing is for Everyone

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

So, you don’t think your business is big enough to worry about marketing? Well, as my great granddad used to say, “Marketing, like a good cigar, is for everyone.” His example may not be relevant, but he was right about marketing. Whether your business is big or small, growing or around forever, it will benefit from a good marketing campaign—and a few well-placed promotional products.

For instance, my daughter works as a babysitter and is so popular, that she has to turn down business. Is it because she is great with kids? Does she know better bedtime stories than the other sitters? Or is it because she can stay up past 11:00pm? While all of those things are true, the real reason she is in demand is simple—refrigerator magnets. She created hundreds of them with the slogan, “Put Your Kids in My Care” and her phone began ringing off the hook. One of the neighborhood boys started a lawn care business three years ago but wasn’t successful until he started giving out branded key chains that promised a well trimmed lawn and a smile. The campaign worked and he now cuts every lawn in the neighborhood, including mine. I can’t resist a good promotional piece!

My point is simple, even a child knows that a clever promotion product with a simple message pays off. So, if you don’t have a marketing plan, create one. Start big, start small, but start now. In the meantime, remember, “A day without marketing is like a hot summer day without cold lemonade; you end up thirsty.”

Yankee Doodle

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Independence Day is associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, picnics and baseball games, but the day holds an even greater meaning for the patriotic among us. It is after all, the official date of our country’s independence and serves as a symbol of freedom and a reminder of all we have to be thankful for. No one is more appreciative of apple pie and a good hot dog than I, but this year, I decided to go a step further. Mrs. Winston and I have organized the first ever (in our neighborhood) 4th of July sing-a-long. We gathered the best singers from our kids’ schools and created “The Yankee Doodle Choir.” We are slated to perform right before the fireworks show at our neighborhood community center, and if the group is a success, we may take our show on the road next year. I am arming all the singers with swag to throw out to the crowd in as incentive to cheer enthusiastically for the fledgling crooners. I found the very patriotic USA Man in Rush Imprint’s vast inventory and I’m pretty confident it will inspire clap-inducing patriotism in the hearts of the most blasé Americans.

In researching songs for our repertoire, I came across some interesting facts I thought you might enjoy. For instance, you probably know that Francis Scott Key originally wrote the “Star-Spangled Banner” as a poem during the War of 1812, but you might not know that the tune is sung to a British drinking song. Another famous song, “America,” the one that begins, “My country ‘tis of thee…” gets it’s melody from England’s, “God Save the Queen.” I also discovered that, prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Redcoats sang “Yankee Doodle” to mock the shabbily shod colonials they came across while fighting the French & Indian War. “Doodle” was a word used to mean, “fool” or “dunce” and “macaroni” referred to the fussy, fancy style of Italian clothing often worn by British dandies. Meant to be sung through the nose, with a West Country drawl and dialect, the Brits thought they were putting the Americans in their place. Of course, the upstart Americans adopted the song as their rallying cry. We Americans have always found a way to put our own unique spin on things and creating songs is no exception.

One of the most popular anthems, “America the Beautiful” was written by Katherine Lee Bates in 1893. A cross-country trip inspired her to take notes on her impressions and then she turned the images of purple mountain sand endless skies into four stanzas of verse. “The Congregationalist” published her musings in 1895, Silas Pratt eventually set it to music and the rest is history. John Philip Sousa’s, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” is, by act of Congress, the official march of the United States. What you might not know, unless you read the best seller, “Water for Elephants,” the song is played by live bands at the circus as a signal that a life-threatening emergency is happening. It serves as a code for personnel to start evacuating without scaring the audience. Finally, Woody Guthrie penned “This Land is Your Land” after he tired of hearing Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” on the radio. It worked; in1940 his song knocked hers off the charts.

Finding all of these fascinating factoids reminded me how much I appreciate the everyday freedoms living in the good ole U.S.A. affords me each and every day. So, today’s lesson is simple, be grateful for what you’ve got (and put your name on it!). That one never gets old! Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans!

Product Placement

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Dedicated readers may have noticed my sudden, unexpected and unexplained leave of absence. My unfortunate sabbatical was due to a near career ending double hand injury I suffered while attempting to change the blades in my lawnmower. I won’t go into all the gory details, since I know many of you take in my column whilst enjoying your morning bran flakes or wolfing down a pastrami on rye with mustard during your abbreviated lunch hours. Suffice to say, I lost the use of three fingers on my left hand and the all important pointer finger on my right, rendering me quite incapable of typing or even holding a pen. I tried dictating my blog to Mrs. Winston, but the strain of playing nursemaid and secretary proved to be too much. I hired a string of assistants, each of whom quit rather suddenly, claiming they couldn’t follow my stream of consciousness “ramblings.” I decided to take my inability to find good help as a sign that I needed a break and did something I haven’t done since 12th grade…I called in sick.

I used my time off to relax, recharge and catch up on my movie watching. I enrolled in a terrific service that mails up to eight movies at time right to the house—for two months the highlight of my day was walking down to the mailbox and finding a bright red envelope waiting for me. Having been busy writing several marketing books, fulfilling speaking engagements and writing my blog, I haven’t had much time to indulge in movie watching, so this was a rare treat. After taking in roughly twenty films in seven days, I noticed something rather amazing and undeniably brilliant—product placement. For those of you who never miss the latest release, this probably comes as no surprise, but I was astonished at the sheer number and variety of products “placed” in the hands, on the desks and in the bedrooms of the biggest starts in Hollywood. Asking Julia Roberts to endorse a product in a commercial would cost millions, but film her holding a Snickers bar in the latest chick flick and you’ve got advertising money can’t buy. The implied endorsement is nothing short of genius; it’s subtle, impactful and slightly sneaky—all the components of a quality marketing campaign.

Today’s lesson is taken right out of the Hollywood playbook. Think of your everyday work life like it’s your own Hollywood movie, and place your products in the hands of the “celebs” of your world. You might not be able to persuade George Clooney to be photographed drinking from an 11 oz. Duo Tone Mug imprinted with your company logo, but you can get your brand into the hands of those who matter most, the CEOs, tastemakers and decision makers who rule your universe. Of course, you may not be able to reach Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, Howard Schultz or John Thain, but you can probably get the VPs and VIPS in your business to show off your logo if you employ a little creativity. This is the time you want to think about spending a little more and spring for something a bit classier, like the Cutter & Buck American Classic 20 Leather Duffel. The classic styling of this all-leather duffel will make this a gift that is well appreciated and well used. Remember, when those who matter carry your logo, it matters more. Then you, like Sally Field can say, “you like me, right now, you like me!” It’s good to be back.

Satellite Dreams

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

My family and I returned from a recent vacation to discover that some rowdy opossums or oversized squirrels (it still isn’t entirely clear) had disconnected our satellite dish. We were horrified to discover that not only were our favorite programs not recorded for a whole week, but we were without live TV altogether. Once I got over the initial shock of finding that I had missed an entire week of “Oprah” and a “Law & Order SVU” marathon, I placed a call to customer service with what I hoped was an air of urgency in my voice. I was told that it would take two weeks before technicians could come out to repair my dish. I sat in stunned silence for a full minute and was close to tears when the customer service representative took pity on me and told me that she could classify my case as an emergency. She then promptly scheduled an appointment for the following afternoon. Finally, there was someone out there who understood the gravity of the situation! If I weren’t already married to the finest woman in the world, I would have proposed right then and there. I settled for sending a thank you note and 15 Piece Gift Box of Chocolate Squaresкомпютри.

I was still a bit distressed at the thought of a TiVo-less evening, when my youngest suggested we have a game night…like in olden times. We spent the evening playing Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and even Twister. Actually, Mrs. Winston and I played Twister after the kids went to bed but I promised not to talk about that. Needless to say, it was a great night from start to finish. And I learned a valuable lesson about familial bonding. Of course, being the giver that I am, I wanted to share that lesson with my loyal readers. As vital as it is for families to play together, it is also important to create rapport with ones’ co-workers and clients. Bonding with colleagues and employees is often achieved by injecting a little fun into the proceedings, so the next time you are planning a team building activity for your sales force, give them a fun take away that is sure to make them smile. Rush offers a Six-In-One Game Set that your employees will love bringing home to their families. This fun-filled game set includes boards and game pieces for checkers, chess, dominoes, backgammon and cribbage, plus 4 dice and a deck of playing cards. Make sure you include your logo and a message to carry the reminder of a great time far into the future.

I’ve got to go set up Twister; Mrs. Winston lost and has insisted on a rematch. Remember, “It doesn’t matter how you play the game and it doesn’t matter if you win or lose…as long as they remember your name.”

Dancing for Dummies

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

The word “samba” means to rub navels together, so when my wife said she wanted to do it, I was thrilled. Then she said she wanted to do it in front of all our friends, so I got worried. When she said her sister did it with her husband and received a standing ovation, I decided to look up the “other” meaning of the word. For those of you not glued to “Dancing with the Stars” every week, the samba is a type of dance—a very difficult, strenuous dance—that Mrs. Winston is keen to learn. Unfortunately, she wants me to learn it with her so we can make a big splash at her cousin’s wedding in Brazil this summer. Now, I’m not the worst dancer on the planet; I have a few moves and have been known to cut a rug after a few gin and tonics but this is different. Samba is a spectacle of hip gyrations and tricky footwork that leaves you gasping for breath and, at least in my case, looking a bit foolish. To make matters worse, I forgot my wife’s birthday this year and she has announced that the only thing she wants is dance lessons so I’m officially on the hook.

As my Dad is fond of saying, dancing is the married man’s punishment for saying “I do.” My father is not the most romantic man on the planet, but he does know how to find the silver promotional lining in every dark cloud and I have inherited his gift for marketing through the pain. My many hours of dance practice has led to blisters the size of silver dollars so I teamed up with my podiatrist and came up with a line of promotional foot patches that are sure to sell like hotcakes in dance studios across the country. The deal is still in the works, so I can’t really talk about it, but stay tuned for more details.

As a professional marketer, I believe that turning challenges into promotional opportunities is not only useful; it’s an absolute necessity. There is no doubt that we are living in challenging times—our marketing dollars are stretched thin, so it’s doubly important to make an impact with the promotional items we choose to represent ourselves and our companies. Rush Imprint has experts on hand to help you do that—they are just a phone call or email away. So, the next time you find yourself in a give away quandary, call Rush Imprint…they will help you find your own silver lining.

I’ve got to rush off to a meeting with my patent lawyer, Remember, “When life throws you a curve ball, put your name on it!”

Taxing – How to Avoid an Audit

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

This is my Uncle Bernie’s favorite time of year. Spring is in the air and April 15th is just around the corner. Good ole Bernie works as an IRS auditor and is rather proud of his status as one of the most feared individuals in the Country. He was a bit of a geek in high school and often found himself at the wrong end of a garbage can at lunch time so he takes pleasure in being the biggest bully on the adult playground. He won’t admit it, but I have a feeling one or two of the jocks who tortured him in school have found themselves at the wrong end of an audit. Uncle Bernie loves to tell the story of how he made a CEO cry and beg for mercy and is especially fond of talking about how women try to flirt their way out of paying more taxes. He’s not a nice man but I never forget his birthday and he’s at the top of my Christmas card list. We recently had our favorite uncle over to the house for dinner and he was kind enough to share with us a few red flags that are sure to catch the tax man’s attention. He swore me to secrecy but I am pretty sure he doesn’t read my blog so here are Bernie Berthold’s top 5 ways to find yourself in the hot seat.

1) Make a lot of money.
A high income ups your odds of catching unwanted attention, and the deeper your pockets, the more attractive you become to the auditor. Duh.

2) Declare lots of expenses.
Steep expenses are another factor that will send a return under the magnifying glass of an auditor. If anything seems excessive, the IRS will take a closer look. So, if you do have high expenses, provide an explanation and back up if possible.

3) Write sloppily and include lots of ink smudges.
This one is a particular peeve of Bernie’s; he believes good penmanship is next to godliness. A carelessly finished return, either incomplete or hard to read, is an invitation to the tax man.

4) Give lots of dough to your favorite charity.
Donating to charity is admirable, but be sure that you’re careful when you declare your donations as deductions. The IRS looks at the charitable donation deduction with unscrupulous attention. Besides, the IRS’s favorite charity is the IRS. They are not amused by your generosity.

5) Declare your silk pajamas as a home office deduction.
Home office expenses are automatically a red flag for the IRS so be very careful when writing off business expenses. The $500 coffee make you bought “for your office” probably doesn’t count.

Well, I’m off to wrap Bernie’s special “for no particular reason” gift. I am adding to his collection and gifting him with a Robot Series Calculator. The display cover on this calculator opens easily with the push of a button and contains ample space for your company logo or promotional message. The full function calculator has soft touch keys, side comfort grips, and an 8 digit display. I’m pretty sure he’s on to me, but I have never been audited so I’m sticking to my plan. As Bill Maher once said, “Your taxes are due a week from today. You can make out your check directly to Halliburton.” Funny guy that Bill.