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 custom pens, custom travel mugs, and custom 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.

Goal Oriented

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Every year around this time I start thinking about resolutions—making them, breaking them and forsaking them. I often threaten to forgo making New Year’s resolutions altogether because they are so dang difficult to keep. But every year I cannot resist the urge to better myself and I make at least one or two. And come February, I find myself flailing. I fall off the diet wagon, find excuses not to exercise or pull out the credit card to pay for the latest must-have techie gadget and I feel…defeated. I have to admit to myself that, once again, I have failed to keep the resolutions I made at the beginning of the year. I beat myself up, pound my pillow and resolve to do better next year. And therein lies the problem. Why wait until next year? Why not next month, next week or better yet, the next day? Why not forgive the falling off of the wagon—be it exercise, food or some other vice—and get back on the horse and try again? (Clearly I failed in my attempt to stop mixing metaphors.) I think the problem with keeping resolutions stems from the word itself. It sounds so serious, has such gravitas, that to fail to keep a resolution is to fail as a human being…or so it seems.

So this year I am changing the game—or at least the name of the game—and, instead of making resolutions, I am setting goals. A goal is something you can accomplish little by little and that you are allowed to make mistakes at on the way to achieving. Goals are manageable and attainable and aren’t quite as loaded as resolutions. It may just be semantics, but for a dictionary diver like myself, words are everything and I have resolved, once and for all, to NOT make a single New Year’s resolution in 2009. Instead, I am going to set challenging, yet achievable, goals for myself and give myself permission to fall off the wagon every once in a while. After all, nobody’s perfect, not even a guru.

I’m off to work on my goals for 2009. I like to jot them down in my Icon Prism Journal Book so that I can track my progress. In fact, a journal is a top-notch gift for important clients, employees and even your friends. Even if they don’t go in for “journaling,” most people can use a spiral bound book to jot down appointments, write up project notes or just to doodle in while they pretend to listen in on their weekly conference calls. It’s a great way to start the New Year off with a bang.

As my dear friend Oprah so wisely said, “Cheers to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right.” Indeed, Miss Winfrey. Indeed.


Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Cold and flu season is upon us and, if you haven’t gotten your yearly flu shot, you are probably nervous about shaking of another kind. The chills, sore throat and fever that accompany most winter illnesses are no fun but you can find some comfort in the fact that most last no more than ten days. There are ways to avoid getting sick when the weather turns chilly, and none of them involves wearing a sweater. My doctor was kind enough to share her favorite ‘stay well & get well’ tips with me so that I could pass them on to you. After all, if you’re too sick to read my blog—you’re too sick. Or something like that.

• Get a flu shot—many docs give them for free, or for a nominal fee. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
• Wash your hands…a lot.
• Eat right and exercise—staying strong is a great way to bolster your immune system.
• Sleep…at least seven to eight hours a night. You don’t have to tell me twice.
• Relax! Stress is a killer, not only can it keep you up nights, it can make you sick as well. Find a way to reduce your stress like yoga or meditation.
• If you do get sick, sleep as much as possible and drink lots of warm liquids like tea, chicken soup and hot water with lemon.
• Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for aches and fever.
• Use cough syrup and cough drops to reduce coughing and soothe a sore throat.
• Ease your stuffy or runny nose by using saline nose spray and use a humidifier at night.

I hope you find these tips useful and that you pass through the winter cold and flu season with your health intact. To show your clients and employees how much you care, give them a gift that helps them regain their health in the event they aren’t so lucky. The Travel Pill Box from Rush Imprint is sure to come in handy when you have to medicate on the run. Naturally, there is a large imprint area for your company logo or other message so your employees and customers will remember that their well-being is important to you.

Well, I’m off to pick up my daughter from school. She is grounded this week and can’t use the car. Sometimes I wonder who is punishing whom around here. Until next time, remember, “Health is not valued till sickness comes.” ~Thomas Fuller

Dim Sum and Then Sum

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Ever since our little adventure to the Vietnamese restaurant last month, Mrs. Winston and I have decided to broaden our culinary horizons and try new things. So on Sunday, we packed up the kids and headed out for dim sum. Dim sum is the name for a Chinese cuisine that consists of a wide range of light dishes served alongside Chinese tea. It is usually served in the mornings until noontime and is often thought of as the Chinese equivalent of brunch. Dishes come in small portions and may include meat, seafood, and vegetables, as well as desserts and fruit. The items are usually served in a small steamer basket or on a small plate. Chinese families typically like to gather at Chinese restaurants for dim sum on occasions such as Mother’s Day or Chinese New Years but you’ll find foodies of all types there just about every Saturday and Sunday.
As I quickly discovered, one of the best things about dim sum is the rapidity of service. You literally sit down and food arrives at your table. Steam carts piloted by mostly smiling Chinese women, cruise by your table while the servers lift lids and describe the dishes. The adventure comes from not always understanding exactly what is in a particular dish. For example, I bit into what felt like a raw meatball and found it less than delightful but a steamed pork bun quickly replaced the memory of that bad bite. Sweet meat and dough can cure almost anything. My wife’s favorite was the pork shaomai and the kids gobbled up custard filled buns like it was Christmas. As for me, I liked it all—the pork buns are hard to beat but I also loved the har gow (shrimp) and the bok choy swimming in gravy. We had such a good time, we decided to make dim sum a monthly Winston tradition.
Since I particularly enjoyed the Chinese tea—we drank pots and pots of it out of tiny cups—today’s offering from Rush Imprint is Instant Iced Tea. It’s not exactly traditional and it’s not Chinese, but it is the perfect refreshing addition to a customized gift basket. Your logo or personal message is imprinted on your choice of silver or gold foil packaging to make it an ideal promotional gift.
I’ve got to get ready for my next speaking engagement—my son’s school is having a “Bring Your Parent To School Day” and six year olds can be brutal. As a famous Chinese proverb says, “Do good, reap good; do evil, reap evil,” and as my dear old dad says, “Give good promotional gifts, reap good clients.”

Bah! – December 21st is Humbug Day!

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Unless you have the patience of a kindergarten teacher, the saintliness of Mother Theresa and the bank account of Oprah Winfrey, you are probably feeling the pressure that often accompanies the Christmas season. The realization that December 25th is just around the corner and that there are still stockings to be filled, hams to be glazed and bikes, dollhouses and train sets to be assembled, can leave you feeling a bit grumpy. And that’s okay, because December 21st is Humbug Day. The creators of this day did so in order to allow everyone preparing for Christmas to vent their frustrations. It is a day especially created for grumps, grinches and disgruntled elves to complain about everything from the high price of video games to the arrival of the in-laws. So, if you are feeling stressed out about what to buy your picky boss, having to attend the neighbor-who-borrowed-your Allen-wrench-nine-months-ago-and-still- hasn’t-returned-it’s annual eggnog get together, or the arrival of your in-laws, December 21st is your day. So go ahead and gripe, whine, complain, moan, cry and have a fit…all day long. It’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s more than okay; it’s preferred—at least by the fine folks at who came up with the day in the first place. Just remember that at 12:01AM on December 22nd, the pity party is officially over and it’s time to get back into the holiday spirit.
I can help you feel the joy of the season by offering up a few top-notch last minute gift ideas for your persnickety boss. If he (or she) is the type who works wherever he goes, the High Sierra Tahoe Computer Travel Set is the perfect companion for the busy executive on the go. Since each set includes a 1-piece High Sierra gift box, your presentation will be as good as the present. If your boss likes to roll up his sleeves, then the WorkMate Home Tool Set is the ideal gift. This nine-piece tool set includes a zippered case, fiberglass hammer, bit holder with bit set, torpedo level, 10′ tape measure, utility knife, pliers, wrench and hex key set and is perfect for small repairs or projects. Finally, if the person who signs your paychecks likes to do so with a fine writing instrument, the Sauvage Ivory/Python Pattern Ballpoint Pen with an engraved monogram is the only present you’ll need to impress the higher up on your list.

Now, please excuse me while I go fill my kids’ stockings with coal and eat the cookies my wife baked for Santa. Until next time, remember the words of the man who invented Humbuggery in the first place, Mr. Charles Dickens, who said, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Indeed.