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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
I was recently invited to speak at a Metro Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce event about storytelling. As the 3rd of 3 speakers on the same topic of storytelling, I knew I better take a unique angle on the topic in order to cover some new ground. I reframed storytelling in a different, perhaps more approachable or understandable context for business owners, small marketing teams and generalists. Here is the story I presented.
The Story on Storytelling
I have spent over 2 decades in marketing and advertising. About 10 years ago people started talking about ‘Storytelling’ like it was the hot new thing in marketing communications. But as the author of 23 years of ad campaigns and marketing programs, I’ll tell you that I don’t think about marketing in terms of storytelling.
The term ‘storytelling’ is weird for adults. If conjures images of fairytales, campfires, ghost stories, and once-upon-a-time-ness. It can be hard to connect the dots back to business and marketing. Unless, of course, you are Mother Goose, work at Disney, or are one of the Brothers Grimm.
If you are struggling with the idea of incorporating storytelling into your work, I want you to think about storytelling another way. I want you to think of business-related storytelling as Recruiting. Because marketing, advertising and sales is really just recruiting:
Recruiting customers to your store, show or restaurant.
Recruiting shoppers to your shelf.
Recruiting clients to your firm or agency.
Recruiting voters to the polls to vote for you or your agenda.
Recruiting attendees to an event.
Recruiting employees to work for you.
Where I learned this
Let’s go back in time to where I learned about marketing as recruiting. It wasn’t at my first advertising job. Or in my college classes. I learned about selling, marketing and advertising from an unexpected teacher: my college track coach.
Mark Napier, my coach at the University of Wisconsin, was a great track coach. But Mark Napier, was a world class recruiter. To be successful in college athletics you need to be able to recruit great athletic talent. And Coach Napes was masterful at it.
I have bachelor’s degrees in both journalism and psychology. But I earned a master’s degree in selling by studying how Professor Napier recruited. (He wasn’t really a professor. He didn’t even own any elbow patches).
The Essential Recruiting Technique
You know how Napes recruited top track and field athletes from across the country, the Caribbean, and Europe to come to Wisconsin? Where it snows from October through May?
He told stories. Stories that sold people. The most important lesson I learned from Napes was, know your audience. What do they want? What do they need? Because if you know what they want and what they need you know what to tell them to sell them.
It’s not you. It’s them.
But remember, don’t tell the story you want to tell. It is all about the story they want to hear. When it came to recruiting high school track and field athletes there were many different wants and needs. You had to do your homework to understand their hot buttons. You have to do your own research. You have to observe the athlete. Ask questions. And listen to what they say.
The Prospective College Athlete Hot Buttons May Include:
Academic quality and reputation
Proximity to home
The athletic program
Proximity to Aunt Deanie (my Aunt Deanie lived in Madison and was a draw for me. But many other kids have their own version of Aunt Deanie).
The town itself
Proximity to stupid high school girlfriends or boyfriends.
A particular major or program
The conference you compete in.
Good looking girls
Spring training trips
The coaches track record of success
Ass-Kicking-Ness (You can tell this by smelling their shoes)
Someone just like them in the program
Pushing The Hot Button
Coach Napes was masterful at discovering the hot buttons of each athlete we were recruiting, and telling them the story they wanted to hear. Or demonstrating it. Or making them experience it.
As a result were able to successfully recruit national champions from Southern California and from Florida to join our track team in Madison, Wisconsin.
In fact, my junior and senior years we were Big 10 Champions in both indoor and outdoor track. My senior year our team was 6th in the nation. I had 6 teammates who were Division 1 National Champs in their events.
Putting Recruiting To Work At Work
You can use the same approach to recruiting in your business. I want you to think of yourself like a Division 1 coach who is trying to attract 5 Star Recruits. For those of you who are sports illiterates, that means you are coaching at the highest level, and recruiting the very best athletes.
Departments or roles that should be recruiting for you:
We All Have Needs
It all starts with understanding your potential customer’s wants and needs. Know this and you will know what story to tell. Because in business the only thing that matters is what your audience wants or needs. And whether they think they can get it from you.
This is where the story starts.
Create a persona of the target audience you want to recruit. Understand them in detail.
Once you know who you are trying to reach, you talk to them about the things they want to hear.
Track record of Success
Ease of Use
Find the most compelling story you can tell to make people buy into you and your offering. That is your strategy. Then tell the stories that make you appear more attractive to those you are trying to recruit.
Storytelling in business is simply recruiting. It is sharing the great things about you, your organization, your products, and your services, with those you want to attract. Know your audience and what they want. And then show and tell them how you can deliver against their wants and needs. The End.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
I started writing The Perfect Agency Project blog in 2015 as I was preparing to launch by own advertising agency called The Weaponry. After 2 decades as a salaried employee, I wanted to document and share my experience as I attempted to transition to a self reliant entrepreneur. I wasn’t sure if I was writing a how-to story, or a how-not-to story. But I figured it could provide value either way.
Along the way I have learned a lot about being an entrepreneur. Including how to spell it. I learned that the word in german is unternehmer. Which I think is hilarious. Because it can be literally translated as undertaker. So you should be careful before signing up for that Unternehmer Conference in Stuttgart.
I have also learned a great deal about blogging. And content creation in general. Although I’ve never liked the term ‘content’. Content sounds like ‘stuff’. And no one should just be creating stuff. But alas, the masses have spoken, and they have adopted content, like they adopted VHS over Betamax.
When I began sharing my blog posts with friends and family I began getting positive feedback. It was nice to hear those close to me say that they thought a post was good, or funny or interesting.
I shared my posts more broadly on social media, and I started hearing people I didn’t even know say that they learned something. Or were inspired to act by something they read on my blog. I appreciated the feedback and was happy to know others were gaining some value from my writings.
But lately I have heard something different from readers of my blog. It’s not that my posts are interesting, funny or inspiring. It’s not that they are insightful or informative. The new comment that I have heard lately is short and sweet. Just 5-words in total. But those words are extremely meaningful to me.
The 5 Words
The 5 words that I have been hearing people say a lot about my blog lately are:
‘I look forward to it.’
I don’t need a million readers. I’m not trying to win any awards. I am not trying to quit my job and become a full time blogger. Although as an entrepreneur I think it would be funny to have to resign to myself. (It’s not you, it’s me. Just kidding, it’s you!) I don’t need to make a dime off of my blog. Because knowing that there are people who look forward to my next post is the greatest reward I can imagine.
These 2 readers, and that’s all I need.
I don’t need any other validation that what I am writing and sharing is worthwhile than knowing that there are readers who look forward to each new post. It tells me that the posts add value. I’m not sure if it is entertainment, education or inspiration that readers look forward to. Or if my blog simply provides a rich habitat for typo hunters. Maybe it is a combination of factors. I am grateful regardless.
Developing A Brand
When people look forward to the content you serve up it means you have delivered consistently. Which translates to a brand with value. Even on a very small scale, that is very rewarding.
Over the past 2 weeks I have had multiple people tell me that they look forward to The Perfect Agency Project Sunday morning post. They have told me that reading the post has become part of their Sunday morning coffee routine. I had no idea that anyone picked up on the fact that I always post on Sunday morning by 8am CT, before I rush off to church. And I couldn’t be more touched. At least not without having to press charges.
When others look forward to your content, programming, services or products you are doing it right. Because we only look forward to such things when they are good. When they offer value. And when they are enjoyable. The same holds true in our relationships. When others look forward to what you offer you are on the right track. So dig in and keep it coming. More good things will surely come your way.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
When I first started telling people that I was launching my own business they asked, ‘Is your website up yet?’ I quickly realized that many people consider having a business website actually having a business. I also realized that startups that begin with a website, rather than a business development plan, struggle like Muggles at Hogwarts.
Creating A Business
Instead of focusing on building a website, we focused on building a business. We were creating an advertising and idea agency. And we named it The Weaponry. We started by meeting with marketers, asking about their unmet needs, and then creating services to meet those needs. #WeAllHaveNeeds
Building the Machine
We focused on finding great people to work on our team. We developed repeatable processes and procedures that enabled us to deliver great results. We developed the machinery that enabled us to find new clients. We implemented customer service standards that kept those clients coming back. And we honed our accounting operation to make sure that cash flowed through the business to keep the organization healthy and its people paid.
Shiny Happy People
As a result, we developed a strong foundation of happy customers. We developed a strong group of business partners and collaborators who loved working with us. And that created a problem.
Losing Out On Brand Champions
We were developing brand champions who didn’t have an easy way to champion us. Because clients who loved working with us, and partners who loved working alongside us would want to recommend us to others. But the only website they could reference to promote us was a joke website we created that featured Laverne and Shirley from the TV show by the same name.
I loved not having a real website. It was rebellious and provocative. I loved that we built a multi-million dollar business without a website, by focusing on old fashion business development and maintenance.
But I hated the fact that people who loved The Weaponry didn’t have an easy way to promote, endorse or recommend us. In fact, we made our biggest fans look looney when they did tell others about us and had to note that we didn’t have a website, or at least a real website.
I’m Gonna Make A Change, For Once In My Life.
The realization that we were not helping those who were trying to help us was the reason we decided to create a real website for The Weaponry.
Today, I am excited to announce that TheWeaponry.com is a totally legit website.
You can check out the What We Do section to see if it is what you are looking for.
You can see photos of our offices.
You can find out who we work with, and where those clients are.
You can see work.
You can see our team members, and you can read their not-too-serious bios.
You can submit request for information or more conversation.
You can find our contact info, office locations and ways to socialize with us.
You can tell us if you like Pina Coladas.
I invite you to check out the site at theweaponry.com and see it all for yourself. And if you look hard enough you still may find Laverne & Shirley.
Don’t be afraid to do things your own way. But recognize when it limits your growth. This is true in your personal life, and in business. If you want to launch your own startup remember that building a business is more important than building a website. But once you have fans you should make it easy for them to evangelize for you. Can I get an Amen?
There was a lot of thought that went into our decision to not have a real website. I wrote about that thought in these posts:
I am a professional creative thinker. My job is to come up with ideas, and then bring those ideas to life. Which sounds easy, and fun. Which it is. But there is one major obstacle that often stands in the way of professional creatives: clients. You see, clients also have ideas. And their ideas are sometimes different than yours. And sometimes your clients’ ideas are good. Like, really good.
The Creative Conundrum
So what are you supposed to do when clients go all rogue on you and have their own ideas and opinions? After all, we are hired to be the idea people, right? Aren’t the clients supposed to listen to us? To trust us and our superior ideation abilities?
Learning From Experience
I have faced this issue a million brazilian fo-fillion times in my career. I have had to contend with client-generated ideas from the time I was a young copywriter until I opened The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I launched in 2016. With over 20 years of thinkering experience under my belt, I have found that there are 3 ways you can handle the client-creative idea clash.
The 3 Alternatives
1. Give Up. You don’t have to stand up for your ideas. In fact, agencies often surrender immediately when a client proclaims their own idea. Or asks for a change. Or sneezes. This is because there are a lot of people who don’t believe in their ideas enough to stand up for them.
I hate this. It devalues the original creative idea. Which should have been presented for a very good reason. (You did have a very good reason didn’t you?) By simply surrendering to your client’s idea you are suddenly just a production person on behalf of your client. Don’t be that guy. And don’t be that gal.
2. Don’t Budge. This is the option I encourage most professional creatives to choose. Stand your ground. Believe unwaveringly in your idea. Fall on your sword. In fact, I’ll throw you on your sword if you like.
The reason I want you to embrace this idea so strongly is because it is a fast way to lose clients. And I would love to slip in and pick up your clients as you are getting thrown out a second story window.
3. Find A New, Better Option. If the client isn’t fully satisfied with your idea or execution it is because they still have a perceived unmet need. They are offering an idea that helps meet that need or concern. Sometimes their suggestion will be perfect. And a good creative should recognize this. But if the solution isn’t perfect, keep exploring. The greatest creative solution is the one that accommodates for the dreams and desires of both the client and agency. (Dreams and Desires is also the title of the trashy romance novel I’m now inspired to write.)
Pushing for that perfect third option has 5 positive benefits.
1. It demonstrates that you want what is best for the project. And not just what the client requested.
2.It shows you are not simply married to your own idea. (Which also means no one gets to throw idea rice at your idea wedding.)
3. It certifies you as an avid problem solver. Clients love a partner who will push further to make everyone happy.
4.It strengthens your skills. It’s like adding more weight to the bar at the gym. Throw more challenges on the problem, add more constraints, and see if you can still Houdini out.
5.It reveals your work ethic. In the workplace your work ethic translates to character and trust and all manner of positive attributes.
Everyone loves a problem solver. This is true in business and in your personal life. But problem solving doesn’t mean giving up on your idea. And it doesn’t mean winning at all costs. It means finding a solution for every challenge. Always push for the win-win solution. Develop a reputation for helping everyone get to the best answer. It is the best way to get many more problems to solve.
If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
There is a large sign on the wall in my office that features a quote from General Douglas MacArthur. It says, ‘You are remembered for the rules you break.’ That quote really resonates with me. Obviously. It is printed on the wall of my office.
I have always liked it when people break rules unapologetically. I like a rebel who insists on doing things his or her own way. They always make me wonder why more people don’t ignore the rules. Then I call up Colin Kaepernick. And he reminds me why.
The Exceptional Exceptions
I love the exceptions to the rule. Like short basketball players, doctors with clear signatures and Amish electricians. They inspire me with their unwillingness to be governed my the laws of the masses.
You Don’t Have To Do Anything
When I launched my advertising and idea agency everyone said you have to have a website. But I don’t put any stock in conventional thinking. In fact, just because everyone expected me to have a website made me not want to have a website. #RebelWithoutAurl
But there was more to it than that.
It isn’t as if I never wanted a website or never expected to have one. In fact, an important factor in deciding on the name The Weaponry was that TheWeaponry.com domain name was surprisingly available. Kinda like I was surprisingly available when I met my wife, Dawn. #youarewelcomebabe
When I secured theweaponry.com from GoDaddy for about $12, I had what I needed to launch our agency’s ‘@theweaponry.com’ email address. And that’s all I really wanted to do with it in the first year or so. However, I knew that people would naturally look at TheWeaponry.com to find out more information about us. So instead of leaving our little corner of cyberspace naked, I decided to have a little fun.
I Wanna Mock!
I created what is essentially a mock-website for The Weaponry. I put slightly more thought into the mock site than it may appear. In fact, before I created theweaponry.com I laid out 5 basic requirements of the site. I wanted it to:
Appear as if it was plausibly a website for The Weaponry.
Not offer a single bit of information about The Weaponry.
Make visitors laugh.
Make visitors visit every page and read every word.
Offer a sense of our brand, even without any real information about us.
First Break All The Rules
At the risk of stating the obvious, we have taken a non-traditional approach to creating our business website. In fact, I frequently read lists of things you must or must not do when designing and developing your company website. And we are cleanly on the wrong side of every single point.
What You See
If you have not yet visited theweaponry.com, it features the words The Weaponry at the top of the page. Which makes it seem legit. However, the first words of body copy on the site are ‘This is not a legit website.’ It just devolves from there.
The home page features Laverne and Shirley from the classic television sitcom Laverne and Shirley. The Our Philosophy page simply features the lyrics to the Laverne and Shirley theme song.
More Than Meets The Eye
We admittedly send site visitors on what appears to be a wild goose chase. (What fun is there in chasing a tame goose?) But there is a method to the madness. What we are actually doing is entertaining and intriguing visitors. We are revealing an important insight about our agency. And we are demonstrating that we know how to shepherd a visitor through a website, all the way to the Contact Us. And many do.
This faux website does a great job of attracting the type of employees we want to attract. Every week, creative thinkers, rebels, innovators and people who like to laugh share how much they love the silliness that is our website. As a result we have become an attractive option for those we are trying to recruit.
There are no hard and fast rules. Do things your way. Don’t be afraid to zig when others zag. Especially if zigging leaves you in an open space, away from the crowd. Because putting more space on the perceptual map between you and your competition is exactly what marketing and innovation are supposed to do. So do things differently than your competition. Take chances. If you simply do what everyone else does you won’t be remembered. General Douglas MacArthur taught me that.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message please share it with them.
#If you haven’t checked out our silly little website yet click here. (This link may or may not take you to our website…)