I always wanted to create an editorial cartoon. So I did.

When I was young I always loved editorial cartoons. They were like my favorite people,  both funny and smart. I loved the very simple package they came in, which was usually just a frame or 2. But they packed a sharp commentary into a simple piece of intellectually humorous art. I felt like my brain was wired to enjoy those cartoons. The same way it is wired to enjoy chocolate milk, Zucker Brothers movies and videos of people falling down.

Finding Time

For many years I have thought about creating my own cartoon. I have had no shortage of ideas. It is time that I have been lacking. Then COVID-19 showed up on my doorstep, like Ed McMahon with a van, a bouquet of balloons and a mandate for us all to stay home. The lockdown caused by the corona cooties has enabled me to finally spend time exploring this passion project. #silverlining

Dan Koel

On Friday I reached out to my great friend Dan Koel about the cartoon project. He was excited to explore it together. DK was my original art director partner at the ad agency Cramer Krasselt, where I first started my advertising career. Dan and I worked together for 10 years. And we have partnered on many side projects ever since, including the Adam & Sleeve t-shirt brand. Dan will drive the look for the project.

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That’s me on the left, and Dan Koel on the right. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I have a hard time telling us apart.

Kirky Cartoons

Dan and I have committed to making 66 Kirky Cartoons. Why 66? because behavioral research shows that by the time you have done something 66 times it becomes a habit. You are highly likely to perform a task automatically after that. So this will be an interesting creative experiment. As well as an experiment in human behavior.

Why Kirky?

When I wrote down the name The Weaponry as I was looking for a name for my advertising and idea agency, I instantly knew I had the name I was looking for. The same thing happened when I wrote down Kirky for this project. The name sound like a mix of kookie and quirky. Which are two of my favorite things.

But there is another reason for the name. Dan and I had a great friend named Kirk ‘Kirky’ McDonald. Spending time with Kirk was always a bright spot in the day. Kirk passed away in 2017 at the age of 43, after battling brain cancer for 2 decades. Now, Dan and I hope we can make Kirky a bright spot in the day for everyone who reads it.

Kirk and Ladies
Kirk McDonald (He’s the one in the middle).

Exploring like Dora

Below is an exploration Dan and I did for a March Madness idea. It seemed like we should get this one out while it is still March. We looked at this a few different ways.

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A. Very Simple
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B. More elaborate, with callouts around the globe.
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C. Many more callouts of the madness.

Please help us with our research by letting us know which one you prefer: A, B, or C. This project will evolve and improve with your feedback. It take a village to raise an editorial cartoon. And we’ll take all the help we can get.

Key Takeaway

If you have a passion project you have always wanted to do, do it now. We all have a little additional time in our schedules. Take advantage of it. As Kirky taught me and Dan, life is short. Take advantage of the time you have. And make someone smile if you can.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

How we took care of business during the first week of remote work.

Last week marked a major shift for our country. The mood changed. The rules changed. Which meant that many brands had to change their messages and tonality in order to sound in sync with the times. While other brands that had not been part of our collective conversation finally found their pick-up lines working like Joey Tribbiani’s best material.

This meant a McFlurry of activity at The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency. While other business were grinding to a halt, our services were sought after like a jumbo pack of toilet paper at Costco.

Did I mention that my entire team also moved to our spring offices this week?  Which is a fun way to say that we all worked from home. So did all of our clients. You probably did too.

Here are some of the highlights from our week.

Monday

  • We had our first client meeting at 9am on Monday morning.
  • In that meeting we planned significant messaging adjustments to respond to new social and economic conditions.
  • We spent the rest of the day ideating. It felt like we were in a movie about advertising. Complete with Glen Frey’s The Heat Is On playing in the background.
  • At 5pm we presented a new creative campaign for that same client we met with at 9am. Boom!

Tuesday

  • We added 2 news clients to our roster.
    • 1 in Columbus, Ohio.
    • 1 in Los Angeles
  • We had a kickoff meeting to get the L.A.-based client rolling. Because there was no time to waste.

Wednesday

  • I had a 2-hour video call with my CEO roundtable to talk with other business owners about what they are facing, and the challenging decisions that need to be made in response to the current uncertainty. Several of the member’s businesses were essentially stopped in their tracks by the current ban on gatherings. Which made me extremely thankful for the strong demand for our services.
  • I did an interview with Julia Fello from WTMJ-4 (NBC) in Milwaukee about working from home. You can see the interview here. Thanks to Monica Baer for connecting me and Julia.

Thursday

  • We presented a new fully-integrated campaign for a new sponsorship that we created on behalf of one of our clients.  The campaign included TV, outdoor, long form video, print, in-store displays, event activation, barn painting, social media, digital display and vehicle wraps. That was about it. #ThingsBubbaSays
  • We presented 37 new logos designs for a long-existing brand as part of a major rebrand initiative. Our 4 clients were all on video-conference, from home, while under house arrest.
  • Thursday night at 11pm I received an email from one of our clients inquiring about availability to meet the next day. They wanted to discuss ideas for a new promotion to take advantage of the new normal. I responded minutes later with a meeting time on Friday to kickoff the project.

Friday

  • We presented a new content campaign featuring online videos, ranging from 15 seconds to 4 minutes long.
  • Late on Friday afternoon we received client approval on a re-edit and new voiceover language for a television commercial. I contacted the recording studio to book time with them to record and master 2 new spots. They asked if I wanted to book time on Monday. I said no, I wanted time today, or tomorrow, which of course was Saturday. Since it was late in the day on Friday, and most people had gone home for the day, we settled for first thing Saturday morning.

Saturday

  • My team, the audio engineer, voiceover talent, and editor gathered virtually to help speed new commercials to market to help our client respond to our current climate.
  • We sent brand new commercials to TV stations for immediate airing.
  • We took a deep breath, and were thankful for the ability to take deep breaths.

Key Takeaway

These are unique times. The rules, challenges and opportunities are different right now. Help your customers, clients neighbors, family and friends get through this and they will never forget what you did for them. Yes, the stage is different. Most of us are everything-ing from home. But what it takes to shine during these times is the same. So shine on you crazy diamonds.

Happy Leap Day! Now make your extra day count.

Happy Leap Day! February 29th is your lucky day. In fact, it’s luckier than a 5-leaf clover. And it’s rarer than a mooing steak. In fact, it is so rare that it only happens every 4 years. Like the Olympics, a Presidential election, or Halley’s Comet.

Opportunity Day!

However it is not the rarity of Leap Day that matters. It’s the opportunity. Today is a totally free, bonus day! Which means that today is the perfect day to do something extra. Like Michael Jackson said, today, ‘You got to be startin’ somethin’. Or finishing somethin’. Or working hard on somethin’. #MaMaSeMaMaSaMaMaCooSa

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Saturday Day Fever

Even better, this year Leap Day is the perfect bonus day. Because it falls on a Saturday. Which means you probably don’t have to work or go to school today. So take a few minutes to think about those things you have always wanted to do. Those things you can never seem to find the time to start, plan or complete. And get rolling.

Possible Leap Day Activities:

  • Exercise
  • Take a hike
  • Play a Game
  • Start a blog, vlog, slog, or drink Glogg
  • Start a business
  • Pick up a new hobby, or re-engage in an old hobby, like Holly
  • Create a podcast
  • Play an instrument
  • Create a product
  • Start a book (reading or writing)
  • Paint
  • Marie Kondo your house
  • Volunteer, or sign up to volunteer
  • Go to church (or find a place of worship to go to this week)
  • Start a meetup
  • Join a club or worthy organization
  • Ask someone to be your mentor.
  • Call someone you haven’t talked to for too long
  • Find a dentist
  • Find a doctor
  • Find a nurse
  • Find a lady with an alligator purse
  • Start your taxes
  • Plan a vacation
  • Organize a girls night, or a guys night, or a Michael Knight.
  • Make a career or life plan
  • Do something that’s more you, because no one knows you better than you.

Start Now

I started planning my own business, The Weaponry, during a little bonus time like you have today. Now we have 2 offices and clients from California to Quebec. I also started this blog during a little bit of free time. And this is post number 411. #Information Now it’s your turn to go do something meaningful today.

Key Takeaway

Time is your more precious resource. Use it wisely. Alchemize it into magic. And when you get a bonus day, or a bonus hour, take advantage of it. Otherwise, when you come to  the end of your time, you will wish you had.

Which begs the question: What will you do with your Leap Day?

Note: Happy Leap Day Birthday to my great friend Jeff Hilimire, who turns 11 today. I wrote a review of his book this week, not even remembering that it was his birthday this week too.

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Jeff  ‘The Leap Day Birthday Boy’ Hilimire, showing how big he was when he was born. He looks kinda manly for being 11, right?

First came the new brand look. Then came the awards.

A year and a half ago I had a very big lunch in a very small town. Johnson Creek, Wisconsin has a population of just 2,738. But Johnson Creek sits halfway between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. Which is why I met Anne Norman there for lunch at Hiway Harry’s. Conceptually and architecturally, the restaurant lies halfway between a Rain Forest Cafe and a Frank Loyd Wright-inspired supper club. Which is a very unique space to occupy.

Anne Norman

Anne Norman had just recently been named Chief Marketing Officer of the University of Wisconsin Credit Union. She arrived at the credit union after crushing it for such great brands as Culver’s restaurants and American Family Insurance. Our mutual friend Sue Northey told us that we needed to meet each other, and helped arrange the Hiway Harry’s adventure.

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One Anne Norman and a microphone. #whereitsat

When we met, Anne was looking for an agency to help her make the UW Credit Union marketing as great as the UWCU member experience. And members looooove the UW Credit Union. I know. I became a member my third day on campus as a student at The University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Anne and I had a great conversation. We found that we were totally aligned on our approach to strategy, creativity and process. We laughed a lot. And we left Hiway Harry’s excited to work together. #suewasright

Making It Happen

My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, quickly got to work on repositioning and rebranding the UW Credit Union. Then, on February 14th, 2019 we revealed the new look and the new work at the UWCU’s leadership conference at the beautiful, Frank Loyd Wright designed Monona Terrace Conference Center, in Madison. I wrote about the experience in A fresh new look for one of the most loved brands in Wisconsin.

Addy Awards

Exactly 1 year and 1 day later, Anne and our teams were back at the Monona Terrace in Madison for the local Addy Awards. To be clear, I am not an advertising awards person. I prefer to avoid the conflict of interests between creating work to drive results for your clients and creating ads to win awards. I also prefer to avoid dressing up altogether.

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Me and Anne, ready for the award show to begin. Noting that this place was no Hiway Harry’s.

But in this case, Anne Norman knew the work we created was really good. Our key  performance indicators (KPIs) told us the campaign was working as anticipated for UW Credit Union. So Anne wanted to see how the creative stacked up against other work at the Addy Awards.

The Entries

We entered a few billboards and a couple of radio spots in the awards show. Soon I was notified that we had won 5 awards. We were also strongly encouraged to attend the show. And to bring Anne Norman, her trusty sidekick Justine Kessler, and their husbands Devlin and Mike. So we did.

Winning

We knew which entries had won something. But we didn’t know what they had won. Kind of like when the Dad from A Christmas Story receives his fragile crate. Except when we busted our crate open we didn’t find a leg lamp.

Radio

The first entry to win an award was a radio commercial called Cool Mom. It won gold. Which apparently is good. It’s a cute spot that was fun to make. And always fun to hear on the radio.IMG_2019 2

The winning radio commercial

Billboards

Or No
In the Out of Home category, this ad won a Gold. The ‘or no’ ending is a funny thing people in Wisconson commonly say. Have you heard someone say that, or no?

 

Blank roadside billboard on bright sunny blue sky day

This billboard won a silver. For those of you who are geographically challenged, Milwaukee lies on the western shore of Lake Michigan (which is a huge lake that not even Sarah Palin can see across). This enormous body of fresh, unsalted and shark-free water sucks the heat out of the air all spring long to raise the temperature of the lake. Leaving communities along the lake cooler until the water temperature stabilizes in early June.
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This ad also won an Addy Award too. In Wisconsin brats rhyme with knots, and are german sausages. Not poorly behaved children. Oh, and they are served on rolls.

But wait! There’s more!

We also entered the 3 billboards above with the additional billboard below in an outdoor campaign entry called ‘Hello Milwaukee!’ It won a Judge’s Choice Award. Which meant that one of the 3 judges felt that this was the best thing in the entire show.

Blank roadside billboard on bright sunny blue sky day
In the Metro Milwaukee area we have a lot of funny city names. Many stem from Native American names. And you can open a UW Credit Union checking account from home in any of these Aukees.

Judge’s Choice

Here’s what Judge Carl (no relation to Judge Judy) had to say about our campaign. (My apologies if he is actually Judge Karl.)

Thanks!

I appreciate the fact that The Weaponry and UW Credit Union won these awards. But we didn’t need an awards show to know the work was good. We know that the ads work. They grab attention. They make people giggle. They are remembered. And they have helped the UW Credit Union quickly drive a XX% increase in awareness in Milwaukee. Which nailed our goal. (I put XX because I didn’t ask for permission to share the actual number. But notice that there are 2 Xs and not just one! Go UWCU!)

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Me, Sarah Disanza, Justine Kessler and Anne Norman, staying gold, like Pony Boy.

Roll The Credits!

Thanks to our Weapons Kristyn Lilley who designed the UW Credit Union brand look. And to Kevin Kayse, the writer who helped bring these adds to life. Thanks to Simon Harper for writing a great brief with a British accent. And thanks to Anne Norman for meeting me at Hiway Harry’s. For hiring The Weaponry. And for both demanding and approving great creative work.

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Key Takeaway

Awards are nice. But they should never drive the work. In advertising the only thing that really matters is whether or not the work helps your clients grow. But if the work drives growth, like it has for the UW Credit Union, the awards are a nice cherry on top. Thank you to everyone at UW Credit Union for allowing us to join your team. We look forward to great things ahead!

Are you settling for the opportunities that come your way?

Over the past couple of weeks I have had several conversations with unhappy campers. Ok, so they weren’t really campers. They were entrepreneurs who were dissatisfied with the opportunities coming their way. As a result, they were not working with the types of clients or customers they wanted to work with. And they were not generating the level of revenue they expected.

The Cause

As I talked to these entrepreneurs about their challenges a common theme emerged. Each of the unhappy non-camping business owners told me that they were not actively marketing themselves. (Audible Gasp!) They said they are generating their leads from word of mouth alone. (Even Audibler Gasp!)

Out of Control

Generating business via word of mouth alone is a mistake. It means that you are not determining the types of clients you work with. Instead, the quantity and quality of clients approaching you are limiting your business. Which means you are not in control of your brand, or your growth. Janet Jackson would be disappointed.

Being Lazy Is Crazy

If you are not actively marketing and promoting yourself you are settling for whatever comes your way. Which is like going to a singles bar, and waiting for people to come talk to you. That is a lazy approach. And not likely to lead to your happily-ever-after ending.

Don’t Float. Drive Your Own Boat

I have been to singles bars, back before I was double. And the ladies who would come talk to me were not the same ones I would choose to talk to myself. They were the most aggressive ladies. Not the most attractive, smartest, nicest or most dentally impressive.

But I was not about to settle for less. I had a clear vision of what I wanted. And when I first saw my wife I was quickly in hot pursuit, like Sheriff Rosco P Coltrane. I wrote about it in the post It was an ordinary day until I got on that elevator.

Build Your Business

Since before I even launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, I identified the types of clients I wanted to work with. I spent a disproportionate amount of time focused on developing relationships with my ideal client types. As a result, The Weaponry works with a lot of really great clients in interesting industries. Just like I envisioned we would.

Key Takeaway

Don’t settle for the opportunities that come your way. Go after the opportunities you want. Find the clients, customers or employers you want to work with. Then actively promote yourself to them. It’s the only way to build the business, brand and life you imagined. It takes more work. But it’s worth it.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

What do you do when you hit a wall?

When I was a high school freshman I ran my first 400 meter race. 400 meters is one lap around an outdoor track. It is a difficult race to run. I started strong. The first 100 meters felt great. The second 100 meters felt good. The third 100 meters were tough. Then, with just 100 meters left to go, I hit the wall. Everyone who has run a 400 meter race knows where that wall is. Once you hit it you are no longer sprinting. You are just trying to survive. And you are suddenly thankful that more people don’t come to watch track meets.

Hitting Walls

Today I recognize that every difficult challenge has a wall. A point at which things are no longer easy. A point when people typically quit. We hit walls like college students hit weeder classes. And the walls stop those who are not determined to keep going.

I see it all the time. Someone will start a project full of energy and ambition. They start a side hustle, blog, a club or mustache. Maybe they get their real estate license, start writing a book, or begin exercising and eating right. Then something happens. A challenge confronts them. They hit a busy period. Or a dry spell. Or they go too long without seeing results. Or they simply take a moment to nap in a field of poppies with their friends Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion (all of whom have strange New York accents).

It could be hours, days, weeks, or months into the adventure. But at some point people run into something hard. And they stop. The momentum vanishes. The music dies. And the dream end.

Inspiration Strikes

In 2014 a co-worker of mine started taking on exciting marketing projects on his own.  He told me all about the projects, and how much money he was making. I was amazed. He was developing the start of his own agency. It was thrilling to see. It inspired me. I wanted to do what he was doing. And within a year I began planning my own agency.

While I was eagerly planning my dream agency, I sought out that same coworker to get another inspiring update. But when we sat down to talk about his latest success he instead told me he wasn’t doing it anymore. I was shocked, and asked him why.  He said, ‘It got really hard.’

The Perfect Agency Project

I started my wannabe-agency-project as a nights-and-weekends effort in the fall of 2015. By April of 2016 I had legally established The Weaponry LLC, left my job, and committed to making this new agency work. By the end of 2016 we had generated over $400,000 in revenue. Which felt great. Like Frosted Flakes.

The Wall

Then we hit a wall. Our very first client, the client that represented the lion’s share of our revenue for 2016, didn’t have any more work for us in 2017. This was bad news. It was the kind of news that kills businesses all the time. But we did one thing that saved us. We didn’t stop.

Yes, we hit a wall. But we kept marching. We were not going to let the loss of our largest client stop us. We wanted to succeed too much to quit. (We were also too legit.) So we hustled. We found new clients. And discovered more opportunities with our other clients. Instead of folding because things got hard, we doubled our efforts. And we doubled the business in 2017. Simply because we refused to stop.

Key Takeaway

I hope you try to do something hard this year. Something really ambitious. And if you do, know that sooner or later you will run into a wall. All great things are hard to do. The key to success is simply not stopping when things get hard. Find a way around, over or through the wall. Just don’t stop. Because all the great stuff is on the other side of the wall.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

Entrepreneurs are 125% more successful if they do this.

The idea of starting your own business can be scary. The statistics say that there is a high probability of your dream business failing. But then again, there is a really, really high probably that your heart will fail at some point too. And when that happens none of your other failures matter anymore anyway.

A Safer Bet

But there is a way to practice safe entrepreneurship. It’s not perfectly safe. Just like there is no perfectly safe sex. At least not any that involves other people.

Do what you know.

If you want to become an entrepreneur, but your tolerance for risk is sweet n’ low, the safe thing to do is to start a business in an industry you have already worked in.

It turns out that entrepreneurs are 125% more successful if they’ve previously worked in the industry they start their own business in.

Keep on rocking in the free world.

This should be encouraging to those of you who are rockstars in your current job and think you could do it even better on your own. That’s what I did. Okay, so I am not really a rockstar. I am more like a bluegrass artist with a loyal local following, that consists mostly of my family and the hard of hearing.

The Weaponry

After working for other advertising agencies for 19 years, I launched my own advertising and idea agency in 2016. Today, The Weaponry is nearly 4 years old. And I have been able to pour all of my industry experience directly into my entrepreneurial adventure. And in return, it has poured some sugar on me.

Key Takeaway

If you really want to start your own business, and I hope you do, consider starting a business in the industry you are already working in. Your experience and connections give you a major advantage. You do have connections don’t you? If not, work on building that parachute before you jump out of your current airplane.

Fun note: I am writing this on a plane as I fly to Florida to film the CEO of one of our greatest clients. We work with this great client because my friend and former coworker, Erin Lovett recommended us. But don’t worry. I won’t jump out of the plane. It would put a quick end to my 125% advantage.