Friday, September 28, 2012

Advisory Council Questions

In an effort to listen to its best customers within its important distibutor network, Thermadyne would try to probe a variety of topics at regular advisory council meetings. It's a good practice but you have to listen carefully and take action.

Sales & Marketing Newsletter
We’ve made an effort to make our newsletter more timely (i.e. at least three times a year) and make it more balanced – featuring product, people, promotions. Your thoughts?

Does this make it more reader friendly?
Would you prefer to receive this newsletter electronically?
Or do you think it is more effective as a printed piece?
Thermadyne is a considering a print advertising campaign that recognizes individuals who practice the art/craft/profession of welding and metal working. The idea is to recognize end users in a series of ads throughout the year. Your thoughts?  
Our print media schedle includes a relatively short list of publications. That being said, what industry publications do you read?
If you only had time to read one two industry publications – which would they be?

Promotional activity
If we had a place on our website or elsewhere on the web that featured template seasonal promotions that could be customized with your logo and additional copy, would you use it?

In store merchandising
What kinds of thins do you like/dislike about point of-sale materials?
Countermats, Floor Graphics, Banners, Posters, literature. Give examples or what is working well and maybe not so well. (i.e. If you were to offer guidance to all manufacturers, what would you ask them to do more? Less?)

What kinds of promotions have been successful for your business (i.e. generated good will as well as sales and profits)? Have you had success with drawings/prizes/open houses/tours/demos? Any other creative events or programs?

Focus Group Topics with End-Users
If you had a room full of end-users what kinds of questions would you like to ask of them? (Where do they purchase their welding equipment?
What brands do they like? If they could have one dramatic product breakthrough – what would it be?)

Employee Survey Highlights

Over 1,900 employees completed the Employee Opinion Survey last quarter. The Employee Opinion Survey responses for over 50 questions are summarized into an Employee Climate Score. The score is useful to the management team in understanding employee’s satisfaction with their jobs and the company.

The Employee Climate Health Score from the 2008 survey indicates:

·         61% of participants indicated the company meets their expectations

·         15% of participants indicated the company did not meet their expectations

·         24% of participants had “neutral” responses

Meeting Expectations is indicated by “strongly agree” and “agree” responses and reflects a positive working environment. Below Expectations is indicated by “strongly disagree” or “disagree” responses and the area for emphasis on improvements. Neutral responses reflect either “don’t know” or “not sure” responses and an opportunity to shift employee perceptions.

The Executive Leadership The Executive Leadership Team (ELT), the Senior Management Team (SMT) and Human Resources have been working together to discuss the survey results with employees at all locations to prioritize actions to make Thermadyne a better place to work for the future! (Some of the actions planned as a result of employee input include: improved global communications, more emphasis on career development, training and recognition programs.)

Note: this article appeared in the Thermadyne company employee newsletter in 2008 and I remember thinking that this survey and report of results, while a good step, was more about creating an impression that the company cared than a reality. With over 3,000 employees worldwide, I don't think most people expected any real change. Nevertheless the company did try to implement a cultural shift of sorts.  

Changing Our Culture

Executive Leadership Team at Thermadyne

The model outlined by Patrick Lencioni’s best selling book and training series The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is just whatThermadyne’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT) was looking for in 2008. ELT wanted to improve team effectiveness at the highest levels of the organization. They found a process and approach that could be translated into training and cultural shift throughout the company. The ELT worked through sessions on Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability and Results. By all reports, they learned a lot about each other as individuals. They also learned about themselves as team members. They discovered they had similar experiences in some cases. But they also recognized how they were different from each other (e.g. how they handle conflict and about learning styles). They developed norms and commitment guidelines. They gave each other feedback about how to be more effective team members. Through these sessions they developed a shared vocabulary. They also recognized that the process is just the beginning. 

Today, the first 1.5 hours of monthly ELT meetings focus on team effectiveness. This part of each meeting includes:
• Ongoing team assessment/evaluation
• How to give/receive feedback
• Start/Stop/Continue tool (a focus on what to stop doing, start doing and continue doing)
• Team health check process - metrics designed to deliver desired results
• Team Pit Stop - an assessment around how well the team processes are working.

Team Effectiveness has become a priority at Thermadyne. To aid in this effort the company
developed a series of five workshops (one for each of the five dysfunctions outlined in Lencioni’s book). A trained facilitator is available at each Thermadyne location. Teams throughout the company are at various stages of training. The company has clearly embraced the concept. As with most skills, it takes learning and practice, but it is encouraging to see how the ongoing process appears to have changed the Thermadyne culture already. Better and more effective teams get better results. And that makes work more fun! The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is the flagship book for Lencioni having sold more than one million copies. Pat’s groundbreaking theory on teams focuses on collective team behaviors that
lead to success.

Note: This article appeared in the Q3 issue of the Thermadyne Focus Employee Newsletter in 2009. By 2010,  4 of 6 ELT members were gone. The next year, the company ownership changed from NASDAQ to private equity. It rebranded itself  Victor Technologies. Then in 2014 the company was acquired by Colfax.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Spring Break 08

Chapter Thirty Six
Florida Spring Break 2008 – HBE expatriates gone wild.

Brad Heinz Wayne Zimmerman, Wes Morgan, Charlie Lee.
Bob Koester, George Ryll, Frank Cupola, Mitch Miller, Jack Kennedy (host).

A ten-year tradition has some cadence to it. Bob is graciously opening his house to the gang but his hospitality doesn’t end there. He’s the advance man. Arriving early, he does the grocery shopping for the crew. Just important stuff. A giant bottle of Crown Royal for Charlie. (Ed likes Crown too, but he’s out on doctor’s orders this year). Vodka for George. Captain Morgan Coconut Bay Rum for Frankie, Beer, oreo cookies, potato chips, and donuts for breakfast and coffee. Soap didn’t occur to anyone – so that became a separate mission.

Tee Times
Jack Kennedy retired to The Villages more than five years ago. He has the rules of engagement down to a science when it comes to tee-times. I’m afraid my brother’s “no show” for Saturday morning might have cost him 3 points. (The computer system at The Villages will mark you lousy if you abuse your privileges.) Still, well in advance we had a plan for Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning rounds. Afternoon rounds for the golf junkies (I count myself among them) would have to made closer to intended tee times. (Wayne’s cheat sheet with phone numbers came in handy for this drill. And Charlie has the right temperament to negotiate with the seniors who typically work the pro shops at The Villages.) Arnold Palmer Legends, Cane Garden Country Club, Hacienda Hills, Baseline (the short course), Glenview Country Club, Nancy Lopez Legacy Golf Course, and Tierra del Sol. Seven rounds in four days.

Mind if I stand back here?
Brad is starting his swing routine. He’s been around the game since childhood. In fact, he grew up on a golf course in South County, before it was fashionable to buy property adjacent to a golf course. He learned how to play with balls he was able to shag from the rough, out of bounds and skimming the bottom of a shallow water hazard behind his house. Today he hits the balls a long way and every hole is a par or birdie opportunity.
“Mind if I stand back here?” asks Wayne from directly behind Brad on the tee box. “No, you’re fine.” Mumbles Brad trying not to break his concentration.
“No, You’re fine”
“Okay, ‘cause it’s easier for me to see where the ball goes from back her and…” THWACK! Brad’s ball travels with an easy draw right to left, carries the traps and comes to rest about 290 yards on the left side of the fairway.
“Wow, good shot.” says Wayne.
“Good Shot.” says Wes.
“Way to go, Brad.” Adds Charlie. But Charlie knows this is typical of Brad and he also knows that on a good day he can give Brad a run for his money. Since Brad works for Charlie (Drury Inns), they’re playing partners. Brad, Charlie, Wayne and Wes are a foursome at the Lopez Legacy Golf Course at The Villages – Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.

Back at the frat house.
Bob Koester and his wife Laura were good enough to purchase a vacation home in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown. The pad is newly furnished and ready for the expatriates to crash between rounds. Such a deal. Frank and Jack started this golf getaway tradition with a trip to Lou Cipolla’s place in West Palm Beach, Florida ten years ago (Trains Planes and Automobiles). Now the posse includes me. (Back for year two.)

“A beautiful picture.” says Frank. “I think I will take a picture of that wet towel hangin’ on the lampshade and send it to Laura” (Bob’s wife). “And maybe she’d like to see this sink full of dishes too (mostly glasses)” he adds. Frank is teasing of course. What can you expect with a house full of unsupervised guys – even if they are all adults ranging from 50 to post retirement age? Linda might enjoy the tin foil ash tray overflowing with cigar ashes and butts too. Not to mention the sight of sleeping accommodations of the nightly snore fest from Thursday through Sunday. Frank and Wayne share a room and both have breathing apparatus that make the room sound like an iron lung. Bob is sharing the master bedroom with George. Brad and I are in the guest room. Charlie has the couch and Mitch brought his own air mattress for the living room floor.

Ow Ow Ow
It can happen to anyone. Bob slammed Mitch’s fingers in the door of the rented mini-van.“Ow Ow Ow.” Mitch can’t articulate what’s happened to him and it takes Bob a full three seconds to open the door so he can shake off the pain and shock of the mishap. It happened before he had a chance to hit a single golf ball off his new Taylormade knock-off clubs he purchased on e-Bay. Mitch was flexing his fingers and practicing his interlocking grip on an imaginarygolf club all night hoping he’d be in playing shape by morning.

“Ow Ow Ow” brought fits of laughter everytime. It was a good device to bridge the gaps between laughs. Mitch is Frank’s favorite foil. “We went to the pool and Mitch was like Steve Wonder over here….with his head rocking back and fourth with the earphones…and playing air piano…He looked like a special child….and everyone at the pool moved away thinking he was retarded…” the routine turns into a fictional scenario set on the plane ride back home. “What’s a matter with Mitch? …somebody shoved an iPod up his ass…” This and other jabs. Frank hit Mitch a little below the belt too. Mitch would have to get another Coor’s Light to give him enough time to think of a comeback. But Frank would only make it more personal before the comedy was suspended for the evening.

Belly Dancing at the Bed and Breakfast outside Sioux City, Iowa
The truth is stranger than fiction. In the van, coming back from dinner one night, Koester, George, Frank and I tried not to listen in on Brad as he was consoling his wife who was with a girlfriend, her sister and another girl on a trip that included belly dancing lessons. They found a place advertised as a bed and breakfast outside Sioux City, Iowa.

We couldn’t help eavesdropping. “Linda, it’s probably just squirrels. They are probably as frightened of you as you are of them. They won’t come in the house….Well why don’t you call the guy you rented the place from?….How much did you pay for this place anyway?...Well, if you are really worried….Is there a motel nearby? …” The four women were mortified to be in a rented cabin, at night, in the middle of Iowa and hearing scraping below the floorboards of the house. Brad was doing his best to calm his wife. But finally caved to the pressure of the moment.
“Dr. Morgan wants to know if you all have had your rabies shots.”
“You asshole, CLICK”
The helplessness of the situation, the Dr. Morgan joke and the efforts to keep the snickers under control exploded at that point.

By the time Linda called back, the girls were laughing too. “We are gonna set a trap with bon bons…it’s all we have…We scared them away with our finger cymbals…they’re heading for the hills ….” Needless to say the girls survived the night and we were back on the golf course by morning.

The Mouse and Grandkids on a T-Shirt
George drove in for the golf weekend from New Jersey but made plans to visit Disney World with his wife and grandchild. So George was already gone by Sunday. Wayne invested blocks of time investigating the T-Shirt imprint of a family photo of his three grandchildren but failed to produce. Grand kids. Yikes!

The urge to tell or retell a Fred Kummer story cannot be denied on these trips. Fred is a unique individual who has left an indelible mark on all of us. He started his company in 1960. All of us spent some time at HBE. Career flypaper. The opportunities are undeniable but the trade-off is you have to deal with FSK. By Fred’s own account. “Fidel Castro and I came into power around the same time.” And now, on the eve of his 79th birthday he has outlasted Castro!

Just a few examples:

Charlie offered an account of a presentation on the big island of Hawaii. Charlie, who had the local knowledge, suggested that suits and ties at a meeting of healthcare administers was a bad move. Charlie suggested they would be dressed in customary Aloha shirts. “Dammit Gary, How come you didn’t mention that? Is there a gift shop around?” Sure enough the HBE team showed up in Aloha shirts and were appropriately in style for the meeting.

Last year Charlie told me an FSK story that involved a human error – miscalculation on a hotel construction project. We all make mistakes but FSK has a way of making sure you never forget. He yelled at Charlie for his blunder and presented him with a Chinese abacus. “Maybe you should use this next time!” Charlie lived long enough to attract an offer from the Drury Inns. (He worked for HBE for 19 years.) He’s now head of construction at that family owned business. Upon departure from HBE he was able to return the abacus to Fred.

Frank had a similar story last year about Fred’s unreasonableness over the construction progress of the Denver Adam’s Mark hotel. Fred is a great man. He is never at fault.

Wayne is as fastidious and as detail-oriented as you could ever wish for in a construction estimator. But even he has a story about Fred accusing him of carelessly leaving two full floors off an estimate. Wayne was with HBE for 30 years. As head of estimating he was a “go to” guy. Fred would rely on his swift calculations to conjure up a number for a project that would eventually become a guaranteed price. (A value driven, no-nonsense, price that might not change more than a few percentage points upon completion of working drawings.) On this occasion though, Wayne was working with less than full information and in classic crisis rush created by the great man.

Bob Koester doesn’t elaborate much on his experiences with FSK. It might be lawyer-client confidentiality but it is more likely that he’d rather not relive some of those finer moments in his legal career. In fact, the State of Missouri still shows Bob as an officer of the firm – a clerical error he intends to clear up as soon as he returns from this trip.

When I get back to St. Louis I’m gonna send Charlie Lee the YouTube link to the famous scene from On the Waterfront. Marlon Brando’s character is in the back of a taxicab with his brother. It’s a great scene and it is such a great illustration of how lives and careers are influenced by experiences and associations. 
“You could have been another Billy Kahn. That Manager brought you along too fast.”
“It wasn’t him, Charley! It was you. You remember that night in the Garden, you came down to my dressing room and said: ‘Kid, this ain’t your night!’ We’re going for the price on Wilson. ‘You remember that? ‘This ain’t your night!’ My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets a title shot outdoors in a ball park – and whadda I get? A one way ticket to Palookaville. You was my brother, Charley. You shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me – just a little bit – so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money.”
“I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.”
“You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am. Let’s face it …it was you, Charley.”

It’s good to be home. Happy Birthday, Fred.

Miami Mercenary

Chapter Thirty Two
Great Man – Chuck Porter

I worked for Chuck Porter in 1994-95. He is president of Crispin, Porter + Bogusky (in Miami). This is arguably the hottest agency in America. They have won a boat-load of awards and have gotten a ton of press and incredible “buzz” as a Hot Creative Shop. Chuck is a boyhood pal of Pat Fallon (founder of Fallon McElligott Rice). Chuck is a law school dropout. Chuck was a part of a successful freelance writing team – a job you can have while spending a lot of your time windsurfing in Miami. He was a talented guy - with not too much direction – until he found he could be an effective creative director and writer – first with his partner at Porter & Breen. (This team of freelance writers who would occasionally show up in plumber coveralls and ask bluntly “so where’s the problem?” as they approached what they did almost as mercenaries in New York, Minneapolis, California, Miami and around the country.)

Chuck took a real job at around age 40 as creative director of a boring agency that handled a lot of tourism advertising – designing and printing brochures and running a few small retail advertising campaigns in South Florida. Chuck turned the agency into a hot shop and himself into a star. Eventually he managed to buy a stake in the agency – push out Sam Crispin’s son, bring in other talented creative people and attract business that put the agency on the map.

He hired Alex Bogusky – a dashing great man in his own right and maybe 20 years younger than Chuck. The agency under Chuck’s leadership, in spite of what appears to be a flakey style, prospered until he sold 49% ownership to MDC (a Canadian holding company).

Chuck and Alex and the agency with the added funding were able to land the Burger King account a few years ago. $300,000,000 in billings can cover up a lot of creative mis-steps and at least for the time being makes CP+B and MDC look like pretty good investments. Chuck and Alex are rich, famous (in the ad biz) and two great men.

Oh Well.

Chapter Sixteen

Making Rain

Harvey Mackay’s book, Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty, is right on. The book is about networking and building relationships before you need them. That’s exactly why the notion of hiring a new business person is a little off strategy. You really need someone who can see the future. The top dog should be the primary business development contact, but so many agency presidents and managing directors get wrapped up in managing existing business they feel they don’t have time or energy to prospect for new accounts. They never get a chance to focus on longer-term goals until it becomes panic time. (Like just after loosing your biggest account. The same account you devoted all your energy to save.) Nevertheless, I am pleased to report that I’ve had some success as a “rainmaker.” I was able to leverage Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s reputation in Miami to lead an effort and win the South Florida Mercedes Benz Dealer Group account. Later at TBWA Chiat/Day, a similar set of circumstances resulting in my becoming a “rainmaker” again resulted in the agency win of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch Newspaper as a new account. Both The Mercedes Benz and St. Louis Post-Dispatch are satisfying wins for me professionally but neither was the kind of thunderstorms the respective agencies needed at the time.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What difference does it make?

I am getting a little weary of the plethora of networking opportunities in this town. I realize that it beats the heck out of stewing over things in isolation. Still, I’m banging away at blogs (three of my own and as a guest contributor for three others); I’m a member of a professional networking group that meets twice a month, I belong to another that has giant gatherings (of 100 or more people) monthly; I meet routinely with at least three companies that are partner-prospects; I am a board member for an industry association (local chapter); I am a volunteer and a member of two civic organizations. In spite of it all, I don’t see progress. But wait a minute:

A reader of one of my blogs asked for some help with a blog of her own.

An occupational therapist I met at a networking meeting happened to be a great fit with another friend that works with families with special needs.

The giant networking event lead me to a recruiter who was able to help a young man land his first job. He did it, but he needed that introduction to be considered. I was happy to facilitate it.

I have participated in too many projects as part of new business pitches but it only takes one to make that all worthwhile. Such was the case for a manufacturer who asked me to help them with a new product launch.

A student I met at an industry association function was thrilled to participate in one of my committees as a guest. (Who knows, it could be just the break/exposure he needed to eventually get his first job in advertising?)

One of the civic organizations asked me to speak and that resulted in an opportunity to share my topic with MBA students at a local college. (No idea where that might lead.)

And every once in a while my worlds collide and I can match a problem with a solution. I know a guy, a company, a place, a thing, a formula or an approach that will be just the thing that helped solve a puzzle.

Okay, now that I think of it…it is a kind of progress.     

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Engineered to Last

Frontenac Engineering Honors Pittzman’s 150 Years
Engineering the future with a nod to the past.

William (Bill) Berthold returns to his offices located at 2725 Sutton Boulevard, on an unseasonably cool summer day in late August, in the business district of Maplewood (MO).He’s just back from a meeting across the river that ran a bit long. He’s gracious and apologetic at the same time. The scheduled lunch meeting was set to discuss the remarkable history his company. Frontenac Engineering was acquired from his Uncle in 1991. He is quick to get to the business of our meeting. He wants to make sure up front that he is particularly proud of the capable staff in place at Frontenac Engineering. Frontenac Engineering and Pitzman’s Company combined have twenty (20) dedicated employees. But the part of his business he wants to talk about most is the history that came with the acquisition that made him the owner of one of St. Louis area most enduring brand names in the land surveying: Pitzsman’s Company.

“I just didn’t want this reputable brand to vanish,” says Bill Berthold. “The history of Pitzman’s Company is contained in countless volumes of carefully preserved city documents in the vault at Frontenac Engineering. They are cataloged and cross referenced in what we like to call Pitzman’s Coffin. The Coffin is a simple wooden box with land maps and a numbering system arranged neatly in the bin for cross reference to numbered volumes stacked nearby. Bill is like a kid in a candy store when he gestures toward the bound volumes in the vault. “I love this stuff.” says Bill, on this, another nickel tour of the space they’ve occupied since1996. “We are looking at the oldest and best records in the city,” adds Bill Berthold. “We want the brand name to live on alongside Frontenac Engineering because we are committed to the same values that are so apparent in the story of the success and quality of the Pitzman’s Company. Who knows, maybe people will look at both company brand names in another 150 years and point to a similarly impressive body of evidence. I hope so”     

Pittsman’s Company of Surveyors and Engineers was established in 1859 by Julius Pitzman who’s own history offers insight into the country and the St. Louis region. Pitzman’s Company data, analysis, land surveying and engineering are now in the hands of the Frontenac Engineering twenty person-staff. They are dedicated to all aspects of real estate and land development.

The founder, Julius Pittzman, was the son of Frederick G and Amalia (Ebert) Pitzman and born in Halberstadt, Prussia in 1837. He moved to America in the 1850’s with his mother and lived in Milwaukee before moving to St. Louis. He served as deputy county surveyor of St. Louis before engaging in the general practice of surveying. He was commissioned at the outbreak of the Civil War and eventually was appointed by William T. Sherman as chief topographical engineer.

Julius was one of the prime movers in advocating Forest Park and was considered something of a real estate expert being a pioneer in developing land with deed restrictions. The notion of land development with deed restrictions in Pitzman’s day, was thought impossible by prominent Attorneys under American laws at the time. Much of what Pitzman developed has become the model by which many of the great cities in the United States owe a debt today.

Berthold recognizes the awesome responsibility of keeping the memory and history alive. As President of Frontenac Engineering, he himself is a registered professional engineer and land surveyor (in Missouri and Illinois). He has over 20 years of experience but is humbled by the massive amounts of records he now controls from the legacy of Julius Pitzman. Recounting the story of the acquisition of the Pitzman’s Company, Bill reports that he simply contacted the company at the right time. He reached Roy Leimberg, President of the of Pitzman’s Company, to inquire about interest in selling. To his surprise Roy responded “So you saw our ad in Surveyors Magazine offering the Business for Sale.” Stunned that the company was available, Berthold arranged financing and finished the deal in 2005. “Roy had become the owner of Pitzman’s and had been an employee for 52 years at the time of that negotiation. Call it a confluence of events and a bit of serendipity. I feel very fortunate in this whole thing. Pitzman’s Company is a great fit with the company. We want to be as we continue to grow. In particular, I was happy to be dealing with the graceful influence of Roy Leimberg. You just can’t give a guy like that enough credit for the company traditions of excellence and carrying the legacy forward.”

“Frontenac Engineering with Pitzman’s Company is a perfect complement to our business. We concentrate on Land Surveying, Contract Administration and Civil and Structural Engineering. I’m delighted to be the guardian of this historic company legacy,” says Berthold, adding “Better me than one of our competitors. We’re going to do everything we can to live up to this history that dates back more than 150 years. “I think we’ll have a painting of our founder commissioned in his Civil War era uniform. I’m pretty sure my uncle would understand.” 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fast Times in Fast Food

Chapter Six
Herb, Hank, and Frank

My successful tour on the Pepsi account with Tracy-Locke, eventually (not smoothly or naturally), led to a big job offer at BBDO/New York the sister agency of Tracy-Locke. Regional marketing at Tracy-Locke had given me the opportunity to roll my sleeves up in the cola wars in New York, New Jersey and even for a stint in Los Angeles where I was challenged to deliver “cross fertilization” of ideas. I had been successful in the (arguably) more competitive eastern markets like New Jersey and Philadelphia where stores tend to be smaller and shelf space was at a greater premium.

Now, BBDO wanted someone who had success dealing with the demanding Pepsico culture to lead Kids’ Marketing and New Product Development for its Pizza Hut Restaurant Chain. (Pepsico has since spun off their restaurant businesses.) I jumped at the opportunity but this was an ill-fated move for me from the beginning. For starters, New Yorkers know nothing about Pizza Hut pizza. They wouldn’t be caught dead in a Pizza Hut for fear their friends would think they’d lost their mind. New York is full of Pizza snobs. They buy pizza by the slice at Mom & Pop shops. Franchise pizza, never. These were the same people who were expected to create advertising for the chain. It’s not important to have a passion for the product you handle. However, complete disdain is not good either.

I was at BBDO long enough to be involved in a deal with Nickelodeon that would combine a long term media buy with a series of commercials featuring “Hank and Frank” in a series of funny TV spots. Hank and Frank were brothers who were trying to convince mom and dad to take them to Pizza Hut on Tuesday Night (Kids’ Night at Pizza Hut). The reasoning was sound enough. Get kids to drive purchases (family dining occasions) on a specific off-peak weeknight. BBDO is an exciting place to work especially for art directors and writers. It is the largest agency in America where “Creative is King.” Meaning: It’s a place where ideas are nurtured and supported above all else. The consequence of this philosophy is that clients must want blockbuster hits every time. And they must also be willing to pay for it. Phil Duesenberry lead the agency’s creative ranks and had become a star with Pepsico. I’m writing this account more than 10 years after my experience at BBDO. I’m not sure to this day why I was cut from that team. It could be that an important client had “asked me off the business” (a brutal but very real and all too common career crisis in advertising). Or after a few short months the creative culture at BBDO didn’t see me as passionate enough. It could be that I was too anxious to catch the train home to my family in New Jersey at that stage in my life. 

While at J. Walter Thompson, years earlier, I had a stint on another quick service restaurant concept, Burger King. The agency was working its way through a flop TV campaign featuring a Nerdy character called Herb who had never tasted a Burger King Whopper. The campaign got clobbered. McDonald’s was running hard-hitting product oriented advertising that generated product trial. I was scheduled to relocate to JWT in San Francisco and work out of the office there. The move was delayed several times pending management approvals. Because of my scheduled move I became aware of client problems in the Western part of the country which appeared to be systemic of an agency-client relationship growing stale. That’s when I managed to make a graceful exit to the Matchbox Toy account across town. That move was timely indeed. I was slated to be among the 55+ employees to get the ax upon the announcement that Burger King was taking its $200MM+ account elsewhere after nearly 8 years at J. Walter Thompson. (Beautiful timing, huh?)

So, in essence I have worked on two of the nation’s largest Quick Service Restaurant Chain accounts for a sum total of less than one year. What a business. I left J. Walter Thompson in 1986 in the midst of the biggest account shift in advertising history to that point. I left BBDO in 1990 under a cloud I have difficulty explaining to this day. I’ve come to view the advertising business as a cruel game of musical chairs. You either lose your chair because you’re not quick enough or someone pulls it out from under you. Or you simply become uncomfortable in your seat (for any number of reasons). BBDO pulled my chair out from under me. I was dismissed from the biggest job I’d had to that point in my career.

Losing your job in advertising is all too common. There are a million and one reasons you can lose your job. The easiest one to understand is due to account loss. (e.g. “We’ve just lost over $200,000,000 in billings because Burger King wants to take its business elsewhere. We’re gonna have to make some cuts”.) The stated reason I lost my job at BBDO was: “Casting is critical.” Imagine that. BBDO apparently believes that account guys can be called up from central-casting and plugged in to manage a $40 Million Dollar account. No kidding. That’s what they told me. “Nothing personal Wes, but in this business casting is critical.” They hired me to manage clients in a culture they assumed would be most similar to what I was used to from Pepsico. They did little or nothing to make me feel comfortable at BBDO. I was a bad fit. Next!

That really stung. I was living in New Jersey, home of the nation’s highest automobile insurance rates, in a house in South Orange I couldn’t afford, with responsibility for two kids and a wife. It was time to evaluate options and do some serious soul-searching. This was the first time I ever had to collect unemployment compensation. A humiliating yet necessary indignity. I knew I had to consider a revised career plan. I read What Color is Your Parachute? and How to get a Better Job, Quicker. I perused through dozens of other books on related topics. I paid a career counselor to help me sort out my skill-set and consider options outside of the advertising business. I was a prize fighter on the mat trying to get up for another round. I had to. And I refused to be defeated as a mis-cast advertising man.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sweeney's Revenge

Chapter Seven

Advertising to a Professional Audience -
Sweeney’s Revenge

The books, the career counselor and the soul-searching helped me come to this conclusion: I love advertising. I wanted to stay in the ring. But I can change the venue. I was persuaded to join a smaller agency in New Jersey with a niche expertise in health care products. Sweeney & Partners was set in the rolling hills of Montvale, New Jersey in a modest office park kind of neighborhood. It seemed a million miles from the rat-race of Midtown Manhattan. Tom Sweeney is President and principal owner of the company. He is a real life entrepreneur. His background includes an undergraduate degree from Notre Dame, dropping out of medical school and a first job as a detail man for a large drug manufacturer. This background and his entrepreneurial spirit added up to a formula for success as niche marketing specialist catering to over-the counter (OTC) and ethical pharmaceutical companies – of  which there is no shortage in New Jersey. Tom Sweeney caught me at the right time with an offer that hinted at autonomy, growth and maybe an equity stake down the road. Tom preached the advantages of specialized, integrated marketing. He hated big agencies. I was hooked. I was already convinced that a change of venue was a good idea and I was excited about being a bigger fish in a smaller pond. I accepted a position as an Account Group Supervisor managing the Richardson-Vicks and Pfizer accounts at Sweeney & Partners. I bit the bullet on salary in exchange for the prospect of a less complicated agency environment and the implied equity carrot. Sweeney & Partners is an entrepreneurial organization built around the strengths of its founder. Tom Sweeney had a formula that could be customized for all of his accounts. He was able to offer a value that bigger agencies didn’t have the energy or desire to provide. He, by virtue of his background, understands what it takes to help relatively junior marketing managers in giant drug companies. He knows how to guide these “low branches” with his bag of tricks. In a nutshell, he could offer his clients significant value and beat the big advertising agencies. And make a tidy profit too. Here’s what Tom’s agency typically offered. Not brain surgery but pretty practical service and solid thinking.

Tom Sweeney’s Bag of Tricks

1. Database Marketing Tom recommends one-to-one marketing. He says that professional healthcare providers and Pharmacists would have a huge influence on the success of a drug product. That seems true enough. This was especially true of ethical (prescription) drug products. Tom’s twist is to build the list and own it. Sweeney & Partners owns a custom list of high volume denture making dentists (HVDM) for example. As long as Tom keeps this information, Richardson-Vicks (a subsidiary of Procter & Gamble) relies on Sweeney & Partners to manage an ongoing sampling program and direct response dialogue with this important audience. Many big agencies would prefer not to manage such a list, opting instead to purchase it from a listbroker.

2. Medical Conventions and Scientific Sessions Tom encourages his clients to participate in important medical conventions and scientific sessions. Sweeney & Partners designs and builds the show exhibits and will even provide staffing. While at the event, the staff of Sweeney & Partners will enter the names and addresses of participants on a laptop computer. You guessed it; those names become the database for Database Marketing (above). Again, this is a labor intensive process that most larger agencies don’t want to manage.

3. Journal Advertising There are hundreds of specialized medical and healthcare
journals and publications. The cost to advertise in such publications is justified by the value of reaching a select audience. Sweeney & Partners spends a great deal of time understanding these publications and their relative importance in reaching professionals. It’s a hassle for most traditional agencies. Tom’s agency is happy to collect a commission on placing ads in any of these publications.

4. Focus Groups Tom is an affable guy. He learned how to chat with doctors after dropping out of medical school and becoming paid detail man. Tom is the moderator in countless focus groups on topics ranging from brand perception to patient-doctor interaction. The client begins to understand its professional “influencer” audience. Sweeney & Partners earns an additional research fee. Most agencies hire a professional moderator and pay for their services. Few agencies have a person on staff who is more than willing to lead such sessions. (It works out especially well when Tom is required to travel to locations where a golf-course is accessible for an afternoon round.)
5. Select Consumer Tests Tom is a marketing man. He’s and entrepreneur, too.
Whenever he’s in a position to recommend taking a product story direct to consumers he will recommend a “test” of one sort or another. This is generally a low-level test of which a traditional agency wouldn’t want to bother. Tom might suggest something like, “Let’s run ads in Modern Maturity Magazine. Small Space. Maybe Black & White. We can see if people will sample your product. This will result in trial and that could lead to product sales.” This is where Tom steps over the line between his professional audience expertise and into the arena of consumer-oriented efforts. Nevertheless, Tom is successful on occasion in convincing a marketing manager to invest in this type of “test” for a portion of their budget. 

Tom Sweeney’s agency is built completely around his abilities and personality. Clients demand his personal attention. He spreads himself pretty thin. He insists on managing the agency’s money (receivable and payable). Inevitably he runs into periodic cash-flow problems.  When Tom ran into some cash-slow problems, I was in no position to ride-out the storm. It was time to change the venue, again.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Poet inspires Artist

Born in Michigan in 1945 and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Robert Lobe completed his undergraduate education at Oberlin College in Ohio and headed east to Manhattan to study at Hunter College, a division of the City University of New York. He stayed. Lobe's aluminum trees, boulders and other natural forms are hard to classify. Intuitive, rather than analytic, his departure from Minimalist sculpture from the 1960s and 1970s, seems akin to other explorations in material phenomenology. We might call Lobe's work Post-Minimalist sculpture.
The Palm at the End of the Parking Lot was installed by Lobe at Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis (1995). This sculpture was inspired by a poem by Wallace Stevens (1954):
Of Mere Being
The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor.
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.
You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.
The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.
Wallace Stevens was an American Modernist poet. He was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, educated at Harvard and then New York Law School. He spent most of his life working as an executive for an insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut. More than any other modern poet, Stevens was concerned with the transformative power of the imagination. Composing poems on his way to and from the office and in the evenings, Stevens continued to spend his days behind a desk at the office, and led a quiet, uneventful life. He did not receive widespread recognition until a year before his death in 1955.