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.

Another Year, Another Dollar More

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I look forward to Labor Day weekend every year for one reason—and it’s not because Labor Day is considered a “day of rest,” or because the kids go back to school the next day, although I suspect that is the reason my wife looks forward to it. Nope, I clear my schedule every Labor Day weekend in order to watch 21-1/2 hours of pure programming genius know as “The Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon.” I love a good variety show and this one is the grand daddy of them all, plus who doesn’t want to help Jerry’s kids? I love all the co-hosts—Ed McMahon, the lovable sidekick, Tom Bergeron, who is woefully underutilized on “Dancing with the Stars,” and former Olympic medalist Nadia Comaneci, who my wife tells me was her idol as a teenager, to name just a few. This year’s line up of entertainment is nothing short of spectacular—Celine Dion, who I have been forced to see perform in concert on three separate occasions, John Tesh, who is underappreciated as a singer and, according to the official website, “much, much, much more.” I can only imagine the entertainment riches that await me!
But, of course, the real reason I tune in every year is for the man himself. Like the French, I can’t get enough of Jerry Lewis. Not only is he a talented actor, major movie star and a brilliant comic, but he has a huge heart. The man is a legend and I, for one, can’t wait to see him back on the small screen, doing what he does best…raking in the dough. Like him or not, we can all learn a thing or two from the original Nutty Professor. He understands the marketing business better than most and has raised two billion dollars since 1966 by setting achievable goals with a hook. The goal this year, as it is every year, is to raise one more dollar than the previous year. This year, that number is 61 million, and I have no doubt, the King of Comedy will get there. To help him out, I am sending the entire staff and production team a Treasure Chest With Stock Coins filled with silver wrapped chocolate coins, imprinted with the MDA logo and a note that says, “One More Dollar.” It’s my way of helping the cause.
Well, I’ve got to go stock up on Red Bull and Kleenex. I don’t want to miss a heart- warming minute of the show. It was the great man himself who said, “People hate me because I am a multifaceted, talented, wealthy, internationally famous genius.” I don’t know about other people, but I just wish there were two of him.

Date Night

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

My wife recently decreed that, in the Winston household, Saturday night is now officially, “date night.” My daughter was thrilled, until she realized date night was for Mom and Dad, and that she’d be required to pull babysitting duty so her parents could reignite the romantic flame that had recently begun to sputter out. Her objections were met with a firm reminder that driving is a privilege, not a right, and besides, she would get paid to watch her two younger brothers play video games. The new decree also mandated that I plan our first date, so I set out to create a romantic evening that my wife would not soon forget. Since my beloved let me know, in no uncertain terms, that the usual dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant wasn’t going to cut it, I locked myself in my office for a serious brainstorming session.
After a couple of hours of wracking my brain and coming up empty (that happens more often than I’d care to admit), I turned to the worldwide web for a little inspiration. Ironically, the best idea turned out to be dinner and a movie—with a twist. Instead of heading to our local Cineplex to catch the latest blockbuster, the Mrs. and I will be taking a trip back in time. I am putting together a romantic picnic dinner, complete with wine, candles and lobster ravioli from our favorite Italian restaurant, packing it up in my New Connections Rolling Collapsible Cooler, loading it into the trunk and heading to the Hollywood Cemetery for a moonlight picnic. Now, before you jump to the conclusion that my wife and I are in to some weird activities, I should tell you that the Hollywood Cemetery plays host to weekly screenings of classic films. It’s a popular activity with local hipsters and even though my wife and I are closer to being broken hipsters, I think it will be a fun evening.
As a bonus, I came up with a brilliant marketing idea for branded headstones so I can write the tickets off as a business expense. Remember, a good idea doesn’t have to be expensive—creativity counts in business, as much as it does in romance. Until next time, I leave you with a quote by my wife’s favorite director, Alfred Hitchcock. “A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theatre admission and the babysitter were worth it.”


Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

My Pilates instructor told me that my job, which causes me to lug around a laptop, was compressing my spine. And, if I didn’t make some changes soon, I’d find myself competing with the Hunchback of Notre Dame for the “worst posture” award. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Pilates is a form if exercise that works the core muscles and was initially created for dancers. Now, I’m no twinkle toes, but I like to stay fit so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I was pretty skeptical when I showed up at the studio for my first session and saw what appeared to be a semi ancient torture bed with pulleys and springs. As it happens, Pilates does feel a bit torturous but the beds are actually called reformers and are remarkably effective. Even though my twice-weekly Pilates sessions are whittling my waistline, hunching over a keyboard to write my blog and new book (look for it next year) and traveling was playing havoc on my spine. Like most frequent fliers, I travel with a laptop bag and the weight on my shoulders is pulling my body out of whack. A consultation with my chiropractor (I’m a big believers in second opinions) told me that shoulder bags are posture killers. Nothing throws a back out of alignment like a heavy laptop.

Fortunately, the cure is relatively simple. Switching to a backpack distributes the weight of a heavy computer and the MicroTek Vertical Compu-Pack has all the features found in a standard laptop bag, with backpack portability and comfort. It includes a deluxe organizer, quick-release snaps, and an adjustable and removable shoulder strap. If you prefer something a little more rugged, try the High Sierra Compu-Case with Backpack Straps. The large main area includes a removable, padded computer case with accessory pockets to hold power cords and other items. It also includes a deluxe organizer section and gusseted file folder. Both items have plenty of room for your company logo, making it the perfect gift to show loyal employees you care about their health.

Well, I’m late for an appointment with my manicurist—she’s a genius at curing hangnails. Until next time, remember, “A strong back beats a strong cup of coffee any day.” Just ask my Uncle Joe “ Humpback” Holson.

In the News

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Sometimes the best way to grab the attention of a prospect or valued client is to be topical. Nothing impresses prospective clients like a vendor who has their finger on the pulse. The imminent cell phone ban in California is making the news of late. The bill was signed into law by the Govenator last year and doesn’t go into effect until July of 2008, but companies are gearing up now. It’s the talk of the town in Los Angeles—probably because it’s a rarity to see a car on the road that doesn’t contain at least one person engaged in an “important” conversation. I sat at a light for ten minutes yesterday because some yahoo in a Lexus was so busy yapping on his cell phone that he didn’t know the light had changed—three times. I am just as guilty of drive talk as the next person, a side effect of living in a city where one spends half of one’s day in the car. Of course, I always go hands-free and keep my hands firmly planted at ten and two; but there are plenty of folks out there who still use a handset, which is not only dangerous, but hopelessly out of fashion.

Since the impending handset ban is all over the news, and on everyone’s mind, get a jump on the competition and create a gift that is memorable and “of the moment.” A Hands-Free Phone Headset is the perfect gift, at the perfect time. This one features a retractable cord with an earphone and microphone that extends to two feet. Be sure to add your company’s logo so the lucky recipients of your generosity will remember who saved them twenty bucks on a cell phone ticket.

Well, I’m off to pick up my son from summer camp. Apparently, he caught a bad case of poison oak and they are afraid he’ll infect the rest of the campers. So much for date night.
Until next time, remember, “Timing is important but a great gift is everything.”