The Envelope Please

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

You know I am a promotional products expert, but you may not know I am also an office supply junkie. My heart beats faster when I drive by an office super store. Browsing for three hold punches and multi colored highlighters online makes my scalp tingle. My home office is stocked with a two-year supply of binder clips in four different sizes, printer ink, legal pads and #2 pencils.

My obsession is nothing new. I was actually fired from my first job for spending over five thousand dollars in one month at the local stationary store. I even proposed to my wife in the copy room of the office we worked at together. We had stopped in to get a fresh supply of memo pads and I was intoxicated by the smell of paper, toner and lemon-flavored highlighters—for me, it was the perfect spot. I dropped to one knee and popped the question. It was a spontaneous moment so I didn’t have a ring but I did I have my imagination and fortunately, so did Mrs. Winston. For three weeks she wore the large gold brad I wrapped around her ring finger. She cried when I put it on her and that’s when I knew for sure I had found the right woman for me. I later discovered I had tied the brad too tightly so her tears were not exactly tears of joy.

We were married on the same day the first Staples store opened, which I saw as good omen. It was a wonderful day and Mrs. Winston was a vision in white lace. We ate surf and turf and drank champagne all night. Instead of matches or candied almonds, we gave our guests a gift they could actually use to commemorate our special day. Everyone in attendance received a Designer Envelope Slitter imprinted with our names and the date. I still use mine every year on our anniversary to open the card I receive from my wife. Sure the blade has dulled some but it still does the trick. More importantly, it serves as a reminder of the most important day of my life.

The lesson here is simple; there are lots of ways to remember and be remembered. You don’t have to do what’s expected. Sometimes the best way to be remembered is to be surprising. It worked for me. Well, I’m off to search for my envelope slitter…it’s that time of year again. Until next time, remember, “Life is short but marriage makes it seem like forever.”

Global Warming

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I spent last weekend helping my daughter with her summer school report on Global Warming. Now, I am no tree hugger but I am environmentally conscious. I recycle, don’t drive an SUV and never use aerosol hairspray. According to Wikipedia, global warming is defined as “an increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s near surface air and oceans in recent decades and its projected continuation.” It’s caused by an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and most scientists agree that the planet is indeed heating up. They also believe the overheating causes climate changes like a rising sea level and more frequent and intense weather events. Of course there is a great deal of debate about what, if anything, should be done to remedy the situation.

I’m not ready to jump to conclusions but I think most people would agree that it’s hotter than ever. Sure, it’s summertime but I could swear the heat increases every single year. Just this afternoon, Mrs. Winston was gardening without a hat and almost keeled over from sunstroke. Fortunately, a well-timed glass of lemonade was enough to revive her. She’s still not strong enough to cook however, so I’m on kitchen duty.

Global warming is a serious issue to be sure, but as my Grammy Winston always said, “When life gives you lemons, make Limoncello.” Grammy was a bit of a boozer. So, while we should all do our best to stop the warming—we may as well make the best of a bad situation. One way to do that is to show your customers how resourceful you are by giving them a promotional gift that harnesses the sun’s rays. The Solar Credit Card Calculator adds, subtracts, multiplies and divides, and can be imprinted with your company’s logo. Since it fits easily into a wallet or money clip, your clients will surely remember you when they are trying to figure out how to divide their dinner bill by three couples after having had a few glasses of wine. As I’ve said before, becoming a part of the fabric of your customer’s daily life is an effective way to ensure that they think of you when it comes time to do business. And that’s the important thing.

Well, I’d better go start dinner; we’re having poached salmon with a balsamic reduction. Remember, “If you can’t take the heat, wear a wide brimmed hat.”

Independence Day

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

The Fourth of July is less than two weeks away and America is confused. As you probably know, the 4th falls on a Wednesday this year, which makes planning a weekend getaway more challenging than usual. Do you take off the weekend before and head back to the office on Thursday? Or do you hit the road Tuesday night, driving all night, so you can “enjoy” the holiday? Is it even feasible to have a two-day workweek? If the answer is no, do you simply work all week and only take Wednesday off to honor our country’s Independence? The possibilities are endless…and boggling. It’s enough to make you want to skip the holiday altogether. Well, almost.

One thing is certain; you will probably attend at least one celebratory barbeque. There will be fireworks to enjoy, horseshoes to throw and Frisbees to toss. And of course, there will be eating…lots of eating. Did you know that the average American is expected consume 2.5 hotdogs, one cheeseburger, a pound of potato salad and a quart of onion dip this July 4th? All that eating can only mean one thing…drinking. The average American will guzzle 5 sodas, 2.5 beers and a half a wine cooler while attending an average of three barbeques and/or pool parties.

With temperatures expected to reach as high as 90 degrees, keeping cold drinks cold, is not always easy. That’s why you need to come prepared with the Patriotic Bottle Coolie. It’s designed to snugly fit over bottles with plenty of room for your logo or promotional message. Let’s face it; nothing says American Independence like branding. If you’re smart, you’ll imprint your name on a couple dozen coolies and bring them for your fellow revelers. The lucky recipients will thank you for your thoughtfulness and you’ll be remembered long after the last fireworks fizzle.

Well, I’m off to visit my voice coach. I am supposed to sing the Star Spangled Banner before the big fireworks show next week and I’m way out of practice. Until next time, remember, “Life without liberty is like a promotional key chain without a logo.”

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I was recently invited to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day, which, as baseball fans know, is a great honor. Granted, it was opening day of a local stickball league in a small town just outside of Dubuque, but an honor nonetheless. Walking out on that field on a warm summer day to throw an underhanded slow pitch to a first grader brought back fond memories. As I looked out at the dozens of faces in the stands, I caught sight of a father and his son enjoying the afternoon. They were hard to miss, actually. Each sported a giant “We’re #1” foam finger, matching baseball jerseys with their names featured prominently above the logo of the local Gas-n-Go, and baseball caps from Joe’s Tackle Shop with a fish leaping off the brim.

The sight of head-to-toe father-son branding instantly transported me back in time—back to the day I went to my first baseball game with my own father. I can still smell the peanuts, taste the hot dogs, hear the crack of the bat and feel the soft fabric of the thousands of baseball key chains we gave out that day. My Dad knew that baseball was America’s pastime. He also understood an essential fact about most people…they love free gifts. So, he followed Rule #1, put his name on a fun, useful keepsake and headed to the stadium with my brother and I in tow. After all, he couldn’t pass out two thousand key chains by himself.

Today we call them take-aways, which essentially means a free gift that reminds the recipient of the event at which they received it. So, whether you are throwing a company picnic, hosting a team-building workshop or planning your company’s next sales meeting, don’t forget to give away something to commemorate the event. It also helps if the gift is practical and can be used in the recipient’s daily life. That way, whether they are taking a memo or opening their car door, they will remember the day. Take-aways are an effective way to inspire company loyalty while simultaneously promoting your products or services to the outside world. Everybody wins.

Speaking of winning, I have to go buy a lotto ticket; the jackpot is up to 44 million and I’m feeling lucky. Remember, “You can’t win if you’re not in the game.”

The Real World

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Unless you’ve been hiding out in a cave with no access to TV, radio or the Internet, you know that June is the month for Dads…and Grads. High schoolers everywhere are attending proms and preparing to move into the dorms, while college kids get ready to make the big leap…into the real world. As most of us know, the challenges we faced in college don’t always prepare us for what’s in store when we actually enter the work force. We say goodbye to frat parties, all night cramming and spring break, and say hello to staff meetings, conference calls and unpaid overtime. I never understood my great granddad’s favorite expression, “Working ain’t for sissies,” until I got my first job at a big marketing firm. Let’s just say that the experience was more painful than an episode “The Office,” and not half as funny. My boss was a bit of a screamer and his favorite word was, “Winston!!!”

Hopefully the graduates in your life will have better luck. Here are a few items to help get them started. As anyone who’s ever had a 7:00 AM conference call knows, coffee is essential, and it tastes better when it comes in a nice mug. The 14 oz contour mug offers the perfect backdrop for a logo or promotional message and is the perfect way to say, “Welcome to the real world…you’re gonna need this.” If your graduate is used to classes that begin at noon, the Perfect Time Clock is the perfect gift. It features an integrated mechanism to contact the U.S. atomic clock five times each day, so the clock stays perfectly synchronized. Of course, it also contains the most important feature…a snooze alarm. Finally, the Millennium Leather Deluxe Compu-Saddle Bag is the perfect replacement for the well-worn backpack. It offers a winning combination of luxury and practicality, and is made of top-quality Mil Leather. Plus, it’s loaded with great features such as a deluxe organizer and detachable and adjustable shoulder strap.

Well, I’m off to the Annual Whittlers Convention in Wichita. They don’t give away a lot of promotional items, but they are all hand made. In the meantime, remember the most important ingredient for success after college…hard work. As Granny Winston used to say, “Some people dream of success while others wake up and work hard at it.”

Dear Old Dad

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Father’s Day is coming up faster than a mother-in-law’s insult. Fortunately for all of you procrastinators, Rush Imprint has great gifts in a hurry. There are many ways to honor dear old dad—a nicely worded note, a heartfelt thank you and a warm hug are all appreciated but let’s face it, everybody loves presents. I know I owe my own father a lot—if not for his wisdom, vision and marketing acumen, I might not have become the marketing guru I am today. In honor of Dad’s special day, I have put together a list of alternatives to the usual neckties, handprint ashtrays and golf balls.

If your Pop would rather be in Vegas but can’t get away, bring Vegas (or Atlantic City or Monte Carlo) to him by gifting your gambling Dad with a Hand-held Casino Blackjack Game. This game may be small but it’s not short on fun. The exciting sound effects provide realistic casino action all in the palm of your hand. So, he can buy insurance, split aces, surrender, and double down without ever leaving home. The Cutter & Buck Money Clip Card Case is the perfect way to show dad the money. It secures loose bills and had a pocket for credit cards and notes. It even comes with its own gift box for those of you who are wrapping impaired. Finally, for the true businessman with an appreciation for the finer things, the Cutter & Buck American Classic Executive Address Book will help Dad keep track of important appointments, contacts, and tasks. It’s made of soft genuine top grain leather and accentuated by a stainless steel buckle that bears the Cutter & Buck insignia and features internal pockets for business cards, credit cards, and currency.

Well, I’m off to the races…literally. I put down two bucks on “Marketing Magic” to win. Remember, “Any man can be a father, but it takes a special person to be a dad.”

No More Tears

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Last week I made my annual trip to Ottawa to MC the Zamboni* Race Finals. You wouldn’t know it to look at them, but Zamboni racers are real athletes. Much like pro bowlers or professional poker players, Zamboni racers are not always given the credit they deserve. In fact, I once watched a particularly skilled driver maneuver through a field of eight Zambonis while eating an entire box of Krispy Kremes with one hand and drinking a big gulp with the other. It was quite something to see him win the title—his knees steering him to victory. Alas, this year’s race wasn’t quite as eventful. At least I left Canada with a case of maple syrup and an offer to judge next year’s Miss Zamboni contest.
The truly interesting part of the trip took place at the airport lounge during a particularly long layover. My fellow travelers and I had a rousing discussion about airplane movies, specifically the phenomenon of crying while watching them. Between the three of us, we had cried during Spiderman II, Rush Hour, Jersey Girl, Shrek, Legally Blonde and Invincible. I’m not sure who admitted to it first, but we quickly realized that movie watching while flying almost always leads to tears. Before you unfairly conclude that my fellow travelers were women or really “in touch with their feelings” types, both men were lawyers—clearly sensitivity was not an issue. Since the tear inducing movies in question weren’t particularly sad and included comedies, action-adventure, sci-fi and some downright bad and even boring flicks, we couldn’t figure out what all the boo-hooing was about. What was it about movie watching at 35,000 feet that reduced grown men to blubbering idiots? Was it the altitude? Was it the solitary nature of travel or the omnipresent fear that the plane could suddenly fall out of the sky, taking us with it? We puzzled over it for hours but were never able to solve the riddle.

The one thing we did agree on was that, especially when traveling with colleagues, clients or one’s boss, avoiding the in-flight flick was a must. Fortunately Rush Imprint has some offerings to help you pass the time and save your dignity. For brainiacs and math majors there’s the Touch Screen Travel Sudoku Game. Its compact unit combines the challenge of this popular puzzle game with touch-screen technology. It features a compact stylus storage compartment, count-up timer, a blue backlight and different skill levels to keep players of all levels challenged. For those who like a little variety, the Magnetic 7-in-1 Travel Game Set is the perfect choice. The magnetic set includes Backgammon, Checkers, Chess, Chinese Checkers, Ludo, Solitaire, & Tic-Tac-Toe. Game pieces store in the convenient hidden side compartment. Both games have room for your logo, making them great gifts for colleagues, clients and bosses who travel a lot but don’t want to get caught weeping during The First Wives Club.

I’m off to the Bi-Annual West Coast Marketing Mentors Meeting in Modesto. Remember, “grown men might cry but at least their mascara doesn’t run.

Boxed In

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I’ve learned a lot in my years as a marketing guru and promotional products expert. I’m adept at positioning, know all the buzzwords and catch phrases, and understand the value of name recognition. I also know, thanks to my great grandfather Winston, the importance of simplicity when conveying a complex message. In fact, he had a saying for it…K.I.S.S. Keep it simple Simon. I never did figure out who Simon was but I did remember the first part. In business, like in life, it often pays to deliver a simple message in a straightforward manner. I’m not saying being literal is the only way to go, but in a marketplace saturated with clever advertising campaigns and complex messaging, simplicity can be remarkably effective.

Lots of companies are out there clamoring for consumers attention and oftentimes the best way to slice through the competition is with a straight edge. The Box Cutter Key Chain does just that (it also retracts into a hard plastic case for safekeeping). What better way to let clients know you think outside the box than by giving them a way to get inside of one? Or, use a time tested marketing strategy and position your company against the grain. If everyone is thinking “outside the box,” play the opposite and demonstrate that you work effectively inside the box…or, as my Zen Master says, “Be the box.” Either way, your message will be remembered.

Until next time, remember the words of Leonardo da Vinci who said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” I’m off to a parent teacher conference at my six year old’s school. He got busted for writing his name on his desk…in permanent marker. I couldn’t be more proud.

Fly Right

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I just got back from a trip to Atlanta where I scored tons of free swag at a cosmetics convention. I gave most of it to my wife, except the men’s foaming face wash, which smells good and makes my pores look tiny. Hey, I like to take care of my skin. But never mind that. The point is, I was reminded once again of the perils of coast-to-coast air travel. If you have flown at all in the last five years then you are already aware that the days of “chicken or beef,” tasteless but for the salt, piping hot meals served in plastic containers are long gone.

These days, the meals are cold, still tasteless and cost extra. You can buy an un-tasty sandwich for five bucks or a chewy, but not in a good way, cookie for three. It’s bad enough that you are forced to eat airline food, now you have to pay for it…exact change is appreciated. Sure you can buy a snack at the airport to take on the plane with you but you are pretty much limited to fast food or dry sandwiches that are as costly as they are unsatisfying. It’s pretty depressing, especially if like most of us, you are trying to eat healthier. Try finding organic anything at the airport snack shop. You can also forget sticking to a low carb, high protein, low fat or reduced sodium diet.

Fortunately, I found a way to eat right while I fly. I never travel without my Personal Tote & Cooler. I carry fresh, homemade meals on the plane with me so traveling on business doesn’t mean I have to give up eating well. You should see the jealous stares I get from my seatmates as I pull out a fresh salad topped with chicken and Gorgonzola with a nice balsamic dressing. Of course I have to remember to pack no more than three ounces of dressing and carry it in a plastic bag but it’s a small price to pay for a good meal at 35,000 feet.

If you are looking for a practical gift for frequent travelers on your list, the Personal Tote & Cooler is perfect. It not only keeps perishables cool, but the large upper compartment is perfect for carrying important work documents or the latest Grisham novel. All eyes will be on your logo as the lucky traveler pulls out a homemade sandwich, cold pasta salad and fresh fruit instead of the barely edible snacks the airlines are shilling these days.

Well, I’d better go unpack. Mrs. Winston has offered to take my travel clothes to the drycleaners and I want to catch her before the offer expires. Remember, “Money can’t buy happiness but it can buy a small seat on a big plane.”

Memory Lane

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

In an effort to battle insomnia, I decided to do a little time travel. No, I didn’t step into the “Way Back Machine” or go for a ride in a DeLorean back to the future. My trip through time was a whole lot easier…I jumped in the car and took a drive down Memory Lane, which was the name of the street my wife and I lived on when we were first married. Much like your average two year old who falls asleep as soon as he’s strapped into his car seat, driving relaxes me. Don’t worry, I usually wait until I get home to fall asleep so you shouldn’t fear sharing the road with me. Back then, we lived in a tiny guesthouse at the end of the block while we dreamed about upgrading to the spacious house that we lived behind. Our kitchen was so small we couldn’t toast bread and make coffee at the same time without bumping into each other. But we didn’t mind, in fact sometimes I’d make toast while my wife was making coffee, just so I could bump into her.

I had heard they were tearing the place down to make room for a Starbucks so I thought I’d take one last look while I still had the chance. It was exactly as I remembered it, except smaller. Our newlywed love nest was no bigger than my daughter’s bedroom and the front house that had seemed so huge then was around the same size as the house we live in now. That’s the thing about memories I guess. You don’t always remember things exactly the way they were; instead you recall how you felt at the time, which is the important thing after all.

Memories are universal—we all have them and we all get a little misty and nostalgic when remembering the good ole days. I’ve found the best way to combat the “way it was” blues is to share old memories and to continue making new ones. Of course, it’s important to remember the memories you make and today’s offering gives you a way to do just that. The Metropolitan Leather Photo Box is a wonderful way to store treasured photos and other valuable keepsakes. Keep it for yourself or give it to valuable clients to remind them of your value. Take advantage of the 4” x 6” photo frame that is integrated on the lid and include a photo of your company or an inspirational message. I’m using my box to store my mug shot. The neighborhood watch captain called the cops when he saw me “lurking” on Memory Lane.

Speaking of making memories, I’m off to create some new ones with the Winston clan at the “May Apple Stomp” in Columbus, Ohio. Should make for some good photos. My father’s good friend Elbert Hubbard always said, “A retentive memory may be a good thing, but the ability to forget is the true token of greatness.”