Road Trip…Literally

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Things have been a bit chaotic in the Winston household so I decided this weekend would be an ideal time to take a road trip up the coast. Mrs. Winston doesn’t share my penchant for the open road as she suffers from acute carsickness and the kids were tied up with birthday parties and soccer practice, so I decided to go it alone. I was a little uncertain about making the trip solo until I realized it meant I would be able to play my music free of teenage disdain and I could stop at every tourist trap from here to San Francisco to hunt for unusual souvenirs for my new book. You wouldn’t believe how many different ways there are to brand a decorative toilet seat cover. Don’t worry; I’ve covered it thoroughly in Chapters 4, 8 and 56.

I left the house early Saturday morning with my Duval Travel Mug and a cooler full of sandwiches, full of positive expectations for a fruitful and relaxing trip. Unfortunately that was a pipe dream as I am writing my blog from inside the Monterey Emergency Room. I’ve had plenty of time too since I’ve been waiting in a “room” for over three hours without so much as an offer of aspirin or a cold compress. I could use one too since both my index fingers are swollen and quite possibly sprained…or worse.

I can’t go into too much detail because my injuries make typing difficult but suffice it to say, I was in a freak photography accident. Apparently the little signs that are posted by shore warning sightseers not to wander out too far are not completely without merit. I was just planning to grab a quick self-portrait on the rocks for my book jacket so I hung my coat on the sign, set the self-timer on my camera and headed out. I had just lit up my best smile when a huge wave came out of nowhere and took me out. I went under, hit the rocks, lost my glasses but managed to make it out with my camera and my life. Alas, my dignity is still on the rocks. I felt more than a little foolish walking back to the car soaking wet and bleeding but at least I was a live fool. I was also fortunate to have a first aid kit with bandages and antibiotic ointment at my disposal. I recently attended the opening of a local skate park that gave away First Aid Kits in Zippered Pouches. Smart giveaway. I took three. Hey, with my luck it’s a real practical item to have on hand. It’s a good thing I was able to stop the bleeding too because I’m going in to hour four and I haven’t seen so much as a surly nurse or even a candy striper since I checked in.

Well, I’ve got to go find a doctor to look at my typing fingers. Remember, “a picture is worth a thousand words but it’s not worth breaking a finger over.”

Walk It Off

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

This morning I was awakened by the five words that strike terror in the hearts of married men everywhere. I used to think the phrase, “My mother is moving in” was the worst sentence a man could hope to hear his wife utter. That is, until I heard her say, “I’m starting a new diet” as she struggled to pull on something called skinny jeans. I started to ask if they were called skinny jeans because you have to be a toothpick to wear them but one look at my wife’s face told me to shut my trap. The truth is, I think she looks great as she is but once she sets her mind to something, there is no stopping her.

Don’t get me wrong, I want her to be happy and if wearing jeans that cost as much as a car payment makes her happy then I’m all for it. I don’t even mind that she diets. The problem is that Mrs. Winston is not a do-it-yourselfer. She believes that dieting is a group activity which means my morning pancakes are about to be replaced by oat bran flakes and the cocoa crispies my youngest enjoys are about to hit the trash. So, in the interest of parental bonding, I decided that today would be a good day to take the kids to the local International House of Pancakes for some real food. Nothing says good morning like a Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity®.

My daughter declined because apparently she actually enjoys oat bran, so it was just us guys. I was just about to settle in with the morning paper and a my chocolate chip short stack when I came across an article about how overweight employees are costing employers a bundle in Worker’s Comp and medical leave. Apparently being fat is fatal to the bottom line and companies are starting to take notice. The truth is, we are, as a country, getting bigger every day, and not in a good way. People are growing unhealthier every year and it’s not only hurting the body carrying around the extra pounds, it’s killing profits for companies who employ portly workers.

Many companies are looking for ways to administer health and fitness programs, so now is the perfect time for you to give health related promotional items. You know the adage, so be part of the solution and offer your clients, or your own employees, some healthful assistance. A Fitness Pedometer with your company’s logo imprinted in the front cover will put a spring in the receivers step and they will think of you with each footfall. The LCD display shows elapsed time and steps taken and includes a Standard Calorie Consumption by Walking table, belt clip and batteries. They say walking 10,000 steps a day is good for the bottom line, double entendre intended, so it’s a gift that is certain to be well received.

I’m off to the farmers market to surprise Mrs. Winston with a bouquet of organic carrots. Until next time, “Walk tall, walk fast and count every step.”

Dream On

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I’ve had the same dream for the last three nights in a row. It’s starts with me playing at the final table in the World Poker Tour (WPT). We are down to three players and I am the chip leader. To my left sits a dwarf with a giant mustache, wearing a purple cowboy hat and to my right sits Pamela Anderson. She’s on the short stack, meaning she has the least number of chips at the table. Milton Berle is the dealer. The hat wearing dwarf folds and the former Mrs. Tommy Lee goes all in, throwing in her top for good measure. I left that detail out when recounting the dream to Mrs. Winston for obvious reasons, so mums the word. I check my hole cards and find that Uncle Milty has blessed me with two ladies (Queens) and I make the call. Pam, I figure after three nights in a row we are on a first name basis, flips over rockets (aces) and I see that my ladies are far behind. Vince Van Patton and Mike Sexton are calling the action in their usual colorful fashion so there are numerous jokes about Pam doubling up and the crowd is chanting, “Virgil!” After all, it is my dream. Then it gets weird.

Suddenly the dwarf stands up on his chair, pounds his chest and flips the table over all the while, singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” at the top of his lungs. Everyone is frozen with shock and the crowd goes quiet. I look up to discover that everyone in the audience has turned into giant lobsters and they are descending on the poker table, claws clicking wildly. One particularly fierce looking lobster reaches toward me, claw outstretched. It clamps down on my wrist and starts to drag me toward what I imagine is his lobster lair to cook up some Winston stew. Just as it starts to rain, I wake up, drenched in sweat and screaming into my pillow.

Dreams like that are one of the reasons I’m such an insomniac. Being chased by angry lobsters is exhausting. Needless to say, I’ve made an emergency appointment with a psychiatrist because even I can’t decode all the symbolism in that one. Part of my therapy involves writing down every dream as soon as I wake up so I keep a journal next to my bed which is now located in the den because Mrs. Winston can’t sleep through all the screaming.

Journals are the new “must have” item; there are food journals, exercise journals, dream journals, even work journals. Which is where Rush Imprint comes in. The spiral-bound Colorblock Journal is the perfect item to hand out at team meetings, orientation or any venue where there is an opportunity for team building. This one features a two-tone protective cover, an elastic pen loop and 100 sheets of lined paper. It doesn’t include a pen, so be a sport and throw one in.

Someone once said, “The best things in life come in threes, like friends, dreams, and memories.” If that’s true, I can look forward to a good night’s rest tonight. I’m off to the neighbor’s to apologize for the late night screaming. My wife baked them a bundt cake to thank them for not calling the police.

Spring is in the Air

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

April is an important month. I’d even go so far as to say it’s one of the most important months of the year, at least in this country. It’s also my favorite. Sure it has its drawbacks; all those April showers promising to bring May flowers, taxes are due and of course there’s spring cleaning. But April also has great holidays like April Fool’s Day, Passover and Easter. It also marks the beginning of daylight savings time, everybody comes down with Spring Fever and, the number one reason I love April, baseball season officially begins.

I admit, I’m not a sports nut. I don’t know the stats of every player in the major league, I don’t watch Sports Center and I was usually picked last for the team in high school. Except when Joe “Stinky” Callus was there and then I was picked second to last. Baseball is different though. I don’t watch much on TV but I love going to the games. There is something about getting the family together, heading to the stadium in the fresh air and seeing that baseball diamond. The smell of hotdogs, peanuts and almost stale beer permeates the air and the crack of the bat and roar of the crowd gets my blood pumping. I guess it reminds me of my youth and going to games with my Dad. He taught me about the game and what it means to be a fan. I’ll never forget the first time I went to a game with my dad. I don’t remember who won the game, or who was playing for that matter. What I do remember is walking in to the stadium and being handed a giant foam bat that said Dodger Stadium Fan Appreciation Day in big blue letters. I think it was the first promotional item I ever received on my own. It was truly a special moment and even though I’ve collected dozens of t-shirts, commemorative rulers, baseballs and butt pillows over the years, it’s still a thrill.

Today’s offering from Rush Imprint combines two of my favorite things, baseball and marketing. The Baseball Falling Water Timer is practical, whimsical and an excellent way to be remembered by a new client or an old customer. In fact, I am pitching it (pun intended) to my son’s peewee league for their annual giveaway.

Well I’ve got to run, it’s fan appreciation day and there is a rumor that the home team is giving away branded croc sandals to the first 300 people through the gates. Remember, “If it’s worth giving away, it’s worth putting your name on.”

Taxing Matters

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I owe, I owe
So it’s off to work I go
I owe, I owe
So it’s off to work I go
I owe, I owe, I owe, I owe, I owe, I owe!

My dad used to sing that little ditty in the car at the top of his lungs as he dropped us kids off at school on his way to work. Dad isn’t a particularly gifted singer but what he lacked in harmony, he made up for in enthusiasm. His parody of the Heigh-Ho song from “Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs” was one of his favorites so he sang it a lot. I’m convinced that song was one of the main reasons my brothers and sisters and I are all card carrying workaholics but that’s another story. Most days I didn’t mind the singing but it was always kind of embarrassing when he sang on carpool day when Timmy Stringer was riding with us. Not only did he sing loudly and off key, but Timmy’s dad didn’t work at all so my dad would usually find himself mid song when he’d remember Timmy was in the car. Not wanting to hurt his feelings, or cause little Tim to ask a bunch of awkward questions, Dad would start making up weird lyrics about food stamps and unemployment insurance, which would lead to lots of eye rolling in the back seat and a punch in the arm from Timmy.

I found myself humming that almost forgotten tune from my youth today for a slightly different reason. I received a rather unsavory surprise in the form of a phone call from my accountant; I owe a bundle in taxes. I made quite a bit more money last year than in previous years (my book is selling like hotcakes) and that extra income means that the Feds want a bigger piece of my pie. Mind you, I’m not complainging about having a profitable year but like most people; parting with my hard earned cash hurts. As I drove to my accountant’s office to pick up my tax documents, I found myself humming, and then singing the “I owe” song at the top of my lungs and I have to admit, it made me smile.

I decided to look on the bright side and turn my loss into a win and convinced my accountant to order 300 Dollar Sign Stress Relievers to hand out next tax season. Forking over bundles of cash has a way of making even the most Zen person a little testy so a little stress relief is in order. He thinks it’s a humorous ways to get new business and remind his clients that hiring a good accountant is the best stress relief money can buy. Personally, I prefer a massage or a Caribbean vacation but a good chuckle works well in a pinch. While it’s true that we can’t escape paying taxes, we can at least have a bit of fun and remember that it beats the other thing we can’t avoid.

The good news is Uncle Sam gave everyone an extra day so you have until April 17th to mail in your forms. I don’t know about you but I’m not taking any chances and am heading to the post office now. With any luck, I’ll get in just before midnight.

Can The Satin Stainless Knife Make You A Hero?

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

As regular readers are well aware, I’m something of a television addict and my current favorite addiction, “Heroes,” is on hiatus. It’s been gone for weeks now and is not scheduled to return until April 23rd. I’m counting the days. For those who are unfamiliar with the best show on TV, it’s about regular people who wake up and discover that they possess mysterious new powers. The show follows them as they struggle with their transformation into real life super heroes. Of course there is a villain or two but for me, the real drama is watching how regular people handle their newfound strengths. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m obsessed.

I think part of my obsession is the idea that anyone could wake up one day with special powers. I guess some part of me is still that kid, hiding under my covers with a flashlight after lights out, reading comic books and dreaming of flying like Superman or clinging to walls like Spidey. As I kid, I’d have loved to be able to fly at supersonic speeds but these days, I prefer Business class. I also wished for X-ray vision, especially around Christmas time when I would try to see through the piles of tightly wrapped packages under the tree. As an adult, I realize that some things are better left unseen, like my wife’s closet. If I got to choose one power to possess, I’d like to see the future. Just think if the good I could do! I’d be able to look ahead and see new marketing trends and find out which promotional items were going to be hot months, or even years, ahead of anyone else.

I think deep inside, everyone wishes he (or she) could be a superhero. Who wouldn’t want Batman’s utility belt? For those of us who live in the real world, Rush Imprint offers the next best thing. The Satin Stainless #12 Knife was created to successfully tackle virtually any task. It has 12 different functions including a standard knife blade, nail file, scissors, awl, fish scaler, saw, and phillips/slotted screwdrivers all contained in a stainless steel body with plenty of room for your company logo or promotional message. It’s a promotional give away that is guaranteed to make a hero out of you, at least as far as your clients are concerned.

Well, I’m off to Stockton to make an appearance at the World Deep-Fried Asparagus Eating Championship. I don’t care for asparagus but they are giving away limited addition promotional plates so I plan to get there early. Until next time, I leave you with the words of another great writer, Ernest Hemingway, “As you get older, it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary.” If you don’t have one, be one.

Give The Kids Promotional Toys This Easter

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Easter Sunday is coming up and Mrs. Winston is excited. Not only does she get to try out her new glazed ham recipe but she is also in charge of our neighborhood’s annual Easter egg hunt. She has been plotting all week, poring over maps of our neighborhood to find the best hiding places. I volunteered to dress up as the Easter Bunny or more precisely, my wife volunteered on my behalf, so I’m looking forward to Easter with a bit less enthusiasm. Especially since it’s supposed to be a warm day. Trust me, sweating inside a rented bunny costume while seven year olds stomp on your paws is not the most relaxing way to spend a Sunday.

The annual Easter egg hunt is a pretty big deal in our neck of the woods. The Winston household had been in high gear all week; egg decorating is serious business. I haven’t been able to enter the kitchen since Tuesday. My wife is not normally competitive but ever since Mrs. Cole declared herself the Queen of the egg hunt, whatever that is, my wife has been on a tear to dethrone the self-anointed royalty. She’s out for blood which is actually kind of scary, and somewhat exciting. I don’t know the whole story, but it has something to do with a rumor about Mrs. Cole making her nanny and housekeeper hide eggs all night, which apparently constitutes cheating. Personally, I don’t like to get involved with neighborhood politics but it’s important to Mrs. Winston so I feel a matrimonial duty to help her make the day a success.

To that end, I am providing all the kids with Whistle Key-Lights With Compasses. Truth be told, they probably won’t need a compass to find the eggs but I am fairly certain the whistles will be a big hit with the under eight set. Naturally the give-aways are branded because I can’t help but seize an opportunity to promote, it’s who I am. I suggest you take every opportunity to do the same; even it involves dressing like a rabbit and hopping around for the better part of the weekend.

Happy Easter and remember, “a little competition never hurt anyone” unless they happened to be wearing a bunny suit during a heat wave.

The Audience is Listening

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

I am a film fanatic so, as you can imagine, I go to the movies a lot. I like them all–action, indie, comedy, and even foreign art films with barely comprehensible storylines and subtitles so small I have to sit in the third row to have even the smallest chance of understanding the plot. I’ll even cop to enjoying a light-hearted romantic comedy, musical or, dare I say it, chick flick. What I do not like is hearing what other people think of the movie I am watching while I’m watching it. My all time number one pet peeve, and I’ll admit to having quite a few, is people talking at the movie theatre.

Ever since Blockbuster came on the scene, every yahoo and his mother thinks that he (or she) is a movie critic. These insensitive moviegoers insist on calling the action for everyone around them to hear. Or worse, they repeat jokes they heard moments ago because apparently they think their delivery is funnier than Will Ferrell’s. Perhaps the most egregious incident occurred during a matinee of “Happy Feet” when a cell phone began to ring during a particularly touching dance sequence. Once would expect the embarrassed party to quickly turn it off and sink in their seat but instead, the man answered his phone and began to have an actual conversation! I was so stunned I couldn’t even react but fortunately a caffeine-fueled nanny was there to put him in his place.

It’s not like I don’t take precautions; I have a whole action plan for avoiding movie talkers. To begin with, I arrive during previews to scout my talk free zone. Arriving earlier is pointless as the mere act of taking a seat practically guarantees attracting a loud mouth. Its import to avoid the middle section altogether and go for the sides, preferably an aisle to allow for maximum maneuverability in the event a quick seat change is required. Equally important is the choice of movie companion. Most of my friends and my entire family know of my peeve so they know that talking is out of the question. I only run into trouble when going to the movies with a “new” person so I carefully prescreen them because he only thing worse than sitting next to a talker is sitting next to a talker you know because not only is it annoying but it severely limits ones ability to shush strangers. You lose all credibility.

Sometimes all of my precautions fail to shield me and I am forced into action by a fellow movie patron who thinks he or she is sitting at home watching a DVD and that someone actually cares about what they have to say. When accosted by a distracting voice, I first employ the turn and glare method, attempting to silently but sternly warn the offender that they are on notice. If that doesn’t work, I move to the “shusssh!” If they persist, I then move to the somewhat annoying, but highly effective, verbal warning. I turn to the person in question and in a normal to loud tone of voice say “Can you please stop talking.” This public shaming usually does the trick but I admit to having had to resort to telling the authorities to intervene. Unfortunately the authority is usually a sixteen-year-old kid and usually causes more of a commotion than it’s worth. I am ashamed to admit it but I have, on three occasions, also tossed popcorn at the back of a talker’s head. I don’t recommend you try this as it usually results in threats and name-calling but if you do, the Caramel Popcorn Filled Bag from Rush Imprint sure comes in handy. It’s filled to the brim with delicious caramel coated popcorn, which is much better for eating than for throwing, and comes packaged in a clear or opaque bag with plenty of room for a company logo or important message. I once bought two hundred of them with the message “Shut up and eat!” to pass out at my local multiplex. It was quite effective but the theatre didn’t appreciate me handing out free snacks.

Well, I’m off to catch the 5pm showing of “Blades of Glory.” Remember, “The audience is listening…so shut up and watch the movie!”

Fear of Flying

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Like many people, I used to have an unhealthy fear of flying. I don’t mean I was a little nervous about taking to the skies; I mean I was a certified white-knuckle flier. Since my business requires me to fly almost 100,000 miles a year, my fear was becoming an increasingly difficult issue. My wife thinks it was my repeated viewings of “Airport 77”, “Alive” and “Snakes on a Plane” that turned me into a scaredy cat but whatever the reason, one thing was clear, I had to get the problem under control. I tried everything from therapy to hypnotism and was about to resign myself to traveling by rail when I happened upon a little blue book called, “Ask the Pilot” by Patrick Smith, whom I heartily thank for curing me of my phobia.

Being a man of many words myself, my fears were calmed by the 269 pages dedicated to answering all my questions (and many I hadn’t yet thought of) about aviation safety. For some reason, seeing it in print really hit home for me and after reading the book three times, insomnia has its perks, and vowing to never watch another movie about planes crashing or being overrun by giant snakes again, I am proud to report I am flying phobia free.

Since I know at least a few of you share my former pain, I’d like to take this opportunity to allay some of your flying fears. As I’m sure you know, “they” say that take off is the most dangerous part of flying and after reading Mr. Smith’s book I found out that “they” are right. I also learned that, while not ideal, a plane could still take off and climb to safety while experiencing total engine failure. So, while it’s okay to say Hail Mary’s during take off, it’s good to know that you probably don’t need to. The other thing I learned was that turbulence is just a fancy word for wind and that wind, or turbulence, won’t cause a plane to crash, flip or otherwise plummet from the sky. In fact, rough air is such a non-issue to pilots; they rarely remember whether or not a flight was bumpy. So, although you can, you don’t really need to order that third drink when your flight hits a rough patch. I still have a tendency to stare at flight attendants to make sure they seem calm but at least I’ve stopped grabbing my seatmate’s arm after every bump.

To celebrate my personal triumph, the featured product of the day is the Aviator Identification Tag. It has a large ID window for business or identification cards, making it easy to spot your bag on an airport baggage carousel. The generous imprint area also insures that weary travelers everywhere will see your logo as the luggage it is attached to circles the carousel for the tenth time. It’s the perfect anytime promotional giveaway, because everyone knows that the only thing worse than flying is losing your luggage in Duluth.

I’m off to New York to see the biggest stained glass window in the world; remarkably it is located at American Airlines Terminal 8 at JFK. In the meantime, try and forget the words of Winston Churchill who said, I must place on record my regret that the human race ever learned to fly.”

Frequent Flyer

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

As a frequent flier, I was a bit taken aback by the following headline, “Man Relieves Himself in Air-Sickness Bag.” As if being crammed in to impossibly small seats, having to watch bad movies on a screen the size of postage stamp and getting stuck next to overly chatty seatmates who feel the need to unload the sordid yet still boring details of their past even though you are clearly reading a book weren’t enough to deal with.

The man in question was one Mr. James Whipple who, after having had “two really big beers” at the Boise Airport, was told he couldn’t use the cabin restroom because a light wasn’t working. Finding his bladder wouldn’t wait, Mr. Whipple used an air-sickness bag to take care of business. None of his fellow passengers noticed but one eagle-eyed flight attendant did see him and promptly reported the infraction to the captain who then alerted the Airport Police. Upon arrival in Salt Lake City, Mr. Whipple was detained for questioning before being let go and sent home in a taxi.

After I got over my initial shock at the pure silliness of it all, his name is Mr. Whipple, as in “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin,” I had to applaud the man for his ingenuity. Given the circumstances, I’m not sure I’d have come up with such an innovative solution. He’s the MacGyver of the skies. I’ll bet he could make a garment bag out of an airline blanket and some dental floss if he was in a tight spot. Since most people aren’t quite as crafty, the Excel Utility Kit makes a great gift for anyone who clocks serious travel miles. Place your corporate logo on this travel organizer and be seen everywhere. This good-looking survival kit can be used for storing all of those last minute necessities and toiletries in the gusseted elastic pockets. It features a front zippered mesh pocket; a nice top handle for easy carrying and a rear handle for hanging in the closet. And if you’re in a pinch, the travel bottles can double as—never mind.

Well, I’m off to the races, literally. The racetrack is giving away promotional horseshoes and I need two more to complete my collection. By the way, Mr. Whipple’s story had a happy ending; the airline sent him a letter of apology and a travel voucher.