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.

Take A Number

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

My grandmother had a saying, “Poetry in advertising is as dead as a cockroach at a square dance.” She certainly had a way with words, not a fluid or flowery way, but she got her point across. What she meant was, symbolism and metaphors are not the best way to convey your marketing message. To truly make an impact, you need to simplify. Which is partly why, as much as she liked words, Grandma had a real love affair with numbers. Words can be twisted and convoluted but numbers never lie. Two plus two is always four. Simple. As much as I am a fan of pithy phraseology, I appreciate Grandma’s point of view. Numbers are, quite simply, the universal language.

Are you in the numbers game? Remind your clients that when it comes to numbers, you are the go to guy or gal. Suduko is the latest craze in mind games and this electronic version comes with five difficulty levels with more than 10,000 number puzzles per level. It also includes a game editor function that allows you to create new puzzles for endless enjoyment. For those folks who cannot resist writing down a word or two, the imprintable storage case contains a notepad and pen. Even if your business isn’t about crunching numbers, this game is so addictive that your clients won’t be able to put it, or your name, down. Which makes it the perfect way to say “Happy New Year” to your clients and gives you your very first tax write off of 2007. Grandma would say that’s a pretty smart way to start off the year and since her other favorite phrase was, “you can’t win an argument with a corpse,” I’m inclined to agree.

Well, I’m off to the Detroit Auto Show where I’m taking several super top-secret meetings with auto executives from around the world. Naturally I’m taking along Electronic Suduko Games with my name imprinted on the cover as gifts to remember me by because as my daughter likes to say, “keychains” are so last year.”

Family Ties

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Earlier this year, my brother Phil moved to Namibia to capitalize on that country’s new found fascination with American celebrities. He’s working on a line of his and hers Brangelina bobble heads and, if it’s the success he hopes it will be, he’s going to follow up with Baby Shiloh shoehorns to commemorate the first celebrity kid born as a Namibian citizen. He is very excited about his new marketing ventures but has been feeling homesick lately. Being a family guy, and my kids’ favorite uncle, Phil misses us almost as much as he misses In-N-Out burgers. So, to bridge the gap, he sent us an In Touch Web Cam so we can all talk, in real time, over the Internet. It’s a pretty nifty little gadget that includes a clip so you can position it in a convenient location on your desk. It includes software that is so easy to install my five year old could do it. Actually my five year old did install it because I was “taking too long and he had some very important business to discuss with Uncle Phil.” I think he’s trying to get in on the shoehorn promotion using his position as the child of a minor celebrity. He’s a real chip off the old block. I couldn’t be more proud.

Well, I have to cut this one short. It’s the day after Christmas and I’ve got bicycles to assemble and left overs to eat. Remember the wise words of someone who totally gets it, “from a commercial point of view, if Christmas didn’t exist it would be necessary to invent it.”

Champagne Wishes

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

2006 was a banner year for branding and I am proud to have had a hand in helping plaster the names of thousands of companies on some of the most unique promotional items to hit trade shows, gift bags and celebrity golf tournament/fashion show/charity dinners this side of the Mississippi. Come to think of it, I did pretty well on the other side of it too. Who can forget the Click-Switch Pocket Light, Staple-less Stapler or the Robot Series Roll Up Calculator? As you know, I don’t like to brag but I do believe in celebrating one’s accomplishments and sometimes the best person to give you a pat on the back IS you, or in this case, me.

My first thought was to celebrate the conclusion of a great year by popping open the bottle of bubbly that has been collecting dust on the top shelf of our pantry. Then I came across the following disturbing factoid. “You are more likely to be killed by a champagne cork than by a poisonous spider.” Which is a very good reason to steer clear of the bubbly stuff this New Year’s Eve. Let’s face it, the good stuff is on the pricey side and I don’t think the fact that if you put a raisin in a glass of champagne, it will keep floating to the top and sinking to the bottom is a compelling enough reason to risk a hang over or do serious damage to your finances. If you still think champagne is the only way to ring in the New Year, I have a solution that is both festive and classy. Oh, and it still allows you to promote yourself and your company while thanking clients, colleagues and employees for a great year.

Our 1-Ounce Chocolate Champagne Bottle is the perfect way to spread holiday cheer to everyone on your list, even the tea totalers. And don’t worry about causing dieters to ditch their New Year’s resolutions; at only 1-ounce, this gold or silver foil wrapped treat won’t break your bank or the recipients scale.

My wife and I plan to tune in to Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Watching that ball drop in Time’s Square is a thrilling experience as it is but this year is special because Ryan Seacrest has agreed to wear the promotional earmuffs I created. They play Auld Lang Syne in seven languages while keeping your ears warm. Yes sir, 2007 promises to be a very good year indeed.

Communication Breakdown

Virgil Winston: Marketing Guru

Yesterday was a dark day in the Winston household. It was a day I had long feared but never dared speak of, lest saying the words may make the imagined horror a reality. That’s right, my cable went out…for an entire day! I was half asleep when I pressed the remote to get my morning fix of CNN, MSNBC and The View, only to be jolted awake by a screen full of static. I ran frantically from room to room, clicking remotes and began to sweat as the grim reality set in. As I sat on hold with my local cable company, I booted up my computer so I could at least read the news, only to discover that I was unable to connect! Not only was I unable to watch Ryan Seacrest’s hard hitting interview with Bill Phillips, who is best friends with one of the cousins of an actual guest at the TomKat Wedding, but I was unable to get online and find out which celebutante was flashing which body part at what hot club and who their new BFF is. Since I was also unable able to email or IM anyone, I was officially out of touch. Being out of touch electronically is akin to being stranded on a deserted island, and not in a cool “Survivor” with the possibility of winning a million dollars way, but in a Tom Hanks talking to a deflated volleyball way.

This communication breakdown gave me time to think and I came to one very important realization, communication is vital. Without the ability to connect, we are lost. Don’t wait for disaster to strike, show your clients and employees that you understand how important it is to stay in contact by giving them a gift that shows respect for their favorite communication devices. The Millennium Leather Communications Jotter is a smart black case featuring a convenient Velcro and elastic belt loop attachment with Velcro closure. Most electronic devices such as a cell phone, PDA or Blackberry fit snugly into the expandable compartment. It includes a writing pad and an attractive gift box with ample space for imprint or debossing. It’s the perfect gift to communicate your appreciation, without breaking the bank.

You’ll have to excuse me, the cable is back and I have quite a bit of catching up to do. In the meantime, remember the words of John Powell, and my Aunt Patsy, “Communication works for those who work at it.”