Cupid’s Away

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

As a marketing man, I thoroughly appreciate the concept of Valentine’s Day even if, as a husband it makes me sweat. There is no doubt Cupid’s Day offers a big boost to flower, chocolate and lingerie sales just to name a few. Truth be told, all you need to do is add the words, “Be My Valentine” to anything and boom, you’ve created the perfect V-day gift. Even if you haven’t been personally struck by Cupid’s arrow, you have to admit that February 14th is a marketing bonanza.

It’s an accepted marketing principal that if you can’t find a niche or hole in the market place that allows you and your product to jump on the bandwagon, then make like a salmon and swim upstream. The Anti-Valentine’s Day movement was born out of just that principal. You only have to browse online to find a plethora of singles events, bar parties and less than romantic gifts celebrating the act of not celebrating Valentine’s Day.

I can’t take credit for the trend but as a promotional expert, I sure know how to capitalize on a smart idea. So, in honor escaping an arrow to the heart, today’s offering is for those who would rather not (be mine). Give your not quite boyfriend a personalized bottle of Hand Sanitizer; it says I like you, not your germs. A Boundry Duffel says ‘you can’t have a drawer but this bag will hold hold all your stuff and has a large end pocket, zippered shoe pocket and even a water bottle pocket.’ Sometimes, it’s all in the name.

Well, I’m off to the jeweler’s because the truth is; I’m a romantic at heart. Remember the wise words of my great Aunt Rose, “No one acts more foolishly than a wise man in love.”

A Stitch In Time

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I spent most of last night in the emergency room with my youngest son. As anyone raising boys can attest to, it’s dangerous business. This latest trip was the result of little Al’s decision to climb to the top of the jungle gym to see if his Superman cape worked. It didn’t. Fortunately he escaped without any broken bones and ended up with a few stitches and a bruised ego. Al is a tough little guy; he didn’t cry once. We would have been out of the ER and home in no time but I fainted upon seeing my youngest son stitched up by a doctor that made Doogie Howser look like a retiree.

In honor of Al and his six stitches, today’s featured product is a Sewing Kit In Clear Top Plastic Box. It’s a handy little sewing kit that is perfect for travel, purses, brief cases and the home. Your customers will carry your logo in style with this practical but appreciated incentive, reminding them that you care about good grooming and style. When you personalize the kit with your company logo and add inspired messaging, you will have a promotional item that showcases your company’s blend of practical creativity. It’s a winning combination that will have all your accounts sewn up.

I’m off to read Al a bedtime story that does not include flying superheroes. Remember, a stitch in time saves nine but if your kid needs stitches, you’d better sit down.

The Race is On

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

As serious movie fans are aware, Oscar nominations were announced last week. It seems that the popular film, “Dreamgirls” didn’t received a nomination but two of it’s stars did. If you believe the press, Jennifer Hudson has the Best Supporting Actress statuette locked up. Everyone’s favorite dream girl has officially made it, proving that America loves a good underdog story. My nephew Wendell said it best, “The girl’s got chops, pipes and plenty of curves to go around.” Come to think of it, Wendell isn’t really all that eloquent but at least he’s enthusiastic. Jennifer’s co-star is Eddie Murphy and to everyone’s surprise, he’s the favorite to win Best Supporting Actor. Who knew the Nutty Professor could act?

Not everyone has the Oscar sewn up however and that means there is a lot of nail biting, knuckle cracking and hand wringing in Tinseltown. The stars are stressed out and we have all read reports of what happens when celebrities are under pressure. Just ask Russell Crow. To insure the safety of hotel employees and regular people everywhere, I suggest that the Academy send Star Stress Relievers to all the nominees. That way everyone will feel appreciated. Plus, it’s a fun way to calm frazzled Oscar nerves while reminding everyone, ‘it is an honor just to be nominated.” In fact, that would make a great inscription.

Well, I’m off to book my ticket for New York. The “Meet the Oscars, New York” exhibit opens in February and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to pose for a photo with Clark Gable’s Oscar. I think Shirley Jones summed up the experience of winning an Academy Award best, “After I won the Oscar, my salary doubled, my friends tripled, my children became more popular at school, my butcher made a pass at me, and my maid hit me up for a raise.”

Sweet Smell of Success

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I have a strict personal policy to always, without exception, accept any breath mint that is offered to me at any time. You never know if the offer is an act of politeness or a not so subtle hint and as a marketing man, I can’t afford to be caught with breath that is less than fresh. Talking is my game and if my audience catches a whiff of foul odor, I’ll never be able to deliver my message.

Halitosis or oral malodor, as it is known in scientific circles, can usually be taken care of with a swish of mouthwash or a quick brushing session. Unfortunately breath offenders don’t always know they are guilty since familiarity breeds, well familiarity. One option is to enlist a spouse or trusted friend to perform a breath test but in serious cases this could lead to divorce or demotion to a phone friend so I don’t recommend it. I read somewhere that you can test your own breath for freshness by licking the inside of your wrist, waiting for the saliva to dry and then smelling your wrist. Since it’s not always possible to lick yourself in public, perform this one at your own risk. This is why I strictly adhere to the aforementioned policy.

Let’s face it we, as a nation, are obsessed with fresh breath. All it takes is a trip to the grocery store to see how many different types of breath mints, gum and mouthwash are on display. One of the hottest forms of breath control on the market today are breath strips, making them the perfect promotional item to put your name on. They are fun to use, compact and come in two flavors. It’s the one give away no one in his or her right mind will turn down.

I’m off to the dentist for my semi- annual cleaning because I don’t want to ever hear The Donald say, “Do you mind if I sit back a little? Because your breath is very bad.” Ouch.

The “C” Word

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I was supposed to attend the Houston Chatchkis and Collectibles Association’s (HCCA) Annual Meeting where I heard that a promotional product dating back to 100 A.D. would be on display. Unfortunately my new assistant got a little confused and booked me a ticket to the HCCA Compliance Academy in San Francisco. As some of you may know, HCCA also stands for Health Care Compliance Association and while I appreciate the important work they do there, I was fairly certain they would not have any ancient collectibles on display. Since my ticket was non-refundable, I decided to make the best of it and sit in on a few of the seminars. By the fifth breakout session, I had had my fill of the C word and decided to take a break and check out the city. I took the ferry to Alcatraz and toured the jail. It was pretty interesting and, not surprisingly, gave me a few marketing ideas.

As I headed back to the hotel to learn more about Healthcare Compliance, and take advantage of the free buffet, I got to thinking about how being compliant in business practices affects marketing. For a many of you, especially in the healthcare industry, the “C” word is a big deal and creates some challenges. Every company (and industry) has different policies and procedures in place to protect its employees and shareholders from getting fined by the Man for being non-compliant. It turns out that, at least in the healthcare industry, giving expensive gifts to healthcare professionals is a big no-no. I tried to institute the same policy in my household but it got voted down. So, how do you market your company’s products and services and stay at the forefront of your potential customer’s mind without breaking the rules?

Most policies allow for gifts that are “office related” as long as they are not big-ticket items like computers or fancy office chairs. This is actually a great rule since it not only ultimately protects patients, but also means you can be an effective marketer without spending a lot of dough. One gift that is sure to be used everyday is our Memo Holder Magnetic Paper Clip Dispenser. It’s a two-in-one, compliant gift* that shows your customers how much you care about their daily clipping needs.

Even though I didn’t get to see the world’s oldest branded drinking cup, I did learn a lot about a tough subject (and gained five pounds eating nothing but hotel buffets for three days straight) so my unintended trip turned out to be worthwhile. As my great-grandma used to say, “when life gives you lemons, make lemon meringue pie.” She was a smart lady and had a way with piecrust.

*Check your company’s policy to be sure.

Clean Up

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

My wife caught me looking at dirty pictures on my computer yesterday. Literally. Since I get most of my news, weather and sports from the Internet, a dusty monitor can cause quite a problem. Mine had developed such a thick coat of dust, I was sure California was suffering a massive snowstorm or at the very least, the smog problem was out of control. Fortunately, my wife is a bit of a clean freak and she had the perfect remedy for my dust problem. A couple a swipes with a Monitor Brush and even I could tell the difference between the best and worst dressed celebrities at the Golden Globes, sort of. Which got me thinking about what a great marketing opportunity these handy little brushes provide. Almost everyone I know is computer obsessed and even the most fastidious neat nicks can’t avoid the wily dust mote, so adding your logo to the brush creates a great giveaway for clients who like a clean screen.

While surfing the web on my newly dust free computer today, I learned all sorts of interesting things. For instance, Naomi Campbell pled guilty to “accidentally” lobbing a cell phone that hit her maid in the back of the head. Fortunately the phone was under warranty so Naomi received a free replacement. I also discovered an interesting bit about a male panda in Thailand who is too fat to have sex so his caregivers put him on a strict all ‘bamboo leaf’ diet. The shoots are strictly off limits. It worked for Nicole Ritchie so the zookeepers are hopeful their fat panda will trim down so he can mate. That story gave me a great idea for an innovative branding idea. I can’t talk about it now as I’m waiting for patent approval but check back soon for all the details.

Well, I’m headed to Thailand to meet with a man about a panda and an idea that will send shockwaves through the zoological community. In the meantime remember what my brother always says, “cleanliness may be next to godliness but dirty is a lot more fun.”

Sports Fan

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I’m not a huge sports fan, unless you count the World Series of Scrabble or the Boggle Cup. Don’t get me wrong, I catch the big events but, as you can probably guess, I am more interested in the marketing opportunities than the actual games. What can I say; I’m a promotional maniac. I even have a few sports celebrities as clients. I can’t go in to detail but whom do you think advised Kobe to buy his wife a gigantic rock? He was going to buy her a home theater system until I intervened. Thanks to my marketing acumen, and my wife’s unsolicited advice, the Lakers have their star player, Mrs. Bryant has a beautiful ring and Kobe didn’t have to give away half his assets.

Sports figures get a lot of mileage out of promotional items– bobble heads, t-shirts, hats ––they are part of the game, and the gain. Football season is winding down but you still have time to take advantage of the season. One surefire way to stay in your customer’s hands is to wrap yourself around an ice-cold beverage. A Football Can Holder is a fun, festive way to grab the attention of any sports nut. Every time they take a sip, you’ll be right there, quenching their thirst. You can be a football hero without breaking a sweat, or getting up from your chair.

Bill Shankly famously said, “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much, much more important than that.” Of course he was talking about soccer so I’m not sure he can be taken seriously. I’m off to play catch with my son. His coach says he’s got a good arm and if his team makes the playoffs, there’s going to be a bidding war between Florence’s Fish Fry House and Dorrie’s Donuts to sponsor the team. Now that’s exciting.

Little Mind Games

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

My grandfather’s best friend and business partner is a little person. He doesn’t suffer from dwarfism; he’s just remarkably short and very slight. Even with the lifts and cowboy boots he always wears, Marty is 4’11” and doesn’t weigh more than a buck. He’s 94 years old now and although he’s retired from the marketing game, he is still an inspiration. He was a great marketing man in his day and I think a big part of the reason for his success was his short stature. He had to work harder than most to sell himself– to potential employers, clients, business partners and women. As a testament to his selling skills, his wife was a full seven inches taller and outweighed him by forty pounds but she always said he made her feel like a delicate flower. Anyone who has ever given or received jewelry as gift knows the saying, “good things come in small packages.” That was Marty. He not only had a way with words, he understood that you didn’t have to be tall to stand out in a crowd; you just had to outthink the other guy.

Marty taught me that one way to capture attention is to go against the grain. The phrase “opposites attract” applies to romantic relationships but also works very well in business. If everyone is shouting, try whispering. If everyone in your business is competing to be big: the next big thing, having the big idea or hitting the big time, do the opposite and go small.

A great way to convey a big message in a small way is the Micro Rubik’s Cube Key Holder. Everyone has keys and most people have plenty of time to fiddle with them while they wait in line—at the post office, bank or to buy lotto tickets. A classic mind game with your company’s imprint keeps boredom at bay while delivering your company’s message in a fun, creative way. Sometimes in business, as in life, it really is the little things.

I’ll never forget Marty’s advice to me on my wedding day, “Never try to guess your wife’s size. Just buy her anything marked `petite’ and hold on to the receipt.” Yep, old Marty always had a way with words.

The Winner Is…

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

It’s January and you know what that means, it’s “Awards Show” season. You can hardly channel surf without landing smack dab in the middle of an acceptance speech. First up are the Golden Globes, where somebody is likely to get sloshed before their acceptance speech; then the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards where actors give awards to other actors; and the granddaddy of them all, The Oscars. If you live in Los Angeles, you run the constant risk of red carpet related traffic jams.

Awards Show season is one of the busiest times of year for me. Not only do I design promotional items for the gift bags the presenters receive, I am literally besieged with requests from celebrities looking for “gifts” to send out at voting time. Now I can’t name names, but I can tell you that I heard from a very reliable source that Meryl Streep sent out hundreds of Prada gift certificates to key members of the Hollywood Foreign Press. Rumor has it that Kate Winslet sent out 1000 custom coffee mugs, featuring pictures of her own children that said “Kate deserves an Oscar. Do it for her little children.” Talk about hitting them over the head, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get your message across. I’m not saying Leo should send diamonds to the voters but some nice cubic zirconias might be the promotional item that puts him over the top.

All the celebrity back slapping and self congratulatory speeches that are an integral part of most awards shows can be a bit much at times but, you have to admit, receiving an award for a job well done feels pretty darn good. Everyone likes to be recognized for excellence in the workplace. You can give your employees the red carpet treatment with a Reflections Award that beautifully recognizes their hard work. Your event doesn’t have to be televised to make an impact; you just need to give out and award with a unique, eye-catching design and optically perfect crystal to show your appreciation for a job well done.

Clint Eastwood once said, “There’s a lot of great movies that have won the Academy Award, and a lot of great movies that haven’t. You just do the best you can.” He also said, “Go ahead, make my day,” so I tend to think he makes a lot of sense. I’m off to the cleaners to pick up my tux. Turns out Leo liked my idea about the cubic zirconias and those “in the know” say he’s a lock, so he invited me to sit at his table during the Golden Globes. Look for me; I’ll be the one wearing a “Marketing Guru to the Stars” button on my left lapel.

Career Day

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

As I nervously prepared for career day at my youngest son’s school, knotting my tie at least a dozen times, I suddenly remembered what my father used to tell himself before an important speech, “Never let em see you sweat.” He’d look in the mirror and repeat those words, over and over and as my anxiety level rose, I did the same. I dabbed my brow and cranked up the A/C and then it was my mother’s voice in my head, her side of the family is pretty loud, saying, “Never let em see you shiver.” Winston family lore has it my parents dueling sayings got their start on a cross country drive to the first ever Tradeshow Trinkets Convention in Wichita. I tend to believe it since my wife and I have the same temperature argument every time we get in the car. It usually ends with me barking at her to wear a sweater and her yelling at me to stick my head out the window but that’s another story altogether.

The point is, I was about to speak to a room full of 5 1/2 year olds. Would they be able to grasp the intricacies of effective marketing techniques? How would I explain the importance of discovering one’s Unique Selling Position? Beads of perspiration popped out on my forehead and my teeth began to chatter. It was worse than I thought.

Apparently I worked myself into lather because my son came into the room and shook me back to reality. He looked up at me with his big brown eyes and said the magic words. “Don’t worry Dad, just give them a bunch of stuff.” Of course! Why was I worried about talking about the nuances of branding when I had so much to show them?

I took off my tie, pulled on my vintage Mr. Bubble T-shirt and loaded up my Wenger 18” Duffle with a few of my favorite promotional items. The kids will really get a charge out of the Dimensions Jr. Writing Pad. It comes with a pen so they can take notes on my speech. If that doesn’t wow them, I’ve got loads of Chocolate Coins and a killer magic trick. Little Al is a genius. He thinks so too and is forever quoting from The Little Prince. “Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”

Well, I’m off to class. Miss Graves hates when parents are late for career day and I don’t want to be sent home with a note.