The Worst System in the World

Disclaimer: The following diatribe is likely of no interest to you. Nothing unusual there. What is unusual is that it should be. While it concerns a subject that directly affects only those 43.7% of Charleston AMA members* who pay for their own health insurance, the rest of you are indirectly, though very significantly, affected by what follows, but you’re probably blind to the connection.

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Many members of this august organization are sole proprietors who must secure their own health insurance. Even with new regulations, that can lead to sticker shock when the bill equals the GDP of a small African nation.

The reason for this is that America’s health care system is a Rube Goldberg contraption more complex and demoralizing than the rules of courtship, where the paying customer is rarely the person receiving the service. We abuse our bodies and then consume more care than we need, or is even wise, with dim regard for its cost, driving up the price of service faster than inflation every year since the Boer War.

fit-as-a-fiddle-CTry calling a health care provider and asking how much some procedure will cost. Not only won’t they answer, the question will baffle them. It’s absolutely no wonder that we have the most expensive and over-used health care system on the planet and yet suffer from health conditions hitherto unknown to humankind. We have conflated health insurance with health care, and health care with good health. Eat real food in moderate amounts and break a sweat now and then – there’s your best health plan. (I don’t mean to belittle anyone with a real, unpreventable condition or disease. I’m just noting that the conditions “couch potato” and ‘fast-food consumer” are highly preventable.)

It’s no coincidence that the cost of Lasik surgery has dropped dramatically over the past 20 years while the quality and speed have increased. Why? Because it’s not covered by health insurance, which means customers paying their own way shop for the best price and quality and have forced the providers of that service to compete on those terms.

At the risk of venturing into partisan political territory, this is the reason I’m no great fan of the Affordable Care Act. The problem is not that it distorts the current health care system, as most opponents bemoan, but just the reverse — it’s more of that same appalling system, the worst possible one you could devise. And it’s likely to have as little impact on ever-skyrocketing health care costs as anything else short of scrapping this disastrous system.

A Much Better Idea

Health care would be less expensive, more responsive to customers, higher quality, more focused on prevention, fairer and more cutting-edge if we could ditch the current maze and replace it with a lightly-regulated free-market system disconnected from employment. (I recognize that we would still have to accommodate people without assets, but it’s not as if they are being well-served now.) Under such a system, sole proprietors like you could still insure themselves – against the unexpected and calamitous, the way you buy life insurance, car insurance and homeowners insurance.

The free market is that wondrous creation on the order of the baseball glove, the Oreo and Ronii Bartles. Through all of its inter-locking mechanisms, consumers like you, me and the mayor of Buford, Wyoming (population: one) are empowered to make purchasing decisions that are the best for us. It’s time we applied our best economic device to our most important purchase.

Barry Waldman

 

 

 

*very specific number a total figment of my imagination. It might be more like 9%, what do I know?

In Praise of Marketing Annuities

Most everyone understands financial annuities. The Webster Dictionary defines an annuity (noun) as a fixed amount of money that is paid to someone each year.

I think one of the most undervalued and underrated assets in marketing is the MARKETING ANNUITY. These are the campaigns that last for a long time and become part of the fabric of our culture. Here are a few examples of marketing annuities:

  • ESPN College Football GAME DAY Built by The Home Depot.
    • For 13 years, The Home Depot has been the title sponsor of the popular college football Saturday morning preview show on ESPN. Home Depot enjoys both on-air (TV, radio, digital, social) and on-site branding (signage, set construction, orange branded hard hats, hospitality and VIP seating).
    • Recent surveys have shown Home Depot to be the #1 sponsor in all of college football as recognized and selected by college football fans. In fact, ALL Home Depot does is this show entitlement along with the entitlement of the SEC on CBS games broadcasts.
  • The Coca-Cola Holiday POLAR BEARS
    • Annually, the Coca-Cola Company will include advertising, POS and promotions using their popular Polar Bears. Each year, people look to see how Coke will utilize the bears in their holiday marketing campaign.
  • BMW “The Ultimate Driving Machine”
    • In spite of a variety of agency turnovers and creative changes, BMW has kept the same brand tagline since it was created by Ammirati & Puris back in 1974.
    • The tagline speaks to the performance of the car and the fun of driving the car.
  • The Hallmark Hall of Fame
    • Hallmark Cards of Kansas City annually produces 4-6 made-for-TV movies, brought to with limited commercial interruptions, just before key holidays (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day), when a significant number of greeting cards are purchased. These family friendly feel good movies have won numerous Emmys and other awards over the years.

These marketing annuities continue to build real value each and every year.

So, why don’t more companies create and keep these types of annuity programs? One word — EGO. It’s so hard for the next marketing, brand or advertising leader to accept that the work of the previous person was meaningful. Instead of building upon the previous equities of a campaign, sponsorship or promotion, the new guy (or gal) decides they have to do something entirely different in order to be noticed.

Now, I‘m all in favor of “if it’s not broken, then break it” philosophy, but not at the expense of eliminating annuities that continue to bring value to the brand and its customers and consumers. I suggest we look to “improve upon” rather than eliminate these annuities.

In fact, we all should be looking to create new marketing annuities that will last for years for our clients and our brands. So, check your ego at the door and let’s get to work.

-Rick Jones, CEO of FishBait Marketing 

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

You know that feeling when you’re sitting at a seminar and the world-class expert whom you’ve come to see is recounting the right and wrong way to go about something and it feels as if they’re laser-focused on your dirty little secrets and talking right to you? And they are saying, right to you, the following:

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

They’re preternaturally nice about it, so it doesn’t quite sound like “Wrong, you dumb pile of rat droppings!” but it sure feels that way. You know that feeling?

You know the feeling of sliding slowly down your chair as the speaker recounts, with pungent clarity and heartfelt earnestness, how utterly off-track, you, dumb pile of rat droppings, have been in this endeavor? How, by the end of the presentation, you are looking up at the speaker from a horizontal position with your head resting on the chair in the hopes that no one in the audience notices you’re there in all your glorious wrongheadedness?

Yeah, that feeling.Shauna

Well, I know it. It’s how I felt at the December AMA luncheon, where speaker Shauna MacKenzie, a Certified Image Consultant and founder of Best Kept Self and the Studio for Image Professionals, outlined the do’s and don’ts of self-branding.

I have the same list as Shauna in my fledgling business. The problem is my list is don’ts and do’s. Shauna persuasively argued — (actually, Shauna doesn’t argue. Shauna is way too nice and way too expert to argue. Shauna explains, backed by so much evidence, that she is undoubtedly right. On top of that she’s lovely and sweet and a polished speaker and God, I hate Shauna.) – Shauna argued as if peering into my soul, or at least into my website, that everything I was doing was wrong. Wrong with a capital R.

(Spoiler alert: happy ending!)

So I took notes like a brown-nosing freshman co-ed in Professor Hunky’s history class. And I promptly went home and tore up my website, dragging it from epic suckitude to garden variety mediocrity. I have more Shauna MacKenzie-inspired changes to make, like adding testimonials and publishing content to bolster my expertise.

And you’re about to see one more little Shauna-ism – my real signature at the bottom of this post.

So thanks Shauna, for making me temporarily miserable. And thanks, Charleston AMA, for bringing in a great speaker for our December luncheon, not the first or even third great speaker we’ve enjoyed in 2015, but one particularly suited to the needs of business owners like me.

You can be sure I’ll be at subsequent luncheons to make sure I don’t miss the next Shauna.

Signature

Read This Blog: Be The First On Your Block!

Dear Andrew,

I’m writing personally to you because I know you, among the planet’s eight billion human residents, read my blog andrewposts. Evidently you have a lot of time on your hands. And poor judgment. (That’s Andrew’s grinning mug beside these words. I’m hoping to increase my readership among the ladies…)

(Hi Bryan! You’re the other person who reads my blog!)

And hello to you, stray accessory person who may have stumbled onto my post mistakenly thinking it was one of Erin’s erudite and informative submissions on writing, and have, by some miracle, or an oversight on your part, continued reading.

This is the thing about organizational blogs. They are like social media posts: we think they are a necessary part of life but no one actually pays attention to them. We are, for all intents and purposes, using a global medium to talk to ourselves. Hey look, we got seven likes! Thanks mom and dad!

Ad Agency Blogs — thhhhppp!
I sometimes peruse the blogs of ad agencies, non-profits and others somehow related to my work. Here’s what I notice: outside of their staffs, and occasionally their families, I’m the only other person reading them. You can see by the comments and shares, or lack thereof, that the same six people have read the past year’s installments. And these are the blogs posted by the communication experts.

Many people who work like I do, as consultants, freelancers and sole proprietors, feel the need to promote themselves with a blog. They send it off to everyone on their email list. This helps increase the pool of people who will instantly delete the email.

And yet, we continue to pour resources into this endeavor with the express purpose of fooling the search engine algorithms. We are literally writing for bots. Which is painful to consider because writing a blog is not easy. For one thing, you have to have something to say. That eliminates most of America, including, obviously, me.

Then you have to take the time to write. I’m a writer, so for me this is like brushing my teeth: I can do it several times a week without much trouble.

For other people, this is a Herculean accomplishment that requires planning, focus, dedication and four “5-Hour Energy” drinks. They dread the process of blog writing but know they have to roll one out every single month or else millions of people who currently don’t care will think that the organization or individual has nothing to say.

(Ever the innovator, I use my blog posts to prove that point.)

If You Can Name Your Readers, Stop!
I have for months asked Charleston AMA for the analytics on my blog. They either change the subject – look, a squirrel! – or passive-aggressively promise to do so very soon, certainly by the next time Comet Kahoutek passes through our planet’s orbit.

They are not mean; indeed I believe they are being merciful. Or perhaps practical, assuming they want me to continue posting. They know that if Google reports the number of people reading my posts as: Andrew and Bryan and occasionally some lost soul who quit about halfway through, that I might stop bothering.

So I did an experiment. I slipped into my July 30 post something incendiary. Something designed to provoke howls of protest from outraged personages. It was small and subtle: you had to read the whole post to see it.

Do you know the word “bupkis”? (Spell check doesn’t.) That was the response. Either this blog has a massive following of culturally insensitive people or the echoes of my word bomb were clanging around an empty vessel.

So I occasionally counsel clients to forget about a blog and limit their time on social media. They’re not worth the time and effort because, frankly, no one cares what your printing company/business consulting firm/wounded vet organization has to say. If you really feel the need to blog, reduce it to its essence and post it on Twitter.

And spend the time saved brushing your teeth.

Thanks for reading, my beloved chapter president. And Bryan, if you’re still here.

Your pal,
barry waldman

Charleston AMA Wins Finance Excellence Award

We did it! Our chapter was awarded a 2014-15 Finance Excellence Award. The award was a result of the Chapter Excellence Awards (CEA) document we submit each September. The Chapter Excellence Awards program was established in 1974 to recognize and reward outstanding achievements in leadership, finance, membership, programming, and communications among AMA professional chapters.

Our board worked hard all year to keep track of the chapter’s activities, goals, membership statistics and various other metrics to submit for judging to the AMA headquarters. Congratulations to our chapter leaders and our many members and volunteers who make the Charleston AMA Chapter so outstanding!

The 5 C’s of Effective Copy

Untitled designToday I’m going to talk about the 5 C’s of effective copy. Yes, I know that there are usually only 4 C’s – carat, cut, clarity and color – but that’s for diamonds, and here we’re talking about something even more important: words.

By “effective” copy, I don’t mean clever or cutesy or impressive. I mean copy that persuades and gets prospects and customers picking up the phone. Because that’s what you ultimately want, right? So here goes!

1. Customer-oriented. You’re not writing for yourself. You’re writing for your customer. You have something to sell, something to give, something to explain. Whatever it is, you need to write about it with your customer in mind. Think about the information the customer needs to make a decision about whether your product or service is right for them. Paint the picture of how life will change for the better after doing business with you. Explain how you’re solving a problem. In short, speak to their needs.

2. Clear. I mentioned above that effective copy doesn’t mean clever copy. Clever is the enemy of clear, and it can lead to confusion. And they say a confused mind doesn’t buy. Don’t fill your writing with so many puns and turns of phrase that you muddy up your message. Prospects reading your copy should quickly understand who you are, what you’re selling and why they should buy. Will you win any Clios? No, but you might win some customers, and that’s more important.

3. Concise. Don’t use more words than you need.

4. Conversational. Here’s the simplest trick ever for writing in a conversational tone: think about what you want to write, and then say it aloud. And write that down. Done! This will stop you from writing overly long sentences filled with jargon and $2 words. The truth is, the “business letter” style of writing you probably learned as a kid in English class doesn’t have a solid place in marketing anymore. These days, you can be both conversational and Professional with a capital P at the same time. So don’t be afraid to write as if you’re speaking to a friend.

5. Call-to-action. Okay, this one is a noun, so it doesn’t fit with the rest of the C’s, which is a bummer for me, since I like consistency (another C!). But it’s so crucial to effective copy that I included it anyway. What is your call to action? That is, what do you want people reading your copy – whether on a billboard or in brochure or – to do next? Tell them! “Call this number today.” “Check out this website.” “Click here.” “Buy now.” These are all calls to action. They’re absurdly simple – but effective.

– Erin Danly

Get in touch! Whether you need help with your marketing copy or want a little advice, I’d love to hear from you. You can write me at Erin@LowcountryCopywriter.com.

When Coffee Is Good For You

Against their better judgment — indeed, against any judgment at all — the lords of Charleston AMA recently asked me (and, in a coffedrinkflash of wisdom, Liz Mester of Wings For Kids) to inaugurate the Coffee Talk series for non-profits with a discussion called Showing Is Better Than Telling: Making your case succinctly to all your target audiences.

From what I saw, it was a superb performance. (Thankfully, I didn’t see my own presentation.) Coffee Talks in each category will take place roughly quarterly, (we also have a real estate series) and if the first one was any indication, non-profit marketing is a popular subject. Either that, or I have suddenly become attractive to the ladies. (You know which way to bet.)

If you work in non-profit and missed the presentation, I recommend you time travel backwards a few weeks and catch it live. (Also bet the house on Northwestern minus the points against Duke.) If you’re “too busy” to time travel, or some other lame excuse, here’s a synopsis, which you’ll want to print out, frame and hang on the wall for target practice.

1. Showing is better than telling. Empty claims don’t move people; data, images, pictures and stories make the case vividly. Many non-profits fail to use their powerful stories, vivid pictures and dramatic images because they take some work to obtain. Also it’s easy to just blather.

2. People give to charity because of how they feel, not because of what they think. We give to charity because it makes us feel like the kind of person who helps others, because we want to feel generous, or part of something or connected to an issue. So non-profits should focus on how their potential donors will feel, not what they will think. If presidential campaigns are any indication, thinking isn’t at the top of too many people’s lists.

3. Non-profits, like other businesses, should focus on The One Thing they do. No one needs to know everything your non-profit does, just its unique value proposition – the one thing that makes it different from everyone else. This is rarely represented in the mission statement, which is often written in Klingon. It is captured in good elevator speeches.

4. All good communicating is story-telling…which Liz showed can be accomplished in 35-word newsletter stories and 112-character tweets and zero-word photos. They can even be accomplished in tedious, verbose, trifling blog posts.

Like this one.

Coffee talks are less expensive (free for members, and I was worth every penny), shorter, more narrowly focused, less formal and conducive to more give and take than monthly luncheons. I was even prepared for hecklers, though there was none of that. Unless you count snoring.

Look for the next Non-Profit Coffee Talk in February, subject TBA but almost certain to be scintillating.

The participants in the last one should be recovered by then.

–barry waldman

Revolve Conference – A Conference at the Beach, October 29-30

Picture of Speakers

Revolve Conference, scheduled for this Fall in the Charleston area, is an exceptional opportunity for continued education, networking, training and development in:

  • Marketing
  • Design/UX
  • Business

Taking place at the lovely and inspiring Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms, Revolve welcomes some of the brightest talent (twenty-five speakers announced so far) from across the country to share their expertise on process, creativity, strategy and inspiration. Learn from platform-changing thinkers and disruptive innovators through practical sessions and talks that address the challenges you face today.  

This two-day event provides a compelling agenda, offering attendee-choice breakout sessions on Thursday (Day 1), a mid-event “Party at the Pavilion” at Wild Dunes’ Grand Pavilion on Thursday evening, and inspiring keynote talks from headlining speakers on Friday (Day 2).

Event Details:
Isle of Palms, SC
Venue: Wild Dunes Resort
Date: October 29-30, 2015
Tickets Regular Price after September 18 – $499 (for a 10% AMA Member Discount to Revolve Conference, email info@charlestonama.org)
Register here: http://revolveconference.com/register/

Ad-vertising Naseum

Anyone tuning in to Atlanta Braves games on the radio may have noticed some very odd things – besides a cornucopia of losing. It’s the ads.

After about seven innings — for those of you uninitiated in baseball, an inning is a period of time during which batters open and close their batting gloves 112 times and the third base coach lovingly slaps three teammate’s tushies – it is evident to any sentient listener that the Atlanta Braves radio network has sold a grand total of eight sponsorships for their 162 regular season broadcasts.

butt slapThere are breaks between every half-inning, which means four ads at a time run 18 times during the game, not counting all the time during the pre-game and post-game analysis. (Analysis: You see the way he touched Rodriguez’s derriere over at third base, Bob? That really gave the team the shot of adrenaline it needed to beat the spread.) There are also highly entertaining pitching changes, to slow the blistering pace of contests, and to provide more desperately needed advertising opportunities. By the end of one complete broadcast, each of the sponsors has disseminated its messages to the entire Southeast region something like a dozen times.

Times 162, not including Spring Training games.

You get the idea. Ad nauseam.

Now if I had the opportunity to reach a key listening demographic two thousand times over the course of six months, I might consider offering a couple of different spots. But the masters of advertising in Atlanta have determined that Baseball Man (and Woman, I suppose, though it’s hard to believe there are women this stupid) hasn’t quite caught on after the first 1,500 listens and thus must be subjected to the exact same ditty…again.

“Lookie, lookie, lookie, here comes Cookie: Cook’s Pest Control.” I kid you not.

But wait, I haven’t relayed the worst of it. Two of these spots literally make absolutely no sense. In one, broadcaster Don Sutton notes that to play baseball you need a bat and a ball. It’s the same with phone service. Lots of companies say they have the best this or that but only Verizon has the most reliable 4G service.

Yes, a Fortune 100 company runs this non-sequitur 2,000 times across a quarter of the nation.

Then there is the ad in which a woman remembers fondly her dad teaching her to save for rainy days. Those days when things don’t go your way. But rainy days make you appreciate the sunny days, like when your dad holds his new grandson for the first time. For those sunny days, you need… whatever idiot bank it is that wasted its money on this drivel.

It is baffling how these ads got through the process of production and onto the air. Let’s review:

  • A professional writer had to pen this nonsense.
  • Someone else had to accept it and determine to produce it.
  • A client had to approve it.
  • A variety of talented people had to voice it, record it, edit it, etc.

Did not one of these people mention that the ad they were planning to put on the air two-thousand times was unmemorable and unintentional rubbish? The president of the ad agency? The CEO of Verizon? The bank president? Some random homeless person on the street? Hello?

You may be thinking that the ads worked because I remember them. But I do this for a living. I listen carefully and try to glean something from how the ad was written, produced and aimed at its audience.

Here’s what I learned from these ads: there are people out there working hard (and often, apparently) to make you and me look like freakin’ geniuses. And helping us save for a rainy day.

–barry waldman

 

 

 

Charleston AMA Hosts Crisis Communications Panel

On September 3, The Charleston American Marketing Association will host a luncheon and panel discussion focusing on crisis communications. This educational event will bring together five influential experts from Charleston’s media and public relations industry to share advice and best practices. Marketing professionals, business owners and students at all levels of experience in the Charleston area are invited to attend for fellowship, networking and education. The discussion will empower busy professionals in the Charleston community with the skills and tools they need to guide their organizations through crises. Attendees will learn how to prepare for, respond to and recover from a crisis.

Panelists
Elizabeth Boineau, Owner and Principal, E. Boineau & Company
Matt Sartwell, Municipal Editor, The Post and Courier
Cheryl Smithem, Founder and Principal, Charleston Public Relations & Design
Barbara Vaughn, Director of Media Relations, City of Charleston

Moderator
Jon Bruce, Anchor and Reporter, ABC News 4

Purchase tickets: CAMALuncheon.eventbrite.com