Following the Same Old Timetables

by J.F. McKenna

The other day I mentioned to my father-in-law that the general advancements in advertising—the speed of delivery in particular—haven’t done much to improve advertising in general, much to my regret and others. I myself have engaged in advertising at times, and I figured I’d find a sympathetic ear with dear old dad. I did. He chimed in with, “Yeah, Joe, advertising is instantly worldwide now, but it doesn’t sell any better than it did 40, 50, or 60 years ago.”

That got me to thinking about Daniel Joseph Boorstin and some of his historical scholarship from 40-plus years past. In 1975 I was a newly minted Kent State graduate, with a newspaper job in Cleveland to go along with my journalism major and a history minor. Boorstin himself was a well-established historian and a 1974 Pulitzer winner for his latest book. Moreover, Boorstin was a grand critic of advertising from as early as 17th century England: “Never was there a more outrageous or more unscrupulous or more ill-informed advertising campaign than that by which the promoters for the American colonies brought settlers here.”

With a distinguished pedigree that included Harvard, Oxford, and Yale, Boorstin was named the 12th Librarian of Congress in 1975 and served in that role until 1987; he died in 2004 but lives on in his books and other writing—not just about advertising but about history, canned food, and air conditioning.

As newsman Wayne Green wrote almost three years ago, “Boorstin came to believe that the central features of American history were to be found in what the nation agreed on, not what was fought over. There were disagreements in American history, as Boorstin saw it, but they were within a narrower range than we see in Europe (no royalists, no real socialists) because there is a greater reserve of mutual assumptions in the American experience. This made him a leading light in the so-called Consensus School of history writing and put him in contrast to the Progressives of an earlier era–Fredrick Jackson Turner, Charles Beard, and Vernon Parrington.”

Green also noted: “Rather than looking for revolutionary changes, Boorstin emphasized the continuities of American history. Boorstin was distrustful of doctrinaire thinking. As an undergraduate he toyed with Communism and eventually rejected it soundly. In his histories, he minimalized the role of thinkers, and emphasized the role of problem-solvers. Boorstin was conservative in his politics and his approach to culture. He had disdain for canon-bursting ideas, such as minority study programs. He was a capitalist. He was repulsed by the vulgarities of American life and advertising.”

In his Timetables of History, published in 1975, Boorstin wrote about how the “historian’s neat categories parse experience in ways never found among living people. For people in the past, just as for us, experience has had no academic neatness.” For instance, the Declaration of Independence was issued in the same year as Gibbon’sDecline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. And to facts like that, Boorstin warns, “We must therefore be wary of assuming that because different events occurred in the same year they were known to contemporaries at the same time.”

The flood—a deluge today, actually—“of confused contemporaneity has itself become a dominant and bewildering feature of life in our time,” adds Boorstin.

If you don’t believe him, just watch five minutes of advertising on TV or the Web.

CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor, and marketing-communications consultant. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Steeler Country with their Papillions, Lord Max and Prince Teddy. Reach him at .



By J.F. McKenna

Back in the day when “the next economy” was a matter for grand speculation, management sage Peter Drucker diligently preached the gospel of knowing and understanding “the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.” Simple advice. Timeless in fact.

Fast forward to that next economy, our razzle-dazzle age of social media and viral marketing. We all agree that the breadth and speed of marketing has increased exponentially. But the basics remain rock-solid, starting with knowing today’s customer as well as he was known in Drucker’s 1970s.

Virtually everyone in business, from Cleveland to Chandigarh, embraces customer-focused, customer-sensitive marketing as the first principle in business. Everyone, that is, except Urban Outfitters, which just tried to construct a marketing tactic on the infamous tragedy at Kent State University.

Yes—linking “marketing” and “tragedy at Kent State” in that preceding clause not only boggles the mind of this veteran business writer but also hikes the blood pressure of this KSU graduate. What the hell was Urban Outfitters thinking? Even positing that rhetorical question credits the company with more sense than is deserved.

As The Washington Post—among scores of other press outlets—reported this week, “‘Get it or regret it!’ read the description for a ‘vintage,’ one-of-a-kind Kent State sweatshirt that Urban Outfitters briefly offered for just $129. However, the fact that there was just one available for purchase is far from the most regrettable part of the item: the shirt was decorated with a blood spatter-like pattern, reminiscent of the 1970 ‘Kent State Massacre’ that left four people dead. The sweatshirt, reported by Buzzfeed after a screenshot made the rounds on Twitter, is now ‘sold out,’ according to the site.”

As most northeast Ohioans can tell even the densest marketer on the planet, the Kent State tragedy remains one of the deepest scars of state history—a reminder of a nation torn apart by the Vietnam War and a classic study in the mishandling of public protest. As of today, any form of black humor remains tasteless when it comes to what happened in Kent on May 4, 1970.

But the marketing geniuses of Urban Outfitters were not to be denied a second dance on the graves of the four dead of Kent State, as the Post further related: “As outrage spread, Urban Outfitters issued an apology for the product on Monday morning, claiming that the product ‘was purchased as part of our sun-faded vintage collection.’ The company added that the bright red stains and holes, which certainly seemed to suggest blood, were simply ‘discoloration from the original shade of the shirt and the holes are from natural wear and fray.’ The statement added: ‘We deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively.’”

How else could it be perceived?

Dean Kahler was paralyzed by Ohio National Guard bullets that spring day 44 years ago. He said the sweatshirt “shows the continued lowbrow of Wall Street, and Urban Outfitters continues to perpetuate a low standard of ethics.” He spoke for a lot of Ohioans and many more Americans. And he spoke to any business that considers today’s marketing a high-tech parlor game played for cheap laughs.

The university itself said “this item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today. We invite the leaders of this company as well as anyone who invested in this item to tour our May 4 Visitors Center, which opened two years ago, to gain perspective on what happened 44 years ago and apply its meaning to the future. 

Urban Outfitters should consider accepting that invitation as its next, and its best, marketing move.


J.F. McKenna, a graduate of KSU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, has worked as a reporter, business editor and communication specialist. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. His online work also appears on the site Steinbeck Now. A native of Cleveland, he and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at .

LinkedIn: Your Horn Toot Heard ‘Round the World

By J.F. McKenna

A generation ago, street-wise columnist Jimmy Breslin declared that “If you don’t toot your own horn, there is no music.” Today, I suspect, the former New York columnist and sly curbside philosopher would double-down on that dictate, pointing out that “LinkedIn not only lets you toot but hands you the rhythm section.”

Get past the palaver on and about social media—you know, KiKi’s big Facebook doggie birthday and so forth—and you have to marvel at the IT tools redefining marketing, especially business-savvy personal branding. Like plenty of others, I can see Breslin punching up LinkedIn in every sense of the expression.

If you don’t believe me, ask Jessi Hempel, whose uber-flattering profile of LinkedIn takes the star turn in Fortune magazine’s current issue. “In the past year LinkedIn has emerged as one of the most powerful business tools on the planet,” Hempel writes. No longer a staid high-tech resume library, LinkedIn now owns the hottest corner of the marketplace for career-hunting talent; likewise, it’s the digital destination for opportunistic businesses who know LinkedIn users, as Hempel reports, “are building professional portfolios that showcase their best work, from publications to videos to PowerPoint presentations.” Why, even the already gainfully employed, such as management maven Jack Welch, are frequenting the site as so-called LinkedIn Influencers. What’s not to like?

For sure much of the global village likes it. Upwards of 140 million visit the site each month. And since its 2011 IPO, the company boasts stock and revenue numbers that redefine Digital Age success. As Fortune reports, year-over-year revenue rocketed 86 percent in 2012—to $972 million.

“And this is just the beginning,” Hempel predicts. “As it reaches critical mass, LinkedIn is becoming the dominant global forum for businesses of all kinds.”

LinkedIn has already proved a great advantage for many of us online earthlings, critical mass aside. The site has reinvented the saying “You’re known by the company you keep,” offering a venue for name-dropping that no cocktail party or private gym can provide today or tomorrow. Go figure, some people are much more inclined to take professional opinions seriously when global CEOs, cable pundits and political philosophers are among one’s LinkedIn connections.

And the connections keep on coming, if you like. Cleveland Business Review finds LinkedIn an expeditious way to transform readers into contributors’ connections. CBR founder Doug Magill and I pitch the latest CBR columns on our individual profiles and then watch as readers hook up. That noted, we’re on the lookout for still more.

So is LinkedIn. Founder Reid Hoffman and CEO Jeff Weiner told Fortune that their always-improving social network is a business enterprise without peer, and that they plan to keep it that way. As the ultimate global job-hiring hall, LinkedIn points to the fact that nearly 65 percent of its membership is outside the United States.

Like Coke, LinkedIn understands the value inherent in refreshment. “In effect,” Hempel writes, “Weiner and Hoffman have built a data company that’s more reliable because users update the information themselves.”

For folks with the creds, LinkedIn is the winning proposition writ digitally, a well-watched 24-7 billboard for goals and accomplishments. If there is any downside to this technological intimacy, it’s a downside for traditional headhunters and related middlemen. They may soon become an endangered class.

Of course that may not be so bad, as I discovered only last week. The world of LinkedIn is one that values honest, fulsome content above all—who you are, what you know, what you’ve done and what you can bring to the next business party. During a casual conversation, a professional headhunter cavalierly dismissed this pragmatism as obvious, saying “content is just ‘jacks or better to open.’” Hardly, I thought to myself. Then I figured that this fellow had probably never faced a cranky editor or a demanding marcom client. For them content is everything. Or as horn-tooting virtuoso Jimmy Breslin might tell him, “Content, pal, is three aces in your hand, every time.”

The headhunter will figure that out once he clicks on Linkedin.

 CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, communications consultant and former editor of the national manufacturing magazine Tooling & Production. He has chased stories throughout the country and as far away as Japan, Israel and that most exotic of financial lands, Wall Street. Reach him at or through his LinkedIn profile: Jos. F. McKenna.


Editor’s note: An earlier version erroneously indicated that author-journalist Jimmy Breslin is deceased. Far from it: he is actually writing a new novel. The error was solely J.F. McKenna’s, and McKenna apologizes to Mr. Breslin, his family and his legion of readers.


Pepsi Santa and Plucky Pirates Find Success

By J.F. McKenna

Pardon my French, but the business world could show a little more le coup d’oeil de genie.

The same nation that gave the world entrepreneurship — from the verb to undertake — also coined the expression “the stroke of the eye of genius.” Typically, the expression is military parlance, shorthand for quickly sizing up the tactical advantage. Let me add a touch of American improvement and say that le coup d’oeil de genie implies not only recognition but application of an advantage.

Business is hammered between sagging economic conditions and pernicious government interference. But smart companies don’t patiently wait for business cycles to improve or for Uncle Sam to fashion over-regulated rescues. They eye their individual circumstances and, to use a street-smart Yankee expression, “make their own breaks.”

Pepsi is the latest case in point. The soft-drink manufacturer just created Christmas in July for itself. Having lost competitive ground to Coke and Diet Coke, Pepsi is challenging a decades-old relationship between its top competitor and Father Christmas. (If you don’t easily recall the painterly ads of St. Nick swigging Coke by the holiday tree, you have missed a lot of classic Christmases. Click on: .)

In a new commercial, vacationing Santa orders Pepsi from an astonished tiki bar vendor.

“Make it a Pepsi,” Santa says.

“But, Santa,” says the bemused soda-tender, “I thought you had a deal with…you know.”

In a tone both jolly and conspiratorial, Santa replies: “I’m on vacation. Havin’ a little fun.”

Santa’s elves get the last word in this clever commercial. “Naughty,” the first says. His cohort replies: “But nice.”

Ingenious, too. The lighthearted commercial makes you smile. It also repositions Pepsi in your mind, taking a page straight from Al Ries and Jack Trout’s classic Positioning. “For a repositioning strategy to work,” the authors write, “you must say something about your competitor’s product that causes the prospect to change his or her mind, not about your product, about the competitor’s product.”

Voila! le coup d’oeil de genie.

Watch for more buzz about Pepsi Santa and for the advertising mavens’ christening of The Pepsi Regeneration.

Meanwhile, my favorite National League diamond cutters are doing much the same. After 18 consecutive losing seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise is washing some color out of the Red Sox in intra-league play and winning back scores of fans every time a game is played in PNC Park.

Give a lot of the credit not only to the front office but also to new manager Clint Hurdle, the former Colorado Rockies skipper who leads with an out-of-the-batters-box attitude every day.

“Years of free-agent defections and draft-day busts turned the Pirates from pennant winners into perennial losers,” Seth Livingstone writes in this week’s USA Today Sports Weekly. “But 2011 has been different. Despite injuries…Hurdle has transformed a team that won 57 games last year into a band of believers who are daring to dream beyond the elusive .500 threshold.”

Hurdle grasps that tactical advantage starts with attitude. “My goal,” he says, “is to be a small part of a group of men trying to make a difference here and rebound a city with a baseball team.”

If you’re scoring at home, the appropriate abbreviation is LCDDG — le coup d’oeil de genie.

Those are just two current examples. There are others. And there is no reason the next one can’t come from your company. As the great Peter Drucker once remarked, “It is not size that is an impediment to entrepreneurship and innovation; it is the existing operation itself, and especially the existing successful operation….Operating anything — a manufacturing plant, a technology, a product line, a distribution system — requires constant effort and attention.”

And that essential dash of le coup d’oeil de genie.


J.F. McKenna is a veteran business journalist and communications specialist. Reach him at . To view the Pepsi commercial click on: .

Celebrating Advertising’s Patron Saint

By J.F. McKenna

As an advertising executive, David Ogilvy never stood on ceremony.

He stood for results, all the time.

Kenneth Roman, in the definitive biography to date, recounts Ogilvy’s one-man war against industry self-congratulation. First, Ogilvy banned his legendary agency from entering any more contests. Then advertising’s celebrated iconoclast launched his in-house David Ogilvy Award in 1970.

“The winner received a small red plaque and $10,000 cash,” Roman chronicles in The King of Madison Avenue (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). “’If you, my fellow copywriters or art directors, want to win the award,’ he admonished the troops, ‘devote your genius to making the cash register ring.’ Making the cash register ring joined the agency’s lexicon.”

That anecdote is representative of Ogilvy’s style: his life and his work bore what he himself called “the burr of singularity.” David Mackenzie Ogilvy was an original, and he never tired of leveraging that status. As Michael Wolff describes him in the current Ad Week, Ogilvy “was the most famous businessman of his generation, one that went from shortly after the Second World War through the 1960s. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to put him, in his time, on the level of Steve Jobs in ours.”

Were Ogilvy alive, he would be pleased, if amused, by the current fanfare tied to the centenary of his birth. At the same time, the calculating contrarian would surely decry any somber moment of silence on June 23. Now dead a dozen years, the acknowledged “Father of Modern Advertising” would hector from his grave: “Just hit those keyboards and create some copy. Fashion designs worthy of the product. Create messages that sell.”

Actually, that very attitude is why 21st century advertising and its cousins celebrate Ogilvy’s life and legacy. Businesses still demand results, and many business leaders tell today’s “mad men” and marketing wise guys to follow Ogilvy’s lead.

“There are very few men of genius in advertising agencies,” Ogilvy observed decades ago. “But we need all we can find.” By the time Ogilvy said that, the industry had recognized the Scot-Irish ad man as a messaging mahatma and a success story like few others.

Ogilvy had moved from Oxford student to a series of careers, including door-to-door salesman and restaurant worker in France, before immigrating to the United States in 1938. He worked for George Gallup and even won praise while serving Britain’s Intelligence Service in Washington during World War II. His early entrepreneurial adventures set up his 1948 founding of Hewitt, Ogilvy, Benson & Mather (now Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide). As the agency boasts on its Web site today:

Thirty-three years later, he sent the following memo to one of his partners:

Will Any Agency Hire This Man?

He is 38, and unemployed. He dropped out of college.
He has been a cook, a salesman, a diplomatist and a farmer.
He knows nothing about marketing and had never written any copy.

He professes to be interested in advertising as a career (at the age of 38!) and is ready to go to work for $5,000 a year.

I doubt if any American agency will hire him.

However, a London agency did hire him. Three years later he became the most famous copywriter in the world, and in due course built the tenth biggest agency in the world.

The moral: it sometimes pays an agency to be imaginative and unorthodox in hiring. 

Imaginative and unorthodox, most certainly. Imaginative and unorthodox enough to introduce the now iconic “Man in the Hathaway Shirt,” eye patch and all. To enlist Commander Whitehead to defend Schweppes’ market share around the globe. To create what has been called advertising’s most enduring automotive headline: “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”

Biographer Roman, who worked with Ogilvy, acknowledges that Bill Bernbach had a greater influence on advertising standards than Ogilvy. But Ogilvy, Roman adds, took top marks for championing brand image and for preaching ethics and good taste. Ogilvy was quoted as saying, “I admire people with gentle manners who treat other people as human beings.”

The title “Father of Modern Advertising” may be in dispute; Ogilvy’s election to industry patron saint is not.

Also indisputable is the richness and durability of the aphorisms Ogilvy left the business word. Here is a sampler of my favorites:

If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.

There is no better yardstick for advertising or marketing-communications.

Advertising is a business of words, but advertising agencies are infested with men and women who cannot write. They cannot write advertisements, and they cannot write plans. They are helpless as deaf mutes on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.

As I scan the marketplace, I see that Ogilvy’s indictment remains in force. As Roman writes, “Ogilvy was, above all, a writer, and his agency had a writing culture.” As far as great commercial copy is concerned, such culture teeters toward extinction.

Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your family to read. You wouldn’t tell lies to your own wife. Don’t tell them to mine.

Another argument in support of Ogilvy’s canonization. More important, though, it is sidewalk-smart advice.

The most important word in the vocabulary of advertising is TEST. If you pretest your product with consumers, and pretest your advertising, you will do well in the marketplace.

Allow me to add this critically important Ogilvy corollary: “I notice increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgment; they are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support rather than for illumination.”

There are many more such gems. (To access some of them, click on: .) My absolute favorite is this one, drawn from the baseball world and worthy of adoption by anyone in business:

Don’t bunt. Aim out of the ball park. Aim for the company of immortals.

Ogilvy’s kind of company.

J.F. McKenna is a veteran business journalist and communications specialist. Reach him at .

A Classic Cure for Today’s Marketing Myopia

By J.F. McKenna

The slightly worn trade paperback was wedged between newer hardbound business books. The title, in white lettering on the book’s black spine, was the gleam from a gold nugget — Positioning.

“You’ll never guess what I just found,” I told Lady Carol, my favorite fellow bibliophile. “An early paperback edition of Al Ries and Jack Trout’s best-known marketing book. It’s a classic.”

Carol was dutifully happy for my discovery. More than once had she allowed me to relate how a downtown restaurant had nearly ejected Trout and me from its premises. The marketing expert and I were too loud and demonstrative during a lunchtime interview in the early 1990s. A raconteur’s raconteur, Trout was promoting his and Ries’ latest effort, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. I was covering the marketing beat for Industry Week magazine and fully intended to enjoy every moment of Trout’s tutorial. Much to our server’s dismay.

As I gladly plunked down a mere four bits for my library-sale treasure last week, I recalled that Positioning is 30 years old. Likewise, I realized that Ries and Trout’s book indeed typifies the true classic. There have many advances in marketing en masse over the past three decades; some have proved better than others. The ideas in Positioning endure.

Today, too many marketers equate the application of stand-alone Web-marketing tools with the execution of a long-term strategy for winning customers. Graft on a lead-generation package here. Toss in the weekly blog there. Voila! marketing success. Reading Positioning is a sure cure for much of what I consider contemporary marketing myopia.

“There are just too many products, too many companies and too much marketing noise,” Ries and Trout wrote in 1981. That analysis might easily be found in text affixed to a website only last week. The market, just like human nature, hasn’t intrinsically changed because of 24/7 access on the Internet. (To quote my Uncle Leo, gentleman farmer and part-time philosopher, “the electric milker has saved some time, but the efforts by cow and farmer remain essentially the same.”)

Accordingly, any social-media maven would do well to consider the nicely aged wisdom of Ries and Trout:

“Positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.

“Not that positioning doesn’t involve change. It often does. But changes made in the name, the price and the package are not really changes in the product at all. They’re basically cosmetic changes done for the purpose of securing a worthwhile position in the prospect’s mind.”

From there, the authors expand on such concepts as “getting into the mind” and learning to reposition when competing with Numero Uno in the field. Their thoughts on repositioning are particularly valuable. According to Ries and Trout, “You can go around, under or over, but never head to head.” The dynamic duo of marketing supplements their guidance with many hard-learned examples from the business world.

Ries and Trout have gone their separate ways. You’ll find Ries ( working with daughter Laura and writing a column for Advertising Age. Trout ( labors from a Connecticut home base. Still, much like Mantle and Maris in 1961 baseball, they will never shed their conjoined reputation as the creators of Positioning. Nor should they.

Since 1993, my one-time lunch companion has continued to proselytize about taking the straight and sure path to marketing success. In a 2008 Forbes column, Trout pointed out that “researchers don’t get paid for simplicity. Instead, they seem to get paid by the pound.” He added: “People often talk one way but act another. Mark Twain nailed it when he observed: ‘You can’t get the truth out of someone until they are dead and dead a long time.’ What you really want to get is a quick snapshot of the perceptions that exist in the mind. Not deep thoughts, not suggestions. What you’re after are the perceptual strengths and weaknesses of your competitors, as they exist in the minds of the target group of consumers.”

To the myopic in marketing today — those supremely, if erroneously, confident that the latest social-media tools alone with earn them professional kudos — let me offer Ries and Trout’s parting shot from their classic:

“In our over-communicated society, the name of the game today is positioning.

“And only the better players are going to survive.”

J.F. McKenna is a veteran business journalist and communications specialist. Reach him at .

Wrapping Up Business With Technology

By Doug Magill

It’s hard not to notice David Marinac.  Physically an imposing man, he also has sizable innate exuberance and vitality that adds life to any room he enters.  His enthusiasm for his business can dominate any conversation.

Then ask him about the Lake Erie Crushers and he becomes positively eloquent. Although he doesn’t get paid much for his work, his booming voice as the team’s PA announcer gets the home town crowd going.

A Pittsburgh native, David felt that there were many similarities with Cleveland so he decided to begin his business in Northeast Ohio after attending Bowling Green State University.  Finding his calling in the packaging business, he founded ABC Systems which was, as he describes it, “a combination between an expediter and a movie producer!”

The company would provide whatever services a client needed that more or less related to the packaging business.  This could include such things as cleaning reusable packaging, finding parts baskets, sourcing bubble wrap, ordering steel shelving and a host of other products and services.  His sales methodology was similar to other established businesses and included cold-calling and traditional media.

While the company prospered, David was nonetheless disturbed by the increasing costs and shrinking margins of the business.  He didn’t feel his business was distinctive, and was unlikely to be a dominate player.

On a whim, he entered a business plan contest in Inc. magazine.  His entry was accepted, and he found himself in a three-year entrepreneurial master’s program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) called Birthing of Giants.  The program was co-sponsored by the Young Entrepreneurs Organization (Now Entrepreneurs Organization).  Sixty-four students from around the world were part of his class, which included some high-profile business people.

Based on the things that he learned at MIT, he decided to re-develop his business.  Realizing that the Internet offered enormous opportunities for leverage, his business became ABC Packaging Direct.  Aggressively changing his marketing and customer service orientation, he dramatically reduced overhead and began to narrow his focus to custom-packaging.

His marketing strategy involves positioning his company and the suppliers he represents as readily searchable on the Internet.  Industry publications, press releases, web seminars, custom videos and blogs all serve as catalysts to drive traffic to his website.

The web site is the linchpin of his methodology.  Once there, prospects can interact immediately with live operators who pre-qualify companies and projects.  His talented and hard-working staff then can focus on qualified leads, where they can design and sell solutions via interactive Internet meeting technology.  This drastically reduces the selling and initial design time for a project, and allows custom solutions to be completed in record time frames.

“ABC Packaging Direct,” he says, “is the only company in the industry operating this way.”

Venturing into the custom printing arena of the packaging business, he used a California company to supply his needs.  Deciding to investigate the company, David discovered that it really didn’t do the manufacturing itself, but out-sourced to China.

Working with a translator to see if he could deal directly with Chinese suppliers, David realized he was in an area where he needed help. Leery of floundering with cultural issues and afraid of going it alone he found a contact in Hong Kong who has been invaluable in helping navigate the complexities of international business.

After travelling to China himself, David has successfully transformed his company to a lean and focused company that is actively developing new markets and is positioned to compete no matter where potential business may present itself.

His experience is certainly applicable to a number of companies here in northeast Ohio who struggle to survive in a time of tight margins and difficulties in competing globally.  Some findings:

  • Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself if what you are doing isn’t working.
  • Relentlessly focus on driving down overhead.  ABC Packaging Direct does not have a central office.  Travel is avoided unless there is a difficult problem with an established client that can only be solved with a face-to-face meeting.
  • Aggressively pursue the use of Internet marketing.  A web site is now a primary part of a comprehensive marketing plan.  Driving traffic there is a science that involves many techniques including social media.  And, that is where advertising dollars are now flowing as online ad spending breaks records every year and will surpass all print media by 2013.
  • Embrace technology to manage clients and keep costs down.  ABC Packaging Direct uses Internet telephony, which enables any employee anywhere to act as if they are at a central office.  And, a centralized CRM system tracks all client contacts and projects and is accessible by any employee anywhere.
  • Know where the value-added component of your profit lies and enhance that.  David knows that his greatest strengths are project and design management and speed of solution.
  • Don’t compete where you can’t win.  The custom packaging market is big, and growing, and suppliers who can provide fast and professional solutions on limited runs will achieve dominance.  The standard packaging arena is controlled by large companies that can achieve profitability on minuscule margins.  Scale works there, and small players can’t even get in the door.
  • Embrace outsourcing if it allows you to control the value-added portion of your supply chain.  By working with oversees manufacturers, David knows that he can provide quality solutions at prices that cannot be touched by domestic manufacturers.  And, it allows him to drive to dominate the niche he is in.

For more information about David Marinac and ABC Packaging Direct, go to


 Doug Magill is a consultant who also does freelance writing and voice-over work.  He can be reached at

Now Performing: Peter Drucker and the Grateful Dead

By J.F. McKenna

Peter Drucker and the Grateful Dead each became global legends playing the song of the customer.

The Austrian-born “father of modern management” and the California-bred rockers could not seem more different. But a closer look reveals a kindred commitment. For many businesses, the customer is an elusive “concept”; for Drucker and the Dead, customers are revered as the actual engines of the social exchange called business. The connection between guru and band became obvious as I read David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan’s book, Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead (John Wiley & Sons).

Drucker, a prolific author who died in 2006 at 95, spent the better part of his career telling disciples that there was “only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.” Drucker put the customer at the center of the business universe and constantly reminded his students and his readers that “what the customer buys and considers value is never just a product. It is always a utility, that is, what a product and service does for him.” An original thinker who grasped the elasticity of ideas, Drucker called himself a “social ecologist.”

The Grateful Dead members were similarly original. They stretched themselves as musicians and as marketing pioneers, performing for their Deadheads from 1965 to 1995. “The Beatles were why we turned from a jug band into a rock ‘n’ roll band,” said Dead member Bob Weir. “What we saw them doing was impossibly attractive. I couldn’t think of anything else more worth doing.” This so-called reformed jug band then took an eclectic music style in all-new directions for their fans, introducing such innovations as The Wall of Sound electronic system. As Deadheads still proclaim, the band owned unchallenged bragging rights: There is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.

“The Grateful Dead is one huge case study in contrarian marketing,” Scott and Halligan write in their quirky, yet strategically solid, marketing text. Today, the authors add, the band “teaches us that business-model innovation is just as important, if not more so, than product innovation.” The Grateful Dead bypassed the sell-albums-first approach to the music “business”; rather, the boys in the band took a page from Drucker, who preached knowing and understanding the customer “so well that the product or service fits him and sells the service.”

Toward that end, Scott and Halligan observe, “the concert-as-business-model worked, and the Dead created a passionate fan base that became an underground cult that catapulted the Grateful Dead into the rock-and-roll stratosphere.”

Peter Drucker and the Grateful Dead sang out of the same hymnal, so to speak, in terms of two primary functions, marketing and innovation. Scott and Halligan chronicle how their favorite band fully appreciated the Deadheads, allowing them to tape performances and working ceaselessly to keep them a part of the product. Jerry Garcia and his fellow musicians were functionally Web 2.0 long before the O’Reilly Media conference played midwife to that expression in 2004.

“Making fans an equal partner in a mutual journey, the Grateful Dead teaches us that our community defines who we are,” Scott and Halligan write. “In an era of instant communication on Twitter, blogs and the like, we learn that companies cannot force a mindset on their customers.”

In his 1974 classic, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, Drucker wrote that innovation exists side by side with marketing. “It is not enough for the business to provide just any economic goods and services; it must provide better and more economic ones,” he declared. “It is not necessary for a business to grow bigger; but it is necessary that it constantly grow better.”

I can almost see the Deadheads nodding in agreement.

Anyone with a serious commitment to business success would benefit from reading Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead. Who knows? That may lead straight to an encounter with Drucker’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship or The Effective Executive.

Even better—reading a little Drucker with Terrapin Station playing in the background.

J.F. McKenna is a veteran business journalist and communications specialist. Reach him at .

Big Ideas and Direct Storytelling Keep Marketing Alive and Well

By J.F. McKenna

When I was an apprentice reporter, my editors repeatedly reminded me to “never bury the lead.”

The formula for newspaper success was simple. Find the heart of the story. Tell it straight. Send the copy to the desk.

Pretty simple, eh? Amazing how many fellow reporters–and this sometimes stubborn staff writer, truth be told–struggled with the time-tested journalistic algorithm.

But once on target, success was ensured. The right story delivered, the maximum number of eyeballs captured.

Over the years, I have transferred that lesson to marketing-communications. The ROI remains the same.

Find the real message. Tell it well. Win over the customer.

Surprisingly, many of today’s “mad men” still struggle with the formula. Much to their clients’ regret. In many cases, they even enlist the latest social-media tools to expertly “bury the lead.”

Too bad my crusty editors of past days are not around. They wouldn’t know a tweet from a click-through rate, but they would spot a messaging undertaker instantly. And they would know how to fix a weak story even faster.

The same can be said about the grand old man of advertising, David Ogilvy.

The business world, particularly the Young Turks of marketing today, are paying renewed attention to Ogilvy, who died in 1999. He lives on through his own books and the work of his able disciples. A Scotch-Irish polymath, Ogilvy was a genius who put all his stock in direct truth-telling.

Ogilvy understood the basic metric of successful marketing: “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”

Back in February, Success magazine’s Emma Johnson wrote a delightful paean to “The Original Mad Man.” Ogilvy’s philosophy, Johnson wrote, “was to hit on what he called the ‘Big Idea’–one he executed with gorgeous photographs, direct headlines in big type, and an emphasis on giving viewers plain information about the product.”

Like my editorial mentors, Ogilvy never allowed the real message to be lowered into the ground and covered up.

Success was his, as captured eyeballs and phenomenal sales attested. Ogilvy’s clients ranged from Shell Oil to Lever Brothers and from Campbell soup to Rolls-Royce.

An outspoken champion of vigorous research and ethical behavior, Ogilvy never fell into the trap that the message or the medium was greater than the product or the service. As he reminded his colleagues, “advertising reflects the mores of a society, but it does not influence them.”

Allan Adamson, author of BrandSimple (Palgrove Macmillian), is a spiritual descendent of Ogilvy’s. In his book on branding management, he writes: “I was fortunate enough to start my career at Ogilvy & Mather in the late 1970s….[There] was one thing that stuck with me more than anything else—the need to identify a simple but meaningful idea on which to base your brand and then to create and transmit the branding signals necessary to bring the idea to life.”

Ignore the big idea today and no amount of Web analytics and keyword targeting will save you.

Take it from this writer and editor–“bury the lead” and it will be your funeral with clients and customers.


J.F. McKenna is a veteran business journalist and communications specialist. Contact him at .

Welcome to the Smaller, Smarter Cleveland

By J.F. McKenna

Cleveland needs a new tagline, a snappy verbal signature for residents and prospective residents alike.

When I was a kid, Cleveland labeled itself “The Best Location in the Nation.” That slogan was positively poetic. Of course, robust steel mills, three-shift car plants and stabile neighborhoods underscored the fact that the tagline was more than just words with an echo.

I’m no longer 16, and my hometown is no longer a Midwestern municipal giant, economically or demographically. In fact, the latest census numbers show that Cleveland’s population has dropped below 400,000. The city that once boasted the addresses of Bob Hope and John D. Rockefeller has sagged in size. Over time, it has watched many of its residents join the supporting cast of Bob and Rocky’s “The Road to Outtahere.”

But fear not. I have written taglines professionally, and I have a great one for the city’s consideration and approval.

Cleveland—Smaller, But Smarter.

Now all we have to do is back up those words.

The same day I learned of Cleveland’s woefully successful population diet, I read an interview with Ed Glaeser, the Harvard urban economics expert and Manhattan Institute senior fellow. Like me, Glaeser is an incurable optimist when it comes to cities and their value.

“Overall,” Glaeser told National Review Online, “the main thing that explains which cities will be able to reinvent themselves is the skill level. The proportion of the population with college degrees as of 1960 or 1970 does a decently good job of predicting urban reinvention.

“If there’s a second characteristic that matters,” he continued, “it’s average firm size: Places with small firms tend to do better than places with big firms. I interpret this as having to do with the benefits of a local culture of entrepreneurship and innovation. People want different things out of their cities. One of the glories of America is that we have a panoply of choices of locations. And plenty of people are still going to prefer the conveniences of living in a mid-sized city to living in New York or Chicago, which have hyper-charged productivity, but also have the downside of mass urban agglomeration.”

See. My tagline can work. Cleveland is already halfway there. It’s definitely smaller. Now it just has to get smarter.

For openers, Cleveland needs to work with Gov. John Kasich to put out a new welcome mat to businesses. Ask any smart businessman to articulate his primary concern about establishing a corporate footprint or enlarging an existing one. The word “taxes” always finds its way to the front of the first sentence.

For-profit operations like to think in terms of ROI, not TAX. Gov. Kasich, Mayor Jackson & Co. might even borrow an idea or two from our neighbors to the north.

“Finally, Michigan’s business tax structure is getting the radical makeover it deserved years ago,” Detroit News columnist Daniel Howes wrote recently. “In one sweeping proposal, Michigan’s CEO is seeking a tax overhaul that would cut business taxes roughly 50 percent, exempt some 95,000 small businesses from even filing a state tax return and transform a Great Lakes laggard into a leader. That may not guarantee robust job creation in the years ahead, but it won’t hurt.”

Why should Detroit enjoy urban resurrection alone? Cleveland has just as much to offer. And Cleveland’s football team is better—really.

Next, Cleveland has to ensure it has the infrastructure to convince businesses that “a stake on the Lake” is smart investing. Municipal basics—from public safety to well-kept highways—attract and keep commerce within corporation limits and, in turn, generate jobs and wealth. Accordingly, the city fathers need to begin a serious audit of the municipal infrastructure, with a commitment to fix what is broken or out of date.

Casinos may be considered a good deal, but safe streets and reliable resources are always the smart bet.

Speaking of the smart bet, I once again find myself at Cleveland’s school door. No city, of any size, can be successful without a feeder system for its business community.

As I wrote in an earlier column (“Cleveland’s Future Will Take More Than Talk”), “a person must learn to walk before he or she can run. Particularly in Cleveland, workforce training starts with a strong basic education. When Eugene Saunders bailed out as the Cleveland schools’ CEO in January, the graduation rate was 54 percent. Such a dismal statistic does not a future make. Workforce development will have to begin long before the future workers get anywhere near the doors of Cleveland State University or Cuyahoga Community College.”

Deal with taxes, ensure top amenities and deliver a ready workforce. If Cleveland does that, my tagline meets all truth-in-advertising standards.

And reflects a working 21st century Cleveland.

J.F. McKenna is a veteran business journalist and communications consultant. Reach him at .