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, “” 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.”

Riding the Rails

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

A few weekends ago, the kids and I took the train down to San Diego to spend some time checking out the amusements and give Mrs. Winston some much-needed peace and quiet. Truth be told, my wife gave us the tickets as a “present,” but I suspect she just wanted us out of the house so she could catch up on her sleep and spend some time with her book club. I can’t blame her really; with the kids being home all summer and me being away on speaking engagements, she’s really had her hands full.

Besides, I rather liked the idea of riding the rails and imagined taking a leisurely stroll to the dining car and breakfasting on eggs benedict and sipping espresso while catching up on the sports page and silently mocking the poor fools stuck in traffic. So, it was with great excitement and enthusiasm that the kids and I boarded the Surfliner 768 to head down south for a nice relaxing weekend. After we settled in to the crowded train, I made my way to the “hospitality” car and was dismayed to discover it was little more than a rolling snack bar, emphasis on “bar.” The line snaked all the way upstairs and into the next car and was populated by frat boys and Bloody Mary seeking racing fans, and the closest thing they had to eggs benedict was an egg and cheese sandwich in a vacuum sealed plastic bag. Dejected, dismayed and more than a little hungry, I reluctantly headed back to tell my kids the bad news. I hoped they’d be able make it three hours without sustenance since all I had on me was a half full Pop Top Tin With Mini Mints that I’d picked up at a Glaucoma Convention in Boise.

When I reached our seats, prepared to break the news to my starving children, I was surprised to find them happily munching on fried egg sandwiches, fresh fruit and sipping what appeared to be fresh squeezed orange juice. It seems Mrs. Winston didn’t entertain the same romantic notions about train travel that I did and wisely (and thoughtfully) packed each of us a lovely breakfast in individual, easy to carry Transit II Lunch Box Coolers. She even thought to include utensils, napkins and condiments in the exterior pocket. Needless to say I was relieved and elated as I dug into my breakfast and promptly sent my lovely wife a “thank you” text to her iphone.

The lesson here is clear, “Sometimes it is the journey, not the destination—but if you take the train, pack a lunch.” Oh, and the coolers make great summer giveaways too—they are not only sharp looking (black trim with a red, royal or yellow body), but collapsible for easy storage. Simply add your logo, throw in a goody or two for good measure, and you have the perfect way to say, “We appreciate your loyalty.”

I’m headed to Monterey for The Quail Motorsports Gathering to test drive some of the new specialty cars. This time, I’m taking a plane; at least they have tiny pretzels and complimentary beverages.

Record Holder

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Last Tuesday, August 7th, Barry Bonds made history by breaking Hank Aaron’s record for most career home runs—756. Unfortunately for him, and maybe for baseball, his achievement is steeped in controversy, albeit of his own making. The commissioner himself all but said it doesn’t count since he allegedly had the kind of help that can only be found in a syringe. The controversy, and the negative publicity that accompanies it, has succeeded in shedding more (favorable) light on the man who broke the Babe’s record over thirty yeas ago, Mr. Hank Aaron. Not that he cares; Aaron was never one to seek out the limelight. He was a class act, all the way. I never had a chance to see him play in person but I did meet him at a Baseball Trading Card Convention not long ago. I tried to sell him on the idea of a line of Hank Aaron soaps in cross promotion with Sponge Bob Squarepants but he wasn’t interested.

Anyway, all the tension surrounding Barry Bonds’ imminent record reminded me of the time I was 1st runner up in my 5th Grade Spelling Bee. Mary Louise LaPointe and I were the last two standing and our head to head battle lasted nearly seven hours. By the time it was over, the whole school, and most of the neighborhood, was crowded into our school’s auditorium. You could cut the tension with a knife. In the end, it all came down to one word—impecunious, which means “poor or impoverished.” I was tired and had a bit of a stutter that flared up during times of stress and/or exhaustion, so I inadvertently added an extra “p” and the title went to Mary Louise. I was defending champion, having won three years in a row and there were many present that day who thought her win was tainted…much like Bonds breaking Aaron’s long held record.

As much as it pained me, I shook Mary Louise’s sweaty hand and smiled as I offered her my congratulations and I’m sure Mr. Aaron will do the same when the time comes. Still, I imagine it will be a tense moment. To help east the tension, I am sending over Sonic Rocks from Rush Imprint. They have the ability to emit a wide array of sounds, which make these “rocks” the perfect diversion. Naturally there is plenty of room for a logo or promotional message on the handy storage tin. If the rocks don’t help ease the pressure, maybe the sounds they make will help drown out the booing when Barry breaks the record once and for all.

Well, I’m off to the races…literally. It’s hat day and I have been waiting for the opportunity to break out my vintage Jimmy Dean Sausage cowboy hat. Until next time, remember, “Breaking a record is a great thing but creating one makes you a legend.”

Starlets in Stripes

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

If you own a television set, then you are probably aware of the recent trend of young actresses doing their best to land themselves in the slammer—the clink, the big house, the pen, lockup, hoosegow, the brig, otherwise know as…jail. I am referring of course to Paris, Lindsay and now Nicole Ritchie—who may end up being a jailbird with a bun in the oven. Personally, I think the whole thing may be an elaborate, albeit dangerous, publicity stunt to drum up interest for a new “women behind bars” movie that has been making the rounds in Hollywood. Word on the street is that Lilo is gunning to play the part of a young woman from the wrong side of the tracks who is wrongly imprisoned when she is forced to take the fall for her part in a bank robbery gone bad; and her recent antics are an attempt to learn what it’s like in jail—for real. Talk about suffering for your art.

Of course Paris, being the uber publicity hound that she is, got wind of Lindsay’s plan and beat her to the punch. Nicole, not being one to be left behind, did her celeb friends one better and upped the ante. Let’s face it, these girls aren’t as stupid as they pretend to be—they’ve got more game than Kobe Bryant, Shaq and Michael Jordon put together. Too bad they will probably be playing their game behind cinderblock and barbed wire. Of course, Nicole and Lindsay have not yet been sentenced, but given the stiff penalty Ms. Hilton received, it’s pretty clear which way the wind is blowing.

Paris, being the kind hearted, thoughtful friend that she is, is sending each of her future inmate friends custom made “slammer survival kits” to help them get through the long days and nights. Each Zip Close Bag contains a Slim Book Light that is small enough to take anywhere (like a cell) and has three LED lights that brightly illuminate any surface without waking one’s cellmate. Also included: the latest “Harry Potter” to help pass the time, 10 -1 oz. Chocolate Bars in Wrappers for bartering with fellow inmates, and a First Aid Kit In a Plastic Box fully stocked with four standard sized bandages, two antiseptic wipes and non-aspirin because, well, it is prison and you just never know. Naturally, all the items are imprinted with a Warhol-esque image of Paris with an inspirational message: Jail is so not hot…but you are. To prove that she is a woman “of the people,” Paris also sent five hundred of her custom kits to Lynwood Prison as a “thank you” to her former inmates. Not only is the hotel heiress smart, she’s a masterful marketer and for that, I applaud her.

Well, I’ve got to go prepare for my trip to the Wilmington Residential Facility for Women. Don’t worry, I’m not in any trouble, I’m going to teach a marketing class for inmates as a part of a rehabilitation program that prepares future ex-cons for the real world. Remember, “Before you can break out of prison, you must first realize you’re locked up.”