All posts in Personal Branding

The Christmas Smile.

When I was an infant, my parents separated and my Dad flew the coop. Maybe he didn’t like being a dad, maybe he found love elsewhere, maybe he just did what he had to do, but he left and didn’t leave behind a joint chequing account filled with money or alimony support either.

I was only 1 but apparently, it wasn’t a great situation at the humble Tite household. On government assistance, alone with 4 children, and after years of Spina Bifida, not that mobile, my mother had to buckle down and simply focus on putting food in our mouths opposed to buying Christmas sweaters or $6 Million Dollar Man action figures. Not an easy thing for a mom to do.

We had an Aunt Norma who wasn’t really an Aunt but one of those good family friends who we called an Aunt. She cussed like a Tavern regular. She was louder than Foghorn Leghorn. And, as we found out that first Christmas, she had a heart of gold.

Norma wasn’t wealthy by any stretch. Not even close. Like most working class families, they struggled to make ends meet and actually had to save throughout the year so they could appropriately celebrate Christmas.

That Christmas, Norma went to her siblings and extended family.
She asked them to hold back one gift originally intended for their children and instead, donate that gift to my mom so she could give us a Christmas.
Can you believe that? Rip a gift out of your children’s hands so someone else’s kids can share in the joy? Unbelievable generosity from people who didn’t have a lot to be generous with.

Miraculously, the four of us got presents that year.
We eagerly ripped them open completely unaware of the emotional turmoil our mom had been through leading up to that morning or the circumstances that had transpired to put gifts under our tree.

Clearly, I don’t remember what was wrapped.
This narrative is the result of people telling me about that year because my first hand knowledge of the situation is limited to “I think I had a dirty diaper.”
Still, I think about it often.

Throughout our lives, the holidays change. The gifts change, the food changes, the traditions change, the people change.
But one thing doesn’t. The holidays are about one thing: Putting smiles on people’s faces.

Whether it’s through stocking stuffers, compliments on the food, letting someone take your parking spot, or saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” to a stranger, here’s hoping you can put a smile on someone’s face over the coming days.

We spend all year learning, thinking, and working to put products in people’s hands.
Over the next week, let’s put smiles on people’s faces.

Happy holidays.
May your smile be bright.




Pitch to win.

Whether you’re an agency pitching for a piece of business or a bag of cookies pitching for consumer eyeballs, most of us default to playing it safe.

We don’t want to offend.
We don’t want to show personality.
We don’t want to take risks.
We don’t want to be unique.
After all, what if we’re wrong?

Where it leaves us is right in line with everyone else who, as luck would have it, have chosen to do the same thing.
My good friend, mentor and co-founder of Sharpe Blackmore (which became Euro RSCG which became Havas), Tom Blackmore knew this. Before a pitch one day, Tom passed on this wisdom:

I’d rather be last than second.

I don’t know that a better line was ever spoken about the art of pitching.
If you finished second, you probably said all the safe things.
All the expected things.
You checked off all the boxes.
And gave your prospect all the rational reasons to choose you.

But they didn’t.

They didn’t choose you because you weren’t memorable enough for them to say, “They nailed it.”
They didn’t choose you because you didn’t cause an emotional reaction.
They didn’t choose you because you told them what they wanted to hear not what you wanted to tell them.

When you come in last, you still lose.
But you lose knowing that you went for it.

In some way, at some time, in some place, you will have a pitch today.
Swing for the fences.

Rick Springfield: A one hit wonder is a wonder.

RS6-e1346944431337I’ve never been a guy for details so when Mitch Joel informed me that Rick Springfield was performing as a part of Content Marketing World in Columbus, Ohio, I realized I hadn’t thoroughly read the conference’s extracurricular agenda. I also realized that I hadn’t thought of the name “Rick Springfield” since the last time I watched my favourite scene from Boogie Nights.

Leading up to last night, his performance was met with mischievous smiles and eye rolls. It was the kind of thing people expected, I guess. An older rocker who we (kinda) remembered from pre-teen dances and the early days of MTV performing for gaggle of badge-flapping, khaki wearing, “What’s the ROI?” spouting, content marketers.

Oh, I wouldn’t miss this spectacle for all the Facebook Likes in the world.

For those who don’t know, Rick Springfield had a song, Jessie’s Girl, that spent 2 whole weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981 and netted him a Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. Sure there were other songs and albums and a stint on General Hospital, but Jessie’s Girl is what most people remember about his career.

Rick Springfield just celebrated his 63rd birthday.
Let me repeat that. He’s 63.

You know who else is 63? Bill O’Reilly. Victor Garber. Hell, even Ric Flair was born in 1949. Just 2 years from collecting a pension and with (I hope) enough money to last and Rick Springfield is still performing? And at a corporate show to boot?

Well, Rick rocked. And there was no one more surprised than me.
He sang his heart out, played the heck out of his guitar, worked his way through the crowd and genuinely seemed to have a good time.

What I liked most about it though, was how comfortable he seemed to be with himself and his place in history. Introducing one song, he chuckled, “You probably remember this song from when you were wearing a training bra.” For another, he actually apologized for making the movie, “Hard to Hold”.

He could have phoned it in. He could have played some stuff, collected his cheque, and visibly grumbled about the experience but he didn’t. He was a total pro. He was more energetic, passionate and honest about his work than most people in the audience are about theirs. Even if he hated the whole thing, he certainly didn’t show it. I don’t know that I’ll ever love his music but I certainly respect him for it.

Because, deep down, on some level, I think we’re all Rick Springfield.

Our careers have peaks and valleys and we normally have our biggest successes in our younger years. Having a number one song (however we define it in our own industries) is rare and when it happens, we should acknowledge that it’s probably some combination of talent, drive, working with the right people, and the miraculous alignment of the planets in our favour. Some of us are simply lucky that it all comes together. We should be proud of the achievement but also recognize how fortunate we are to have been a part of it.

I once opened for Jann Arden at a corporate event and before singing her hit song, Insensitive, she said, “I’d like to thank this next song because it allowed me to buy my house and send my parents on many cruises.” I don’t like the song but I loved her honesty about her role in its success.

As Rick showed  our group last night, what follows success is probably more important than what precedes it. We can acknowledge the accolades but we should be more proud of the passion for the craft that got us there.

When I turn 63, I hope I show the passion for my craft that Rick showed for his.
Keep rockin’ Rick. And don’t talk to strangers. 

Take the meeting. It’s good karma.

Whether we’re 20 or 90, we all ask for advice.
Should we take the job? Should we wear this jacket with these pants? Should we use WordPress or Tumblr? Usually, it’s with those close to us, but when our indecision extends to the workplace or our career, we usually have to look beyond our Friends List for real and insightful advice. And that can be tough. Often, you won’t know the people who’s counsel you seek. So you reach out on LinkedIn, you look for mutual friends on Facebook, or you simply cross your fingers, fire off an email and hope for a response.

Over the past year, I wanted to do just that. I wasn’t seeking advice as much as perspective. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do exactly but wanted to dedicate time to really find out how other worlds were adapting to the new media and advertising landscape. So I connected with network programming people, production companies, media sellers, media planners, creative folks, planners and more. It was like a TED Tour and I had a front row seat.

Through it all, I discovered the niche I wanted to play in but admittedly, didn’t do a good enough job of thanking those who took the time to help me do it. Well, this week, I got a great reminder when Daniel Hebert went out of his way to thank me for my advice.

A while ago, I got an email from Daniel asking me to look at his blog and provide some career advice. Like most people with senior advertising experience, I get a ton of emails asking for meetings, portfolio reviews, and the general, “Can I pick your brain?” sort of requests. Normally, I try to set aside time as there are many who have done the same for me. When I can swing it, I try to make myself available.

I just never really know if they listen. Now I do.
Daniel Hebert wrote a blog post featuring my email response, my career advice and his appreciation for both. Needless to say, it made my day.

When we get asked for a bit of our time, it’s pretty easy to forget how we feel when we’re the one asking for it. It’s nice to know that a simple email resonated with him and that all those meetings and emails DO help people.
To all those who have helped me out, thanks. And the next time someone asks for that meeting, try to make yourself available. It’s good karma.

Here’s the post (and I’m curious to know what you think of my advice).

The intrigue! The drama! The rumours!

Around this time last year, I was beginning to feel like I wasn’t loving life.

Or my job.

I was Vice President and Executive Creative Director at the Toronto office of a well respected international network, Euro RSCG. What was not to like? It was, and remains, a great gig. I absolutely loved my bosses, colleagues and clients. I had a department of talented and fun people. And to top it all off, I had practically grown up with founders Bill Sharpe and Tom Blackmore. Hell, I wouldn’t even be in advertising if it wasn’t for them.

Still I was feeling like I had to make a move.

Simply put, I was frustrated. The industry was rapidly changing and I personally wasn’t doing enough to change with it. So, after much deliberation, I just decided to leave so I could figure it out.
In true Sharpe / Blackmore fashion, the fine folks at Euro gave me a new title, an email address and an office when I needed it. It was all unpaid but little things like that are more appreciated than they ever appear.

So, I set out on a quest much like Karl Pilkington’s An Idiot Abroad.
(Only without the mumbling British accent)

I met with network programming people.
I met with TV producers.
I met with entrepreneurs.
I met with media sales people.
I met with media planners.
I met with content publishers.
I met with senior clients.
I met with junior clients.
I met with academics.
I met with creatives.
I met with agency management.
I met with recruiters.
I met with developers.
I poked. I prodded. I asked. I listened.

And now, I’m almost ready to talk. 
Look for an exciting announcement in the next couple of weeks.

There are already some floating around so let’s add to the rumours. What do you think I’m going to do?

We’ve made a horrible mistake.

Yup. “We’ve made a horrible mistake.” That’s how Nancy Vonk, Co-Chief Creative Officer at Ogilvy described the ad industry’s approach to training and development. Nancy was part of a panel I gathered to discuss the lack of training in our industry. Also joining the conversation were Anthony Kalamut, Leslie Ehm, Jeff Potnikoff, and Suzanne Filiatrault. It was all part of XChange, a new online show that I launched in partnership with Cartilage Digital, Marketing Magazine and Dx3.

As you’ll see, the discussion is lively and the content is rich.

Thanks to our panelists for spending the time. And thanks to you for watching.

I welcome your comments and suggestions for topics to discuss or panelists to feature in the future.

What halfway houses can teach us about change.

Correctional Service of Canada

Image via Wikipedia

Most Canadians would agree (I think) that halfway houses are necessary to help federal prisoners transition back into mainstream society. The experts certainly agree with that statement. According to the Correctional Service of Canada’s Standard Operating Practices of Community Supervision “gradual release is the safest correctional strategy for the protection of society.”

Here’s my problem: While most us agree that halfway houses are needed, a lot of us say, “Just don’t put it next to my house.”

Beliefs about organizational change are the same. We complain about where we work or how we work. We demand change but refuse to consider that we as individuals should be the ones changing. “We have to do things differently… just don’t touch my job.” It’s not just corporate life, either. Team based professional athletes plead with their general managers to improve the team but refuse to understand that they might be the ones traded to another squad.

If you want true organizational change to occur, start with yourself. It’s the first step towards corporate rehabilitation.

Why marketers need to know the name Victor Kiam.

He liked it so much, he bought the company.

A Harvard MBA grad and respected entrepreneur, Victor Kiam famously bought Remington Products after his wife purchased a Remington shaver for him as a gift. With no money of his own, he believed in the product so much that he arranged $25 million in financing to purchase the company in a leveraged buyout. Soon after, he overruled his ad agency, inserted himself into Remington commercials and began using the line that would define his career:

“I liked it so much, I bought the company.”

It was an interesting approach and it worked. Kiam tripled the revenue of his company in just 4 years.

In 2010, Euro RSCG’s global study, “Prosumer Pulse”, found that prosumers want three things from brands today: Truth. Honesty. Transparency. Throughout his career, Kiam delivered on all three.

He wasn’t just a spokesperson. He was the owner. He stood behind his products and his claims (“Shaves as close as a blade or your money back”) and people believed him. How couldn’t they?

Sadly, I just don’t see this happening today as much as it should.

Galen Westin performs well for Loblaw but I think he brings a more of a humble personality than credibility. He’s not really known as a foodie and do we really believe that a rich kid handed the leadership of a billion dollar publicly traded company by his father is this down to earth (even though he may very well be)?

With so much skepticism surrounding C-Level executives, I wish there were more CEOs who channeled their inner Victor Kiam. Given the opportunity, would they actually buy what they sell?

As Dave Pearce reminded me, things started to go south for Kiam when his personal credibility, his true strength, took a hit. After buying the New England Patriots, Kiam said something completely inappropriate about a female reporter in support of his players. While the case was settled out of court, he never fully recovered and the losses from the Patriots began to sink him. He died in 2001. 


See Victor here:

Words of wisdom from Victor Kiam:

“Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward.”
“In business, the competition will bite you if you keep running, if you stand still, they will swallow you.”
“Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.”
“You can hype a questionable product for a little while, but you’ll never build an enduring business.”


Once up a time…

Outakes from the last show of Cirque's Nouvell...

Image via Wikipedia

5 Tips for great corporate storytelling.

With more technology available to help us tell stories, we’ve lost the art of crafting the content of the stories and have relied on gadgets and software to tell them for us. Here are 5 tips that can help.

1.        Know your audience.
This is not only the first rule of comedy, it’s the first rule of storytelling. If you want to connect with someone, you first have to know what they care about and craft the story with that direction in mind. The same idea can be spun numerous ways. A marketing person will want to hear how your idea connects with customers. An HR Director will want to hear about the effect on employee retention. And your left-brain CFO will want to hear about the financial implications.

2.        Start with the end in mind.
Ideas are catalysts. When executed properly, they create something. So, tell that something. If I told you that I was taking you on a road trip to Las Vegas, your ears would perk up and you’d be excited. You’d probably want to hear more and immediately jump to questions, “Where are we staying? Can we see Cirque de Soleil? Is prostitution still legal there?” But if I chose to tell you in the linear fashion that many tell stories, you’d be bored by the time I said, “We turn right and head on to the Gardiner Expressway…”

3.        Describe the characters.
Even those who tell stories will often take the no-name brand approach, using generic people. “There was this guy…” or “we once had a client…” doesn’t add any colour to a story. We already know this. Ask anyone about their grade 6 class and you get first name, last name. “There was this kid in my class, Gregory Albrecht, who smelled liked pee.” Make your characters come to life and the story will, too.

4.        Move it forward.
While details are nice, you simultaneously have to ensure that you keep the story moving forward. My mom came from a great line of Italian – Quebecois storytellers but it could be painful listening to one of hers because of the wild tangents she’d take you on. Half way through, you’d be 8 generations away from the original plot, looking for an escape hatch to bring you back to reality. Move it forward.

5.        End with what you want them to remember.
“And they lived happily ever after” is often used in fables because that’s what we want kids to remember. It’s like a tagline. There’s a reason taglines are so important in advertising. They sum up everything that preceded them. If you only remember one thing, it can be the tagline because it should summarize all the details. Even Apple, which doesn’t have a corporate tagline, always end their spots on their logo. They want you to remember, “Don’t worry. What you just saw is an Apple product so you can rest assured knowing that it’s simple, innovative and fun.”

A couple of weeks ago, I worked with 600 sales people from Allstream in an interactive exercise that had them crafting and telling stories about the organization. We even picked 3 lucky contestants to get on stage and deliver them to the room. With little time to prepare and no rehearsals, they did it brilliantly. Here’s hoping you can, too.