Are you too vanilla to be successful?

I recently got a phone call from a CEO. He told me that he was worried about his organization’s brand. The company had hired another advertising agency to jazz up their image. But he felt like what they came back to them with was very vanilla. I pondered the idea of very vanilla. As if there was mediocrity, and then there was extreme mediocrity.

He knew his business couldn’t win against formidable foes with vanilla. He knew he couldn’t motivate his considerable team with vanilla. And he knew he couldn’t recruit top talent with vanilla. Vanilla is flat. Undifferentiated. Forgettable.

person holding vanilla ice cream on cone
In business vanilla is the kiss of death. Or maybe it’s the lick of death.

I knew I could help him. I have spent my career helping brands find their flavor. And vanilla is simply not on the menu.

We spoke for an hour. I shared how my team at The Weaponry would approach their brand development needs. Which included developing differentiated processes, products and services so that they truly had something interesting and ownable to talk about. Even if it didn’t exist today.

I enjoyed our conversation. But I was curious how he found me. And why he thought I was the right person to call.

Then he shared the following.

‘Adam, I don’t know much about The Weaponry. Or the type of work you usually do. But I saw you speak several months ago. And I remember you not seeming very vanilla. And I figured you could help us seem not vanilla too.’

Key Takeaway

If you want to be remembered you can’t be vanilla. You have to differentiate yourself in positive and meaningful ways. You can differentiate your personal brand by doing things differently. By breaking rules. And adding extra-anything to your personal recipe. Like energy or thoughtfulness. Or excluding a common ingredient altogether. Like shaving, laziness, alcohol, or pants.

Your business can differentiate itself with personality, product or process. You can stand out because of your pricing or packaging. You can be remembered for your people or your promise. Or simply be doing unreasonable things on behalf of your customers. But whatever you do, don’t be vanilla. Vanilla is the flavor of the crowd.

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

9 Tips on how to give a great TV interview from home.

Today, nearly everything that is fun or interesting has been cancelled thanks to COVID-19. In this desert of  action, the smallest activities you are doing appear fun and interesting to the rest of the stuck-at-home world. Which means that right now there is a better than average chance you will be interviewed by the news media. Even if you haven’t done anything truly interesting. Or illegal.

Your place. Not mine.

However, due to social distancing, stay-at-home regulations and lockdowns, no reporter will show up at your home or business to talk to you. And they aren’t going to invite you and your potential cooties into the news studio for a chat. Instead, you will be asked to give your interview at home on your computer, smart phone or tablet.

Prison interview
Just because you are doing an interview doesn’t mean you are getting out.

Air Time

I have been asked to do 2 TV interviews in the past week. The first was with Julia Fello about how our team at The Weaponry is adjusting to working from home. The other was an interview with George Balekji about a video chat reunion that 16 of my University of Wisconsin college track teammates held last Friday to revive the camaraderie of our locker room during this time of social and physical isolation.

You can see the working from home interview here.

You can see the track team reunion interview here.

Here’s a dumb video of a guy inhaling over and over again that is trending at my house. 

You May Be Next

In case you get called by the local or national news to do an interview from home, here are a few tricks to increase the likelihood of you giving a great interview that will actually get used.

9 Tips For A Great Interview From Home

1. Find A Good Background

Find a simple, uncluttered place in your home to conduct the interview. To find an appealing background you may have to get creative. Prop your backdrop if necessary. In the Pro Tip below, my friend Katrina Cravy, a media training expert and long time news anchor demonstrates that the setting you choose sends an important message about your brand.

2. Adjust The Camera Height to Eye Level

Our computers and hand-held phone cameras are typically well below our natural eye line. Which means that we look down at them when we are in our normal operating mode. But for an interview it is much better to raise the camera up to eye level. This will make it look as if you are having a conversation with a real human, not your little digital buddy. Use boxes or books to elevate your laptop. If you have a music stand in your home, it will work perfectly to hold your smart phone at eye level. Best of all, it will prevent the rest of us from staring up your nose and seeing bats in the cave during your interview.

woman in gray sweater taking selfie
Adjust the camera height so that the camera is at eye level.  If your eyes turn this color you did it right.

3. Go Landscape Mode 

We naturally hold our smartphones vertically when we use them. Which is called portrait mode (named after Francois Portrait*). But a television has a horizontal orientation. To make sure your picture properly adapts to the TV screen, turn your phone sideways into landscape mode for your interview. It will look much better on TV.

person taking photo of stage stadium presentation
This is how you and Montell Jordan do it.

4. Hold Still

There will likely be a lag in the video based on your technology, wi-fi strength or internet speed. So the more you move (like I tend to do) the funkier your interview is likely to look. Keep you body movements to a minimum in order to not draw attention to picture quality.

psychotic-depression-adrian-swancar-1205637-unsplash-1280x429
You want your interview to turn heads. But don’t turn your head during your at-home interview.

5. Improve the Sound

Bad sound will ruin an interview. If you have a good microphone, use it. A headset can work well too. Earbuds are good. Air Pods work really well, because they don’t dictate where you sit. Even better, they don’t have wires to dangle and distract viewers.

Ray Davies Tip: Remember to workout the kinks in your audio technology well before the interview starts.

Ray Davies
Ray Davies knows things.

6. Prepare Your Talking Points

TV news is all about the sound bite. So make sure you have some strong, simple sound bites to share. Before the interview write down your thoughts on the topic. Craft them into short, interesting or memorable statements. A unique, but easily understood statement makes for great TV. Keep your notes nearby to reference during the interview.

Pro Tip: Practice delivering your talking points before the interview. Write down the name of the reporter on your notes. If you are nervous, write down your own name too.

IMG_1450
An example of my pre-interview notes. What does #13 say?

7. Properly Frame Yourself.

Position yourself within the picture so that you look great. You should be centered left and right. Don’t leave a lot of room over your head. If you notice the ceiling in your shot you are doing it wrong. If you can smell your own breath through the screen, back up. And have a mint.

97a680480674d7fadedd63123531b947
This would be wrong. Beautiful, but wrong.

8. Light It Up.

You are not in a perfectly lit studio. So you will have to control the lighting yourself. First, make sure there is enough light on your face so you don’t look dark and creepy. Natural light works great. If you can position yourself to get even light from a window it will make you look even more naturally beautiful than you already are. Then consider grabbing an additional lamp, especially a flexible, direct-able lamp to add additional light if needed.

Side Note: I believe in Crystal Light, cause I believe in me. #nowthatswhatIcall80s

photo of woman in pink long sleeve shirt and blue denim jeans sitting on brown sofa with her eyes closed
Channel your inner Bob Barker and make sure the light is right.

9. Next Level Background

Zoom enables you to use a virtual background. To do this you will either need a very good computer, a plain wall, or a green screen backdrop. Grab a green blanket, sheet or towel, and hang it behind you to create your own green screen at home. On Zoom, go to Preferences…Virtual Background, and then manually pick the background color by clicking the small oval. Then click on your background to sample the background color your photo will replace. You can upload any photo to create your perfect backdrop.

IMG_1446
You can change your background to suit the interview. Here I was interviewed about a crop circle I thought I saw. It turns out it was running track.

Key Takeaway

This is a great time to share a little of your good news with the world. Make the most of your opportunity by preparing yourself ahead of time. A little planning will go a long way towards ensuring that you look good and sound good on TV. Good luck. And Stay Classy San Diego.

*Don’t waste your time googling Francois Portrait. I just made that up.

**If you know someone who could benefit from these tips, please share this 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.

What in the world does The Weaponry do?

What’s in a name? When I was launching my new advertising agency in 2016, I needed to come up with a name. But I didn’t want to do what other agencies do. I didn’t want a collection of last names that sounds like a law firm, (Welcome to Nonebrecht, Somebrecht & Albrecht…). I didn’t want random letters like SOS, PMS or IBS. In short, I didn’t want a boredinary name. What I wanted was a name that no one would forget.

Whoomp, there it is!

When I first wrote down the name The Weaponry, it might as well have been written in giant, flashing neon letters. Because it jumped off the screen at me. I instantly knew I had found the right name.

Like the boy named Sue, our name has been one of our great assets. People tell me every week how much they like the name. It’s intriguing. It sounds aggressive and provocative. And I am constantly asked about The Weaponry’s origin and meaning. In other words, it’s a great conversation starter (except maybe that conversation it started with the Immigration officer in India at 2am).

What’s behind the name.

When people ask me what the name means I usually answer with the follow statement:

‘Well, right behind the desk in my office is a giant sign that says, The most powerful weapon on Earth is the human mind.’

Like the answer to a good riddle, that line always converts skeptics, doubters and critics, into enlightened insiders.

IMG_8841

But wait, there’s more!

However, there is another reason we are called The Weaponry. I absolutely love the definition of the word:

Weaponry (noun): all the weapons, collectively.

All The Weapons

When I set our to create my perfect agency, I wanted to offer our clients ALL the weapons, collectively. For two reasons. First, it would make life easier for our clients to be able to get all of the services they need from one resource. Having one agency translates to less time looking for agencies, less time managing agencies and no time coordinating agencies.

The second reason I wanted to offer all of the weapons is that I believe that if you have the ability to skillfully use each weapon, you will always use the right weapon for the situation. Whereas specialist, or sliver agencies, who only know how to operate a couple of weapons, will use what they have, regardless of what the situation or strategy dictate.

So, what kind of work do you do?

People always ask me what kind of work The Weaponry does. I say, ‘Whatever our clients need.’ Which I realize sounds kind of lame, and kind of smart-assy. But it is the truth. To illustrate the breadth of work we do at The Weaponry, here is a list of the things we are creating this week:

  • billboards
  • radio commercials
  • print ads
  • television commercials
  • mobile ads
  • social content
  • website design
  • package design
  • videos
  • credit card design
  • logo design
  • business card design
  • taglines
  • blog posts
  • podcasts
  • manifestos
  • media plans
  • media buys
  • photo shoot planning
  • brand style guides
  • Powerpoint template design
  • pre-roll video
  • SEO
  • website development
  • trade show booth design
  • and some fun promotional buttons

Key Takeaway

At The Weaponry we are living into the vision. We have created a valuable and flexible resource for our clients. Our broad range of opportunities have created a stimulating  environment for our Weapons. And thanks to our provocative name, we have great t-shirts, stickers and business cards that always get people thinking, and talking. Which is exactly what advertising is supposed to do.

What would you look like as a Venn diagram?

Last Saturday I received a very interesting text message. It was from a former client of mine who was the CEO of a popular American brand. The text said that she wanted to talk about potentially working together on a new marketing campaign. She wanted to know if I could talk the next day. Which, for those of you familiar with calendars, was Sunday.

I have always really liked this woman. She is smart, savvy and aggressive. But what made her text particularly interesting was that I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in 5 years. That’s right. 5 years. So I was quite surprised to hear from her. Pleasantly surprised, yet surprised nonetheless.

Sunday afternoon we jumped on a call (actually there was no real jumping). She told me that about the exciting things unfolding at a new company that she is now leading. She said:

The work we need to do requires someone who is passionate, strategic and highly creative. And the first person I thought of that fits that description is you.  -Former Client

That may have been baloney. I may have been the 5th person she thought of. Or the 50th. Or 500th. But the thing that struck me was the Venn diagram she referenced.

Venn Diagram

Venn diagrams are like filters, sorters or separators. They are like visual algorithms. They help identify people places and things that have a specified combination of required attributes. And based on her evaluation, I fit into the small space at the intersection of strategic, creative and passionate.

Venn Diagram
A favorite Venn diagram…

Flattered

I was flattered, honored and appreciative of her comments. And when I quieted my own humility, I had to agree with her evaluation. I have worked very hard at developing both my strategic and creative skills for decades. They are areas of relative strength. And I am a naturally passionate human. However I don’t take any credit for that. Because baby, I was born this way.

Personal Brands

Our personal brands are nothing more than Venn Diagrams. We are sorted and remembered for our distinct combination of traits and abilities. It is how we quickly summarize and categorize each other.

Following that phone call I thought a lot about my own VD (um… maybe we should stick with Venn diagram). I wondered about what venn diagrams I had created in the other people’s’ minds. I wondered about the good, the bad and the ugly. I thought about my strengths and weaknesses. I thought and the various impressions I have made along the way. I thought that I should ask for feedback from other people to better understand my venn diagram.

Key Takeaway

Do you have a strong brand image? What unique combination of assets or liabilities describes you? Do you get sorted into the groups you want to be in?  Do people think of you at all?  If not, it is time to develop your own Venn diagram. Work on sharpening your strengths. Put them to great use. Add value. And let me know the next time you find yourself in a satisfying venn diagram. We could all use a little more of that in our lives.

This is what people really remember about you.

I don’t have any tattoos. But each time we get a meaningful image or quote added to the walls of our new offices at The Weaponry, I feel as if an important statement has been tattooed on me. Of course our wall art is much larger and much less painful than a real tattoo. And I don’t have to hide the wall art from my Mom.

I’ve written about our wall statements before. But last week we had another quote tattooed to our office. Not only do I find this quote inspiring, it states a critical tenant of brand-building.

Our Latest Wall Quote:

 “You are remembered for the rules you break.”

-General Douglas MacArthur

MacArthur hit the nail on the head, and sent it into concussion protocol with this line. In Nike Founder, Phil Knight’s book Shoe Dog, he references this quote several times. I find myself referencing it often too.

There are multiple ways to interpret this quote. But I see it in the most positive light possible. You are remembered for the norms the standards and the expectations you don’t follow. You are remembered for the parts of you that stick out. Not the ones that fit in. You are remembered like Frank Sinatra, for doing it your way.

IMG_0260
Me and my cousin Brooks Albrecht and some 504 point type.

This is true of people, businesses, brands, products, services, plants, minerals and animals. Speaking of animals, consider mammals for a moment. They are warm-blooded and fur-bearing creatures. But the dolphins doesn’t seem like a mammal because it lives in the ocean. The bat doesn’t seem like a mammal because it frickin flies! And the platypus, well, it breaks so many rules I don’t even know what it was to start with.

Conformity

Conformity is the opposite of creativity. Conforming to every rule means you disappear. If you want to be remembered by your peers, in job interviews, or in customers’ minds, you have to break some rules.

Key Takeaway

Look for ways to be different. Break stupid rules. Break smart rules when you have an even smarter reason to do so. Rules were made to be broken. You were made to be remembered. You are not a sheep, or a cow. Don’t follow the flocking herd. Give them something to remember you by.  Your Mom and Dad will eventually get over it. Trust me, I know.