When the going gets tough read this.

My career goal is to create the perfect advertising agency. Simple right? Or maybe not. Because attaining perfection is hard. And elusive. And a Milton Bradley board game that makes you feel like MacGyver racing the timer on a bomb in your rec room. But creating the perfect agency is my goal because it’s hard. And because achieving it would help make everyone involved (including my clients, my teammates and our families) happy, sought after and prosperous.

If you are undertaking something hard, and I hope you are, it will test you, repeatedly.  Like a diabetic tests their glucose. Your mission is like a boxing match. You step between the ropes and square off with whatever or whoever is standing between you and your goals. And you start throwing all you have at each other. Only one of you will win. The one who wants it more.

Today I read a great quote that I want you to put in your pocket. As you fight for your dreams, your goals and your right to party  pull it out between rounds and use the quote as your smelling salts to help shake off the cobwebs and the fatigue.

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to success is more important than any other thing -Abraham Lincoln

My friends, Abe Lincoln knew what he was talking about. Though he faced immense opposition, his personal resolution lead to the single most important victory in American history, both for our nation and for us as humans. He also used his unwavering resolve to achieve his other lofty life goals of getting his face on the penny, creating a popular log-based toy, and building a car company with Matthew McConaughey.

So keep doing that hard thing. Keep fighting for your ultimate success. Keep your eyes on the prize. And keep Lincoln’s quote close at hand. Because as he can attest, you never know when you might take an unexpected hit. (What? Too soon?)

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The secret ingredient to increase your creativity.

Everyone wishes they were more creative.  Even really creative people.  Because there is a magical power that comes with great creative abilities. You can see things others don’t. You find opportunities in business that others miss. You can create art, music, stories, products and services that people have never seen before.

Much has been written on the subject of increasing your creativity. There is brainstorming and mindstorming and Hannah Storming activities you can do. Some people try drugs or alcohol to unlock their creativity.  Which can lead to really creative ways to ruin your life.  But there is one key ingredient that is guaranteed to help you, your coworkers and your family and friends think more creatively. And that’s confidence.

Creativity is about taking chances. And the more we believe in ourselves the more and bigger chances we are willing to take. The opposite is also true.  When we don’t have great confidence in a particular area of our lives we play it safe. That’s why I look for confidence when I hire creative talent. (I also look to see if they are dry and secure, and if they will raise their hand…)

I saw a great example of confidence-enhanced creativity recently in my 10 year old daughter, Ava.  She is a great writer if I do say so myself. And I do say it often because I want to amplify this strength. Recently her school held a writing competition. Each class would have two finalists whose writings would be judged against the best writers from the other classes to see who was the best in the entire grade.

Ava came home one day and couldn’t wait to tell me what happened in class. She said, ‘Dad, today in school the kids started talking about who they thought were going to be the two winners from my class. And everyone thought that I was going to be one of them!’   She felt like she had already won. That’s because everyone believed in her. So what happened next? A couple weeks later I ran into her handsome and talented teacher, Mr. Paul DeVigne, at a school play. He said, ‘Adam, I’ve been looking for you! (I get this a lot.) We have had a writing competition at school and Ava won for her entire grade!  Now I need your permission to allow her to enter her poem in the county-wide competition.’ Boom goes the dynamite!

I am sure Ava would have written a nice piece no matter what. But the fact that her class believed in her gave her added confidence to take greater chances.  And when you read the poem she wrote she clearly pushed her creativity and took bigger chances than she might have had no one considered her a viable champ.

So look for opportunities to increase confidence in yourself and others.  Create easy wins, celebrate them and grow. Reward the wild ideas, the big dreams, and you’ll get bigger and wilder yet.  The mind is a complicated place. But if you fill it with high octane confidence there’s no telling what great ideas will come out.  Good luck.  Think big. I know you will. Because you are good enough. You are smart enough. And gosh darn it, people like you.

The most freakishly surprising sentence in the English language.

The primary roll of The Perfect Agency Project is to stimulate your thinking.  And stimulation comes in various forms. It could come from a contrarian point of view. Or a new technology and its resulting possibilities. Or it could come from a humorous video, like ‘Football To The Groin’.

Today the creative and intellectual stimulation comes in the form of a freakish sentence that is shocking in its grammatical correctness. So where did I find such an oddity? The Grammar Circus, next to the bearded sentence and the phrase with the serpent tongue?  No. I found it at Hanover High School in Hanover, New Hampshire. Where minds are blown everyday by chemistry experiments gone crisply wrong, moose on the field hockey field and the fact that I got sent to the principals office on the first day of freshman year. But I digress.

Back to the sideshow sentence that has stuck in my processor for decades.

With only a little further ado…

I present to you…

Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.

You’re probably thinking, “What The What!?!”  That’s not a sentence! But I assure you it is. And I will slowly reveal its meaning one element at a time.

First, it is not a chant you hear at a Bills game. Okay. So it actually is a chant you might hear at a Bills game. But that wouldn’t be a real sentence. It’s not a log entry from the American Bison Census from a household of four. And it’s not the top four answers to the Family Feud Question: Name Ted Turners four favorite animals.

The sentence breaks down like this: (scroll slowly to see if you can figure out the rest on your own).

The first Buffalo refers to the city in New York.

Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.

The second buffalo refers to the the animal, plural (a group of buffalo).

Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.

The third buffalo is the verb. It means to baffle. It could also mean to intimidate.

Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.

The fourth buffalo again refers to buffalo, plural (a group of buffalo).

Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.

Got it?  If not, here’s a little more help. Written in a less intriguing style this sentence would say:

Buffalo from the city of Buffalo baffle (or intimidate) other buffalo.

If you still don’t understand, please comment below and I’ll try my best to clarify. For the rest of you I hope this has been a fun and freaky look at language. Share it. Tweet it. Like it. Break it out at parties. It’s a crowd pleaser. Especially if you run with a librarian crowd. Although if you do, don’t run with them through the library at Hanover High on the first day of school.

 

 

 

Why Peyton Manning should be in the Marketing Hall of Fame.

 

Super Bowl 50 has come and gone. There were winners and at least one very sore loser. There was the expected halftime Pepsiganza and gonzo commercials. But what was particularly interesting to armchair marketingbacks  were the brands that scored extra points outside the 30 second commercial thanks to Denver Broncos quarterback, Peyton Manning.

After a historic career Peyton has an open invitation to the Pro Football Hall of fame. But as the clock counts down on his days playing football Peyton Manning will transition seamlessly into his next chapter. Because Peyton knows marketing. And endorsement. And business. Perhaps better than any other current athlete. My good friends at Nationwide will surely want him to share how their insurance and financial products will help him in retirement. Because those guys are on his side (and your side too). But I believe his actual retirement plan looks like this:

  1. Take a stake in a brand.
  2. Market brand at big moments.
  3. Cash checks.

We got a good look at his playbook during the Super Bowl. Just in case you missed it, here’s a breakdown of three of his scores.

The first came just before kickoff. Because it was Super Bowl 50 it created the perfect opportunity to honor the 49 past Super Bowl MVPs. The NFL invited them all to the game. And one by one they were announced to the crowd, emerged from the tunnel to much applause, and took their place in Canton’s West Coast Exhibit. There was, however, one notable exception. Peyton Manning. When they announced Manning’s name the collective NFL fan base wondered what would happen next. Was he really going to come out and join this elite group? Surely not. Didn’t he have someplace more important to be? I had flashbacks to when the Von Trapp Family Singer’s were announced as the winners of the Nazi talent show in The Sound of Music. So what happened next?

Suddenly the television coverage cuts to a profile shot of Peyton, sitting alone in the locker room. But wait! He was dressed to play, football!?! But he is 39 years old!?! How could he still be playing in the Super Bowl? Nobody this old has ever started at quarterback in the Super Bowl. But the answer was right there too. Because Peyton was seated in front of perfectly positioned pallets of performance-sustaining, career- sustaining, camera-shot-sustaining Gatorade. And if that wasn’t enough, the NFL’s ambassador to AARP was shown contemplatively sipping from his electrolyte-laden fountain of youth. Touchdown for Gatorade. Just another day at the office for this veteran spokesback.

Petyon drinking gatorade

The second marketing score was on a trick play. Just as the clock was ticking to zero and all eyes and cameras were on Peyton he started to jog onto the field. But then he stopped. He turned to his left and obviously saw someone worthy of his attention. So he paused before he ran on to the field to celebrate the biggest and perhaps final moment of his career. But who would warrant a delay at such a moment? Archie Manning? John Elway? Beyonce’? Nope. The next thing we saw on camera was a hearty embrace between Peyton and John ‘Papa John’ Schnatter, The Pizza King of Louisville. Peyton obviously plays starting endorserback for Papa Johns. And he own 21 franchises in Colorado. But I was certainly surprised to see that they were close enough and brand savvy enough to get their pepperoni rally  in front of a world stage.

Peyton and Papa

The final drive was for Budweiser. After Old Man Manning won the Super Bowl the world wanted to know, “Are you going to ride off into the sunset now on your Bronco, or Colt or Buick? We waited with bated breath. But Peyton really wanted to kiss his wife and kids before he got himself a little beer breath. Which is what he said next. But not with just any beer. He said this moment called for the King of Beers, Budweiser. Twice he mentioned that he wanted to drink a bunch of Budweiser. Once in his post game interview and again on stage accepting the Lombardi Trophy. Closer examination reveals that Peyton owns a swig of two Budweiser distributors in Louisiana. Which means Peyton was going to celebrate his win by taking care of a little more business.

As you contemplate your next marketing move consider teaming up with someone who can help your brand move further faster. It doesn’t have to be a household name. Because in the social age important influencers are everywhere. They are key employees, consumers, bloggers, tweeters and YouTube celebrities. They can all be important advocates for your brands, dropping natural endorsements for you at important moments.  And the value you receive from your relationship may far exceed the investment. After all, my best performing blog post was the one Vanilla Ice retweeted. But just imagine if I could get Peyton to mention my blog …

 

 

 

3 things every business can learn from Super Bowl commercials.

The greatest sporting event in America is this Sunday. Maybe the greatest sporting event in the world. I know there are arguments that the FIFA World Cup is bigger than our football game. And that the Olympics have more flames, more luge and more cowbell. But neither of those is the Super Bowl. Our Super Bowl is the Super Bowl of all Super Bowls. Which I admit is a super dumb thing to say.

In 2015 more than 114 million Americans tuned in to the big game. And for good reason. Actually there are three good reasons to tune into this spectacle. First, for the football. The game is usually exciting. And this year we again have two great teams and a compelling matchup featuring Peyton “Old Man” Manning vs Cam “New Kid” Newton. (see what I did there?)

Second, the Super Bowl is a cultural phenomenon. It’s what everyone in the office will be talking about around the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine on Monday morning. If your office still has a water cooler the talk probably won’t be about the Super Bowl. It will be about why you still don’t have a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine.

And the third reason to watch is the commercials. The Super Bowl commercials are a fascinating study. Because we look forward to the commercials as much as we look forward to the game itself. Even though the commercials slow down the game and make the whole night last longer than a Wagner opera. But why?

The magic of the Super Bowl is that for at least one night a year we all recognize that the commercials themselves add value to our lives. They are entertaining. And on Sunday night, we as a nation will be in the mood to be entertained. The commercials are usually humorous. Some are big funny. Some are small funny. Some are produced like mini-blockbusters packed with action and drama. Some are touching and cute, usually with an animal tugging at your heartstrings. Which is particularly impressive when you consider that most cardiologists can’t even find your heartstrings.

As a whole the commercials are interesting and engaging. But even the lesser spots enable us to play commercial critic. And as we learned from American Idol, a few train wrecks amongst the stars makes for oddly enjoyable TV.

As you prepare for Super Sunday here are three things every business can learn from the Super Bowl commercials.

Meet people where they are.  As a business you need to put the audience you want to reach first. Understand their wants and needs. Understand their habits and how you can fit into them. If people want to party, like they do during the Super Bowl, party with them. If they want serious information to solve a serious problem, get serious with them. But don’t cross streams. Trust me on this one.

Offer a consistently enjoyable experience. A major reason we look forward to the Super Bowl commercials is that we enjoyed them last year. And the year before. And like Pavlov’s dogs, when we hear talk of the Super Bowl, we start salivating for Doritos, Budweiser and Coca-Cola commercials. So deliver a great experience every time. Because when you do, whether you’re a carpet cleaner, a dentist, a software company or a mortician, your customers will look forward to interacting with you again. Wait, scratch mortician.

Make great things.  Americans love greatness. We have a deep appreciation for things like a well crafted Super Bowl commercial, or say, a well written blog post. Great things get elevated in our culture.  Yeti coolers, iPhones and American Giant sweatshirts are all great products from great companies that generate a lot of love. In turn they help build great brands that command love, respect and a premium price. So focus your business efforts on making things great. And the profits will follow.

I hope you enjoy the game. I hope you enjoy the commercials.  And I hope you enjoy the conversations about the game and the commercials on Monday. But most of all I hope that by this time next year your business is competing in the Super Bowl of your industry. And that you have a long line of customers lining up outside your door.  Unless, of course, you’re a mortician.

When Plan A, B, C & D Fail.

I love meeting new people. And I love helping people solve problems. And I got to do both of those things this morning before most people were alarmed by their clocks.

I arrived at Hartsfield Jackson International airport in Atlanta just before 6:30am for a flight to New York City. As I write this I’m flying to meet with a celebrity on the set of her TV show about some upcoming work we will be doing together. But as I stepped out of my car in the parking garage a panicked woman approached me saying, 

“I’m so sorry to bother you. But I just locked myself out of my car. My phone, purse, laptop and suitcase are all locked inside. I don’t know what to do.”

Talk about an exciting start to your day! She said she was flying to St. Louis on an 8:00am flight. So we started going through our options. And yes, I said OUR options. Becuase as a professional problem solver when someone brings me a problem it becomes my problem too. Except for maybe hair loss. With hair loss you’re on your own.

So like a couple of resourceful first world problem solvers we sprang into action. I pulled out my trusty smartphone and we called the airport to see if they had an unlocking service. They didn’t. Boo. But they did offer us the phone number of a locksmith partner that may be able to help. Yay! 

So we called the locksmith. And yes, they could send someone to help. Yay! But not until  9:00am. Boo.

So we looked at other options. 

Me: Do you have a AAA membership?

Kelly: No.

Me: Do you have emergency services through your car manufacturer?

Kelly: No.

Me: Hmmm. Do you have any sevens?

Kelly: No. Go Fish.

Me: What time is your meeting in St. Louis?

Kelly: 11:00am.

Me: So a later flight won’t work?

Kelly: No. And my company is counting on me to be there. We have built a technology product for this client and they are refusing to close the deal becuase they don’t understand it. I need to walk them through how the product works and solves their problem or the multimillion dollar deal will fall apart! (Dun-Dun-Dun!)

Me: Do you have your drivers liscence? 

Kelly: No.

Me: Why don’t we go see how we can get you through security without ID. (Heck, I got into bars in college all the time without an ID. How hard could it be?)

Kelly: (reluctantly) Let me check my car one more time just to make sure I’m not losing my mind.

At this point she walked back to her Ford Edge for another check. And I began searching on my phone for a Ford dealership that may be able to help.

A moment later she returned, slumped her shoulders and said, “You should go and catch your flight. And you can tell everyone on Facebook and Twitter that you met the dumbest woman in America. Becuase I have a Ford Edge. And the Edge has a keypad on the driver door.”

Me: Do you know the code?

Kelly: Yes.

Me: So you’re all set! 

 Kelly Yes!
At this point Kelly and I, strangers only moments ago, hugged, laughed and cheered on the top of the parking deck at the airport in the pre-dawn darkness. We celebrated our victory like we had just won the Showcase Showdown on The Price Is Right.
So I made a new friend this morning before 6:45am. Kelly made her flight. I got a test run on a valuable problem solving scenario. The Ford Edge got serious credit for a great problem solving, flight catching and potentially deal saving feature. And as Kelly said, I got to tell all of my friends on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn about her morning. Have a great day Kelly! I hope you close that deal. But don’t close your car door until you have your key in hand.

 

The most valuable lottery you’ve never heard of.

By now you all know that you didn’t win last week’s Powerball lottery jackpot of nearly $1.6 billion dollars. Sorry. And if you were like most Americans you were probably off by 5 or 6 numbers. I know how you feel. Because when I was 18 I had a lottery experience that forever shaped my perspective on this get-rich-instantly game.

It happened at my high school graduation. My classmates and I received our Hanover High School diplomas from our principal, the late, super-great Uwe Bagnato. As he handed us our diplomas we each handed him a lottery ticket. It was an exciting experiment. We all wondered how much he might win with 143 chances. (Don’t laugh. We scoured ten towns from two states to come up with 143 educatable kids).  Anyway, we imagined Uwe would become mega-rich, and we would be the last class to graduate under his principality. But when we discovered that he only won a couple of bucks, and would be back at work again after Labor Day, the lottery was forever dead to me.

Since graduation I’ve been betting on myself.  I have made my career as an advertising creative.  And we make our money through an ideation lottery, where ideas bounce around in our head like lottery balls, randomized for fairness.  And when our mental machinery cues those idea-balls to drop into our consciousness we either have winning ideas or losing ideas.

I love the odds in this game.  I stack them in my favor by absorbing the world around me through interesting experiences, reading,  human interactions and sweet tea.  What I like even better is that you can play the idea lottery non-stop. And I do.  For some it is nerve-racking to make your living in this manner.  That’s why so many creative thinkers burn out or switch professions.  But the ones that stick with it are often well rewarded.

The value of the creative lottery is summed up beautifully in one of my favorite quotes:

“More gold had been mined from the mind of men than the earth itself.”  -Napoleon Hill from Think and Grow Rich.

Napoleon, that is some powerful stuff.  But it’s a strange reality. Because I really don’t know where the ideas come from. Sure, sometimes the thoughts are mashups of two things I’ve considered recently.  And sometimes there is a strong logic chain the leads me to an idea.  But a healthy percentage of the time God just drops gold nuggets in between my ears, and for all I know I had nothing to do with it. I’m just smart enough to watch for them, recognize them when I see them and polish them enough to enable others  to recognize their value.

So the next time you watch those lottery balls mixing, think of all the great creative ideas formed in the minds of men and women that have turned them into millionaires and billionaires. I hope it encourages you to bet on your own ideas. And take it from me and Uwe, the chances of winning the lottery are far better in your head.