It’s hard to watch your mother cry. And not be able to help.
It happened every few weeks or so, after she would “check in” on her sister, who lived right around the corner in the tiny row house where they grew up with their parents years ago.
Her sister refused to speak to her, and the entire rest of the family. no matter what she tried. Talking. Reasoning. Pleading. Nothing.
Paranoid schizophrenia does that to you, I’m told. It can alienate you from the people who love you most. People who want the best for you, as my mother wanted for her younger sister.
Although their parents had passed years ago, her sister remained in the family home alone, refusing treatment and medication that once had her thriving, working, worshiping, shopping, interacting. But then she stopped the medication. Felt she didn’t need it any more. Lost her job, retreated into her world, disrupted local churches. She claimed people were listening to her thoughts, poisoning her food. She cut off everyone. Yet because she wasn’t hurting herself or others, she had the right to refuse treatment. To suffer alone.
She suffered alone while my mother stood by, relying on watchful neighbors to notice signs that she was alright. Safe. Eating. Moving about. Taking care of herself. Until one day she wasn’t. And needed intervention. And it happened again. And again, until she WAS hurting herself through lack of care.
She was committed to a mental hospital by state authorities. Refused visitors, especially her family. But she was safe.
My mother still cried. Grieved. For years. Until my mother herself passed and her aqua blue eyes wept no more.
But her sister lived on. For years. Until all the older brothers and sisters had passed. Even well after that.
I received one of those calls from a cousin you usually don’t hear from by phone. “Oh, she passed? How sad,” we both teared up. As sad as her life.
As I hung up the phone, I spied a photo of my mother, and imagined her perched at heaven’s gate, welcoming her sister with joyous squeezing, rocking “I’ve missed you so much” arm locks, with blue eyes that now sparkled with reunion tears. I pray that was the scene today in heaven.
And for all of you who’ve shed tears, and struggle with tough decisions and tough days hinged on the mental illness of your loved ones, I pray for you as well. And wish you the patience, resilience and faith to stand by those lost souls, even when you’re pushed away with nothing but love in your heart.
RIP, Aunt Helen.
When it’s your first year after losing something – a special person in your life, your marriage, a job, kids leaving the nest - you’re often surprised by how some of those annual holiday decorations can trigger you. Even SLAP you in a way, reminding you things will never be the same. Especially when those decorations involve family members who aren’t around anymore.
That’s what happened the first Christmas after my divorce. My kids and their friends offered to help me decorate. (OK, I bribed them to do it. I needed a good cheer session that year.) Together we hauled out the bins of wreaths and stockings and balls and candles and animatronic statues of Bing Crosby singing White Christmas, many with memories attached. I was fine through most of the mementos… but there was this one item that just pulled the rug out from under me… LITERALLY.
It was a holiday welcome mat with our last name emblazoned on it. You know... the ones you can customize with the father, mother and children and pet characters that match your family. My kids saw me sitting on the steps staring at the mat, silent, for a few moments. Their friends noticed, too. Never again would we be that whole happy animated family like the one in the drawing. Damn, that hurt. But, like many other memories from that year, I put aside those broken feelings, as I also did with the mat… placing it back into the decoration storage bin on top of the empty Christmas tree ornament boxes. I could deal with that later. The kids just watched. I turned up the Christmas music. Onward!
But I had no idea that moment sprouted a plan with them.
We all made it through to Christmas… a quieter, more meager advent season than usual. But I cherished the moments I had with them, and having their friends around more often. On Christmas afternoon, after presents were open, and we enjoyed a lazy jammies morning, some of their friends dropped by. “We have something for you, Mrs. H,” they touted proudly.
I couldn’t imagine what they were hiding behind their backs. But there it was again… the holiday family name welcome mat. But different. My artist daughter, son, and all of their friends had “doctored” the mat with a Sharpee. The name was filled in, unrecognizable. One of the figures was filled in too (now officially a "smudge.") But all around it – around the drawings of me and my daughter and my son and the dog - were drawings of other faces. THEIR faces, along with their names, to show that THEY made up our new family.
A new cast of characters that met here. Felt comfortable here. Ate dinners here, TALKING (with my no cell phone policy.) Teased here. Laughed here. Learned about life and love here.
I looked up to spy their shining faces staring back at me, waiting for a reaction. My mouth dropped open. Tears. Puzzled looks on their faces. And then an avalanche of laughter… first from me, and then from the others.
It was the genesis of a new family. A happier one. With the most precious, symbolic gift of welcome and acceptance that probably started as a joke… but ended up reaffirming my feeling that we were all going to be just fine. In fact, more than fine. Just great, with even more love in our home, with a whole new cast of characters who become a new breed of “family.”
So if you’re ever having one of those moments when you’re dreading the holidays, dodging all those “firsts,” all those uncomfortable moments of heartache, just think… sometimes others will rescue you. Let them. Even if they are your kids and their friends. They are often wise beyond their years.
To many happy new moments for you this year!
Ask any one of my relatives. My Mother Mary – with the big hair, the big red lipstick, and the big always-at-her-side handbag – had the biggest heart, and sweet tooth on the planet.
It was no surprise that during her senior years, she volunteered to ”bring the pies” to all the family dinners. Not because they were hand-made family recipes (no, she hated cooking) but because the pies she brought were always “the best.” After all, they had the words, “Served in fine restaurants” on the front of the box. (They probably were served in a fine restaurant – somewhere – at one time.) But we all knew they were lovingly bought South Philly corner grocery store pies that my mother deemed as “gourmet bargains” because of the claim on the box.
But it wasn’t just the caliber of pie. It was the bigness of variety for her as well. Just like her innate “cook for an army” Slovak roots, she always brought far too many. Dinner for 4? We need 4 pies! Family dinner with the tribe? 8 pies is a MUST. Everyone got pie. And some to take home. Pumpkin and apple, coconut custard, pecan. My nephews and nieces and kids would joke. “Oh, look… Grandmom brought the pies!” in that utterly surprised tone. It was the family joke that Mom never caught on. She was too proud of her achievement.
So it was no surprise to any of us that Mom waited to pass until her last pie delivery during the holidays, right after her 84th birthday back in 2005. She rallied for one last piefest.
After the funeral, I remember coming home and racing to the refrigerator to see if my ultimate memento remained… her last pie box. There it was. With one last piece, still in the refrigerator. I removed the contents, cleaned out the box, and placed it on top of the fridge as a keepsake. Her last pie. It sat there for several years, now a prized possession.
Fast forward a few years to when my new fiancé – Nick – who was moving his things into my house before our wedding – began to rearrange our now combined kitchenware in the same finite space. The purge began with a good cleaning and inventory. “Here’s an old pie box,” he said aloud, ready to chuck it. “How long has THAT been here…?” he asked before I barked, “Don’t touch that! It’s my mother’s last pie box!” clutching it to my chest as I recanted the story to him. He gently placed it in a new home on the tippy-top shelf in the hall closet after wrapping it like a newborn baby.
A few months later, I was having surgery. Big, scary surgery. Just like a Hallmark channel movie scene, Nick was lovingly there in the recovery room when I opened my eyes and gripped my hand all the way back to my regular room. Once I became fully alert, he wedged himself at my bedside and presented me with a beautifully wrapped package. A frame of some sort. “NO….. you didn’t!” I exclaimed. He had hunted down a photo of my mother and enlarged it to fill the cellophane area of the pie box. The box was then trimmed and handsomely matted and custom framed for me, so she could watch over me through the pie box rather than sit in a closet.
I started balling happy tears about probably the most thoughtful gift I had ever received. The nurses rushed over…they thought my tears meant I was in pain! I blurted, “No, no. It’s my mother, in a pie box!”
I’m lucky they didn’t think I had too much anesthesia! Luckily, Nick explained the tale, showed the gift, and then blushed at our collective reaction of “Awwww. How sweet!” Yes, it was sweet. Beyond sweet. I was one lucky girl.
So although Mom is gone - (as Nick is, too, far too soon) - there she resides… permanently on my kitchen wall. My mother in a pie box. One that will always remind me that her pies were lovingly served in America’s fine restaurants. And better yet... that our family gatherings with our loved ones are indeed one of life’s most precious gifts.
May you have truly wonderful pie box and “thought-of-you” caliber memories with your loved ones this holiday season.
I am decluttering right now. Yes, it feels good. More living space. Less to manage. More for others.
But one thing I simply can’t part with is a gift I received a decade ago from an industry friend who is the high priestess of gift giving. (Yes, it’s what she does for a living – designing memorable gift and recognition programs for clients) but she also practices it herself in an exponentially exceptional way.
When I was going through a tough time in my life, this kindred spirit friend – whom I only see sporadically at national trade shows – sent me this simple yet incredible book called The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha. This easy-reading compilation of all things awesome - such as snow days, bakery air and licking batter off the cake beaters – along with her sweet personal message made this a life keeper. A book that has earned dog-eared permanent residency on my night stand, and a gift I now present to others.
More special was the note-turned-bookmark she included, which read, “You are awesome! Even in the face of a less than awesome year you still shined. As you rediscover the awesome in your life again, I hope this helps. God bless, you rare gem – Glenda.”
One especially thankful moment happened two weeks ago during a visit from my son, daughter-in-law and 5-month-old granddaughter, here from Germany on their way to their new military station in Colorado. It was the last night before they left. Our families were hanging out, eating pizza, watching a game, and then the music started. Live accordion playing, singing, swaying and dancing with the baby.
I looked around the room at all the merriment, the smiles. My daughter bouncing the baby to the beat. My son cooing at her with her favorite daddy sounds. My daughter-in-law's adoring right-to-sleep momma cuddles. My husband and her other grandparents all beaming at the angelic wonder. Friends and family belting out old tunes. Toasting the good times, toasting each other.
And then there’s me with tears streaming down my face.
“Look… Mom is crying,” my daughter whispered to my son. They both smiled. They knew it was a happy cry. They got it. What a mother dreams about. The best gift EVER.
Life’s greatest gift. LOVE. FAMILY. FRIENDS. NEW LIFE. JOY.
So in this season of decluttering - and also of gift giving and gratefulness - here’s hoping that you experience your own version of The Book of Awesome.
When I was in college studying for an Advertising degree, one of the first pre-requisites was a course called Newswriting 101 - a basics in Journalism course where we had to practice writing news stories. I had a great teacher who pounded into us the importance of “nailing the lead” – or getting the entire essence of the piece in the first paragraph. Like Mr. Miyagi from the movie The Karate Kid, we had to practice over and over cramming the who, what, when, where, how and why into the opening... being thorough yet brief and intriguing.
Why? Because in the news business, you often don’t get space for more than the lead… or worse yet - with today’s scan-the-news consumers - if you don’t give the most important points FIRST and in a CAPTIVATING WAY, you may lose them forever.
With the average person seeing an average of 5000 messages a day – 10 times the amount we used to see in the 70’s - they’re quickly bolting to the next topic unless it absolutely intrigues them.
I wondered all during college, and even after, why it was compulsory for an Advertising major to take this newswriting course. Sure, for writing press releases was one reason. But why else?
And then after a few years in my first real Advertising job as a copywriter, the light bulb went on. Because with everything we do in advertising and marketing, PR and networking, we’re STORYTELLING. We’re not just pushing a product or a service. We have to be able to “cut to the chase” and “get to the point” quickly with our relate-it-to-me ad messages. Or the prospect is gone.
And not just the WHAT – or product info. No, the WHO. The target audience. Who am I speaking to?
As Travel Marketer Meredith Hill says, “When you speak to everyone, you speak to no one.” You have to know your audience to target them properly.
Then there’s WHEN. The in-hands date, when the promotion launches. WHERE do they need it? HOW will this product be used, distributed? HOW will the promotion work?
And then the most important one… the WHY. The reason for the entire story. WHY are you doing this? What’s the purpose? What’s the goal? If you don’t know the why, how can you even begin to tell the story of why someone would want to buy?
(Which is why it drives me absolutely crazy when help-seekers post, “Need gift ideas for a bar giveaway… $5 price point.” That’s IT? That’s all you give us? How about… what is the message you’re delivering for the client? Who are they targeting? And most important… what results are you trying to achieve for the bar opener? What is the purpose of the promotion? I am astounded that sometimes people reply that they don’t know or can’t get this info from the client. IF YOU DON'T HAVE THE FUNDAMENTALS, THEN HOW CAN YOU BUILD A SUCCESSFUL, MEASURABLE PROMOTION?)
So now, as I dive into creating a new promotion for one of my clients, and started with the discovery process of attaining the “who, what, when, where, how and why” of their new campaign, do I thank my lucky stars that I began my career all those years ago with Newswriting 101.
Long live the fundamentals!
Do you know that feeling right after a makeover? How sensational you feel after your stylist finishes a great new haircut? Or how rejuvenated you feel after a facial or massage? Or the vibrancy in your step after a relaxing manicure or pedicure?
Feels pretty darned good, huh?
That’s how your brand feels, too, when you give it a makeover. A fresh face. New look. Crisp new graphics. Look-at-me images. Sharp, short pops of copy.
So how often should you update your brand in digital media? Well, it depends, experts say. But here are some frameworks:
OK, but why change?
So, I want to do it, but I’m busy. How CAN I be sure to get it done?
…And then you have time for more decadent makeovers – personal ones!
To your next amazing makeover…
P.S. HELP! I just updated my website after 3 years, and I would love to know what you think. So go to the top and surf around. Then let me know your comments here. Thanks! www.scarletmarketeer.com
This past weekend, after overcoming jet lag from my recent first trip to Germany and Europe, a friend asked me, “So what amazing sights did you see while there?”
I paused for a moment, thinking how I was going to answer. Sure, I landed in one of the most diverse and vibrant cosmopolitan cities – Frankfurt. I marveled at the greenest hilly vineyards emerging through morning mist. I crossed the scenic Rhine River while zooming on the Autobahn, faster than I’ve ever ridden in a car. Toured the most important European military base – Ramstein Air Force Base - to get my “on-off” post credentials. Pushed a shopping cart through a seemingly endless retail labyrinth also known as largest PX in Europe.
But none of these meant ANYTHING because of other sights and sensations that were so profound…
My son, waiting for me curbside with that proud, “We did it, Mama” look on his face.
The quiet hospital room where I first spied my daughter-in-law Maura peacefully cradling her newborn daughter the day after giving birth.
My first touch of the baby’s soft skin and silky hair. My tears tricking onto her receiving blanket as I embraced them both.
My son offering his Sergeant’s muscled chest to the newborn he’s now vowing to protect for all time.
Perry dropping his “Call of Duty” video console for diaper doodie. Both of them tag-teaming a messy diaper change that went on and on and on. (And laughing hysterically together the whole time.) How Perry wrestled with the new diaper Genie bags and what happens when you don’t read the instructions.
How Maura began to learn her baby’s cries and what each meant. How Perry maneuvered a frying pan, recreating their favorite “Green Chicken” dish – scrumptious! How smartly they shopped to manage their household budget on a soldier’s salary. Watching Maura tenderly tending to Nova’s every need through sleep-deprived eyes and a healing, aching body. Perry stopping to choose a new dress for Maura to remind her how beautiful she is. Presenting it to her with adoring eyes.
How in love they were – we all were - with this new life of theirs.
That’s what I will remember most. And the number of times I kissed every crevice of that child, and promising her all the fun we would have together.
These were the most beautiful, unforgettable sights of all.
May you see such joyous sights in your lifetime.
Nova Rae's Grandmom Scarlet
P.S. I can’t forget to mention the gelato truck - a Mister Softee-like ice cream mobile food van - who made the most incredible Amaretto sundaes unlike anything ever served on a neighborhood truck in my home town! And on a military base. AMAZING! But not as sweet as Nova Rae!
One of the most beautiful limited time sights in my town is the arrival of the cherry blossoms (Perhaps that’s why they call this place “Cherry Hill.”) The pink puff balls of petals are just breathtaking. The buds peek at you one day, and the next, blooms explode, lining our streets with a cotton candy floral spectacle that has passers by pulling over for selfies.
One spring day about 10 years ago, driving my kids to one of their seemingly endless practices, I let out a gasp, marveling at the pink overhangs I could see through my sunroof. Although probably late for the practice, I drove slowly, savoring the blushing branches welcoming us as we drove down Chapel Avenue, known for its cherry blossom splendor each year.
The gasp had its effect. My kids looked up, and away from their smartphones. The pink wasn’t there just a few days ago. Now it was petal stampede, with the spring breeze swirling loose blossoms into our windshield.
“Wow!” the kids exclaimed. (A true compliment from teenagers. Nature, you must have put on quite a show.)
Feeling playful, I let this slip without thinking, kiddingly… “Wouldn’t it be cool to be covered with a bucketful of those petals?”
“Yeah,” they agreed. "Even better than a bucket of slime."
And then Mother’s Day arrived. The day I’ve cherished each year. I say “cherished” because... I almost didn’t become a Mom. It wasn’t in the physical cards for my first husband and me. So we were lucky enough to adopt infants two separate times from Colombia. Instead of “delivery,” we did “takeout!” I always relay jokingly. (The kids groan.) But it gives me the greatest smile, as I also hear from other parents who’ve adopted or who had difficulties conceiving. That “almost couldn't” situation made me appreciate these children that much more. Celebrating Mother’s Day was like winning the Indy 500! And I treasured every handmade ornament, every construction paper mural, every macaroni masterpiece gifted to me all the more.
So on this Mother’s Day, when the kids asked me to close my eyes as they led me out to the front porch, I was giggling with glee before their gift was even revealed. And then it happened.
They poured an entire bucket of pink cherry blossom petals over my head.
Yes, an entire bucket. Petals they had to hunt down around the entire town because the trees had lost them the weekend prior. Petals that now graced my hair, my shoulders, my shoes, and the brick walkway. There was pink joy - pure pleasure - as we all laughed, hugged, shouted and reveled in a whimsy lived, a true “bucket list” dream revealed.
The joy on THEIR faces was priceless. The mark on my heart? Permanent.
And it all came from GOOD LISTENING… paying attention to the little things that were important to someone. The mark of the best gift of all, whether for loved ones or for business. I will never forget that moment, that gift, that gesture.
How could they ever top that?
Well it seems this year, they have topped that with a coincidentally wonderful gift. My son and his wife are expecting their first daughter any day now. If she doesn’t come sooner, she’s scheduled to be induced on Mother’s Day evening. And I’ll become a Grandmother for the first time on that day of glorious days.
It doesn’t get any better than that, does it, friends?
Wishing all you Mothers out there a bucketful of joy this holiday. And to those who aren't, I salute YOUR Mother, and wish you wonderful memories of her.
Here's to great listening and joy all around!
P.S. Of course, pictures will be coming!
A friend of mine asked for help rewriting a profile for her online dating page. So, as with my marketing clients, I began by asking questions.
"What have you tried before?"
"What results are you getting?"
"What makes you so special to a potential suitor?"
"Who is your target audience?"
And there were many others, of course, until I had the full picture. She wanted better quality guys. Intelligence. A professional. Ones who would actually READ her profile. Ones who wanted a RELATIONSHIP, not just... well, you know. And then I asked her to send me her photos... to see how she was presenting herself.
They were nice clear shots, in a variety of poses... some fun, serious, whimsical, one with pets, and even a full body pose, to show her physique. All good choices.
"So where are the CAPTIONS?" I asked.
"Captions?" she queried back.
"Yes, captions. That's what most guys will only read. They will look at your photos, and then read short captions, if they're interested."
It's true. In fact, not just guys, but ALL of us are conditioned to look for pictures and then, if we want to know more, read a short caption. Not a huge, long verse. Just enough to accentuate the positive.
Yet we spend HOURS crafting every little word and nuance of the paragraphs we tweak over and over... paragraphs that probably are not even ranking an eye scan by most.
In this day and age, we are conditioned to cut to the chase. Look for the visuals first. A single picture DOES speak 1000 words.
But when you want to REEL THEM IN, and reinforce a point... give it a caption. A main headline. A single thought.
Why? Because the old advertising adage is still true: PICTURES ATTRACT. COPY SELLS.
It's a timeless rule of marketing. Images and videos lure you in. The short captions get you closer to saying "yes" or "no." Whether it's a date, a car, diet pills, a puppy, plumbing services or logoed fidget spinners. Captions seal the deal or get you to the next level, the next click, the next screen in the sale process.
So take good photos. Write upbeat, short captions with benefits, not just features. (And if you don't know the difference, get a good copywriter who does. Wink!)
It could make a world of difference between meeting your soulmate, or spending another Saturday night at home. Alone. Again. (Unlike my friend who's now happily dating "one of the good ones.")
Your ever-loving Captioneer...
My Dear Son,
In just a few short days or weeks, your whole world is going to change.
When they place that new baby angel in your arms, something amazing happens.
There's this primal, overflow of gushing love that will erupt from your core like Vesuvius on its absolute best lava day. You won't be sure where it comes from. Where it was hiding. But out it streams when you see her tiny squinted face, her delicate lashes, her perfect little... everything.
You thought you had protective instincts before? It's nothing like what you already feel about protecting your wife, your friends, family and even your country. This is your daughter. She will rule your heart and drive your decisions from now on.
You'll be DADDY. And an amazing one, I'm sure. You've had that kid vibe since YOU were a kid. You helped the quiet ones blossom. And calm the hyper ones. Now you'll have one of your own.
I am sure you're hearing - as I did when I adopted you - scads of advice that parenting won't be easy. It's not. But it will be the most rewarding, demanding job this side of Boot Camp. With even worse hours. HER hours.
And not only will she have you stepping to her schedule (at least in the beginning) but she will be WATCHING YOU constantly. From that first day, until your last.
You are now an example of what she will be, could be. You are teaching her the good and the bad.
You will be her guidepost… her starting-out place for choices she will make in her life. Choices that will determine her happiness, her well-being, her habits, her safety, her goals. Yeah, you’re in the parenting Army now… and you’re training this little soldier on HOW to live the right way, just by how YOU live. Scary, huh?
Not really. Because you’re a good man. With good values. Good disciplines. And you have a fantastic wife. You’ll both be great examples. You both are united in being the best parents in everything you do. Even when you both don't know what to do.
This parent thing is a whole new gig. No experience you’ve had … no army drill sergeant, physical training masochist, play-off driven coaches, SAT-score-crazed teachers, come-to-Jesus Sunday school lecturers or one of my loudest Banshee parental rants... will ever prepare you for what happens when the doctor passes this new beautiful life to you.
Because when her little hand grips your finger, it’s really your heart. It's hard to discipline what you love most.
But you'll learn to. For her sake and yours and Maura's. Because the best kids have firm boundaries, just like the best soldiers. But you'll figure that out, among many other things.
You won’t be perfect. You will make mistakes. But as long as you do what you feel is right in your heart, and you communicate and gain consensus with Maura, you will be just fine.
You will both be just fine. In fact, much better than fine. You have support. And love. And each other. Plus, a legion of family and friends who want to help. So don't do this alone! Speak up! Reach out. You asking for a break will be our joy, our precious moments with her. And you get to be that individual, that athlete, that movie-lover, that couple again, which is so important for your happiness and sanity.
Time will zoom by. You’ll wonder what happened to all those little moments you cherished. When she’s nestled on your chest. Playing in your lap. Riding horsey on your back. Wrestling with you on the floor. Gripping your hand to cross the street. Tugging at your car keys. Walking the aisle on your arm. And the whole time, held within your adoring gaze. At every stage of life.
Savor it. Savor HER.
And when you hit that rewind button on your life… you will mark some of your happiest moments as those surrounding HER. Sometimes the big things. But often just the little things that only you and she will know. Now that you will know the absolute bliss of this secret club called Parenthood.
Welcome to the club, my son. Welcome to the world of absolute joy that I entered when YOU were placed in my arms 28 years ago.
You got this.
With unending love and joy...
Your adoring Mamacita
Back in 1973, I was a wide-eyed Catholic school eighth grader who trekked to see her first high school musical at the "boy's high school" in our part of town. My best friend's sister was in the play... My Fair Lady that year. Being a South Philly city kid, I had only ever seen one other musical, when our 7th grade class bussed to New York City to see Jesus Christ Superstar the year prior. I was hooked, mesmerized. I wanted to be a part of a production like that.
So here we are, in the boy's high school theater auditorium, fiddling with our program, thinking this show won't compare to what I just saw on Broadway. But then the curtain rose, and we were taken on a magical musical journey into an English linguist's study, serenaded by spectacular singing actors, a live orchestra and a robust dancing chorus that resulted in two standing ovations. (And not just because their kids were IN the show. Because it was just that good. Were these all high school kids?)
Afterwards, we met the cast, and witnessed the flurry of post-performance joy swirling around the players... hugging, spinning, dancing, and crying the good tears.
At the back of the long hallway, there was a line of fans waiting to salute the larger-than-life director of the show - Frank Perri - and his always sunny sidekick wife Josie. To her bubbly contrast, Mr. Perri was a bulldog of a man, stately, proud, yet gruff with rippling jet-black hair and severe eyebrows to match. A strict teacher at Bishop Neumann High School, we learned he had also earned the reputation as a tough director who consistently transformed ordinary high school star-struck theatrical singers, musicians and dancers into Glee quality performers.
I HAD to be a part of that.
So, on a rainy Fall day in my first high school freshman year, I appeared - butterflies in tow - at audition day for the Neumann Players. I practiced show tunes all summer, belting out a duet with Barbra Streisand from my cassette player to her soundtrack of "Hello, Dolly," the next year's chosen show. Knowing that the audition also included dancing - the waltz and the polka - I coaxed my father to dance with me round our tiny row home living room for HOURS. Luckily, he didn't mind. One-two-three-and... one-two three, and... around and around.
So after hearing my name, there I stood, center stage - blinded by the glaring spotlight - squinting at the audition team, anchored in the center by the master show architect himself, Mr. Perri. He peeked at me over his jumbo 70's style framed glasses, sizing me up. All I could think of was, "Oh, God. You're a chubby freshman in a sea of gorgeous leggy talented upperclassmen, many who come back every year. You better sing like Barbra, girl!"
And so I sang. Then I danced with a partner - the waltz and the polka. Then I read some lines. And then it was over. "Next!" he belted. I clip-clopped down the stage steps, back to the herd of auditioners (to check out the rest of the competition.) Crap. These other girls were GOOD. I left feeling doomed.
The following week, a phone call. One I thought would never come. I made the show, as a member of the chorus!!!! No winning lottery ticket could have ever competed with that news! I would be on stage, as a FRESHMAN... a real Neumann player, among all that talent.
Enter rehearsal day one. A welcome speech from our director. As I began to discover, this man was part king, part marshall, and part ringmaster all in one. A seemingly stern, calculating, critical, and relentless showman who often stopped rehearsals because our performance wasn't up to par, we weren't paying attention, or we didn't know the song lyrics, or lines, or dance steps as we should.
That look of his said it all. The furrowed brow. The crossed arms. The critical stink-eye. His booming "not loud enough" jeers. His intense shushing when we got too loud in the wings. Or the reality check lectures when we were just too distracted. Too lethargic. Too robotic. Too timid. Too weak.
"Not good enough!" he would blare. "Do it again!" he roared. He was tough to please. Feared. But he was respected. Because he brought out the best. In everybody.
And when he did let his guard down - on holidays, at celebrations, during lay-back stage crew nights (while the elders played jokes on the newbies when they asked us to bring back a bucket of steam, or 30 feet of fallopian tubing...Ha-Ha!) - you saw the caring, humor-loving, giving man that he was, the appreciative and tender husband he was, and adoring father he was to his daughter Franny. (For a few minutes, anyway. Then back to work! Because the show must go on!)
As it did for 50 years. This man and his wife directed the Neumann Players for half a century. Even when the girl's school joined with the boy's to create the Neumann Goretti Community Theater, the Perri legacy lived on. He kept directing the productions long after he finished his formal teaching post.
But the Perri's provided much more than volunteer work for half a century. They created a home and haven for us theater kids to grow, thrive and be our best selves. A refuge from conflicts at home, at school. A forum to express ourselves. Exposure to the Arts. Skill-building. Team-building. Character-building. And the best friendships of our lives. (For me, my best and dearest lifelong friends Jerry and Vinny - who gave me away at my wedding - came from that first show.)
Ask any Neumann Player. They will tell you that the Perri's helped to create the very best HAPPY high school memories still cherished today. The kind of happy times we wish for our children and grandchildren.
Tomorrow, Mr. Frank Perri will be laid to rest at age 86, just a year after the Neumann Players officially closed its final curtain. I know he can still hear us. (He always did have an extra set of ears and eyes in the back of his head, didn't he?) So, thank you. Mr. Perri. You were an extraordinary man of mountainous talent, drive and dedication, who helped shape the performer I am today in all aspects of my life. For the funny and endearing stories you and Mrs. Perri and my fellow cast members added to my circle of friends. For the lifelong friendships that grew from the roots you planted in all of us. And best of all, for the shining example of what can happen when you GIVE... thousands of us have blossomed into solid performers on the stage of life, exuding the kindness, creativity and collaboration we learned because of you.
Take a bow, sir. And enjoy that heavenly curtain call right now with your beloved Josie at your side again. Well done!
Mary Ellen Pahlka Sokalski (Palkie to you, Mrs. Perri!)
Forever Proud Neumann Player
Imagine this... your husband (who is the mac daddy thoughtful gift-giver of all time) gets you tickets to meet your favorite TV star who just penned her first book. She's not just ANY star. She's Chrissy Metz who plays Kate Pearson on the runaway rollercoaster ride of the new "yes, that's me" drama on NBC's This Is Us. It's one of the top network dramas right now for a reason. (This is coming from a very judgmental eyebrow-raised writer who does not like most network or even cable series these days.) This show is GOOOOOD. To the last teardrop.
You can't explain it, unless you watch it. It's just so... REAL. You just know someone who's like most of the characters in the show. Sometimes a loved one. A dreaded one. Or yourself. With plot twists that make you gasp, cheer or tear up at most episodes.
So here I am - a fellow life-long chubby girl, meeting one of the few plus-sized actresses with great roles - with a special Meet & Greet opportunity which includes a copy of her new book. I dressed in a new red top to echo my joy. I studied the tickets for instructions about the Meet & Greet. They said to arrive at 8:00 PM. We scurried to the venue to be there by 7:00 PM, just to be safe.
We entered the stately concert hall - the Perelman Theater at the Philadelphia Kimmel Center - and approached the check-in table. Two young guys and one girl were perched behind piles of the new book. One guy checked our tickets and handed us the books to be signed. Oh, goodie! Since we were early, we looked for a restroom, and then places to sit before the theater opened. Because I'm the consummate networker and talk to everybody, I turned to a woman next to me who also had a book in hand. I asked her, "When do we go for the Meet & Greet?"
She said, "Oh, honey. That happened at 6:30. Didn't you get an email?"
No, this wasn't happening. We never received an email. Any email. No instructions. I rocketed off my seat and rushed to the Meet & Greet lounge room up a huge stairway. Empty.
Tears sprouted, but my feet moved like a ready-to-charge bull, looking for the matador.
Back at the front desk, the lone girl, seated, said YES, I was confirmed for the Meet & Greet. She then checked me off on the list. Yes, I could proceed to the Meet & Greet venue. And it should still be going on. "No," I told her. Where was the email? Who sent the email? And then I realized... this girl just works here at the venue. Her blank stare told me she had no idea what was going on.
So I put my meeting planner professional hat on, untwisted my panties, and asked to speak to the person in charge of the event, after explaining that my husband just spent $276 for a Meet & Greet which we didn't get. "How would you feel?" I asked. Blank stare. After a few minutes, I spotted a woman with a walkie-talkie.
After explaining our predicament, 10 other people (some who came all the way from New York City) said they received no instructionary email either. Whattyah know. We might have a riot on our hands. I told the manager I have run events with celebrities. Things happen. "So how can we fix this?"
The smart manager of the venue went right to Chrissy's people. Within two minutes, she gathered all of us and secretly wound us through the crowds toward a secret back door entrance. Lo and behold, out comes Chrissy, in all her exuberant smiling glory, hugging each one of us and spending not a minute but 10 with this private VIP group before the show. This wasn't just lemonade... but limoncello!
So, after multiple conversations and pictures, off we went, 12 supremely happy people back into the hall for the talk show-like program. It was terrific. Fun, insightful, poignant and intimate. But as we left, we heard several groups asking where the Meet & Greet was. They didn't get the email. They were hoping the private event was AFTER the performance. And no one from the staff was to be found.
Woah, would I be MAD.
So, what did I learn from this?
1. If you're having an event, a party, a wedding... the success of the event all comes down to attention to details and great communication. One of my favorite sayings is... "The greatest misconception about communication is... that it has been achieved." I know what I said, but did you hear it that way? Most times, I bet not. That's what happened here. Lack of planning details and direct communication.
2. Technology fails sometimes. People fail sometimes. When something is as important as satisfying a person holding a $140 ticket, you would think they would get the list right. Get the email out. Double check the delivery. Was it the ticket company's fault? The promoter? The venue? A hundred different things could have happened. All I know is... there were a number of people who did not get the experience they paid for. Bad reviews happen even when the program was superb.
3. Logistics are important. The staff at the front desk was not trained. Or they did not do their jobs. They were supposed to shepherd us to the woman with the secret list. They didn't. Just handed out books. Gaps in service - and people not working out logistics - can make or break an event. You don't get a second chance.
4. It's how you fix things that count. The manager did her job. Chrissy's staff did theirs. She even apologized for the mishap... even though she had no clue what was happening. All the other team members apologized as well. My "afterwards posse" was thrilled. Felt special. It's all HOW you handle it that counts.
5. I should have been more prepared. At future Meet & Greets, I will know to ask up front... when and where.
6. Be grateful. I have an amazing husband who showers me with love and thoughtfulness. It's my turn to return the love.
And that also means being grateful for a wonderful event, saying thanks to Chrissy Metz and her team for the great comeback. And to the entire cast of This Is Us, thanks for making Tuesday night TV enjoyable again, even for this jaded writer.
The Detail-Driven Devil of Meeting Planners...
A new friend I met at my Networking seminar invited me to join him as his guest to the Philadelphia Addy Awards last week. (Thanks, Peter!) I hate to admit that it has been well over 20-something years since I have attended an Addy Awards evening, honoring the best in local achievements in promotion.
As I entered the venue and climbed the winding stairs with other registrants waiting to reach the badge table, I looked around, wondering if I was at the wrong event. Of the 75 people in line ahead of me, I was the only person above the age of 40. Maybe 35. OK, perhaps 30. Some of the girls wearing spike heels and slinky short cocktail dresses. Others in slouchy work boots and tights. Young hipsters in either bow ties or flannel shirts. A few very slim tapered suits. Many beards and backpacks. Am I at an Imagine Dragons concert?
Nope. The table sign said "The Addy's." My badge was waiting. I felt like the chaperone. So I entered the ballroom looking for someone, anyone I might know. Or perhaps anyone who might remember who James Taylor is. After a few circles around the ballroom, and food tables of sliders and sushi (What ELSE would they serve to this audience? Nailed it!) I texted my friend, who rescued me and brought me to his table. We chuckled together over my younger audience observation, and then began to notice there were, indeed, other "elders" in the room here and there. We networked and made some refreshing new contacts.
And then the program began. A very unconventional program. One with no human host. Lights rose onto the ballroom-size digital screen, as a novel "Show's starting in 5 minutes" spot featuring 4 dogs and a cat with a launch pad counting clock. Every minute, one of the dogs would POOF off the screen leaving, well, errr, a brown "package" in its place on the screen. With one minute left, there was only the cat and 4 poop piles, hopefully NOT a foreshadowing of the presentation to come. My friend Peter whispered that it was a video presentation, no speakers, that would last for 30 minutes. I thought that odd. But, hey, a lot changes in 20+ years.
I looked around, and most people did not even have seats... it was cocktail style sporadic seating. They grouped like packs with their respective agencies, hoping and waiting for their names to be called as a Gold or Silver winner. They seemed OK to stand for another half hour. (Again, what a difference that 20+ years can make. I was relieved for the seat. And I wasn't even in spiked heels.)
Suddenly, like a grandiose Close Encounter experience of Imax proportions, a digital Alexa-esque narrator boomed through the room, guiding us through the categories of awards and their champions, with hints of inter-galactic static thrown in. Nice touch. As I listened to the categories and saw mini-glimpses of the elements that won - I was riveted. Catapulted from my good old days into the future. From the ad world I once knew into foreign categories such as, "Out-of-Home & Ambient Media', "Cross Platform", "Elements of Advertising" (Why not just "Advertising?"), "Microsites", "Apps, Tools & Virtual Reality - Tools & Utilities", "Branded Content & Entertainment for Online/Interactive" and my favorite, "Webisodes."
Thank Goodness there were some traditional categories awarded, like Packaging, Point of Purchase, Posters, Brochures, Printed Annual Reports, Radio Advertising, Advertising Industry Self Promotion, Direct Mail and 3D/Mixed Media (that would be "Promotional Products.") But the big winners of the night and best in show were mostly video.
My point here, folks, is this: Times... they are a changing. Could I just rag about how a new generation is changing what things are called? (Just like when they changed "Personnel Department" to "Human Resources" back in MY day. Still makes no sense to me. But what does the world call it now? Human Resources.)
Sure I could. But I should remember how I felt 20 or 30 years ago when things in my advertising world were changing. There were new trends, new advances, new vehicles like email, just like what's happening today. (Heck... many of these agencies who were finalists in this competition did not even EXIST 20 years ago.) But that doesn't mean that I, as a practitioner and creator of branding programs, should be in the dark about these innovations. They are the waves of the future. And OUR vehicles - promotional products - 3D advertising branding tools - blend with THEIR vehicles.
Even if I will never write or produce a Webisode, I should know what it is, for the sake of my clients. And you should too.
So, read up, my friends. Stay current. Stay connected. We owe it to our clients.
Lots to learn with yah...
Photo credit to the Philadelphia Ad Club. Thanks for an enlightening event. And to Peter Zales of Affordable Offset Printing for the wonderful invitation!
Two frequent traveler friends of mind shared the very same funny parody video of a fictitious hotel chain. If you’re someone who’s been on the road more than you’d care to, you will be chuckling at this video within the first few scenes. Benefits many hotels tout as their gold standard services are ribbed here, from room service awkwardness, too-low shower heads, to turn down service at the worst possible times. I’ve included the link below.
After watching that video, I wondered if any of the executives in charge of service initiatives at the leading hotel chains had seen this. If they had, did they just laugh it off... or did they take some of it to heart?
What if they truly listened to some of these points, and made sure some of these things never happened in their hotels? Cling-wrapped water glasses, over-zealous front desk reps, can’t find light switches, room temp reliability, and others.
Great service companies take customer digs and complaints and turn them into opportunities. They show they listen with action and improvements. And if they’re smart, they market those improvements.
So what have people kidded about with YOUR BUSINESS that could be improved?
If you’re NOT hearing any complaints, when was the last time you asked? “How was everything with your last order… your last interaction with us?” If you don’t ask, you don’t get feedback. And when you do get feedback, how do you respond… positively and negatively? (People judge you by HOW you respond either way.)
Surveying clients occasionally through tools like Survey Monkey (which will even tally your responses for you) can help you better gauge feedback… and intervene when things don’t go as perfectly as you planned, or as they expected. Worst case scenario: You delivered. They were disappointed. They go elsewhere. You don’t know why. (Hopefully, before someone cleverly writes a parody video or makes a joke like this one about YOUR business. Or you're a victim of a nasty Yelp review that never goes away.)
Ask how you’re doing. And you shall receive feedback.
Here’s to a good laugh watching this video, and even better sales by listening to your customers.
One of the biggest questions I receive from my promotional products supplier clients is, “What can I do to get distributors and their sales reps selling my products?”
After years of working for two large suppliers, and now owning a business that helps both suppliers and distributors market themselves… the answer is… “Ask them.” So here’s what I learned distributors like, want and aren’t getting from most suppliers out there:
Case histories. How do we sell these products? Give us examples of what works for other buyers. Who’s buying them? What’s the strategy behind it? How did it work? What were the results?
Remember: these folks are NOT selling products… they are selling SOLUTIONS, scenarios, results. They are busy. They want to be good storytellers…. but they need good cliff notes! So help them tell your story in sales presentations and in their social media storytelling with good case histories.
(Yeah, we know it’s hard to do since you often don’t know the whole story.) So why not have a distributor case history contest? Offer future order dollars or self promo product as your prizes. It’s win-win!
Be sure you receive the distributor AND buyer's permission before you publish anything, particularly if you are showing the product with their logo.
Social Media that doesn't SELL. Have you seen the social media posts from many suppliers out there? They are posts that sell, sell, sell. Specials. Product pitches. Buy this. Push, push, PUSH. What do distributors need? Specials, sure – once in a while. But remember again – they’re BUSY. They want posts they can cut and paste. Worded FOR their end user clients, not to the distributor. Show buyers how to use your product. Why it’s a great vehicle. Types of campaigns it works best for. Be as specific as you can.
How you say it can also make a difference. Write it in a warm, friendly kind of way... me to you. It’s called SOCIAL media for a reason. One person to another. Familiar, not formal. Write like you talk. And show a great photo of that product in use. It doesn’t have to be catalog perfect… a lifestyle shot of the product in use is even better, even if taken on your smartphone.
Then create an archive of suggested social media posts your distributors can use when they're stuck for time. Create an "easy button" for them to promote you.
3 Types of Photos. It is a visual world today. (Sorry, fellow copywriters. Pictures attract. Short copy sells.) People look at pictures, then read captions and short stories, not novels. So distributors need photos to tell your story. When shooting your catalog, consider these three suggestions at the same time:
1. That great product shot, along with different angles of the product, particularly to show off imprint areas.
3. Group shots of products. Yes, in traditional photo sizes… but also Facebook banner size - 820 pixels wide by 312 pixels tall on computers and 640 pixels wide by 360 pixels tall on smartphones. (Or for us non-techie folks... 4" wide X 1-1/2" tall.)
You see, many distributors are looking for that big main header photograph for their Facebook page, so they can refresh it often. They want to see multiple products beautifully displayed to fit that Facebook cover shot area that show what they do. Give them that, and you could be the centerpiece shot of your key distributors' Facebook page. Who doesn’t want THAT exposure? (Believe me… very few suppliers provide photography in this size – with multiple products – for this area. You will be a hero, and their Facebook billboard.)
Videos. Show us how your product works. Who uses it. Features. Benefits. It doesn’t have to be fancy, even if it’s just one person in your office demonstrating it.
Make it short and sweet. 30 seconds to under a minute. And please, please, please edit it so their clients can see it, without any phone number or address of yours. It has to be client-friendly, talking to that audience, to be used.
Promote the promotion.
Whatever you provide, just make sure distributors and reps know about it... and, they are easily found. Feature them prominently on your home page. Promote what you have available in your email signatures. In your email blasts. On your Message on-hold recordings. Have your customer service reps and sales reps mention them every time they can. Frequency sells. Just let them know they're there. YOU know you have them. Most times, they DON'T.
Too busy? If you're that "one-armed paperhanger" doing it all yourself, or have just a small lean and mean team running your day-to-day operations, or don't have the creative resources in-house to get these ideas done... hire a college intern from a marketing program. Look for a budding copywriter to write for you or a film student dying to build up their portfolios with corporate videos. Tell them what you have in mind. And put them to work for a minimum investment that can be a real win-win for both of you.
And if you'd rather use professional help to develop marketing tools like these... that's available too, for perhaps less than you think. All you have to do is ask (wink, wink)... and you'll be investing in a much better distributor following.
Yesterday I proudly and tearfully watched as my hometown team - the Philadelphia Eagles - celebrated their first Super Bowl World Championship win ever. Victorious ultimate underdogs. With a grassroots celebration that oozed with hometown heart, done Philly style. Yes, we do things differently here.
Unconventionally. Boldly. We eat our soft pretzels with mustard. Our favorite convenient stores are called "Wawa", named after a wild goose. Our national treasure is a cracked bell. Our New Year's parade costumes are, well, covered in sequins and feathers. This place has a big city feel with a small town attitude. Brotherly love with enormous passion.
And although I am not normally a football fan (I am a pro-Philly fan,) I abandoned my laptop to watch the victory parade on TV, live. Through cheers, chuckles and tears, I savored the joy erupting from the fans, coaches and players. It was a soul-filling experience. But as with most events for me, the marketer eventually emerges.
And with that marketing hat on, I noticed several things that really stood out. People, actually. People who made an impact on me - and the crowd - in different ways.
The first person I noticed was Chris Long, a Defensive End, dressed in a full-length faux fur coat and red Allen Iverson jersey. Chris was one of the Eagles players to initiate the Underdog masks worn during the playoff games prior to the Bowl, igniting an entire legion of Underdog crusaders who did the same. He stood out. He wore the symbol of his movement, before and after. Made a statement. And truly rocked that full length faux fur at the parade in style.
Another player I noticed was dressed in anything but Eagles attire - rather, in a full Mummer's costume (the New Year's Day themed parade-wear here in Philly.) Center Jason Kelce was costumed - head-to-toe - as a Leprechaun Sultan, borrowed from one of the past Mummer's parades from an Avalon String Band member.
Boy, did he stand out. Not simply because he was dressed more outlandishly than anyone else, or in Philadelphia Mummery, but that he seemed to be having more fun than everyone else. Kelce was one of the first players to step OFF the parade bus en route, dance and chant with fans, ride police bikes and crowd surf with the fans, all without losing the turban. Even the Philadelphia Police Department tweeted he was having the most parade fun of anybody.
But the highlight was... Kelce's gut-wrenchingly fan-reveling speech that fueled the entire crowd at the end of the ceremony. His unexpected 4-minute rant about his Underdog colleagues riveted and riled the audience as one of the best speeches in Philadelphia history. (A speech that Coach Pederson later said would probably lead to the city erecting another Rocky statue dedicated to him.) It was that good. His speech is below.
And then there were the more silent standouts. Some of the men who emerged as pillars the entire year with their own quiet leadership and sense of sportsmanship. First, Head Coach Peterson (who I will vote as the best dressed celebrity at the parade. So chic, classic black, a touch of an athletic collar, with the smooth style of a tapered wool coat on top. Not a stand out in color, but his style? Dashing.) He commanded respect all season long by his perseverance, love of team, and bold don't-take-the-foot-off-the-gas strategy.
And finally, the outstanding humility of our winning fill-in quarterback, Nick Foles, now Superbowl MVP. His attitude stands out. His faith stands out. His love of God and family stand out. And while he wasn't the most electrifying speechmaker or dresser this season, he was perhaps the best teacher and influencer of all. In an interview just after the Superbowl win, he said,
"I think the big thing is don't be afraid to fail," Foles said. "Failure is a part of life. That's a part of building character and growing. Without failure, who would you be? I wouldn't be up here if I hadn't fallen thousands of times. Made mistakes. We all are human, we all have weaknesses, and I think throughout this, just being able to share that and be transparent. I know when I listen to people speak and they share their weaknesses, I'm listening. Because I can resonate."
"So I'm not perfect. I'm not Superman. I might be in the NFL, and we might have just won the Super Bowl, but, hey, we still have daily struggles, I still have daily struggles. So that's where my faith comes in, that's where my family comes in. I think when you look at a struggle in your life, just know that's just an opportunity for your character to grow. And that's really just been the message. Simple. If something's going on in your life and you're struggling? Embrace it. Because you're growing."
Now THAT's standing out. The Superbowl MVP sharing his human frailty and encouraging us all to embrace failure.
So how are YOU standing out? To your co-workers, your bosses? Your kids, your spouse, friends and family? Your community? My point is... we all have something unique to give, special to show. In words, deeds, style, showmanship.
Show it off. Be unique. Stand out. Wear that tiara if you want to (I do... around the house! Ha ha!) And be a long-remembered influence for good. (AKA the greatest self promotion EVER.)
Brotherly and sisterly love to you all...
(From South Philly)
While sick last week, when your clouded head, congested chest and weak body won't cooperate with anything you formerly deemed productive, what do you do? I surfed Facebook videos. Mostly mindless entertainment. But then there was this one... a young eight or nine year old boy with big deep-set eyes who asked, right to the camera, as if he was peering into your soul, "What do you practice?"
I was ready to pass this one by, but there was something about it that riveted me. He kept asking the question, "What do you practice? Whatever you practice in your life, you will get good at." Now whether this was staged or rehearsed, or this kid will be the next Gandhi, I don't know and never will. But this child's message GOT ME - perhaps at a weak point, or that renaissance springboard of a new year when habits can either become practice or stranded resolutions.
His question about practice wasn't just about a skill - like playing soccer or writing music - but rather one of virtues. He explains that if you practice complaining, you will get very good at it, and you will have more and more to complain about in your life. If you practice anger, then you will get angry about everything that happens to you, and bitter about the things you don't have in your life, rather than see the blessings.
His recommendation? To practice joy. (Something we'd all love to get better at, right?)
And so I have been asking myself that question, "What should I practice?"
On the business side, I plan to promote myself more. The busier you become, the less time you have for self promotion. (Or rather, the less time I CHOOSE TO DEVOTE to self promotion.) As my husband has reminded me, my most recent new clients all echoed, "I didn't know you did THAT!" It's because I haven't self promoted effectively. And here I am evangelizing to everyone else that THEY promote!
On the personal side, I need to practice counting my blessings more often. Every. Single. Day. I need to write them down. Look for the good. I have a beautiful family of great young people embarking on adulthood. They're good citizens of the world, already. A husband who showers me with love. I'm going to be a first time grandmother in May. I have my health. I have a bevy of wonderful, caring friends who make me laugh, smile, think. I have skills to write, create, speak and make music. Plus, I have a sense of purpose. And I think one of those purposes is to ask you, "What do you practice?"
I hope that JOY is included as one of your answers.
With love and overflowing joy,
If you treat yourself to manicures or pedicures, then you know the sacred zone-out time when the vibra-chair massage takes over, the world washes away and your mind wanders to serene escapes. This week, in preparation for the holidays, I took my salon throne and unleashed my mind. But today, I could not escape. Call it pre-holiday “get-it-all-done” mania you can’t shut off. I was focused on business and writing this blog, and found myself suddenly intrigued by the swirl of influences around me that I had never noticed before… how the salon marketed itself. Some good, some bad. Let’s start with the good.
They are always smiling. No matter what. Good attitude in plenitude.
They KNOW you. When you call. When you walk in the door. They remember the details. Your kids’ names. Vacations. Funny stories. Your favorite shades. And not just your go-to-nail artist remembers, but all the shop regulars and the owner, too. It’s like the Cheers of nail salons and I’m Norm, but with red nails. Bottom line… they value your relationship.
Their follow-up is superb. No matter when you call, they call you back within 30 minutes... usually within five. You’re a priority to them.
They upsell without going crazy. They show you new treatments, new products. They focus on new ways to pamper you. Some I have tried, some not. But they usually ask, unless they know I am rushed, or just want “the usual.” Nothing ever pushy. Suggestive selling at its best.
They always ask for the next appointment. There’s not a time I’ve left without committing to our next session. They ask for repeat business. And get it.
They market in local shopper’s guide coupon packs. They focus on developing new local business with vehicles that reach homes in the area. I hear many redemptions on the phone and in person. It’s working. And they don't even mind regular customers taking advantage of specials. It brings them back.
They use a frequent customer reward plan. I have a loyalty rewards card which they stamp at every visit for free services when I’ve earned 5 full services. Don’t you love getting a freebie at every fifth visit?
They focus on YOU, the customer, and limit their between-employee banter. At other salons I have used in the past, their technicians talk amongst themselves constantly – and often in their native language that I don’t speak. I appreciate being the focal point. (And not paranoid that they’re talking ABOUT me.)
They use point-of-purchase posters that are obviously samples. OK, the local product rep dropped off some sample posters to show them how they could market. Who would think they’d actually hang them up with the blaring “your text here” headline still on them? But they did, all throughout the store. It's actually quite funny.
No proofreading by an English-speaking native. Signs have misspellings. Bad grammar. Obviously written by someone without a command of the English language. Easy-to-fix.
They don’t update their website. It’s been the same for years. New services aren’t added. New hours not added. Your website is your new calling card for everyone looking you up with their mobile device. Has to be accurate, fresh!
They don’t complete their free listings in search engines. Ever try to look up a business online, and they have not “claimed their listing” online? No details? Most of those search engines provide free listings that actually push you up in search engine results… the more search engines you appear in, the higher your appearance in the ranking. And I don’t just mean Google. There are probably over 20 search engines you can be a part of in your area, for free.
They don’t use social media. Speaking of free, I am surprised my salon doesn’t even have an official Facebook page. It’s free! They could list the same new products, services and specials they present to me in person. And engage with their bevy of current customers, showcasing their beautiful nails and spa services. (Perhaps it’s a language thing. Or a lack of education, or time to do it. Or maybe they just don't know of someone who could do it FOR them. <WINK!>)
They don’t have a customer referral program. Hmmm… every happy client could be a source of new business.
They don’t use promotional products. No little gifts for the holidays, or every days. No emery boards. No calendars. Or pens. Or magnets. Perhaps it’s a budget issue, but I bet there’s unused co-op dollars from some of their vendors that could be used to sponsor creative giveaways and business builders that could keep clients coming back.
OK, so now back to pampering… and then doing my marketing job two ways:
1. Telling THEM about MY services to promote their business!
2. In thanking all of you for inspiring me this year and every year with your best marketing practices and ideas. I wish you a refreshing holiday season pampering yourself in some way, and a truly Happy New Year of stand-out marketing excellence.
You reach into your mailbox and there it is… a notice from your high school alumnae association announcing your next reunion. No matter what year it might be… 5 to 60… the invitation can stir up a myriad of emotions.
Disbelief. Has all that time really passed?
Fear. Have I aged well? How will I look to my classmates?
Insecurity. Have I accomplished enough?
Anxiety. I haven’t kept in touch with most. Will I even have anything to say to those people anymore? Will my old gang even show up?
Image. What in the world do I wear?
All NEGATIVE emotions! But did that stop me? If you know me, you know I always seek out the POSITIVE. New experiences. New memories. So, I sent in my reservation for the big 40th year. And joined the Facebook group to connect with my classmates before the event. (All girls, BTW. Catholic school girls… for an all-girl only event, just like our high school days.)
So, with a brand new stand-out fuschia dress all sucked in by Spanx, I entered the ballroom of smiling women. Glowing, actually. All happy to be there, chatting like happy hummingbirds, flitting from grad to grad. Hugs, laughter, memories gushed all through the hall.
We toasted each other. Danced. Took endless selfies. Shared kids’ photos. We were teenagers all over again. This time, with an immense amount of wisdom, and a renewed zest for life.
So what did I learn that could apply to business and marketing from this experience? Several things:
4. Time flies when you're having fun. If you thought the last five years zoomed quickly, a four hour event whizzes by in an eyelash flutter. Before we knew it, it was last call, the last dance, and lingering hugs, and you didn't even talk to everyone. Make the most of your networking time!
5. Promises are made. "Keep in touch," is the common echo, as the ladies drifted back to their cars and their neighborhoods, with the die-hards posting a flurry of photos and well wishes on Facebook, with vows to stay connected. But how many do? You've got to work the lead if you want to succeed, in business as with friendship.
6. It feels good to reconnect. It’s good for business. Networking is always exhilarating. It gets you out of the office and exposed to people. You never know where your next good lead is coming from. And your next good friendship as well. Yes, good networking is rich for the soul, too.
So, my dear girlfriends from South Philly's Saint Maria Goretti High School, Class of 1977, thanks for all your lessons in life, business tips and most of all, friendship! Happy 40th reunion to you all, and a special thanks to the hard-working organizers who created true networking magic.
For the past couple of years, I have watched - grinning - as Lay's Potato Chips announced their new annual line-up of fan-suggested flavors for its new chip series. I'm sure you've seen the campaign - asking you first to SUGGEST flavors that might be their next big hit chip - and then taste-testing the three finalists. This year the flavor contenders are Everything Bagel with cream cheese, Crispy Taco, and Fried Green Tomato.
It is amazing - most everyone in my family and circle of friends has been asking for weeks,
"Have you tried all the flavors yet?"
"My store didn't have all three new flavors. Where can you get the Fried Green Tomato one?"
"I thought I would like the taco one best, but I didn't. Which did you like?"
"What flavor could we come up with for next year?"
It's pure brilliance on so many levels.
First, it's customer-driven... a fan base fueling more fans. It screams "engagement," what so many companies lack in their social media marketing. It urges you to do their product development FOR THEM. The campaign creates its own news, its own buzz. And finally, best of all, it gets you to not only TRY their product, but buy and sample all THREE of their new flavors. (And then hopefully hook you on your favorite.) Talk about driving sales!
So what can that teach us for OUR businesses?
1. Whenever you ask your customers for input, you win. They feel important. You gain insight. (But of course, you have to listen.) I often counsel my clients on doing surveys or having a buying council with their clients and prospects. You don't know until you formally ask. You gain incredible feedback, and often opportunities for more business.
2. Next, when you give your customers a choice - ask them to vote on something - they love it. This is especially powerful in a trade show situation. One of my most successful promotions designed for a promotional products counselor asked his booth visitors to vote on the best new holiday gift of the year. The booth was PACKED. Others (especially their competitors) weren't. They were just showing product, not engaging. People spent time examining the product, touching it, evaluating it, and then giving feedback and lead info that developed into business.
3. In direct response, when you ask people to decide on which gift they'd like to receive, response rises. So next time you're offering an incentive, offer a choice. It makes it more personal and gets better buy-in and action.
4. And finally, when you plan a promotion like this, it's always great feed for the press. Make sure you write up the winners - your results - as a press release afterward for even more free exposure.
You bet that Lay's will. So why can't you?
A fabulous fall from your flavor-driven marketing maven...
P.S. My favorite was the Fried Green Tomato flavor. Surprise, surprise. I don't even like fried green tomatoes! The seasoning was zesty and fabulous. What was yours?
Perhaps it's the economy, but more and more of my old friends and co-workers are job hunting... especially tough for us in that OVER 40 crowd. I'm sure you're hearing it too.
"Do you know anyone hiring?"
"Have you heard of anything?"
"Could you keep me in mind?"
"Can you take a look at my resume?"
I usually then ask where are they searching, beyond job boards? I ask how they are marketing themselves. How are they networking... social media? LinkedIn?
And I've received some surprising answers. Some people didn't see the need before. Some haven't EVER worked their LinkedIn presence. Worse yet, although they're business people, some aren't even ON LinkedIn at all. They never saw a reason to.
And now they're scrambling. Trying to frantically START a network when they need it most.
So, those of you IN sales... if you're not using social media or LinkedIn, and don't have your profiles current or posting updates, tsk, tsk! You're leaving leads on the table. It's a FREE, EASY way to market yourself! Watch a youtube tutorial on how to use it better and get going!
To those NOT in sales, you should ALWAYS be networking. You've heard that adage...
"It's not WHAT you know, it's WHO you know."
So true. More jobs are gained through networking than any other source. In fact 85%, according to Lou Adler, author of the recently published Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired.
So even if you're happy and secure with your current employer or are your own boss, you should still be "workin' it." Looking for leads. Making connections. Reclaiming old friendships. Seeing who knows who once in a while. Joining groups in your field. Learning from the great posts in your industry and from thought leaders you admire. Even if only to reach out and help other people with their leads and job searches in the future, it can be so rewarding.
You might come back and say, "So I should spend my time networking just to help other people?"
Yes. And here's why: Networking is defined as "Creating a group of acquaintances and associates and keeping it active through regular communication for mutual benefit."
Keeping it active. For MUTUAL benefit. If you help others, they're more likely to want to help YOU. And as the great sales guru networker Dale Carnegie once said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
And before you need to. Happy networking!
Your Networking Ninja,
If you're like me, then you're obsessed with decorating TV shows. Bargain hunts. Fixer-uppers. Makeovers. Flippers. You name it. Although I am always thrilled to see the final results, I am just as drawn to the home buyers' faces when they arrive at a new property and size-it-up for the first time.
Now pretend you're a client, visiting your website for the first time. That website is your company's front door. Your welcome mat. Your landscape. Your style and personality.
It's the way the world usually meets you now. Not in person. Or via phone. Or in a brochure or catalog. But online. And they can choose to enter, or keep on driving by, just by the looks and the lure of your website front page.
I was meeting with a new potential client last month about his website and other marketing projects. He thought his website might need some "sprucing up." I asked when was the last time he updated it. He hadn't. (Heavy sigh. Yes, I recommended that be a priority.)
My point today is that this new generation of buyers are making buying decisions online by what they see on your website. Is it current? Give them all the information they need to get to the next level? Easy to use? Logical? Complete? Have lots of photos? Short captions or copy (instead of long, droning paragraphs no one reads?) Links to other helpful sources? Links that WORK?
Business owner friends... go to your website. Examine your front page. Is everything right there on the single screen? (If prospects have to scroll down, they most likely WON'T. That front page real estate is GOLD.)
Then click inside. Surf your site as if you were a new prospect. Or better yet, get someone else who doesn't know you to shop your site. Can they find what they need? Was it easy? Fun? Informative? Tell your full story? Was it targeted to the right prospects? Was there a call to action to bring in a lead or a purchase?
Your website is your business' calling card in this new digital shopping world. Mobile curb appeal of your business is essential. (And probably a lot cheaper than a home makeover, for sure!)
This weekend, I read a wonderful post about how Hershey's Chocolate World - yes, the famous kiss-creating chocolate mogul - is launching a new, completely interactive experience right in the heart of Times Square in New York.
The location is three times the size of its old one, which is pictured here. Rather than just focus on TASTE, the company - who built their brand on giving tours of their facility since the 1920 - is planning to "create new and exciting experiences by connecting fans with what they are smelling, tasting, touching (and even hearing) when it comes to chocolate."
You'd think they'd just focus on TASTE, huh? No. Because their brand is linked to all sorts of sensations conjured up in childhood. The senses of smell, and hearing and touching all play into the brand connection with our inner child.
As you read their plans and watch their tease video, you can see that its superb marketing team plans to push every experiential hot button they can in driving us - particularly the new consumer power-group - millennials - to connect with their product. In fact, the press release touts that the new location will "continue our legacy and showcase our creativity with new, exciting and interactive experiences."
Interactive experiences. The more you engage your audience, the more they can connect with you.
So let's right now fly 30,000 feet, as if we can look at your marketing plan from above. What parts of your plan, your media, your trade show design, your sales message delivery have buyers INTERACTING with your product, EXPERIENCING your service? Sure, Hershey's has CHOCOLATE to experience. You or your customers may have health care or pest extermination or casual furniture or financial services as your product. But that does not mean you can't deliver an experience just as powerful.
The success of great companies today is often in the storytelling they do. The new age storytelling is EXPERIENTIAL for new consumers today. For them to want your product, they have to experience it... or what life is like without it. They want to relate it to THEIR world, THEIR needs, in THEIR way. Through digital and social sharing which is so a part of their world.
As you begin to plan your marketing for 2018, examine what could you do to better involve your customer:
- Which scenarios can your reps convey to paint the picture of what it's like to experience your product or service, different from your competition?
- How can you convey that in a demo or in a theater in your trade show booth?
- How can you engage prospects in simple videos or with meaningful content - beyond just sales flyers or specials - in social media that will become shareable and viral?
And if you're stumped at how... then you might need a marketing pro who can help. (It's what we do!)
I wish you delicious results for your next experience ...
My husband and I often sit at the kitchen table side-glancing at each other during a dinner with our Millennial children. "What did THAT mean?" we convey telepathically to each other after another unknown term ping-ponged among the 20-something-aged players.
The fact is... Millennials are the new power generation. They have their own little language set. (Like "on fleek" and "slay" and "turnt" and "throwing shade" and "can't even.") Their own values and preferences, sometimes very different than ours. Their own purchasing power. Their own buying preferences. Their own new jobs. (In fact, 75% of the workforce will be Millennials by the year 2025, according to Forbes magazine.) Yes, 75%.
Are you reaching them, THEIR way, speaking their language?
Now I don't just mean knowing their new hipster vocabulary. But do you know what's important to them? And can you deliver value and service the way they want it?
Ok, I'm a Boomer. I'm used to going to a store to buy most things. I often pick up the phone to order stuff and talk to other humans. Most Millennials do not. They go to their phones to find things. Most everything. And THEN they purchase them. I have been told that their ideal purchasing situation is when they can do the entire purchase online and don't speak to another human... especially when having to order a pizza!
So, many pizza shops and restaurants - and even McDonald's in many areas - are offering online ordering, and delivery through GrubHub and UberEats.
Has your business adjusted for this new buying group?
How are you reaching this new group that may never go to a trade show? Never page through a catalog? Rarely open emails if they don't know you?
If you want your business to be viable for the future, you need to BE where they are. Understand them.
Are you providing them online resources that help them sell THEIR way? Social media tools on THEIR choice of media (Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube?) Marketing to them the way they want to be reached?
In for the long haul? Hitch your wagon to the Millennials. (For now. Gen Z is right on their heels, starting to graduate college in 4 years.)
Next level... (Another Millennial term meaning "to succeed")
Flying home last week, I happened to sit next to a woman who worked for a very large company and was returning after its large national conference. I asked her how it was. She rolled her eyes. "Same old, same old," she described. She elaborated that the speakers were mostly dull, lackluster. The topics... a few were new, but mostly refreshers. The setting... lovely. But Florida in July? Last year, same time... Arizona? Too hot to enjoy the outdoor surroundings. The highlight for her was the great conference gifts she received each year... (thank Goodness her promotional counselors were doing their job!)
But isn't that sad when the best part of an all expense paid trip to a luxury resort and learning experience with your peers was the imprinted gift?
And so I asked her more questions about the event. Did she receive a pre-conference survey asking her what she'd like to learn? "No," she responded. Were there dedicated times during the conference for her to learn from her peers, and openly share best practices? "Other than randomly at lunch or the awards banquet, NO," she replied. Were the presenters company employees or outside speakers? "A mix. The keynote was good, but most of the company speakers were clearly masters of their subjects, but poor or out-of-their-element presenters." Did you have fun? "Not during the sessions. A couple of funny moments, but otherwise, not really. We made our own fun after the sessions."
Little did she know was that I was on my way home from presenting at a sales meeting. One where the CEO - when planning the event - focused on the HOW, not just the WHAT. Wow delivery PLUS content. It made all the difference in the world to the attendees.
So I told my seatmate about the event I just facilitated. Where the company allowed me to poll the attendees on what they wanted to learn, about their goals for the meeting. And then design some of the meeting content around their needs. Several sessions were solely based on learning from each other... what works for them, situations they've encountered while in the trenches. There was time to get to know one another, in opening networking sessions with fun facts about each other, to must-attend breakfast and lunch gatherings, and even a group team cook-off competition. A theme that tied everything together. Fun and engagement were woven into every session... especially those which were the most technical and sensitive. And despite the fact that it was oppressively hot in Florida, the attendees didn't seem to mind a bit, even when they had to attend a networking session IN the pool, wrangling 300 rubber duck prospects using only pool noodles. They LOVED it. And didn't want to leave the pool, even with a thunderstorm approaching.
Yes, she seemed jealous. <GRIN.>
And so on the rest of my flight, I scribbled down these tips for anyone planning a corporate event or sales retreat, from 10 to 5000 attendees.
1. Poll your attendees. Ask them what they want to learn on the topics. And incorporate some of it into your program.
2. Know the ultimate goals for the meeting. Pick a theme to coincide with those goals. Then choose the promotional gifts that go along with them. It keeps everything you do more FOCUSED, and ultimately more memorable.
3. Hire dynamic, engaging speakers. If you must use folks in your own company, have them take a session in engaging presenting practices before they even begin planning their sessions. Great speakers know that it's not WHAT you do, it's HOW you do it!
4. Give attendees time to share their best practices with each other as a PART of the program. (It's what they want. And bonds them together like nothing else.)
5. Make it fun. Even the dry, boring topic sessions. It can be done. And if done well, it will be remembered far longer.
6. Strapped for resources on your own payroll? Keep you and your team focused on what you do best and hire a seasoned meeting planner and facilitator. They can anticipate every need, focus on the little details, keep everyone surprised and buzzing about the event, and add that wonderful creativity element that makes it so fun. Even rubber ducks! <WINK! WINK!>
I would be honored to help plan and facilitate your next event. In the meantime, best of luck in planning your upcoming meetings!
Mary Ellen Sokalski
Diva of Direct Marketing.