Back to School Blues

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

As the day my kids return to school grows closer, I can see my wife literally changing before my eyes. She smiles more, snaps less and is generally happier. I’d like to think she is appreciating the time she has left to spend all day every day with three kids, but I know the truth. She can’t wait for them to go back to school and get out of her hair. I can’t really blame her. I often shut the door to my home office just as the chorus of “I’m bored,” “There’s nothing to do!” or “Why can’t I play my Xbox?” begins. Don’t get me wrong, our children aren’t shut-ins—our daughter has a part time job, the youngest went to swim camp and our middle boy went to computer camp. But those activities only last so long. The rest of the time, they bug us for rides to the mall, hog the TiVo and make my wife’s life a little more challenging. So, now that September is here, Mrs. Winston is excited about getting her house back…and I’m happy to regain control of the television.

Of course, there are some drawbacks. This year is my daughter’s last in high school and next year she will go away to college, leaving our nest just a bit emptier. The real big change is that our “baby” graduated kindergarten and will officially enter the first grade in a brand new school with new teachers and new friends and he’s a bit stressed. I know from all your letters and emails that many of you are experiencing the same type of transition, so I thought I would share some tips I found to help make it a bit easier (for you and your child).

1. Be enthusiastic about the big change. If you are excited your child will be, too.

2. Prepare. If possible, visit the new setting with your child. Introduce your child to the new teacher in advance.

3. Arrange a play date with another child from the new school so your child will see a familiar face when he or she walks in.

4. Start daily routines that will add to continuity. Let your child become involved with packing lunch or laying out clothes.
a) We bought a Lunch Pak Plus imprinted with our son’s name to start the process and symbolize a new beginning.

5. Put aside extra time, particularly on the first day, for chatting and commuting together. But remember not to prolong the good-bye. If the child whines or clings, staying will only make it harder. Say good-bye and then leave.

I hope these few tips will help make your child’s first day of school a fun one to remember. And speaking of remembering, as my Mom used to say to us kids on our first day of school, “Get out of my hair before I give you something to cry about!” Mom wasn’t sentimental, but she meant well.

White Party

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Labor day is right around the corner, which means summer will soon be over, football season is imminent and P. Diddy is about to throw his annual “White Party.” I wasn’t invited last year—come to think of it, I wasn’t invited this year either—but I understand from the talk around town that it was quite the “not to be missed” event. Mary-Kate Olsen’s clone, Ashley, arrived at Diddy’s palace wearing a shaggy outfit that would have looked better on a Scooby-Doo ghost. TMZ cameras were there as Lil’ Kim got off her plane—ready to party in a hot, chesty white mini-dress. Mariah Carey topped Kim outside the event, as she sucked in her stomach and struck a pose. And of course, P. Diddy made his presence known while pimpin’ some nighttime shades in the daytime. Sounds fun…or at least extremely interesting.

You may not have an estate in East Hampton, but you can still end the season in high style with a White Party (or a plain ole barbeque) of your own. Even if your guests don’t require a runway to park their private jets, it’s still important to make them feel special. Nothing makes a guest feel invited like a real, honest to goodness invitation received via the U.S. Postal Service. Anyone can send an evite but nothing beats opening the mailbox to find an envelope requesting your presence at an event other than jury duty. I am also a fan of theme parties and if you decide that white is the theme, go all the way by serving white beverages and white food on, you guessed it, white plates. As Mrs. Winston will tell you, successful party is not complete without a lovely parting gift. This year, the focus is going green and Rush Imprint has plenty of green gifts that will support your theme…whatever it is. The Soverna Canvas Tote is a great way to commemorate your event and close out the summer. If you are feeling really fancy, stuff it full of goodies like your favorite white wine, cheese and crackers and other munchies.

Well, I’m off to the post office to inquire about some missing holiday invitations. Until next time, ask yourself this question, “If white is the new black, why can you still see the ketchup stain on my white shirt?”

Tattoo You

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

My daughter, who is a few months shy of her 18th birthday, recently announced her desire to get a tattoo. As someone familiar with branding and four-color imprints, this was a day I dreaded but knew was imminent. As a father, I was appropriately horrified but as a marketer, I found it difficult to argue with her logic that “ink” is an ancient form of branding and she simply wanted to express her unique point of view by imprinting herself in a memorable way. It’s pretty hard to argue with solid logic. Since she is about to become a legal adult, my days of being able to tell her what to do are numbered. So, I did what any parent in my position would do—I offered her a bribe. If she agreed to remain ink free until her 21st birthday, I’d not only give my blessing, I’d pay for the tattoo. I also made her promise not to get a “tramp stamp” (a tattoo placed on the lower back) and asked her to at least consider placing her ink in a place that can be easily hidden just in case she ever decided to go in to politics. Oh, and I promised to give her the Kate Spade purse she had her eye on as a show of good faith.

I’m sure many experts would frown upon bribery as an effective parenting technique but sometimes you’ve just got to be practical and do what works. I’m hoping that she’ll forget all about wanting a tattoo in three years but if not, I’m prepared to up the ante. Which brings me to today’s marketing lesson. When you are considering what kind of gift, tradeshow give away or promotional product to purchase, don’t be afraid to up the ante. Rush Imprint’s products come with one-color imprint, but think about going the extra mile and getting a four-color imprint. Sure it costs a little more, but that extra pop of color goes a long way. Try adding a tag line to your logo for some extra punch or go with a gift with a little more weight like the Covington Bowl, made of 24% lead crystal and crafted by old world artisans; it is the perfect symbol of company pride and will show your clients you mean business.

I’m off to meet my daughter at the mall—it’s time to make good on my promise. Until next time, remember, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.”

Picture Imperfect

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I just heard from my editor that my book is going paperback and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Of course, like a lot of good news, there is a bit of a “but” that came with it. Apparently part of the reason my book took so long to sell enough copies to make it to a second printing is because my book jacket photo isn’t “cool” enough. Unbeknownst to me, the Publishing Company organized a few focus groups and discovered that my picture projected an image that didn’t cause books to fly off the shelves. Some of the comments said that I appeared “stuffy,” snobbish,” “crabby” and “nebbish.” Potential book buyers were turned off by my pipe smoking, disliked the vest I was wearing and said I looked like a grouch. Harrumph! Personally, I don’t see it, but I can’t argue with market research—as much as I’d like to. Mrs. Winston found the whole thing hysterically funny and wasn’t able to look at me without bursting into gales of laughter for a full three days.

My editor made an appointment with an edgy young photographer who promised to make me look as cool and hip as possible—under the circumstances. She has a lot of “interesting” ideas that include shooting in an alley, having me sit in an armchair with a graffiti backdrop and shooting me atop a Harley. I’m not sure how any of these will work but I’m willing to give it a try. Stodgy? Me? I’ll show them.

It just goes to show you that even the most experienced of us have room to expand our horizons. That’s why today’s offering is about expansion. The Northwest Expandable Saddle Bag contains a deluxe organizer for phones, business accessories, and files and a detachable, adjustable shoulder strap. Naturally, it has a place for your company’s logo so whoever receives it will think of you every time they use it.

As my great grandma was fond of saying, “If you ain’t learning, you’re dying.” Eloquent, she was not…but she made her point. Well, I’m off to pose for my new headshot. Wish me luck!

Summer Olypmics

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Every year, the whole Winston family looks forward to watching the drama of the Olympic Games unfold. It’s exciting to watch athletes go for the gold for the first time, or perhaps take their last shot at being the best in the world. Adding to the excitement this year was the assurance of an over the top opening ceremony that promised to deliver high impact drama—and China delivered big time in a four-hour ceremony. We sat down as family, popcorn in hand, to watch the pageantry and were treated to a spectacular performance by over 16,000 performers and a fireworks display that was second to none. I particularly loved the lighting of the Olympic flame by gymnast Li Ning. Let’s face it, summer TV is pretty bleak, so even if you’re not a sports fan, the Olympics offers human drama on a global level. It’s real reality TV with people who actually worked hard for the opportunity.

In the spirit of the Olympiad, now is the perfect time to celebrate the award winners on your team. Fostering a sense of teamwork, belonging and pride in being the best is important in every type of business. Sure your sales teams loves the monetary benefits that come with being a top earner, but being recognized as a leader is often just as important. Everyone from the CFO to the mailroom attendant deserves to be recognized for performance excellence and Rush Imprint has a variety of awards designed to do just that. Whether you have a gala awards ceremony or more of an awards spoof, ala The Office’s famous, “Dundies,” Rush Imprint has what you need to make the night, and award recipient feel special. If you take winning seriously, the Dramatis Award with Lighted Base is the perfect way to recognize a significant achievement, this award features an optically perfect piece of crystal mounted on a lighted base which produces an intriguing array of reflections. The crystal’s facets form elongated diamond shapes making them well suited for etching your company’s logo. If you pride yourself on being a fun boss with a healthy sense of humor, the Hand Clapper is a handy way to give your best employees a hand for their hard work. Either way, you (and you valued employees) win.

Well, I’m off to accept my award for cleaning the garage—Mrs. Winston promised a “special” reward for finishing in under a day and I intend to collect. Until next time, remember, “Winning isn’t everything…except when it is.”

Games People Play

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I sat next to a young gentleman who was on his way home from E3. For those of you not in the gaming industry, E3 is an annual trade show for the computer and video games industry presented by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). It is used by many video game developers to show off their upcoming games and game-related hardware. I’m what they call “old school,” so my idea of a video game is Tetris, Super Mario Brothers and Ms. Pac-Man, and I only had a passing interest in those during a few lonely years in my 20’s. The video games of today exist in a whole new world, literally. Game developers have created virtual worlds in which real people are transformed into imaginary heroes and villains with super human strength and special powers. I am more of a word nerd than a gamer geek, so video games aren’t really my style; but I do like to keep abreast of what’s “new,” so I enjoyed chatting with the sharp young developer with whom I shared the coveted exit row. He was more than happy to educate me about the ins and outs of an industry that changes more often than my wife’s mind. He explained in great detail how games are developed, which game Publisher is top dog (EA), and of course who their market is. He was a developer, not a marketing guy, so I was surprised at his acumen. He was certainly dialed in to branding, as it’s a big part of the gaming game.

Our conversation started me thinking about how marketing is relevant in every industry—every business uses it and is subject to its rules. Every single company in every type of industry from clothing manufacturing to packaged foods to video games must develop a brand and market their product or service. There are no exceptions—at least none that I am aware of. So, even though I get killed off in the first moments of Halo 3 and the kid next to me probably hasn’t read a book about something other than programming in the better part of a decade, we have more in common than not. I just love how marketing brings the world together. So the lesson for today is, “Everyone is a teacher and every product or service has a market.”

In honor of gamers and geeks everywhere, today’s featured item is Magnetic Backgammon packaged in a CD-style jewel case with all playing pieces. Sure, it’s primitive by today’s game standards, but it’s fun and challenging nonetheless. Let your clients enjoy a little light distraction on you. They’ll remember you when it counts—even if they aren’t hardcore gamers.

I’m off to play Guitar Hero with my son. Remember, “Life is the one game you can’t afford to lose.”

Ode to the Lanyard

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I returned from a conference in Atlanta to discover that my wife had thrown out my lanyard collection. Before you begin mentally flogging her for such an obvious and unspeakable transgression, her mistake (though horrific) was not malicious. In fact, it was quite accidental and she felt, and continues to feel, absolutely terrible—not as heartsick as I of course, but at least I know she suffers from the same type of guilt pangs I have felt after more than a few forgotten anniversaries. And yes, I do realize that a forgotten anniversary is not nearly as serious an offense as tossing a treasured collection (that I have been building for the better part of forty years), but she is only human and I will find it in my heart to forgive her…after I wallow in the memories of my mislaid anthology of lanyards.

I had amassed over 472 different lanyards—each one unique and reminiscent of a moment in time that, like my lost lanyards, can never be recaptured. I had all kinds—red, green, rainbow colored, imprinted, knitted, cotton, silk, leather and classic black; lanyards made of 1/8” cord lived side by side with those made of knitted cotton. I had lanyards that lit up, relieved stress and played music. I even had the very first lanyard I ever wore when I, at the tender age of five, attended my very first marketing meeting with my father. It was way too long for my tiny frame and my dad had to tie knots in it to keep it from hanging to my knees. My mother says I wore it for a week straight when I returned and wouldn’t take it off, even for my bath. My favorite was the one Grandpa Winston, God rest his soul, wore at the last meeting he ever attended. It was navy blue and made of 1/2′” thick braided cotton, with a break-away cord—it was spectacular. He gave it to me just before he passed…not only was it a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, it was a symbol of our shared love of marketing. That one lanyard meant more to me than the other 471 in my collection.

So, it is with mixed feelings of pride, longing and reverence that I dedicate this column to the memory of my dear Grandpa Winston, a true marketing genius, and say goodbye to my beloved lanyard collection. May they both rest in peace.

Ride, Winston, Ride

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Last month my family spent a total of $969.45 on…wait for it…gasoline. We aren’t ostentatious—we don’t drive Hummers or giant SUVs; we don’t commute hundreds of miles a day, we observe the speed limit, have our oil changed on a regular basis and make sure our tire pressure is properly maintained. Yet, unbelievably, my wife, daughter and I collectively spend almost the amount of my mortgage payment (I bought at the right time) on fuel for our three, non gas-guzzling automobiles. I work at home, so my driving is limited to business meetings and trips to the airport. Mrs. Winston pulls car pool duty and my daughter commutes to school and two jobs—one of which she holds down just to pay for gas. All in all, we don’t drive a lot yet we, like all Americans, are feeling the pinch.

I am sick and tired of spending more money on gas than I spend on food, entertainment, and clothing combined. That’s why, after doing the math on the Solar Desk Calculator I received at the Sunny Side Up Convention last fall, I decided enough is enough and purchased bikes for the whole Winston clan. Never one to miss a branding opportunity, I had all of our brand new bicycles, safety helmets and bike locks imprinted with, “Team Winston” and my company logo. Not only will we save a bundle on gas while marketing my expanding business, the whole thing is a tax write off. Sometimes I amaze myself with my business acumen. My daughter isn’t overly thrilled about the logo on her bright pink helmet, but she is happy to save her paycheck for more important things like lip gloss and skinny mocha lattes. Mrs. Winston still drives her weekly carpool shift but she has taken a real shine to two-wheeling, and I’ve lost 7.2 pounds! Not only am I saving money while promoting Winston Enterprises, I’m getting exercise and getting into shaped in the process.

The lesson today is simple—if you put your mind to it, you can turn any situation, good or bad, into a marketing opportunity. Like I always say, “ABP…Always Be Promoting.” It may not be original, but it works. Well, I’m off to train for the Century Ride—sure, it’s a physical challenge but it’s also 100 miles of pure promotion!

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.”