Wednesday, November 30, 2005

You can't spell resolution without ROI

I've been thinking a lot about return on investment lately. It makes me feel like I know something about number crunching. Marketers and businesspeople talk ROI to death, holding it to the gold standard of successful decisions. I agree with them and agree with focusing on ROI. But I think there’s a bigger return to be had when you follow the ROI model. Earlier this week, I talked to a friend about ROI – but not in the financial sense. We talked more about emotional ROI. Not monetary compensation, but compensation in inspiration, satisfaction and heart-hopping damn-good hell-yes happiness.

Makes you think. We deal with emotional ROI in every part of our lives. From relationships to jobs to hobbies and even dining. We constantly are asking “Is it worth it?” For instance, I just took a cold, cold run. Stupid? To some, but the 45 minutes I spent jogging with the yellow dog reaped renewed clarity and released the day's stress. That's a good return on my investment.

When you think in emotional ROI terms, you are forced to reckon with yourself. You can take calculated risks – just as a business-minded ROI decision would be made – and come out the other end with a measurable success.

The bottom line? Most people invest much more than they get back. It's almost become a norm. We work more than we are compensated for. We plug on in relationships that give little back. We sink energy and passion into activities that rarely qualify our efforts. We walk down roads our rational minds know lead to disappointment. We all do it. Then we do it over and over again. And that’s pretty close to the definition of insanity.

In the marketing world, clients currently are reviewing 2006 plans – plans that certainly include at least four million references to Return on Investment. And as we plug through the year’s end and reach New Year’s Day, resolve to improve your emotional ROI. You’ll be more successful. Happier. Your stock will go up. You’ll log a record quarter of heart-hopping damn-good hell-yes happiness.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Post-turkey recommendations

The Thanksgiving hangover has subsided.
To follow up on my post about my wonderful grandmother, here's a pre-meal picture of the two of us.

I'm writing from my post at La Prima Tazza, in Lawrence, enjoying a soy latte and a packed house of college students and locals. Current laptop count is 8, which leads me to recommendation #1 for the week: Inspiration. Find it. I'm inspired as I sit here, watching these students study, wondering where those studies will take them and what life has in store for them.

Recommendation #2: Josh Rouse. Check out his latest album, Nashville.

#3: Lori McKenna. I'm listening to The Kitchen Tapes right now, and it's amazing. Her cover of Radiohead's Fake Plastic Trees is haunting.

Friday, November 25, 2005

"Press 1 for a human"

'Tis the season to enjoy holiday tunes while on hold. Strategic Public Relations posted this great cheat sheet from Paul English, which provides the code and process to speak with an actual human when calling various companies' customer service hotlines.

Is it any surprise that Southwest is the only airline listed with a human immediately on the other end? I called this morning, the day after Thanksgiving, to double check and a lovely woman with a southern drawl answered within 30 seconds.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A lot to be thankful for

Last night I moved my grandmother's furniture into her assisted living apartment. After suffering a stroke this past summer she's been in an old folks' home, acclimating herself to a furnished apartment. After realizing this "transition" might be more permanent, she was ready to get rid of the hotel decor and bring in her worn recliner, familiar drawers and their contents and other furnishings to make the place more like home.

I hadn't been in my grandmother's house (where my father's side had lived since first coming to Lawrence, KS) since her hospital stay, and the immediate rush of smells, lived-in comfort and memories hit me like a U-Haul. These memories were heightened because this week is Thanksgiving, a holiday that was made famous by grandmothers such as mine. I thought of countless family gatherings and her amazing cooking.

As we paraded her furniture out the front door I grieved the relocation of the chairs I'd napped in, table I ate many Thanksgiving meals at and the plastic-covered lamps that still look fresh off the Sears showroom floor. In the back of my mind, I knew the next time I moved these items she might not be at the other end to make sure I remembered to "lift with my legs."

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It's become a holiday focused on family. Presents don't enter into the mix. Resolutions don't loom. Sorrows stay below the surface. It embodies all that you should be thankful for: family, friends and food (and my cousin's wine cellar).

My grandmother is too shaky to haul her famous turkey from the oven and my grandfather's dish-washing skills were retired many years ago. Their dining room table is missing two extender leafs and sits in the corner of my grandmother's new residence. The house now is empty.

But, holidays don't create memories and furnishings don't create warmth. People are responsible for the memories and souls for the warmth. And I realized today, as I limped my sore back up the office stairs, that wherever those people are is where Thanksgiving can occur. Even in an old folks’ home.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Hugh MacLeod posted a link to the origin of the word "Pitch," and whether true or not, I like it.

This originated during the Spanish Inquisition. Torquemada, one of its leaders would tell imprisoned playwrights that if they could interest him in an idea, he would let them live long enough to write it. If not, they were dropped into a large vat (or pitch) of boiling tar, hence the term 'pitch.'

Etymology aside, I was moved by the focus on making an interesting idea believable and demonstrating that you are an essential player in the process. Also of note: nothing is forever. Even if the idea was good enough, it only temporarily ensured survival. "...he would let them live long enough to write it." Hence, the birth of the sequel?

In this business, ideas are king, but the ability to bring those ideas to life keeps you in the throne.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Words of inspiration

Olivier Blanchard posted this great reminder/call to action/mantra on his Brand Builder blog. Love it.

The master in the art of living makes little distinction
between his work and his play
his labor and his leisure
his mind and his body
his education and his recreation

his love and his religion
He hardly knows which is which...
He simply pursues his vision of excellence
in whatever he does
leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing
To him he is always doing both.

- Zen Buddhist Text

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Qtag me

I read Matt Galloway's post on qtags in his blog The Basement yesterday and have been thinking about qtags ever since.

A great idea, but I do have some thoughts: does this replace a Web sight? Is it even needed if a simple-but-memorable url is included?

This idea would seem to work better in an urban setting, with a captive-but-fast-moving audience. Think passengers on Chicago's Brown Line or pedestrians on the corner of a downtown intersection.

I just hope the qtag element of outdoor doesn't fall victim to the oft-occurring small font bug that causes an eye-catching concept to require drivers to cross four lanes of traffic to identify the product/service/event name.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Random thoughts during a day off

I took the day off. It's a perfect day for a day off: cold, rainy and quiet. The finality of fall is settling in and I'm enjoying it from a reclining chair at Tea Drops. The day's been filled with thinking, and I am going to share some of those thoughts.

1) Woke up, made toast and "read the paper" to see some very sad news. Tim Griffith, longtime manager of Lawrence's Liberty Hall died. Tim was an icon within an institution. I first met Tim when I was a pint-sized actor and performed at Liberty Hall. He took good care of everyone within the walls of LH and from then on, I always made a point of saying hello when I stopped by for a movie or concert. The measure of a man often can be found in what his friends say about him when he's gone. Check out the long line of comments posted to the story (above) on his death. Amazing. I add my good memories and respect.

2) After I finish my drink, I'm going to the music store to play guitars that I will never be able to afford.

3) My right eye is swelling up. I have no idea why.

4) My dog has taken a liking to wrestling with his dog bed. He flings it around and jumps on it and does the dog version of a pile driver. This morning, after a helicopter move, it landed on my bed and Monk jumped up to continue the assault...luring my pillows and comforter into the fight. It was completely out of control, against all tenants of discipline I try to enforce, but awesome to watch.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Strummin' up some recommendations

Last night I went to Prospero's Books to hear a four amazing songwriters: Cindy Woolf, Barclay Martin, Kasey Rausch and Joel Craft. The show was done in a Nashville round, which means each artist plays one song, then the next, down the line, repeat.

I love Prospero's. You can sit for hours, reading and staring at endless used spines. It's also becoming a cornerstone of the Kansas City art scene. Nestled on a corner of the eclectic 39th Street, Prospero's hangs local artists works and hosts intimate concerts frequently.

Above all, I have tremendous respect for artists who put themselves out there. Exhibit, sing, dance, play. These are brave souls. Key to these artists' successes is a place like Prospero's, which brings artists and art lovers together to share an important experience.

On that note - recommendations to start the week:

My Morning Jacket. I've been listening to them for a couple months now and love 'em. The other day I heard a review of their new album, Z, on NPR. MMJ's last album, It Still Moves, is also a favorite.

Josh Ritter. Try Golden Age of Radio first, then move to Hello Starling. He's a master lyricist and his music is incredibly mellow. This is great driving/sleeping/drinking/thinking music.

For those of you in the KC area, my buddy Kyle Moreland will be at the Westport Coffee House on Friday.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Top 10 Reasons for Reading a Newspaper

I read today's newspaper from my couch today. With coffee, a bagel and scrambled eggs and my dog at my feet. The fact that I was reading the news from my laptop, which was perched on the ottoman, makes this post from very relevant. Kudos to Dow Jones' Ken Ficara for coming up with the Top 10 Reasons for Reading a Newspaper - a list that could grow infinitely.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The RFP of the future?

Hugh Macleod posted a challenge to his readers and his readers' friends on gapingvoid: Submit a bottle/label design for winemaker Stormhoek. Winner receives $2,000. The prize money is hardly the reward in participating, as the beauty of this process is collaboration within the Web community and participation in a new process. Designers (Hugh uses this loosely - even I am considering submitting something) are encouraged to add their ideas to his wiki.

This has to prove more fun and efficient than sending an RFP.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The people have spoken

The most comments I've ever received on one of my posts are attached to a post about playing guitar with a drum machine. Astounding. The blog that required minimal research or thought garnered the most responses. I've thrown my hands in the air. I guess it's true: blogs work when they are human and honest (not to mention a open a window for friendly ribbing).

Headed to Lawrence tonight to see Matisyahu. It's going to be good.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Here's a strategy: be real

Seems like a no-brainer: be real. Be yourself. Don't fake it. Unfortunately, this simple act has turned into a head turner, when executed. How sad.

There is no better incubator for the unreal than in politics, which is why my head turned so quickly when I saw Illinois Senator Barack Obama on the Daily Show. Check out the clip, it's a learning experience in the power of wit, personality and transparency.

Obama is about as transparent as a Senator can get in providing his impressions of his freshman year in the Senate. Even better, he utilizes his quick wit and likeability to control the guest opportunity and clearly wins with the audience and hard-to-impress host John Stewart.

How'd he do it? He was real. He smiled. He was funny and nice and all the things that your mother told you to be.

Monday, November 07, 2005

10 buck drum machine and some Shiraz

I bought a keyboard at Target this weekend. Why? Not because I know how to play the piano, but because the little plastic wonder had a drum machine function. It cost me 10 buckaroos, and tonight I would have paid $100 after the fun it incited.

I play the guitar. Mostly mellow stuff: Wilco, Willie, R.E.M. and the occasional try at Journey. But tonight, I was a one-man band with my new mini-keyboard. I turned "You Were Always On My Mind" into a pretty sweet hip-hop tune. I played the first song I learned on the guitar (R.E.M.'s Country Feedback - check out the audio sample) against a samba beat.

Best $10 I've spent in a long, long time.

The American Express/West Wing Home Run

Three things to preface prior to reading this post:
1) I am a West Wing fanatic.
2) I am impatient and do not sit through TV commercial breaks. I flip the channel, stand up, look away, play the harmonica - anything.
3) I am not financially savvy and block out most credit card, retirement planning and college savings program advertisements.

Last night, my parents came over to watch the West Wing's special live episode featuring a debate between presidential candidates Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) and Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits). Great episode for a number of reasons, but what struck me most was the deftly-executed advertising by American Express.

Amex did the ad-industry equivalent of pulling a kitten from a tree by bringing us (yes - you and me!) the episode with "limited interruption." I was immediately thankful to Amex. Amex spokeswoman Ellen DeGeneres introduced the episode, then popped in during and after to pitch the new Amex One card. Executed in traditional fashion, this would have seemed like a transparent, annoying extended advertisement. Amex, however, capitalized on DeGeneres' humor and scatterbrained shtick to make her role conversational, not intrusive.

She came across not as an on-message puppet, but as someone who might do anything, at any moment (live TV). Her take on spending and saving (the basis behind the One card) and her informality in mentioning the product that she pitched was refreshing. Her script even cut her explanation of the card short to start the live episode.

Sure, Amex shelled out a huge sum to dominate the live episode...the terms of the buy might also have had plenty to do with a lengthy debate between the candidates on spending and saving. But, this was perfect-fit advertising. Amex won because of three things: 1) Right forum 2) Understanding how to communicate with the right audience 3) Strong Web presence to finish the job.

Amex integrated the campaign with the episode's content and provided viewers with someone to relate to (DeGeneres), something to relate to (spending vs. saving) and somewhere to go (Web).

In my focus group of three, though, Amex's return was worth its investment. Ma and Pa Woolard and I discussed the One card frequently and tried to figure out how it works. We then followed DeGeneres' prompts and logged on to to vote for the debate's winner. We were able to vote for our winner, then click one of the many ads to find out more about the One card.

When my dad got to work this morning, he went to and voted, then e-mailed me with the results so far: Santos winning 70%-30%.

Kudos to Amex on a job well done.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Put this blog on your radar

My friend Sara started a blog. Why should you care? Because she's an amazing writer, thinker and barometer for what's cool. I've known her since we were in our teens and I still look forward to hearing what she has to say.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Sara.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What is worse than Eminem?

Tough question: What is worse than Eminem? Only a few thoughts can contend with the suckery of Marshall Mathers: bird flu, apocalypse, break ups that end in lost CDs.

After viewing a commercial tonight and running a quick Google search, I found something worse than Eminem: iTunes' new commercial featuring Detroit's finest. Keep in mind, Eminem sued Apple a couple years back claiming a commercial (by TBWA/Chiat/Day) used his song "Lose Yourself" without consent.

Why is the current "Lose Yourself" spot worse than the 8-mile Prophet himself? Simply because the spot has been done before - twice. Once from an old Lugz shoes commercial and then again from Taxi's rather cool spot for the radio station Flow. See for yourself:

View Lugz spot.
View Taxi's spot (go to "what we do" then "by medium/advertising" and "television." Click on the Flow spot.
View current Apple spot.

At least Eminem, in and of himself, is a somewhat original concept.