What is your St. Louis Arch?

What is your St. Louis Arch?

I recently spent a long weekend in St. Louis with my family. It’s a great city with history, excellent food, interesting architecture and such. They have some of the best such in America. The city has a special place in my heart because 17 years ago I proposed to my wife, Dawn, under the St. Louis Arch.  Why would I choose The Arch as my proposal stage?

Top 5 reasons I proposed under the St. Louis Arch.

  1. I could afford to.
  2. It’s the Eiffel Tower of Missouri.
  3. It was April and the weather in St. Louis was way better than Wisconsin.
  4. It seemed better than the monkey house at the St. Louis Zoo.
  5. I heard that Lewis and Clark, one of the great American couples, started their adventure under the St. Louis Arch.

Back to the story.

My family and I enjoyed many of the great attractions of St. Louis: The afore-mentioned Zoo, Grant’s Farm, a great restaurant on The Hill, The City Museum (which is one of the most interesting, mind-opening places I’ve ever seen), historic St. Charles and, of course, The Arch.

The thing that stood out about St. Louis, above all else, was The Arch. It simply makes the city look different than any other city. It is the thing that makes the St. Louis brand memorable.  There are a lot of great cities in America, and the midwest is packed full of them. But it is hard to come up with the distinguishing feature of Detroit, Cincinnati, or Minneapolis. Other than the sitcoms that took place there.

Since proposing under the arch I have noticed just how much it is used as an American icon. Every time a commercial, TV show or movie wants to tell the ‘Sea-to-Shining-Sea’ story they include the following:

Icons that represent America

  • The Golden Gate Bridge
  • The St. Louis Arch
  • The Statue of Liberty
  • A lighthouse in Maine

Not only does the Arch represent St. Louis, for most coasters, it represents the entire Flyover Region of America. (I’ve always thought that ‘The Flyover Region’ sounded funny. Mostly because I imagine people working at Levis discussing the ‘Flyover Region’.  As in ‘We should put a fly over that region’.)

In the city itself, The Arch (aka the Gateway Arch and the Jefferson Expansion Memorial) is the symbol that represents the city. Which makes me wonder, why don’t more places create their own version of The Arch?

And if it works for cities, certainly it works for brands.  Far too few brands take the time to figure out the one thing that will set their brand apart. Of course there are brands that have their thang: A catchy jingle (Nationwide Insurance) Free returns for life (L.L. Bean), Ducks (The Peabody Hotel) Swedish Meatballs (Ikea).

I have spent my advertising career helping clients find the things that will help them stand out from the crowd.  But the same holds true for your personal brand. (And we all have a personal brand).  Do you have something that stands apart?  Do you do something, say something, wear something different?  Do you refuse to eat chocolate? Is one of your eyebrows actually a tattoo of a caterpillar? Do you have a memorable sign-off to your conversations?  If you don’t have anything I encourage you to spend some time thinking about it. Or better yet, try something. See if you like it. See if it sticks.

Today we have an abundance of options for everything. When travelers are looking for their next destination, The Arch helps St. Louis stand out from other great neighbors like Kansas City, Omaha, Memphis and Indianapolis.  Having your own Arch-like differentiator will help your business or personal brand stand out in the same way. If you’d like help finding your Arch, shoot me a note. If you’d like a great place for a weekend getaway, head to St. Louis.

What makes these siblings freakishly unique.

What makes these siblings freakishly unique.

Do you know what makes you unique? As an advertising professional I am always looking for the things that make brands and people stand out. In marketing, we call this a Unique Selling Proposition. A USP helps a brand, product or service stand apart from the competition in a meaningfully way. At The Weaponry, we help our clients discover and amplify their USP. Sometimes it is obvious. Other times we have to dig. Sometimes we dig to China.

I love discovering the USP in humans too. Everyone is special in his or her own way.  I remember being told this many times in my preschool and elementary school days. I believed it. While other kids may have had to do some soul-searching or head scratching to discover what made them special, I knew.

I am one of four children of Robert and Jill (Sprau) Albrecht. My parents got married 4 days before the 1960’s expired. They had my older sister, Heather, 17 months after that. Two years later they had their next child. Their first and only son. Me. Now, when I say I was born two years later, I mean it. My older sister and I have the same birthday.

My parents then slowed their roll, and waited almost 3 years to have my younger sister, Alison. Two years after that, our family caboose arrived. We named my baby sister, Donielle. (note to SpellCheck, AutoCorrect and Starbucks baristas: it is Donielle, with an ‘o’)

To recap: my older sister, Heather, and I have the same birthday, 2 years apart.  My two younger sisters, Alison and Donielle, have the same birthday, 2 years apart. Heather and I were born May 25th. Alison and Donielle were born May 22nd.  Which means my parents had 4 kids, on two days, just 3 days apart.

That’s pretty unique.

When telling new friends about our birthdays my parents would always conclude the story with:

…So we always say, “No more vacations in August!”

This always generated a huge laugh from the adults in the room. I’m a quick study. So when I would meet a new friend and tell them my origin story, I would always end it just like my parents did. I remember being at a sleepover and telling my friend’s parents this story, with the standard Albrecht-Family punchline. But as a 7-year old, I didn’t get big laughter. I made parents’ jaws drop. I got a look that even a 7-year-old could read as, ‘That is NOT an appropriate things to say. You won’t be playing with our Johnny again.’

But I had no idea what I was saying.  In fact, it wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I ever bothered to count back the 9 months from May to get some insight on the baby-making. And there it was. August. My parents made me and my 3 sisters in August. Apparently, while on vacation. Which is gross. And TMI. That’s why it wasn’t a cool thing for a 7-year old to say. Suddenly, all those horrified reactions made sense.  They thought I knew something that clearly I did not.

My family’s unique birthday story has always made me feel special. I now recognize that there are a handful of other things that make me special too. I can make a loud popping sound with my jaw. I may have the flattest feet on earth. I can make a pun out of any word you throw my way. But my birthday story always makes me feel like I was special from day 1. If you are giving birth to a business, brand, product or service, be sure to create it to be special from the start.  Then you’ll have as much fun telling your story as I have telling mine.

Today kicks off the Albrecht Family Birthweek. The biggest week of the year in the Albrecht family. Happy birthday today to my sisters Alison and Donielle, who are both in Houston. Happy be-earlied birthday to my sister Heather in Saint Paul.  I love all 3 of you more than footy pajamas, ice cream in a can and roller coasters. You make me proud to be your only bro. And you make me thankful for vacations in August.

Applying Dr. King’s approach at work.

Applying Dr. King’s approach at work.

I love MLK Jr. Day. It is a holiday that makes me think. It makes me appreciate being an American. Like the 4th of July, MLK Jr. Day is a reminder of the American Dream. Which is dreaming of your ideal world. Then overcoming the forces that have prevented that ideal from becoming your reality. Finally, you have a great movie made about you that garners critical acclaim, even if you don’t win the big awards you deserve.

My dream is to be ridiculously happy. I’m a happy person naturally. I consider it fortunate wiring. But I want Maximum Happiness. To help chart my path to MaxHap I did what MLK Jr. did. I envisioned something better than anything I have seen. I wrote down my plan. I painted a picture of the dream in vivid detail.  Then I began to bring it to life. To spare you all the details, the rest of this post will focus on my happiness derived from work.

My dream was born in the last hours of my 39th year.  I contemplated what I wanted the next chapter of my career to look like. Then I started scripting a plan to make it happen.

We spend so much of our time at work that you have to get the work life right to get your whole life right.

It was clear to me that no one else was trying to create my ideal workplace. It was my responsibility. But after 20 years in the advertising industry I knew that if I could create the perfect agency I could help a lot of other people achieve their own happiness in the process.

So I started The Perfect Agency project. It was just a project at first. Then, as it gained shape I decided to create a blog about it. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe you are reading it right now. Maybe there is no way that you are not reading it right now.

Then I named the agency The Weaponry and began to bring it to life in 2016.

I started by scripting philosophies and processes. But I have written down everything. I have written a list of clients I want to work with (you may be on that list).  I have created a list of teammates I want to work with (you may be on that list). I have detailed services, team sizes and office locations. I have a list of features for our physical space that will make others ask, “Why don’t we have that?’  I have created such a clear image in my head that the rest of the project is simply bringing the blueprint to life (as if that were a simple task).

Here are a few of the important points that will make The Weaponry my ideal place to work, contribtuing to my MaxHap.

First, there are just three key factors that will determine our success.

  1. Excellent creative ideas.
  2. Amazing customer service.
  3. A fun experience for everyone involved.

We will call our people team members, not employees.  They work with us. Not for us.

We must remain eternally optimistic. There is a beautiful solution to every problem. It is our job to find it.

We must be collaborative. We have to enable and create great ideas. But we also must recognize when the client (and, yes, even the client’s spouse) has a great idea that we should bring to life. Too may agencies think they have a monopoly on good ideas.  But there are two parts to the idea business that you have to master. 1. Coming up with great ideas. 2. Recognizing great ideas on arrival. Even if they didn’t hatch in your incubator.

The Perfect Agency is a place that values the experience and know-how of professionals who have been crushing it and accumulating knowledge for decades. But it also embraces the college student and even high schoolers who bring unbridled energy and fresh thinking to the table. Mixing the two together gives the ideal agency energy, stability and control.

The Perfect Agency uses feedback productively. As an organization we are still in our infancy.  We have unlimited potential. But we need to take in feedback from others to learn and grow. Which includes feedback from staff, clients, advisors and partners. The kind of feedback you get when your walk in front of a speaker with a live microphone is not necessary to our success.

The Perfect Agency plays well with our clients’ other agencies, vendors and consultants. We want to be the best partners we can be. That means that we don’t drop the ball. But just as importantly, we don’t try to steal the ball from others. If we do what our clients want we will earn more work. We don’t need to punch, kick and stab others to get ahead.  This isn’t prison.

The Perfect Agency allows you to live where you want and is flexible with your time. Happy people are better teammates. We want people who are living their ideal lives. Ideas come faster, and service is better from happy people.  That means being open-minded to remote and part-time work.

The Perfect agency doesn’t force clients to sign a long-term commitment.  We are not trying to marry our clients after the first date.  We want our clients to be the ones who propose marriage because they love us so much and can’t stand the idea of us ever being with another client in their field of expertise. Romantic, I know.

The Perfect Agency doesn’t have A-holes. We baked that right into our logo.  See the A in the The Weaponry?  No A-hole.

the-weaponry_logo_red_cmyk

I could go on and on. But my dream blog post never hits 1000 words. If you would like to find out more about The Weaponry and how it could contribute to your long-term happiness give us a shout. My email is in my bio link. If  you can’t find that try adam@theweaponry.com.

The reason to do something unreasonable.

The reason to do something unreasonable.

I don’t think Scott Hauser, the pastor at my church, thinks much about advertising, branding and marketing.  But I do.  So he may be surprised to hear how I re-interpreted his sermon on Sunday morning (and now I’m watching the sky for lightening). He told a heartwarming story about two of his friends from Northwest Pennsylvania who drove 10 hours to Western (don’t call me West) Virginia to attend a 2-hour memorial service for his mother-in-law. Immediately after the service, the friends turned right around and drove 10 hours home so they could make it to work the next day. What they did was so far beyond the expected that it was totally unreasonable. He summarized with this simple statement:

Do something unreasonable. And people will never forget it.

In business, brand memorability is everything.  If you are not top-of-mind when someone is considering a purchase, or offering a recommendation, you have lost an opportunity.  And the best way to make sure you are top-of-mind is to do something that people will never forget (it’s a real plus if that thing is also positive and legal).

Too often we focus on the blocking and tackling. The fundamentals. The rational and reasonable. And we forget that one well-placed, well-intended bit of crazy may be more powerful than the rest of our carefully considered efforts. It doesn’t have to be Red Bull-ish either. I once ordered a t-shirt from Ames Bros, and when the package arrived it came with a free sweatshirt!  Not the other way around, which would have been reasonable.  And now look at me. I’m all blogging about Ames Bros (because I’ll never forget that surprise hoodie goodie).

But here’s the kicker. You have to act before you need the results. Do it soon. Do something today if you can. Remember the Ruth’s Chris Steak House promotion this fall?  They offered a discount equivalent to the point difference in the final score of the 2016 Michigan-Rutgers college football game. They didn’t expect Michigan to win by 78 points. But now they have a great, unreasonable story that sets them apart from other upscale steakhouse brands.

Stunts, promotions, customer service. They all have the ability to be highly memorable. As do charitable donations. My friend and fellow Fletch enthusiast, Jeff Hilimire, began a great event called  48 in 48, which helps build 48 websites for nonprofit organizations in 48 hours, for free!  That is totally unreasonable! And totally memorable.

If you haven’t yet considered anything unreasonable, start now. This type of activity should be the most fun part of your job. If you want help thinking of, planning or executing a great unreasonable idea shoot me a note or give me a call. It would be a great and very reasonable reason for us to talk.

 

Why today is such a big F-ing day.

Why today is such a big F-ing day.

Happy Election Day!  This is the latest day in The Perfect Agency Project’s Rebrand The Day series, which aims to create a new, more interesting way to view each day. We explored a number of ways to reframe Election Day. At first we really liked, ‘Adults Wearing Stickers Day!’ But we also noticed that since the rise of the mobile phone, voting is the one thing Americans still do in a booth. So maybe we should greet each other today with, “Happy Booth Day!”

But beyond stickers and revisiting the wonders and confines of a booth, this day has other, much greater significance. That’s why we’re rebranding Election Day as:

The Big F-ing Day.

It has a nice ring to it, right? It sounds naughty. Which means kids will remember it. That makes it easier for parents and educators to teach the significance of this day. But the best reason to think of today as The Big F-ing Day is that today we make major decisions that impact our F’s.

  • Our Future:  Decisions we make today will impact everything that happens next.
  • Our Freedom: Our liberties and the liberties of others around the world will be effected by our actions today.
  • Our Foreign Relations: The trust, respect, collaboration and admiration of other nations is impacted by our decisions.
  • Our Finances: Our taxes and our healthcare costs will rise or fall based on the actions of the day.
  • Our Funding: The money to support the projects, causes, institutions and organizations we care about are influenced today.
  • Our Foundation: The US constitution, the court system and the interpretation of our laws hang in the balance today.
  • Our Fun: Access to public lands and protection of our environment will shift today.
  • Our Flexibility: Our acceptance of others is in play today.

Fellow Americans, make sure you are doing your F-ing job today. Please, get out there and  F-ing vote. It is really F-ing important.

To have more great ideas stop thinking about it.

To have more great ideas stop thinking about it.

I love ideas. New ideas tingle and jump in my head like pop rocks. If that is how crack makes you feel I would like crack. A lot. Ideas are the seeds that grow every kind of human-induced improvement on this planet. Yet many of us don’t spend much, if any time ideating.

I love the entire ideation process. I love loading my brain with information by reading and researching. Great ideas come from rearranging the ingredients in your head in new and novel ways. The more ingredients the more possibilities.

But after you top off your brain with input about the problem to be solved comes the most valuable part of the process: Stepping away from the problem completely. And doing nothing. That’s right. Just let the elements do what they want to do. Not what you want them to do. Yet, deep inside your mind, the ideas are growing. And fermenting. Brewing and bubbling. Forming and frothing. Without any additional effort from you.

This part of the process is like making cheese. Or wine. Or a baby. Well not making a baby. Just the baby-growing part. To the naked eye it looks like you are being lazy. The fun distractions at advertising agencies and other creative environments are great at getting team members away from the active thinking and into incubation. That way you don’t get in the way of the natural process. Think of it like baking a cake. Opening the oven door and jabbing toothpicks doesn’t help transform the batter into cake. Time and heat do the work.

The incubation period is the most valuable step in developing unique and differentiating ideas. Yet it is absolutely free. At The Perfect Agency Project we don’t charge for the time when we’re not actively thinking about challenges. During this phase of the process you can multitask. Or sleep. Or make cheese. Or compost. Or babies. The longer the incubation period the more you compound the interesting.

Unfortunately, for the professional creative, the incubation period is an endangered part of the process. Over the course of my career this valuable time has been disappearing like the Brazilian rainforest. And record stores. A lack of planning on the part of the requester hacks at this time. So does a lack of patience. But creatives thinkers have not done enough to promote the ROI clients earn on this free time. I hope sharing this post is a first step in re-establishing the importance of this step.

To make sure you get the most value out of the incubation period start early, build in time for nothing and let the team sleep on it. I often wake up and find myself perched on a great idea like a hen sitting on a warm egg. Resist the temptation to see work ASAP. You will often get the best results if you see the work ALAP.

So spend less money. Offer more time. Let your team know the outline of the challenge early. And watch the great ideas emerge like popcorn. And wine. And babies.

What leaves the room when you do?

What leaves the room when you do?

There are a lot of people on this planet. The last time I lined everybody up and counted them I tallied 7.4 billion humans. With that many people, all connected by the interwebs, you have a lot of options when you need a human. Whether you need an employee, a spouse or a plumber the supply works in your favor.

But we often find ourselves on the other side of that equation. We want to be employed. We want to be asked on a date. We want to snake someone’s drain. So how do we stand out in this 7.4 billion person crowd? It’s an important question that people spend far too little time contemplating. Yet I found a quote that states the answer quite succinctly:

Something special must leave the room when you leave the room. -Peter Drucker

Read that again a couple of times. (I’ll wait.)

Do you bring something special everywhere you go? You may have never thought about you in these terms. But you should. Over the next week I want you to think about what you bring to a room when you walk in. What do you add to the meeting, to the organization, to the relationship, to the overall value equation that others do not? What disappears again when you leave? If you can’t come up with anything you are a commodity. Our country places a very specific value on the commodity human. It’s called minimum wage. 

You’ve sat in meetings where there were too many attendees. You know there were too many because the meeting would have been exactly the same had one or more of the attendees not attended. On the other hand, we have also been in meetings when we asked, ‘Why are we meeting if Fill-In-The-Name isn’t here?’ You, my friend, want to be Fill-In-The-Name!

So what leaves the room when you do?

Here is a sample of the things you might bring to a room. Mix and match to create unique combinations. Or collect them all!

  • Energy
  • Experience
  • Connective tissue
  • Humor
  • Creativity
  • Compassion
  • Insight
  • Reason
  • Balance
  • Knowledge
  • Relationships
  • Trust
  • Positivity
  • Diversity
  • Know how
  • Spunk
  • Confidence
  • Reality
  • The wi-fi password

As you think about differentiating and marketing yourself The Perfect Agency Project reminds you that the same Principle of Specialness applies to all products and services.  What changes if your iPhone walks out of your life? Or your Yeti tumbler? Or your Johnsonville brats? You can’t simply replace these things with commodities without feeling you have lost something.

You and I both know you are not a commodity. But you must make sure that others clearly recognize the specialness you bring to the room. So reflect on your brand. What are your features and benefits that make you special. Focus on enhancing and augmenting them. Study the business and social situations you find yourself in. What isn’t there that you could add so that others miss you when you’re gone? I’ve always said that I never want to attend a meeting that I’m not in. Which sounds like something Yogi Berra might say. But if I can bring enough to the party that others are disappointed by my absences, we’re talking pure Drucker.