People regularly ask me if I am a full-time blogger. This always makes me laugh. I assume that would mean that I blog 24-hours a day. Which would make it really hard to shower. Or trim my fingernails. I actually have several other responsibilities. I am the Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. And when I am not blogging or foundering I spend my time husbanding and fathering.
I got my fist job as a father in 2005. Since then I have tripled my responsibilities. My youngest son is a 7-year old viking named Magnus who inherited my love for football. In fact we toss a football around every morning while waiting for the school bus.
Yesterday Magnus must have eaten his Wheaties (which is a reference that you’ll only understand if you were born before 1980). Because every time Magnus tossed the ball he threw it way over my head. So I jogged to pick up the ball, and tossed it back. But after several of these Wheaties-fueled throws I stopped and asked Magnus,
‘Are we playing catch, or are you just playing throw?’
As I asked the question I recognized that Magnus’ approach was emblematic of a common problem that occurs every day in communications. Both personal and professional.
Tossing Marketing Messages
In the most basic form, marketing communications are a simple game of catch. The game starts with a marketer throwing a message to a prospective buyer. The prospective buyer catches the message and throws his or her message back. That message could be, I’m interested, I’m not interested, I’m confused, or Tell me more. As long as you are communicating there is an opportunity to get to a mutually beneficial transaction.
But far too often marketers throw their messages the way Magnus threw the football. Hard. Fast. High. Marketers are focused on their own perspective. In their eagerness to drive results (ROI) they shout what they think is important. They don’t think enough about the person at the other end of the message. Thus, their message sails way over the head of the intended recipient. And there is no reply at all.
Before you throw your next message:
Know who you are throwing to.
Understand how they like to catch.
Account for the distance.
Throw something catchable.
Observe what happens when you throw your message, and recalibrate accordingly.
Prepare to receive the message that gets tossed back to you.
Remember, communication is a two-way interaction. Account for your audience in everything you do. Make it an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. When you do you’ll be surprised how many people will happily play catch with you.
If you found anything I threw your way useful, or think I am off target, please share a comment or subsrcibe to this blog so we can keep playing catch.
I have worked with a lot of well-known humans during my advertising career. Advertising and well-known humans, aka celebrities, are made for each other. That’s because there is a powerful affinity triangle that predicts that if you like a celebrity, and that celebrity likes a product or service, then the chances are good that you will like that product or service too. This is why so many of our moms bought us Skippy peanut butter. #annettefunicello
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of the most influential celebrities I have ever worked with. Dale and I worked together for several years on marketing efforts for Nationwide Insurance, a major NASCAR sponsor.
Nationwide tested every commercial we ever created (and many that never saw the light of day). Time after time, and test after test, I was amazed at just how much influence Dale Jr. had on an audience’s interest in what Dale Jr. was selling. This was made even clearer when we tested the exact same scripts with and without Dale in them. Take my word for it, you don’t want to create a Dale Jr. spot without Dale Jr.
Here are the top 3 reasons Dale Jr. is a world-class celebrity endorser.
He is relatable. Perhaps the greatest thing about Dale Jr. is that total strangers feel as if they know him. People who have never met him feel like he is a friend, a neighbor, a cousin, nephew or uncle. As the son of another well-known celebrity driver, Dale Earnhardt Sr., NASCAR fans and followers have watched Junior grow up. They know his story. They know his successes and his hardships. And they feel as if Dale is just like them. Which is why he has been voted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for 14 years in a row.
He is authentic. I have never worked with a celebrity that knows how to be themself better than Dale knows how to be Dale. After working with him the very first time it was crystal clear the he knows exactly who he is. He knows what does and doesn’t sound right coming from him. We rarely asked Dale to act. We wrote spots so that Dale could just be himself. We let him call an audible on set if he felt he would state a phrase differently than we wrote it in the script. Advertising audiences always have their BS meter on. They can sniff out a phony a Talladega lap away. But Dale’s authenticity assured there was no BS to detect. So racing fans bought into Dale big time.
He means what he says: Dale doesn’t really sell things as much as he shares what he actually believes. He really likes Chevy cars and trucks. He really wears Wrangler jeans and thinks they are real. And comfortable. And jeans. He really protects his businesses, his personal cars, his property, his family and dog with Nationwide Insurance. Which makes it really easy for him to earnestly endorse the merits of Nationwide Insurance.
Dale’s Lasting Impressions On Me:
Dale is a good human being. And I’d be willing to bet that he would be happier to have people say that about him than almost anything else. As I reflect on all the work we did together there are a few profound points that stick out.
Photos: Dale, like so many NASCAR drivers, recognized the value of a picture. He was gracious with all requests to have a photo taken with him by cast, crew, agencies, clients and fans. In fact, he seemed honored every time someone requested a photo with him. I always admired that.
The Beard: We always liked to shoot Dale clean-shaven. For adverting purposes he looks better without a beard. But one year we knew going into the shoot that he had grown a Zac-Brownian beard. After a few lean years on the track he was driving like a superstar again. I have no doubt that he felt his beard was part of his positive change. When he arrived on set the day of the shoot he brought the beard with him. This created drama. He clearly wanted to keep the beard.
We, on the other hand, wanted to see his handsome face. After we sat down and discussed our perspective with him he said that if we really felt that strongly about the beard he would shave. Within 10 minutes he emerged from the motorhome, sans beard, ready to shoot. He never complained. He didn’t hold a grudge (at least not outwardly). He was the consummate professional. We had a great shoot and created two really great commercials. While we may have won the battle of the beard, Dale Jr. really won us over with the way he handled the situation.
The Church Sign: One day we were filming Dale driving his Chevy SUV on a country road. At one point we pulled into a church parking lot to regroup and prepare for the next shot. I remember Dale taking a picture of the inspirational message on the sign in front of the church. It reminded me that we all need to seek out the good, the inspirational and the reassuring, and put it in our pocket, or phone, so that we have it when we need it most.
Thank You Dale.
Thanks for all that you did to make each of our efforts together successful. Thanks for your patience. Thanks for delivering for us every time. Thanks for getting up earlier than you wanted to. And sticking around the set longer than you wanted to. Thanks for the great stories you shared during our interviews. Thanks for taking time for just one more picture. And thanks for sharing your friends and family with us too. We had a lot of fun working with you. I think I speak for everyone who worked with you at Engauge and Nationwide when I say thanks for being on our side.
I am not a control freak. I believe there is more than one way to skin a cat. Although most cats I have met strongly prefer not to be skinned at all. I like to hire good people and let them do their jobs. I am very comfortable delegating responsibility. With one notable exception.
When it comes to business travel I become a micromanager. You will never find me handing over my travel planning to an assistant or simply booking what everyone else is booking. Because when I travel for work I always have a hidden agenda… (cue the sinister music).
As the Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, my first priority on every business trip is to take care of business. I call this my Bachman-Turner Overdrive Philosophy. I want to arrive with plenty of time to prepare for the meeting or the shoot, or whatever I’m travel to do. And I build in enough time for a travel backup plan in case anything goes wrong.
But once the work plan is set I always turn my attention to my hidden agenda. It’s not finding great restaurants or a fancy hotel or seeing a great show.
My People Plan
When I travel for work I always think about the people I can see. Business trips offer us all a chance to keep in touch or reconnect with friends and family. I take advantage of this every chance I get. You should too.
The moment I know I need to travel I start working on my people plan. I study the location I am traveling. I look at a map to see who I know within a reasonable radius of my business.
Then I build my itinerary.
The 3 Parts To My People-Seeing Travel Plans.
Flight: I look at flight options that will get me in early enough and allow me to leave late enough to see my people. Often I will take the last flight home on any given day to help open my schedule and improve my odds of connecting.
Lodging: My lodging is always an important part of my plan. I book hotels that make it easy to see my people. This is either because the lodging is centrally located, or because it is in the middle of a pod of my peeps. However, sometimes the lodging is not a hotel at all. I stay with friends or family members whenever they offer to host me. This allows for the best people experience of all.
Car Unless I am staying in Manhattan or a similar car-unfriendly location I rent a car from Hertz. That’s because Hertz has the best cars, the best service and the best loyalty program. A rental car gives me the most flexibility to see my people. And it gives me the greatest people-seeing range. If I am ambitious, which I usually am, a rental car enables me see several people, over a large area, for a fixed price. This is a major advantage that rental cars have over a ride sharing service.
A Recent Example
Last Thursday The Weaponry conducted an all-day branding workshop with a client in Minneapolis. I scheduled a flight that landed in Minneapolis at 5pm on Wednesday afternoon. I picked up my rental car, then Jeanne, our amazing account director and I picked up two of our clients and went to a really enjoyable dinner. (Side note: One of those clients was a friend before she was a client. And the last time I had seen her was on a people-seeing side trip in Atlanta earlier this year.)
Then I dropped off Jeanne and the clients at their hotels before heading to my sister Heather’s house for the night. There I got to see Heather, her husband John, my nephew Addison, and nieces Rebekkah and Rachael.
Thursday was the branding workshop. It was great. Productive, insightful and fun.
Thursday evening I had dinner with Heather’s family at one of our favorite restaurants.
Then I met my friend Tom Burger for after-dinner lemonades. Tom and I were college roommates and track teammates at the University of Wisconsin. It was really great catching up on family, friends and careers.
Friday morning was special. I got up early and drove 70 miles west of Minneapolis to Hutchinson, Minnesota. I went to surprise my 98-year-old Grandma Albrecht. And boy was she surprised. Which made me think that surprises and 98-year-olds may not be a healthy mix.
It had been too long since I saw Grandma. It was a real gift to be able to spend a couple of hours alone with her. This was all the more special because I lost my other grandmother, Grammy Sprau, two months ago at 100 years old.
Then I drove back to Minneapolis and met my friend Mark Setterholm at his production company, Drive Thru. Mark and I had worked together on a fun Ski-Doo project many years ago and have kept in touch ever since. I got to see his latest office space, I reconnected with members of his team, and met new DriveThruvians. Mark and I had lunch, we updated each other on our latest work developments and talked about life in general. It was great.
Then I headed to the airport and home.
In the past two months alone I have had three business trips just like this. All of them were greatly enhanced with friends and family time. By integrating my work and personal life I am able to get the most out of both.
LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram offer us a great way to stay in touch with our friends, family, and business associates. But it is not the same as seeing your people in real life. Take advantage of the opportunities to grow, maintain, rekindle or develop relationships while you are away from home. You’ll be glad you did. Life is short. And nothing matters more than our relationships.
It is easy to talk about starting your own business. I started talking about it within the first year of landing my first job in advertising. I have heard countless colleagues and friends dream about starting their own business over the years. But few have done it. Last year I started my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. I also started this blog to share my learnings about the process.
So, what have I learned?
Most people think that starting a business is really hard. It is not. It is actually pretty easy. In fact, as the title of this post suggests, it is as easy to start a business as it is to get pregnant. And for many people it’s actually way easier.
How to get pregnant.
To get pregnant you simply need two people to agree to a somewhat awkward exchange. One time. That’s all. And boom, your pregnant! You don’t need foreplay or formality. You don’t need to be experienced or even be particularly good at it.
Starting a business works the exact same way. Two people agree to a very basic, if not awkward initial exchange. They connect a problem and a solution. And when the money changes hands you have a business transaction. Once you have created a business transaction, even a micro-transaction, you have started a business.
The rest of it is romance. Window dressing.
Congratulations, it’s a business! Now what?
Once you have made that exchange (become pregnant or started a business) you can figure out what to do next. In fact you don’t have to do much. You don’t have to be a good business owner, or parent. Certainly there are many parents who make their greatest, if not only contribution at conception.
You don’t have to get married to have children. And you are not required to make your business official by creating a separate business entity. It can remain a sole-proprietorship.
Remember, the pass-fail question here is, ‘Did you exchange a product or service for money?’ Once you have done that, you have a business, whether you claim it or not. Putting a lot more energy into the business is up to you. You get to decide what kind of parent of owner you want to be.
Stop thinking it is so hard. Stop thinking you have all sorts of prerequisites to starting a business. You don’t. You don’t need any foreplay at all. You just need to play. And if you like it, the after-play is where you can develop the business further. You have time to figure all of that out as you go.
But if you really want to start a business just take that first small step. It’s really not that hard.
If you know someone who has been talking about starting a business forever, please pass this post along to them. And if you found a bit of value in this post yourself, please consider subscribing to my blog.
I hate the word failure. In my book, failure is the real F-word. So why the F has this F-word become so popular lately? Organizational leaders, motivational books and quasi-business coaches are encouraging us to embrace our failures. They tell us to fail fast. And fail more often. They say that if you are not failing you are not pushing yourself enough. I fail to understand this thinking. In fact, I don’t place any value on failures at all.
Emphasizing The Wrong Syllable.
When I set out to create the perfect advertising agency, I expected it would be a lot of hard work. I expected that I would face a lot of challenges that I was underprepared for. But one of the best things I did from the beginning of my entrepreneurial adventure was give myself permission to be an amateur. As an amateur, I have valued one thing above all else. It’s not success. And it’s certainly not failure.
I place the greatest value on the attempt.
The attempt is the action that creates all possibilities of success. Failure is simply a result of the attempt. Failure by itself does not lead to success. Never forget that.
A Life Lesson From Newtonian Physics
Newton’s first law of motion says that a body at rest tends to stay at rest. True dat, Sir Issac! You know what that means to me? A body at rest does not start a business. It does not change paradigms. It doesn’t invent new products or services. A body at rest does not create a magnetic culture. It does not develop a force that helps businesses thrive. A body at rest does not lead a company in sales. It does not create a positive impact on friends, families and communities. In fact, the only thing a body at rest does is remain at rest. Which is tragic.
The supreme value of my entrepreneurial-self is action. As long as I am taking action I give myself credit. Every action gets me closer to success. Action is the energy. Action is the possibility maker. Action is the seed of accomplishment. Remember the old saying that sex is hereditary? (If your parents didn’t have sex, chances are you won’t either.) If you don’t take action, none of your dreams will either.
Life is like golf. To get the ball from the tee into the hole you need action. That, my friends, comes from you swinging the club. If you are too lazy or too afraid to swing the club you will never, ever get the ball in the hole. Simply by swinging the club you have given yourself a chance to succeed.
Back to Business
As I build my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I put a premium on action. I place a high value on simply taking one step after another. If the steps are off, or fruitless or inflict pain or damage, that’s ok. The key is to learn, correct and act again.
It was either Steve Perry or Lao Tzu who said, ‘A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.’ But even more importantly, every step of the journey is just a single step taken. Maybe you’ll have some missteps along the way that will ultimately make your journey 1001 miles, or 1110 miles or 2000 miles. That’s ok. That’s not failure. That’s action. Take the first action. Take the second action. Then just keep going. That’s how it happens. Don’t embrace failure. Embrace the action that created the possibility.
If you’re ready to take more action now, consider subscribing to this blog. Where else will you find Sir Issac Newton, Steve Perry, golf and the F-word references in the same 600 word post?
Welcome to the third post in my Finding Office Space series. This is a trilogy, like Rocky (which actually has seven chapters, but who’s counting?). In Looking for office space: A startup story. we began our quest for a great new office. In Looking for Office Space: The Messy Middle, we shared the middle of the journey, including an overview of all of the spaces we looked at. In this post we will decide which office we want, sign a lease, and defeat Mr. T (Clubber Lang). Then Eye of The Tiger willplay, the credits will roll, and I’ll share some pics from the new space.
My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, first opened for business in 2016. Technology, including Slack, Google’s G-Suite, Dropbox, Asana and Zoom connected and enabled our team immediately. So we didn’t need a dedicated office. But I highly value culture and a team atmosphere. So we began searching for a new office space in July. We knew our first office should be in Milwaukee. But our rate of growth makes it difficult to know just how much space we will need a year from now.
Looking for an office is a little like looking for a date. Here is a list of the criteria we included in our E-Harmony profile:
1000 square feet. This provides enough room for our current team, and room for us to get really cozy as we grow.
A 1-year lease. From year one to year two we will have doubled our business. We would like to maintain that trend. But we are not willing to bet the business on it. So we will not bite off more than we can lease.
Downtown location. We want the energy of the city, sure. But we also want to make the commute reasonable for everyone. And all roads lead to downtown.
Northern Downtown location (The North End). This wasn’t a mandate. But it was more than a tie-breaker. I live north of Milwaukee in the suburb of Mequon. Having moved to Milwaukee from Atlanta a year ago, I am eager to minimize my commute as much as possible.
A separate conference room. Our team needs to gather, get loud and have fun client meetings without disturbing the rest of the staff. So a fully open concept wouldn’t work.
A separate private office. We wanted to have a private office that anyone could use to have more privacy when needed.
Windows. I love the energy that comes with natural light. So we wanted significant windows that let in a lot of sunshine.
Inexpensive parking. Downtown parking isn’t fun or easy. But it is a necessity. So we wanted parking close by at the best rate available.
Move-in ready condition: We didn’t want to have to build or move any walls. That would eat up time and money, and call for a longer lease term.
A good feel. If you’ve ever shopped for apartments or homes you know that some places just feel right for you. The same thing holds true for office space. And underwear.
After looking at eight properties we narrowed the field to a final four for an RFP process. Easy Breezy,which I will now call 1661 North Water Street, was our Goldilocks. It met all of the criteria listed above. And the porridge temperature was just right.
Legal Mumbo Jumbo
The first step towards securing our new space was a credit check. Which felt kind of like getting tested to make sure we didn’t have any diseases. Which, of course, we don’t. Then the property owners sent a 19-page lease agreement, which is like a pre-nup. I say this because it was the highly unromantic part of what had been a romantic experience. But in the lease application phase you go from dreaming about the space to distrustful statements and lawyery clauses that add a little bitter to the glitter.
The lease agreement failed to mention a couple of important clauses from the original proposal. Like the month of rent abatement that the property owners offered (a free month of rent). It also had some wonky wording around the insurance we were required to carry. Our insurance provider and I were both scratching our heads over the language, which I now believe was just a cut-and-paste error from the landlord.
Please allow myself to introduce myself…
I had to co-sign for the lease as Adam Albrecht, the human. So if Adam Albrecht, the Founder of The Weaponry can’t pay the lease, Adam Albrecht, the regular guy has to pick up the bill. I found this to be an odd part of the process. But as Bob Bradley, my business finance advisor, and the retired CFO of Cramer Krasselt told me, bankers and landlords still ask businesses that have been around for 100 years to have someone co-sign. Those experienced businesses have a track record that allows them to reject such requests. The Weaponry, with no rental history, and little credit history, hasn’t yet earned that luxury.
Trying to finalize.
I signed all of the paperwork, printed out my proof of insurance, wrote out a business check for the deposit. Then I told Mitch, my broker, I was ready to stop by the property owner’s office to drop everything off and pick up the keys. He called to warn them I was coming the next afternoon. But when I arrived no one there could help me (despite the fact that there were 50 people in the office).
The receptionist was new. The person she tried to page couldn’t be found. And I had to run to a CEO roundtable meeting.
When I came back that afternoon they restored my confidence in the organization. A seasoned receptionist was at the desk. She summoned Daniel immediately, He greeted me at the front desk to take the paperwork and deposit check.
Then came the moment I had been waiting for. They keys. If you’ve ever bought a car, house or sturdy pair of handcuffs, you know how great it feels to get handed those keys. It signifies that all of the paper road blocks have finally been cleared.
But this was slightly different. Because when Daniel pulled the keys out of the cabinet to hand them to me there weren’t just one or two keys. There were 13. I had a whole mitt full of keys. I was like Edward Keys-hands. Or Schneider from One Day At A Time. It was a pretty exciting moment.
The Opening Ceremony
I left Daniel and strutted across the parking lot to my new office building. I got on the elevator and rode to the second floor. I got off and walked about 50 feet down the hallway to Suite #206. Then I fumbled though the keys to find one that opened the door to the office. My FIRST office, for the very first time!
The first key I picked worked. I opened the door and walked in.
I was present in that moment. I drank it all in. I was by myself, which was nice. Because it gave me a moment to reflect on my very personal journey.
Of course there are several other people who I wish could have been there to share that moment with me too. I’ll mention them in another post. But for now, I am thankful to be starting what promises to be an even bigger, better chapter in The Weaponry’s story.
Our official lease started November 1st. We have a bit of furniture moved in. Which I will write about soon. I’ve provided a few pics of the new space below. So, please take a self-scrolling tour.
Thanks for following our story. If you would like to know what happens next, consider subscribing to this blog. And please stop when you are in the neighborhood. Or, if you are really fun, smart, creative and adventurous, consider joining our team.
Hugh Hefner always had multiple girlfriends. I can relate to Hugh. I don’t have multiple lady friends. But I always have several books in motion, simultaneously. I wish I could commit to just one at a time. But once an intriguing new book catches my eye, I can’t keep my hands off of it.
In October I read two books with a unique connection. They were both about men who lost use of their legs. This was purely coincidental. It wasn’t as if I was browsing the No Leg Function section of the library. But they were both great, inspirational stories that demonstrated that a strong mind is more important than an able body.
The first book I read was Stronger, by Jeff Bauman. Jeff had both of his legs blown off in the Boston Marathon bombing. But instead of letting the loss of his legs destroy him, as the title indicates, it made him stronger.
He was the key figure who helped the FBI identify the bombers. Even days after the bombing nobody knew who was behind it. Except Jeff. Following his life-saving surgeries he described Tamerlan Tsarnaev in amazing detail. He had stood next to Jeff, near the finish line of the marathon. They stared at each other for a moment. Jeff knew he was a bad dude. Tsarnaev soon disappeared, but he left his backpack at Jeff’s feet. Jeff noticed it a moment before it exploded, taking his legs with it.
Within just months of the bombing Jeff learned to walk again with artificial legs. He has become a hero in Boston. And his inspiring story was turned into a book (obviously) and a movie, in which he is played byJake Gyllenhaal.
The Impossible Just Takes A Little Longer
The second book was The Impossible Just Takes A Little Longerby Art Berg. Art was in a car accident when he was 21 years old that left him a quadriplegic. No one would have faulted him for living a small life after the accident. But Art had other plans.
He got married.
He had three children.
He started several businesses.
He played wheelchair rugby.
He became a highly sought after motivational speaker, giving 150 speeches a year.
He was inducted into the prestigious National Speakers Hall of Fame.
He completed a grueling, 7 day, 350 mile ultramarathon from Salt Lake City to St. George, Utah, in July, despite the fact that he can not sweat to cool himself. Oh, and he set the world record in the process.
He wrote several books.
He won a Super Bowl Ring for his motivational efforts with the Baltimore Ravens
In the final pages of the book Art recounts a profound recent event in his life. He was on a plane with landing gear problems. As the plane circled to burn off fuel before attempting a dangerous landing, he reflected on his life and all that had happened since the accident. He realized that his accident had pushed him to become a stronger, more motivated person. He did more with his life because of the accident than he would have, had he not faced such a challenge (you’ll have to read the book to learn what happened when the plane touched down).
I loved his attitude. As I finished the book I noticed his website listed on the back jacket of the book (www.artberg.com). I typed the site address into my browser, but got an error message. So I googled Art Berg. The top result was his obituary. He died in February of 2002. The same year the book came out. He was 39 years old.
As you think about the obstacles that stand in your way, and the hardships you face, think about Jeff Bauman and Art Berg. I have faced setbacks. But nothing like losing my legs like Jeff did. I have started my own business, I am married and have three kids. But I am not in a wheelchair with only partial use of my upper extremities like Art.
Both Jeff and Art used their adversity to make them stronger. That’s what I am trying to do everyday. That’s why I started the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. I wanted to try something hard. Because the harder something is to do the greater the reward.
If life doesn’t throw any adversity your way, find it yourself. Take on challenges that stretch, test or torture you. They’ll make you stronger. They’ll keep you growing. Growth and progress towards your goals, even if there is significant suffering as a result, will lead to a happier life.