The Afterglow

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I often refer to the days following Christmas as the calm after the storm. As much as we try to teach our kids about the true meaning of the holiday and make the day about something other than presents, candy canes and more toys than an F.A.O. Schwartz warehouse, having a six year old in the house means a visit from the fat man and a frenzy of flying gift wrap that beings at 6 AM. My youngest usually wakes up around 5 AM, but knows better than to wake his Mom before sun up. I imagine him impatiently watching Spongebob reruns, tapping his footy pajama clad foot and checking his Spiderman wristwatch every five minutes. When it’s finally time, he runs into our bedroom at top speed and hurls himself between us, serving as a small, warm and very loud human alarm clock with no snooze button. The next hour flies by in a whirlwind of ripping, tearing and delighted shrieking followed by a day filled with non stop eating, drinking and entertaining an endless stream of family, friends and neighbors until we all fall into a deep, coma like sleep at around 8 PM.

The kids are spending the next few days with my in-laws talking in various Southern California tourist attractions and my wife is committed to finding the best bargains known to man at every after Christmas sale she can find, so I am left alone to bask in blissful silence. After the holiday commotion, an empty house is a welcome friend. I have been spending my days puttering in my office, putting the finishing touches on my book (in stores this Spring) and practicing my putting with the Pro-Flite Golf Balls Santa so thoughtfully put in my stocking this year. They are good balls too—meant for serious golfers. These 90-compression golf balls placed 1st and 2nd in the performance categories of Total Distance and Carry Distance. Even more impressive is the fact that Mr. Claus has finally realized the value of marketing and had the balls imprinted with his logo and a clever holiday message. I guess he finally read my book!

Well, I’m off to enjoy the last remaining moments of quietude before it’s time to ring in the New Year. Remember, “Christmas only lasts a day but branding lasts forever.”

Holiday News

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

There is a lot to love about the holiday season. Who doesn’t enjoy tinsel and mistletoe, brightly wrapped gifts, Christmas cookies and eggnog? I love the chill in the air, pierced by the dulcet tones of carolers and jingle bells as much as I love the warmth of the fire and the glow of Christmas lights. What I do not love, or even like, is the penchant some of my family members and acquaintances have for sending annual holiday newsletters. Now, I have nothing against holiday cards or sharing good news with loved ones, but I find the type of bragging and revisionism that permeates most holiday newsletters about as enjoyable as the two month old fruitcake my Great Aunt Theabelle sends every year.
Here’s a short snippet from the four-page (single spaced) letter I received from my second cousin, twice removed. We’re not especially close and I haven’t seen her since the Winston family reunion of 2002, yet she feels the need to treat me, and I suspect everyone on her mailing list, to an excruciatingly detailed account of how she and the rest of her family spent the last year.

As you may remember form last year’s newsletter, my husband and I have taken up karate. I am on track to earn a black belt by year’s end and George is well on his way to earning an orange—his demanding work schedule doesn’t afford him as much practice time as I have! Sharing an activity together has really strengthened our marriage I have found kicking to be a wonderful way to stay in shape and have lost ten whole pounds! It also came in handy when George went to his high school reunion and met up with his first love. You’d be surprised how effective the threat of a karate chop to the spleen can be! Ha, Ha…just kidding! June brought some sad news when our beloved gerbil Whiskers choked on a lettuce leaf and went to heaven. Little Julie was heartbroken. Fortunately, July brought exciting news when George received a long awaited promotion and the whole family was able to take a vacation to Jamaica! Ya mon!

The amazing thing is, that is not even the craziest letter I received this year. My neighbor’s holiday letter included a detailed account of her bunion surgery and subsequent recovery. Now, I am not one to give unsolicited advice, but please—lay off the holiday newsletters people. The truth is, a nice card with warm holiday wishes is all people really expect (or want) from you. There is no need to share every detail of your personal life with everyone on your list.

Since I have the distinct feeling that my advice will go unheeded, I have the ideal gift for the rest of you. A Desktop USB Paper Shredder is the perfect way to take care of newsletters about Uncle Don’s recent hair transplant. It’s compact enough to easily fit in a business bag and can shred two pieces of paper at a time. It is also able to open letters (in case you actually want to read them). Well, I’m off to do some last minute Christmas shopping. Remember, as my Great Aunt Theabelle always says, “Let them eat fruitcake!”

Office Humor

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

These days people are obsessed with “The Office,” but not the one the go to every day. No, people are more interested in the office inhabited by people that are odder than their own co-workers and whose antics can be viewed from the safety of their living room couches. I am referring of course to the hit television show about the increasing irrelevant paper company, Dunder Mifflin led by the idiotic but lovable Scranton office boss, Michael Scott, played to perfection by Steve Carell. I think the show is so appealing because viewers can relate to the inane antics while, at the same time, reveling in the knowledge that no matter how dreary their cubicles or how vile their real life bosses, their office life is better than the one portrayed on television.

It’s popularity is proof that not everyone likes watching ultra rich, ultra fabulous people with perfect teeth and fake tans zip around in their 85,000 sports cars wearing Prada, Gucci and Mui Mui while they sip Cristal at chic parties, readjusting the silver spoons they were born with. Of course, I’ll admit to enjoying the antics on “Dirty Sexy Money” and I have been know to tune in to “The Hills,” if only to engage in some father-daughter TV bonding, but I too think it’s refreshing and self esteem boosting to watch the likes of Dwight Schrute fight with Jim over the ownership of a Rubber Grip Stapler. That’s real reality television—just the way I like it, fictionalized and laugh out loud funny.

Regular readers know that I am a big fan of fun, funny promotional items that successfully convey an important message to employees or important clients. I think that even Michael would agree that Nutty Putty fits the bill. Not only will it remind the recipient of that childhood favorite, Silly Putty®, but the egg-shaped containers are the perfect backdrop for your logo or promotional message. Because it’s a fun reminder of a simpler time, this gift is sure to be appreciated and you’ll be thought of as the “cool boss” or fun-loving vendor that everyone wants on their side.

I’ve got to go practice my speech for the office Christmas party. Since I work from home, it will be a small gathering, but I still like to deliver an inspirational speech to set the tone for the New Year. In the words of Michael Scott, “That’s what she said.”

Thanksgiving

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Well, it’s that time again—Thanksgiving is only days away, which means one thing: the holiday season is officially in full swing. This year, Mrs. Winston and I have decided to forgo our usual hosting duties and will “make the rounds” instead. The kids are off on an extended ski vacation with their maternal grandparents, so the wife and I are free to turkey hop. We were invited to several parties and plan to attend them all—except for the vegetarian Thanksgiving. I’m not a fan of tofurkey. We even bought special pants for the occasion; elastic waistbands are the only way to go! I am quite excited about breaking with tradition, especially since Mrs. Winston is not known for her culinary prowess. Don’t get me wrong, she has other talents, but cooking is not her best thing.

Of course, being a guest does not mean being a mooch. In order to be polite, and be invited back, it is important to arrive with a proper host gift in hand. Wine is an obvious choice and, while appreciated, it doesn’t always make an impact. That’s why I have purchased a few dozen appetizer sets from Rush Imprint. I like to create a signature gift each year and give one to everyone. I always choose something useful and memorable, which is appreciated and remembered by all…so everybody wins. This year I have chosen Wisconsin Flavors, a gift set that is sure to satisfy the heartiest of appetites. It includes a half-pound each of medium and mild cheddar and a 5-ounce stick of tangy beef summer sausage packaged with a cutting knife and a handy chopping board that is imprinted with my logo and heartfelt holiday message.

Well, I’m off to grandmother’s house to drop off the kids. Happy Thanksgiving and remember what my Mother always says, “If you don’t have anything to be thankful for, you’re not looking hard enough.”

Walk The Line

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Although I write about gadgets and gizmos rather than sit-coms or made for TV movies, I decided to join my fellow writers on the picket line to express my support—and see for myself what all the hubbub was about. I decided to go to the big rally at Fox Plaza on Friday with 3000 other writers, actors and rabblerousing supporters to rail against corporate fat cats who refuse to share the wealth. I have to admit that this was a new experience for me since the majority of my clients are corporate fat cats, but fortunately my clients are quite happy to share the wealth so my experience with railing against “the man” has been limited to watching “North Country” on DVD.

The rally fell on day five of the strike and the mood was more festive than furious. As I walked amongst the sea of red and grey T-shirt clad men and women toward the makeshift stage, I was struck by the marketing acumen that surrounded me. I couldn’t take two steps without being offered branded water bottles (shaped like flasks), promotional energy bars or a bagel and coffee in a logo imprinted cup. Once we arrived at the rally, we were treated to a short concert by Rage Against the Machine frontman, Zack De La Rocha, an impassioned but confusing speech by Jesse Jackson and several well-worded but softly spoken speeches by various writers. Even the suits got into the act as dozens of coat and tie wearing CAA agent’s assistants passed out churros on silver platters. I guess they didn’t get the memo that no one actually likes churros, but I applaud their attempt to show solidarity with their bread and butter. Lots of actors were in attendance as well, which is a good thing because they are a bit more vocally assertive than those who actually write the words. The scene was energetic and enlivened and a bit ironic. I saw kids, holding signs that said “Residuals Paid For My Braces” and “Residuals Feed Me!” There was even a scantily clad “ring girl” carrying a sign that read “Day 5.”

I was inspired by the activism and enjoyed the rare camaraderie of being amongst so many writers. It’s funny because writers are solitary creatures by nature. They much prefer the characters in their own heads to the company of flesh and blood people so it’s rare to see so many gathered in one place. I guess it takes feeling ripped off to get a bunch of socially awkward nerds together…so maybe there is some good to come out of a bad thing.

I had so much fun; I am going again this week. Of course, I never miss an opportunity to promote, so I’ll be passing out Virgil Winston branded sunscreen to the troops. These are people who don’t get a lot of sun, so I know my giveaway will be appreciated, and I will be remembered.

Well, I’m off to watch “Norma Rae” again. I really like that Sally Field, I really do.

Writer’s Block

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Well folks, it’s going on day three of the Hollywood Writer’s strike and production on several shows is already shutting down. Don’t worry; I will continue writing my column because, as my teen-aged daughter frequently points out, “I am so not Hollywood,” and therefore, I am not prohibited from putting pen to paper or pounding on my keyboard. The Hollywood types walked out on Monday and hit the picket lines while actors and crewmembers were told to report to work or risk being fired. That lasted about a day and a half for many shows since, as they say, “If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.” You’d think writers could come up with a more grammatically correct saying. I was also disappointed by the lack of creative writing skill displayed on the picket lines. Most strikers carried signs that simply said, “strike,” in block letters. Sure it gets the point across, but where’s the drama, where is the pathos? I guess they are taking the directive not to write rather literally.

I don’t know about you, but I hope the writers, producers and networks resolve their issues soon because I really want to know what’s going to happen on “Lost” and Mrs. Winston can’t stand to be away from McDreamy and McSteamy for more than a week. If they don’t come to an agreement quickly, many “in the know” predict a strike could last upwards of nine months. Not only will working writers, not to mention actors, gaffers, grips, camera operators, caterers and a myriad of other support people be forced to go on the dole, but America will be relegated to watching even more Reality television. I for one have had enough of brain numbing shows like “I Love New York” and I don’t care what LC, Heidi and Spencer are doing in “The Hills.” I prefer my entertainment to be firmly rooted in fantasy…where it belongs.

I am of the belief that there is almost nothing that cannot be solved with branding, so I have contacted the Writer’s Guild of America and offered my services free of charge. (Plus, I really want to know the secrets of the island.) My first suggestion is that they send the powers that be a Mercury Click Pen imprinted with a powerful message like, “Do the Write Thing” or “The pen is mightier than the sword” to get their point across. This click action pen has a silver metallic barrel with accents in your choice of 5 great colors and the dimpled grip provides a unique look as well as supreme writing comfort. Plus, Rush Imprint can turn around a big order in one day so, when time is of the essence, they are the perfect solution. The bottom line is, everyone loves a free pen so give the people what they want…and maybe they will do the same for you.

Until next time, remember, “When words are scarce they are seldom spent in vain.” Or at least that’s what Shakespeare thought.

The Time Is Now

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

If you’re like me, you spent last Sunday in a state of time confusion. Historically, daylight saving time ends on the last Sunday of October and we “fall back” to standard time, gaining a precious hour of sleep along with an additional hour of morning daylight. If it were up to me, and clearly it’s not, daylight saving time would remain in effect year round. I prefer my daylight around when I’m awake to enjoy it but apparently the rest of the country is full of early risers who don’t enjoy commuting to work under cover of darkness. Go figure.

Since the powers that be, the omnipresent and ever mysterious “they,” decided to change things up and move the time change to this Sunday November 4th, I am reminded of the complete arbitrary nature of time. Frankly it brings up a lot more questions then answers and if I think about it for too long I end up driving myself (and Mrs., Winston) crazy.

One thing I do know for certain is that we all live by the clock—it tells us when to wake up, how long we sit in traffic each morning, when to meet our colleagues in the conference room for yet another marathon conference call, when to call it a day and when to buy flowers because you forgot your anniversary. This year, to celebrate the time change, why not give your most important clients and prospects a time piece to remember. The Carriage Clock is as practical as it is elegant. Made of 24% lead crystal, this attractive timepiece is one the recipient will be certain to use for years to come. The carriage clock’s traditional design makes it well suited for display at home or in the office. Enclose a note with your thoughtful gift that speaks to your ability to deliver in a timely fashion and it practically guarantees you will be remembered for your cleverness and class every minute of every day.

Well, I’m off to the florist. Until next time, remember the wise words of my wife’s great Grandmother on her father’s side, “We’d all be a lot happier without clocks but we’d end up eating a lot of burnt pot roast for breakfast.” The old broad was quite the philosopher.

Fire in the Hills

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, a cocoon or have decided to eschew all forms of media for the last week, you’ve heard the news. California is on fire—and not in a good way.

Due to the hot, dry weather and the high winds (known to west coast allergy sufferers as the Santa Anas), San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange County, as well as Arrowhead, have been raging, almost out of control. Fortunately I don’t live in one of the affected areas, but I have been breathing in the smoke and ash residue that seems to hang in the air like sooty cloud cover. It’s a pretty grim scene for those who have been left homeless and none too pleasant for those who have had to evacuate, not knowing if they will have a home come home to. It’s also been a rough road for all the fire fighters who are out there risking their lives to save others.

As with all tragedies, there is a small silver lining. As it turns out, our fellow human beings tend to pull together and help each other out when the chips are down. For example, a local eatery best known for sushi and starlets has opened its doors to fire fighters and rescue workers, determined to keep the troops fed, free of charge. Also, many of the Red Cross volunteers who populate San Diego Stadium were themselves former evacuees who decided to stick around and help out. Donations of food, blankets and supplies are pouring in and the mood, while somber, is one of community…and hope.

It’s times like this that we remember what is important—friends, family and community. Mrs. W. and I are planning to volunteer and have signed up for Red Cross Crisis Training classes at our local office. If you have some time to spare, I recommend you lend a hand. If you are pressed for time, you can donate goods and of course good old-fashioned money always helps.

If you are affected, our heart goes out to you and if you are not…count your blessings. It was Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

I Hate Conference Calls!

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

My first order of blog business is to apologize to my loyal readers for the word draught. I know there are a few of you who look forward to learning about the latest and greatest in the world of marketing and I am deeply sorry for my sporadic postings. The good news is I have been spending my time locked in my office writing until the wee hours in order to meet the publishing deadline for my latest book, the long awaited follow up to “Marketing for Dummies.” This one is called, “Put Your Name on It” and my editor anticipates it will hit the bestseller list pretty hard.
Those of you who only read my column during conference calls may not have missed me much, but I think you’ll be interested in a fellow blogger’s website. I ran across it during a conference call with my literary agent last week that ended up lasting longer than most Hollywood marriages. It’s called, “Ihateconferencecalls.com” and those of you who are forced to endure them on a regular basis will appreciate its tongue in cheek approach to a mundane workaday activity. I think we can all agree that conference calls, while mind numbingly boring, are a necessity in today’s telecommuting work environment. We’ve all sat there glassy eyed, waiting to hear our name so we can give one or two lines of input and hoping the dog would refrain from barking during our big moment. And of course there is the inconsiderate boob who relentlessly shuffles papers, eats or pounds on the keyboard, blissfully unaware of how to use the mute button. The most egregious offense of course, is having to listen to one person drone on and on, circling around the same point until your head is spinning.
For those moments, I find a little humor goes a long way in alleviating the pain of the three-hour call, which is why I never dial in unless my Lip-Syncher is plugged in. It’s a mobile phone desktop speaker with selectable synchronized talking lips. It makes the chatter a bit more tolerable and I find that it makes me smile through the tears. Next time you host a big meeting, why not send out a dozen to your fellow attendees—or, if you are hosting, add your company name and a clever message and you’ll be remembered long after the call is over.
Well, I’ve got to go, conference call with my six year old’s teacher. Telecommuting is officially out of control. Remember, when you’re on a conference call and nature calls, the mute button is your best friend.

Politically Incorrect

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

By now I’m sure you have heard all about the rather ugly incident concerning my temporarily fallen idol, Mr. Jerry Lewis during the eighteenth hour of his Labor Day MDA Telethon. I hear his publicity team was working overtime on spin control and there was even some loose talk about relieving the funny man of his hosting duties. Now, I don’t agree with what he said, but I think we can all agree he was at least attempting to be humorous. I don’t know about you, but after eighteen hours, I’m not always at my best and he’s no Spring chicken. Not that age is an excuse. Or is it?
We let a lot of behaviors slide because of age, don’t we? Take crying, for example. As a man, I don’t often cry (at least not in public), but as a little boy I shed my fair share of tears over trivialities such as skinned knees and not getting the prize from the bottom of the cereal box before my brother. These days, I have to reserve my tears for more important matters like the birth of my children or the end of baseball season. My son is still at an age where he can cry if Spongebob Squarepants is a rerun. Today he came home from school in hysterics. After checking him carefully for broken bones and skinned appendages, I discovered that the source of his angst was… lunch. Specifically the Glaucoma Foundation Alpine Lunch Cooler his mother packed his in. Apparently, he took quite a razzing from the other first graders who all proudly sported Spiderman and Fantastic Four lunch boxes. My son tried to explain branding to his classmates, but they were unable to grasp that their superhero lunch boxes were promotional items…just like his insulated lunch bag imprinted with a giant eyeball. They were unimpressed by the PEVA lining and wide zippered opening and scoffed at its ability to hold a twenty-ounce bottle.
As I hugged my boy and wiped his tears, I couldn’t help but shed a few of my own—he gets it…he really gets it! I took him to the store and bought him a Simpsons lunch box, un-insulated, and matching thermos, which proves, once again, that effective marketing can solve most problems in life. Just ask Jerry. He issued a well-written apology and raised 63.8 million for a good cause, so I don’t think he’s going anywhere.