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.”

Chip Off the Old Block

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I entered my teenage son’s room last night to a disturbing sight. I suppose I knew it would happen sooner or later, but it startled me nonetheless. It’s just not the type of thing a parent wants to catch their precious child doing, no matter how normal we know it is. He didn’t hear me open the door because he was busy chucking darts at a custom made dartboard featuring an 8X10 of yours truly. My nose was right where the bull’s eye should be and he had just landed a dart square in the middle of my honker. It seems he was taking out his frustration at his recent grounding on my promotional photo.

I couldn’t blame him really—I’m sure my own father didn’t appreciate the punching bag I made using his old book jacket photo when I was angry about losing my driving privileges over an unfortunate run in I had with our garage door when I was sixteen. It’s a right of passage I suppose and I, like my father before me, chose to focus on the positive. My dad wasn’t thrilled about being part of a punching bag but he did appreciate my attention to detail and was happy that I had at least branded the bag. In much the same way, I decided to look the other way when I discovered an image of myself being used for target practice. Hey, at least he used a flattering picture and took the time to make it personal.

When his grounding was over, I gave my boy a new Magnetic Dart Board Game imprinted with a photo of us on a recent fishing trip and the words, “Chip Off the Old Block.” He sheepishly thanked me and we patched up our differences over a nice safe round of darts. He beat me five games out of ten. Yep, he’s a real chip off the old block.

It reminds me of what Mark Twain said in Old Times on the Mississippi, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

Roasted – Promotional Beer Mug

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

From time to time, my marginal Internet celebrity status affords me the opportunity to attend fun, Hollywood-type events. Recently, I was invited to the Comedy Central Roast of former rapper and current reality star, Flavor Flav. For those of you not familiar with Mr. Flav’s particular brand of entertainment, I strongly recommend you set your TiVo to record his highly watchable (think train wreck) television program, Flavor of Love, a show in which the hero attempts to meet his soul mate by “dating” twenty different “ladies” who vie for his attention by wearing too small tops and slapping, kicking and spitting on each other.

Since I was a fan of his craziness, I was looking forward to what promised to be an entertaining evening. Flav didn’t disappoint. He was joined on the dais by the likes of Jimmy Kimmel, Ice-T, Snoop Dogg and Carrot Top, a motley crew to be sure. The jokes and insults poured forth like gin and juice on a hot day, and a great time was had by all. I enjoyed the show, but was dismayed to discover that there were to be no gift bags given out to attendees after the event. Regular readers know that I attend most events for the sole purpose of nabbing free, branded merchandise. I was hoping for a Law & Order: SVU T-shirt or Jimmy Kimmel Live! Coaster set—at the very least. Alas, it was not to be.

I heard that the roasters all received Giant Pilsners that said, “I roasted Flavor Flav and I all I got was this beer glass. Yeah, boy!” It’s a huge glass, 23 ounces, with plenty of space for a long message and is a clever, inexpensive commemorative gift. Sometimes the gift is not the thing you want to spend money on, especially if there is an after party to throw. Since, I didn’t get one anyway, I was glad the network decided to spend their promotional dollars on pulled pork sandwiches and red velvet cupcakes.

I’ve got to go and practice my routine. Watching all those comedians was inspiring and I’ve got a set down at Koco’s Koffee Klatch in an hour. Remember, “laughter is the best medicine and you don’t need a prescription.”

Welcome to My Nightmare

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Last night I had a dream, a nightmare actually, that I had somehow, inexplicably, killed someone. The dream began with me in the shower, frantically trying to wash away the evidence of my apparent crime with a Pep Boys Body Brush. As I scrubbed, I remembered a recent episode of CSI: Miami where the team was able to convict someone after finding evidence in the drain. Realizing my mistake, I hopped out of the shower to find myself magically dry and wearing a black suit with a pink shirt, sporting dark sunglasses and red hair. It was worse than I thought; I had turned into David Caruso! I opened my mouth to scream but all that issued forth was a steady stream of bad one-liners that I repeated over and over, while uncontrollably taking my sunglasses on and off.

I woke up drenched in sweat, to the sound of loud banging on my front door—this was it! They had found me. The knocking on the front door was getting louder so I jumped out of bed to face the music. As it turns out, it was the UPS delivery person with my copy of the final Harry Potter. I tried to explain my sweat soaked pajamas and wild-eyed expression to Ms. UPS but she wasn’t in the listening mood and left in a hurry, mumbling something about having a lot of books to deliver. I think I heard her scream a little as she broke into a run.

Needless to say, it was a distressing way to start the day but at least I leaned a valuable lesson: no more crime shows before bed. My anxiety was finally calmed when my eyes fell upon my newly acquired Anxious Mood Dude Stress Reliever. It’s pretty funny looking, and brought an immediate, much needed, smile to my face. A few squeezes of his misshapen head and I was as good as new.

Well, Harry and the gang are waiting—I can’t wait to see what those little wizards are up to this time. I’ll leave you with the words of my favorite worst actor on television, “The verdict is in (beat, beat, beat) Frank…but the jury is out.” I don’t know what it means but it sounds important.

Wedding Season

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

After receiving my fourth wedding invitation last week, it hit me—it’s wedding season. Like most people, I incorrectly assumed that June was the most popular month for couples to take the plunge, but a quick online search told me I was dead wrong. Okay, truth be told, it was the People Magazine Real People Wedding Issue…but only because I had a dentist appointment and there was nothing else to read. The fact is, more people get married in July than in any other month. This year, 7/7/07 was a particularly popular date to do the deed. I also learned some other interesting wedding a facts that I’d like to share. Did you know that America has approximately 2.6 million wedding every year? That’s not too surprising considering the rate at which your average celebrity ties and unties the knot. I also discovered that Americans spend $60 billion per year on weddings—and that doesn’t include the honeymoon! There is no doubt, weddings are big business and so is the business of wedding gift giving.

Mrs. Winston and I have a standard gift we give to the newly married. The Laguiole 2-piece Carving Set; it’s an attractive carving set that includes a 12” utility knife and 5.5” carving fork, in a beautiful wood-grain storage case. The key is the imprint: “As you carve out your new life together…” It’s thoughtful, practical and usually brings tears to the bride’s eyes. It’s a remarkably cost effective gift with a personal touch. Hey, nobody needs to know I buy in bulk. Of course, there are times when you are pressured to spend a little more. I happened to get a peek at The Trump’s Wedding Registry, which included the Ophos Vase. At over nine hundred bucks, it’s not a gift you want to give to everyone but there are those for whom it pays to spare no expense. For everyone else, there is the Traditions Vase, gorgeous but with a more reasonable price tag. I heard that Teri Hatcher bought matching vases for Eva Longoria and Tony Parker.

Well, I’ve got to go pick up my tux from the tailor. All the dieting and exercise has paid off and I actually had to have mine taken in. Now, that’s a reason to celebrate. As my mother-in-law said on my wedding day, “The wedding is easy, it’s the husband that’s difficult.” She’s a peach!

Smarty Pants

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

From time to time I find it educational to reach into the mailbag and share letters form fellow readers. I received this little gem last week—via Sidekick.

Dear Virgil,

I heard about you threw (sic) my grandfather. He said you came up with the idea to imprint little soaps with his hotel logo back in olden times. Anyway, due to some unfortunate legal troubles and some bad press (no such thing), I recently spent some time incarcerated. Although the clothes were itchy and the food was terrible, I met some nice people and learned a valuable lesson. Mainly I learned that, done the right way, jail can be a great publicity tool. A lot of people think I am just a dumb, fame-seeking celebutante and that was fine…for a while. Now that I am a real actress and have spent time in the slammer, I am looking for a hot way to change my image to a smart, fame-seeking serious actress. Can you help?



I wish I was making this up folks, but even I am not that good a writer. Regardless of my personal feelings, I do see it as my duty to help out when I can. So, I advised “P.H.” to consult a dictionary before texting and then suggested a couple of “intelligent” gift options. First, I advised her to showcase her smarts by proving she knows that a mouse pad is not something your pet rat lives in, and give away branded Ergo-Gel Mouse Pads. It’s a great gift idea for computer geeks and gossip writers. The translucent pad has plenty of room for a smart promotional message and shows that you care about the recipient’s wrist comfort. I also pointed out that being smart doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look hot. The Computer Adjust-A-Mirror is the perfect way to show you have beauty and brains.

It just goes to show you, even the rich and famous need a little help from time to time and when that time comes, Virgil Winston is here to help. Of course, you don’t have to be rich or famous to write to me, so feel free to drop me a line anytime. Well, I’m off to the judge the Iowa State Corn Pudding Eating Contest. Until next time, remember the words of my good friend, Brendan Behan, “All publicity is good, except an obituary notice.”

Line Up – Be Comfy Anywhere!

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I am sure you have heard all the hullabaloo about Apple’s new iphone. If you haven’t, I can only assume that you have either: a) just awakened from a coma, or b) just returned from a prolonged trip in a third world country. Every techie and gadget guru with radio or TV show, column or blog has been frothing at the mouth waiting for the iphone to hit the open market. Those “in the know” were able to get the super buzzed about gadget ahead of time and the raves have been pouring in, non-stop. Due to an unfavorable incident at Mac World last year, which involved a rather loud disagreement between Mr. Jobs and myself, I was not one of them.

Unfortunately for me, Mrs. Winston was obsessed with having an iphone in her hot little hands the moment it hit the shelves, which meant I was in line at my local Apple Store at the crack of dawn on the day it was released. I settled into my Deluxe Cooler Chair for the expected five hour wait and tried to get comfortable. I had 300 fellow consumers to keep me company and Mrs. Winston was kind enough to pack my cooler with hot coffee and my favorite bagels, so I was well equipped to wait it out.
I couldn’t believe that I, a seasoned marketing man, fell for the hype but at least I had company—plus, I could always blame it on my wife. Actually, there is a very good marketing lesson here and we’d all do well to pay attention. After all, personal differences aside, nobody builds excitement for a new product like Steve Jobs. The man is an innovator. He understands that exclusivity and buzz do more to generate excitement for a new product than, well…anything. Of course it helps if your product is a super cool all in one gadget that does everything but make toast, but the point is still valid. If you have a product to sell or a service to offer, you want to get people talking. You want your company’s name to be on your potential clients lips. What better way to do that than with branded swag? I’ll tell you, make that custom imprinted swag “hard to get” and you’ll have people talking faster than an auctioneer on a coffee buzz. They may not stand in line for five hours, but they will certainly remember your name…and that’s the important thing.

I’ve got to finish downloading Abba’s Greatest Hits on my—er, Mrs. Winston’s new iphone. Until next time, remember what the great man once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”