Saturday, May 23, 2015

FREE ADVICE

Somehow I have managed to complete an MBA (on top of a double major liberal arts degree – Art and English); worked 15 years on blue chip advertising accounts; headed marketing communication as a corporate executive; and had some moderate success hanging out a shingle as a marketing consultancy. I have written over 500 blogs and a couple of books (my latest – Failure Coach a novel by Wes Morgan is available on amazon.com).  All this and $1.98 gets me a small coffee at Starbuck’s (they call it a "tall" coffee).

So when my friend Stan, a business coach, calls me and asks if I am willing to meet for a cup of coffee to discuss with his client Samantha to discuss ways she might take her business as a video production company to the next level, I’m flattered – and happy to oblige. This happens a lot to me. I always suggest a spot convenient for me for such meetings (as a consequence I always buy my own coffee).

We exchange pleasantries. A little bit about you.  A little bit about me. And an extemporaneous lecture which I hope will be useful. Stan is grateful – he is adding value. Samatha is grateful while admitting my advice is solid (based on what she has already done to stay in business for five years.)

Here’s how it went:

“Stan tells me you want to take your business to the next level.  Is that right?”

“Yes.” Samantha explained that her business has grown through referrals. She hoped to cultivate genuine business relationships over time. She also suggested that self-styled marketing consultants, graphic artists and agency-style advisers have been fertile ground for her.  (I am paraphrasing here. This part of the discussion is inextricably connected to the changing nature of the ad biz.)

“Well based on what you are telling me and what Stan has already told me – let me offer some nuggets that might be helpful:

Working with agencies: A longer sales cycle, agencies generally have their “go to” resources. Also the agency business may not be a robust as it once was. Get to know some key players in our town. (I gave her a short list of some that come to mind.) The nature of your dialogue might start with a question like: What are you seeing in the marketplace? What are your clients looking for

Direct interface with corporate: You can sometimes be successful in going directly to clients but you need to find champions willing to invest in marketing – and specifically video. You need to learn to talk their language. This is not to say be disingenuous. The nature of the dialogue here might start with questions like: What is the story your want your prospects to know? How are you engaging with your customer prospects?

Trade groups and associations: I’m a fan of the American Marketing Association, so of course that tops my list but there is value in becoming a known expert. This strategy might begin with professional associations but might expand into trade/industry associations for which you think you might like to do business."

For this advice: NO CHARGE. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Edgewater 5

Major Major, Billy Pilgrim and Huckleberry Finn

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll GO to hell"--and tore it up.” 
 Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

“Major Major never sees anyone in his office while he's in his office.”  ― Joseph Heller, Catch-22

“Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.”  Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

I enrolled with every intention of studying Graphic Design (an art major) but Kurt Vonnegut was the first author I remember who really made me think about storytelling. Ironically, it was his “unstuck in time” device that helped me understand that a good story doesn’t need to be linear.  Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is such a wonderful story that challenges how one might think about morality through a character who by conventional judgment of the time was considered uncivilized. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller presents predicaments of war in a story of his main character Yossarian’s circumstances. All this (and more) was introduced to me in some of those early “required” English 
courses.  

I eventually found myself a double major: Graphic Design (Art) and Creative Writing (English). I became a champion of liberal arts. I learned too late how impractical it was. What would it mean to have a Bachelor of Arts Degree with such a double major? My parents were focused only on completion of a legitimate four-year degree. They were not interested in any other time-table and were not supportive of indecision if it meant any delays in finishing college. This was not a time for reflection in any more than a  prescribed amount of time. Greg was a talented photographer but discovered that the male/female ratios in education classes improved his odds socially. Further, he found a part time job that introduced him to the special needs population through the City of Miami Department of Parks & Recreation. He quickly earned designation as a Rec Spec III (a recreational specialist) and he qualified himself to escort retarded citizens in a big yellow school bus with a chauffer license. The job and the license permitted him to chauffer and supervise these special citizens. 

Meanwhile I began to think of myself as a Renaissance Man. My dual major allowed me to navigate coursework in art history, literature, painting and design. Greg has less intellectual curiosity than I do but while he studied fundamentals of education, child psychology and sociology he made acceptable progress as a degree seeking freshman.


We were lucky kids from Edgewater Drive, St. Luke and Lakewood High who selected South Florida and the U because it was a short drive from Key Biscayne where our parents owned property that allowed them to be snow birds. And our uncle Andrew was chairman of the Art Department. And it seemed as good a place as any to find yourself in four years of academic pursuits.   

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Edgewater 4

234 Mahoney Hall - Nixon Resigns


“I’m Greg Morgan and this is my brother Wes. We’re in room 234 Mahoney Hall.” Greg was more anxious checking into the dorm room on the campus of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida than I was. He wanted to get a head of  things to avoid looking like a lost Freshman. I was more confident that answers would present themselves. The irony is that we were entering Freshmen together because I was held back in first grade at St. Luke. I flunked first grade! A devastating life event that gave me the opportunity to take life as it comes. A significant consequence would be that my brother and I would be college roommates and Freshman together. Registration for classes, academic advising and the specifics of the meal plan are details that everyone will need to navigate soon enough, I thought. True enough.

The Morgan family Cutlass Supreme pulled into the parking lot yesterday afternoon with Joe Cocker blasting from the 8-track tape player.  “She came in through the bathroom window/Protected by a silver spoon/But now she sucks her thumb and wanders/By the banks of her own lagoon.” It kept playing as the car trunk and the rear doors were open for us to unload all of those personal possessions we figured we couldn’t live without in college. We weren’t alone in managing the most critical piece of logistics – where we would place the sound system speakers, turntable and receiver in that spartan dorm room for two that shared a connecting bathroom with two strangers.

“Didn't anybody tell her?/Didn't anybody see?/Sunday's on the phone to Monday/Tuesday's on the phone to me.” Greg does an amusing imitation of Joe Cocker’s spastic gestures and head movements. That made it easier to break the ice with suite mates Macy Orville Teeter from New Orleans and Stephen Gibbons from someplace in Delaware. Steve Manzi from Long Island and Mike Cropanese from New Hampshire, roommates across the hall from 234, were quick to use the theatrics as a conversation starter because we all needed to share the use of the dolly as we unloaded our cars.  

“She said she'd always been a dancer/She worked at 15 clubs a day/And though she thought I knew the answer/Well I knew what I could not say” Cocker’s voice reverberates against the windows of the residence hall – most of which were closed to allow the AC a chance to cool those rooms this warm August day. “Didn’t anybody tell her?/Didn’t anybody see? Sunday’s on the phone to Monday. Monday’s on the phone to me…oh yeah.”

Our Monday would be the beginning of our college careers in the library where they orchestrated final registration for classes. The library would function as a normal hub for the studious after this process and orientation but Greg and another guy from Mahoney Hall – David Drimer from Jamaica Queens - NYC (wherever that is) would later laughingly refer to the library as the “registration building….you know the place where they keep the books.”

We were settling in and getting a sense of the campus when we caught only highlights of the national news footage of Richard M. Nixon waving goodbye and stepping onto a presidential helicopter after resigning from office. It was important news with national and international import but only tangentially relevant to self-involved entering freshmen on the campus of the University of Miami on warm evening in Coral Gables, Florida.   

Coming soon maybe – Jet Set Typesetting with George and Vivian; Hired in NYC; Morgan Studio;  Liberal Arts, Fine Arts and Business School


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Edgewater 1 2 3

1. Edgewater Drive




It begins with burning leaves on the street. Every fall someone always seemed to start a small fire on Edgewater Drive in Lakewood, Ohio. A simpler time, perhaps, but it didn’t seem so then. After all, those leaves would only have become significant a pile for burning after carefully raking much of the front yard. There is a leaf sweeper with two wheels and brushes that work on loose leaves that blow onto the open areas. Vigorous raking is still necessary to get those leaves that collect between bushes and up against the chain link fence.

Just before dusk it seems safe to start those leaves smoldering. By tending the flames the fire never rages. It crackles a little as the smoke rises. Yours are not the only leaves on the street burning. But the smoke signals at 15106 Edgewater Drive are fragrant and a celebration of a seasonal tradition. The lawn will be ready for mowing in a day or so. We’ve got two mowers, no waiting. One of the Morgan boys will be coaxed into that chore. It doubles as the touch football field and as such should be ready for action by Sunday.

Dad is always quarterback and chief referee. An arrangement that never gets challenged except for a few extra-familial players. Tom Murphy is notable among those guests who wants to play but never fully appreciates the law of the land. Argue with the referee and he will likely step off a penalty for which there is no review and no recourse. That referee also reserves the right to point his finger in the air and pronounce the game over with a “BANG!” The game is over because without a referee, however unjust, the contest has no structure.

Our parents were in charge. There appeared to be no indecisiveness. And most rules were not the kind worth debating -- Catholic dogma mixed with Marshall Law on Edgewater Drive. The outcome would be resoundingly clear and the challenge would be a wasted effort. “You aren’t going to be one of those kids hanging out on the street corner,” (Whatever that means). An older brother broke enough rules and was sufficiently old enough make accurate accountability impossible. As near as I could tell, his biggest crime was not living up to his potential. An older sister was anxious to achieve emancipation at the legal age of 18. A teen pregnancy accomplished that but eventually made her more dependent on the nest than I’m sure she ever dreamed.

In the birth order, the four remaining boys would “fall in” in a way that might suggest that the parents sort of figured out how to manage a household with a more temperate demeanor. They, with age, possessed mellower attitude toward family car fender benders and curfew forgetfulness.  The result perhaps – those governed least were governed best.

Mom suggested that I was the oldest of the four boys – denying me any claim to middle child syndrome but in later years causing me to want to understand the circumstances of my older siblings. I never really did. Their stories seemed too incredible--their times too turbulent. The accounts of tumult were never reconciled even as we gathered as a family to mark their passing --. Mom first, after years of advancing Altzheimers and few years later Dad who remained a  sharp mind but became a lonely heart without the woman he married when she was just 20 years of age and he was a young  serviceman of 24 in the Army Corps of Engineers. Their remains eventually earned their way to Arlington National Cemetery.


2. Kiss me, I’m Irish

St. Luke School is named for the Evangelist – one of the guys who wrote the new testament. It was a church parish and home base for  probably no more than 200 or so learners in grades one through eight. We were the Crusaders in CYO sports, the most notable of which was our lightweight football team.  I was co-captain of the team that lost in the championship game but more importantly beat the cross town rival St. Clement in the Rosary Bowl, along with the infinitely more gifted athlete Daniel Caine, our quarterback. The supporting cast at St Luke school was, of course, the standard fare of clergy. Nuns taught us to respect and fear authority. Priests were on hand to officiate at Masses of which we would serve as altar boys. 

It has been said that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day but at St. Luke it seemed the most righteous celebration of big catholic families. The names McDonnell, Lamb, Fayen, Walsh, McGuire, Donnelly, McGorrey, Flynn, Morgan, Caine, Graham, Welsch, Murphy, Sullivan, Reilly, Keating, Kennedy on an on -- All boasted of some heritage from the Emerald Isle. Erin Go Bragh. Mom was a Lawton and very proud of her country of origin (albeit by way of ancestry fleeing to Canada before coming to New England.)  Her parents were, she said 100% Irish – the breadwinner a stockbroker who moved to the Cleveland area from Boston to open an office of Hornblower & Weeks.
Dad offered that he was more of a mutt but, he said, with a fair dose of Scotch, Irish, English, Welsh, German and French. His father was a Doctor who left the small Illinois town of Kinmundy to study at St. Louis University and earn a degree that entitled him to practice Medicine. He graduated in 1910, even before that school adopted the Billikin as a mascot. He was offered a position in Cleveland and that is how my grandparents settled in the West Side Suburb of Lakewood.

So it was mostly the force of Mom’s personality and the receptivity of all things Irish at St. Luke that may have influenced us to wear green, seek our parades and eventually find ourselves on barstools drinking green been at places like the Tam O’ Shanter, Flanagans, and the Brass Bell even before we were old enough to legally enter such establishments. The training for such rights of passage would be hours of consumption of 3.2 Stroh’s Beer near secluded places at Lakewood Park or adjacent to the Railroad Tracks.

“Lukes Pukes!” was once a pejorative phrase heard from the competitive bench of our CYO opponents. Later, though, with the help of Stroh’s Beer it was more a rite of passage. By the time we reached the upper grades in High School (St. Edward, St. Ignatius, St. Augustine, Magnificat, or Lakewood High School) we would master the art of 12 oz. curls.

3. Winterhurst and the Brass Bell

Blake has six beers stashed in the snow bank outside of the Winterhurst Ice Rink. Winchester Cathedral is playing as the announcement “all skate” comes over the speakers. “You are a wild man, Blake. What made you stash six beers out here in the snow?” His response is part laughter and part matter-of –fact as we crack a couple open – Stroh’s of course. I let the pull tab ring slide onto my pinky finger out of habit -- tracking consumption by loading up my pinky finger.

6-7-8 tabs were on that pinky the night at Brunners when I tried to ride my bike home. Bad Judgment maybe – but in Lakewood the ride from the other side of the tracks to Edgewater is almost always a breezy downhill glide. Not that night. I made it home eventually though.

On this night I am driving the family Oldmobile Cutlas Supreme. It is not a drinking night and I gotta get home. Tomorrow I have to be at Lakewood High School early to take my SAT college entrance exam. But Blake can be persuasive. We head to the Brass Bell. He’s just shy of legal age of 18. I have already passed that milestone. Blake boasts bogus ID ownership since age 16 – so to the Brass Bell we go. We are there in time to get our hands stamped and catch Ida Red’s last set before closing. The encore set concludes with Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode as a finale that assures another round before closing. Blake offers to buy Katy a drink but she’s good. Sipping through the stir straw her Sloe Gin Fizz before she leaves with one of her girlfriend in her gently used Mustang convertible.
So the next morning in the High School Cafeteria the proctor is reading the instructions before testing. Blah Blah Blah  - something about number 2 pencils and being sure to fill the circles on your answer sheets that corresponds with your answers. I don’t have a very good attention span anyway word problems are sure to put me to sleep.

“I fell asleep during the test! In retrospect I don’t know if it was for 30 seconds or half an hour. I was out like a light.” Blake laughs apologetically saying, “Well I guess you are fortunate that you weren’t drinking Sloe Gin Fizzes last night,” adding ”I wonder if the College Board offers those tests on Saturday mornings for a reason. That just ain’t right.”

Needless to say the combined score for my SAT test was in the mid 900s. Good enough for Syracuse University and the University of Miami. I was accepted into the BFA program at Syracuse after a portfolio review but since my brother was heading to the University of Miami and my uncle was head of the art department there it seemed like a good idea to pack up the Oldsmobile Cutlas Supreme and go to Coral Gables, Florida. Go Canes.




The Truth is stranger than fiction. This is a work of fiction that borrows liberally from things that really happened. I hope the real people and places featured in this story don't minimize my fond affection for them. I recall with a flawed memory of course. As one puts distance between ordinary events, revisions need to happen to assure a better storytelling. This story, while it has autobiographical tendencies, will be careful not be overly obsessed with accuracy. Windy exposition and explanations are boring. The juxtaposition of Blake, Beer, Winterhurst and the Brass Bell are (for example) a composite of several separate typical evenings in Lakewood, Ohio in the 1970s.      

Future chapters are in development. This blog series (maybe a book) -- working title Edgewater may or may not include chapters with titles like Watergate and Joe Cocker, Beer Cans and Bottle Caps -- Found Art, South Beach Geriatrics, High School Guidance Counselors Marine Science and 108 other majors, How Kurt Vonnegutt changed everything for me, The Morgan Studio Legacy and the Ad Biz. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Failure Coach - a novel by Wes Morgan


The idea for this book started with a conversation with my brother Greg. We talked about the business of career coaching and wondered how a story that turned business coaching on its head might play out. The result was a series of blogs that became chapters in 2014. I am grateful for Greg Morgan’s encouragement as this book started taking shape. The idea for this book would not have been possible without his sense of humor. In addition to my family and friends, co-workers, clients and others engaged in advertising and marketing communications in a variety of corporate environments to which I have been a part I say thank you. You know who you are and a list here would be hopelessly incomplete at best. I must also recognize David Cox of Sandbox Creative who was among the first to encourage me to write a book. This book is something quite different from the book about careers and marketing communications we first considered but this fictional account is more credible than the truth (since, as we know, the truth is stranger than fiction).

About the book: Alan Edgewater finds himself a best-selling author and motivational speaker. His base of operations in St. Louis, Missouri allows him to stay somewhat grounded but with growing influence and aspirations he becomes something of a local industry. His team of advisers and a hapless mega lottery winner influence his marketing strategies as he builds on his business. At the core of his enterprise is the idea of embracing failure instead of fearing it. Surprising outcomes come as Alan lends his name to an unconditional scholarship program and the scholars provide insight into unfettered life choices. Alan’s journey and that of his close-knit associates create a tapestry of extraordinary events in this thought-provoking novel.

Edgewater is scripted. He has access to a teleprompter but the material is well rehearsed. He moves around freely on the stage with a Lavalier mic securely in place on his un-tucked golf shirt. He pauses for laughs and allows for questions from audience members queued up in the center aisle. “Mr. Edgewater, you call yourself a failure and yet you have a best-selling book, sold out lecture tour, and millions of followers around the world…” begins the next question. Alan smiles and interrupts, “Precisely, my friend, but it is not a drive for success that got me to this point. It is rather the expectation of failure! I am not suggesting for one moment that you should not take risks. Success is not possible without failure. Failure should be celebrated. Allow me to show you some graphics that illustrate my point…”

In addition to Alan Edgewater you’ll meet a cast of characters in Failure Coach who will take you on a journey that will give insight into advertising and promotion of the author/speaker; marketing a non-profit; the world of contemporary art; the inner workings of managing a unconditional scholarship fund and the winners of this unique award.

The book (216 pages) is available in hard cover from Amazon.com.