12 Important Things I’ve Learned in 20 Years as a Soloist

On June 16, 1997, I declared myself “open for business” as a soloist and a brand strategy consultant.  I did this from the desk in my spare bedroom.  I don’t recall thinking, “I’ll be doing some version of this 20 years from now,” but here we are.

I’m very happy with how things have turned out, and I’m proud to have reached this milestone.  Below are 12 things I’ve learned along the way.  I hope they may be of benefit to those of you who are considering working for yourself, or are new to the game. Continue reading “12 Important Things I’ve Learned in 20 Years as a Soloist”

Heinz Just Approved Ads From “Mad Men,” and That’s a Good Thing

Heinz Mad Men Fries Ad

In this case, advertising imitates art.

AdWeek reports that Heinz has approved ads that were originally presented on the TV series Mad Men.

In season 6 of that show, set in 1968, Don Draper pitches a series of print ads to Heinz execs.  The ads are novel in that they don’t show ketchup at all – only foods that are wanting it.  As Don tells the Heinz execs, “The greatest thing you have working for you… is the imagination of the consumer.” Continue reading “Heinz Just Approved Ads From “Mad Men,” and That’s a Good Thing”

On the Practice of Active Positivity


It’s easy to sit on the sidelines, lobbing grenades at those who have done the work and put something out there.

I’m guilty of this myself at times.  I do my best to frame the mistakes of others as lessons for the rest of us, though sometimes I can’t resist making a dig at the truly awful stuff.  It’s not like there’s a shortage of bad branding out there.

But focusing only on the negative won’t make you a better leader.  And it doesn’t work as a philosophy of life. Continue reading “On the Practice of Active Positivity”

The Super Bowl Ads: 9 Inexpensive Lessons for the Rest of Us

Super Bowl Ads Wix

Who won Super Bowl LI? Besides the Patriots, that is.

For starters, Fox did pretty well. Days before the game, a Fox exec crowed, “We are going to finish with the highest revenue day in Fox history.”

When you sell dozens of Super Bowl ads for $10 million per minute, there’s probably a pretty good pizza party in the break room.

So advertisers must have done well too, right? Not so fast. Communicus, a research firm, has conducted several studies of the effectiveness of Super Bowl ads. Their findings? Only about one advertiser in five actually builds its brand.

There’s a danger: Those of us without super-sized marketing budgets might be blinded by the hype. We might be inclined to believe that things like “likeability scores” matter. They don’t. Continue reading “The Super Bowl Ads: 9 Inexpensive Lessons for the Rest of Us”

If You Want Action, Start by Simplifying

Simplifying Stacks of Paper

In my professional career, I have seen, with my own eyes:

  • A binder of over 200 pages meant to explain “our brand idea.”  (“Just absorb these 30,000 words, and you’ll get it.”)
  • A presentation by an agency president to his employees, listing 19 strategic priorities.  (“Our success depends on 19 things!  Memorize them all!  Now get to work, and good luck.”)
  • An 80-page marketing plan.

That last one was my own creation, by the way.  Very early in my career, I mistakenly equated volume with quality.  Fortunately, I had a boss who set me straight.  After patiently allowing me to walk through all 80 pages, he asked a series of smart, pointed questions.  Among them: Continue reading “If You Want Action, Start by Simplifying”

Your Brand Is Not as Great as You Think It Is (And What to Do About That)

Brand Perceptions Cartoon

Here’s a statistic that I wouldn’t believe had I not measured it myself: 100% of my friends are excellent drivers.

I’m serious. You can ask them. Better yet, ask your friends for their assessments of their own driving skills. You’ll probably record a similar number.

I can find you a bunch of statistics like this.

In one survey of university faculty, over 90% rated themselves “above average” in terms of teaching ability. That’s right – 90% of these professors placed themselves in the top 50%. Continue reading “Your Brand Is Not as Great as You Think It Is (And What to Do About That)”