Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Remember - It's Just a Ride

The world is like a ride in an amusement park and when you choose to go on it, you think it's real because that's how powerful our minds are....don't be afraid, EVER - it's just a ride....Bill Hicks

I know I said I had posted my last post for 2010.  And then this little gem cropped up and man, does it seem like a good day to post this.

Bill Hicks was a brilliant comedian. Cancer knocked him off this ride a few years ago but his words live on.  Mr. Hicks is not for the faint of heart and this is probably the only G-rated clip I know of.  But it sums up the genius that was Bill.

Remember, you have nothing to fear.

It's just a ride.

Best to all of you in this coming year.

Here is the link for those of you who can't see the video - It's Just a Ride

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Greg Behrendt Gave Me the Best Compliment EVER

"Cuz I feel like I have 39, 40, 41, 42 year old brothers and sisters who also rock. I know that I do, I know I do! I have seen them, tattooed and pierced at the Pottery Barn!" - Greg Behrendt, comedian

Short of It
  • Are those...?
  • Those are....?
  • Those are Doc Martens?!?!
  • Those ARE Doc Martens!
  • THOSE are Doc Martens.
  • The boots, the black jeans, the flannel...
  • It's like I'm looking at Janeane Garofalo straight outta' the 90s...
The Long of It

Best. Compliment. Ever.

Soooo, the story goes like this -

Almost a year ago, I happened to be hanging out after a show at the Punch Line in Sacramento because Ms. Sandra Giarde, CAE had a transaction to complete with Mr. Behrendt involving a Twitter conversation and a box of Keebler pretzel crackers ('re just gonna have to trust me on this one.....).

As we headed out to the parking lot for the Great Cracker Exchange of 2010, I was schlepping along in usual anti-fashion fashion, avoiding eye contact, trying desperately to blend into the crowd and not appear "groupie-esque."

That's when Greg noticed my boots and his genuinely enthusiastic outburst was sublime.  Now, really, I do not know the man, don't claim to know the man - I just enjoy the laughs.  I take what he gives, tuck the best biscuits into my little container o' funny and go on about my day. But for one moment - a perfect stranger ....understood...(two things are important about this.  The first is this happened a year ago and it is still meaningful.  The second is the fact that someone thinks I resemble Janeane Garofalo which is fantastic because  I LOVE her.)

You see, I am all serious and grown up except for my appearance.  Maybe it's a Generation X thing.  Maybe there was no transition to "adult" clothing because we were adults at 12.  Maybe it was because I grew up in the Pacific Northwest.  Whatever it is - I am a fashion disaster.  If there was an "What Not to Wear - the Association Special," Stacy and Clinton would be knocking on my door.  I am obsessed with Project Runway because it's like watching the Discovery channel - I cannot believe those awesome creatures are out there and wonder why my DNA is not wired that way.

I can COPY what they do but I can't BE what they are.

Now, we all talk about authenticity and how we want our members to be themselves.  But if they are - what do you think happens?  I see the eye rolls.  I know when people are making fun of me. Cynthia D'Amour blogged about a chapter that had a dress code and kicked a member out. Really?!?! We should all take a moment and really THINK about what that means.

Yes, I have a penchant for Levis, t-shirts and chain wallets.  Occasionally I show up at CalSAE or ASAE events in menswear, sporting a tie and Chuck Taylor kicks. It's not a need to be controversial, it's a need to I don't look right when I try to look normal.  So, counterintuitively, I go with unusual as the least embarrassing option. What I've learned is people who still want to talk to me are usually people I actually want to talk to.

My friends generously give of their time and try to help me shop for makeup or clothes. I am always grateful for their input. I occasionally wear make-up, or dye the gray in my hair, or use a hair style other than "at-least-it's-washed."  But more often than not, I just sigh, shrug and move on (and thank my lucky stars I have such a great husband). As much as some of you think my shoes are a put-on to get attention, it's simpler than that. They happen to be an important part of who I am.

Obviously, I am a consultant.  Part of that gig means "blending in" with a new board and not embarrassing an executive.  So, I will roll out the pumps and suit jackets when appropriate.  But I am forever pushing those boundaries and so far, I've no inclination to stop.

The bottom line is, if you want creativity and innovation you have to accept those parts of you that don't fit in.

And if you want vibrant member communities, you have to do the same thing.

Otherwise, all you are doing is talking about community and not actually being it.

(I originally wrote this post almost a year ago in my "word of the year is authenticity" fervor.  I thought it would be a good post to end 2010 on.  The Association Subculture will be back next year with a vengeance and we are taking a new tack in 2011.  More "authenticity" to come but with an "evolution" attached.  In the meantime, enjoy your holidays folks and I'll see you all - tattooed and pierced - at the Pottery Barn!)

Here is the link to the video, I couldn't embed it. GO SEE Greg Behrendt live - you will not regret it....Chain Wallet

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Association Management - Truthiness and Lies, Lies, Lies

You told me you loved me
so I don't understand
why promises are snapped in two
and words are made to bend
lies lies lies yeah
lies lies lies yeah
lies lies lies yeah.....Thompson Twins

The Short of It
  • Is advertising insulting?
  • Most of the time - yes.
  • Corporate interests have been after us for years
  • We were raised on "Kool-Aid Man"
  • And "Silly Rabbit - Trix are....!"
  • (Admit it, I didn't even need to finish that sentence)
The Long of It

"We could move from being the people that generate the lies about things to the people who generate the truth about things." Alex Bogusky from interview at the Fearless Cottage.

Well, why not?

I suppose this is a continuation of the rant I went on last week with the funny yet failed branding initiative started by a local community here called "City Life. Reinvented." However, I don't think I am alone when I say advertising, marketing and branding has to change.

Just once I would like to see advertisements that don't treat me like an idiot. Here are some sample suggestions:

Cigarettes - "Yes, our product will kill you but how long do you want to live anyway? What we guarantee you in the meantime is fifteen minutes of sanity every four hours and something to do besides talk when you're done making out."

Fast food joints - "Yes, our food is clogging every vein in your body but just try to tell us our french fries aren't to DIE for - you CAN'T - BWAAHHAHHAHAHA!!!"

Reality shows - "Yes, our premises are insipid, with humor at an eighth grade level and will lower your IQ by approximately 10 points per hour of watching. But "Real Housewives of ANYTHING" will leave you gasping in horror and grateful for your pathetic middle class lives."

Hotels - "No, our walls are not completely soundproof. You might not get a blissfully quiet night of blessedly peaceful, completely uninterrupted sleep so-you-will-feel-completely-refreshed-and-ready-for-that-important-meeting-in-the-morning. However, if you call to complain about your noisy neighbors, we promise to not ignore you and promptly send in the goons."

Or maybe an admission in a conference registration brochure that says, "Our association focuses on community but we don't always get it right. So, if you see a clique at the reception - call us on it." Or a note from your legislative committee that says, "You know, we've decided to drop our opposition to this bill because even though it will cost our members some money, it's the right thing to do."

Whoa.  Now THAT would be new.

Associations have an obligation to develop a culture of truth in their organizations. This is not easy. The complicated nature of truth makes any communication effort difficult. And truthiness is an ever-present enemy (thank you Stephen Colbert in the most classic clip EVER). (Jamie Notter is one of my colleagues and he focuses a lot on these topics in his stellar blog.)

Here are five questions to ask when you find yourself in charge of a new marketing campaign in your nonprofit association.

Do I really think this? Ask yourself if you buy your own marketing copy. If you think it's great copy, but you don't truly believe what you've written about that program or service - adjust accordingly.

Can we really deliver? If you say "Our conference will be inspiring and attendees will leave refreshed with tools they can use on Monday morning..." can you make that happen?  Some of you can, and kudos.  But some of you might need to rethink that one for a minute.

Can we say something different? Maybe it's time to stop clipping words out of magazine ads you like and choose other more organic terms that are more realistic. Switching up your go-to list of popular-everyone-else-likes-these-adjectives will open your mind to new possibilities.

What are we NOT saying? If there is any little voice nagging at you that you are deliberately leaving something important out maybe that is an omission that needs to be corrected.

What are the benefits of leveling with members? Loyalty? Confidence? A sense that you aren't slicing, dicing or mincing the truth?  Trust in what your organization stands for without a set of Ginsu knives being involved?

Even with the best of intentions, you will still mess up. You could totally, 100% believe in the brand promise you make and still fail to deliver. In that case, all is not lost. When you fall short - admit it.  Talk about the experience and what you learned from it.

I hate to position myself like I'm some sort of expert on this topic.  I'm really not.  And no, I'm not immune to advertising. We have all been programmed by very sophisticated psychological techniques for years and eventually every one of us steps on the lever to get the pellet. (I bought a Ford Escort once for crying out loud!)

But those of us who write copy for a living to promote our association's activities can make a conscious decision to be as forthright as we can be. If we change our little corner of the world, maybe others will follow.

Lies lies lies, yeah!
white ones and red ones
and some you can't disguise
twisted truth and half the news
can't hide it in your eyes

If you can't see the classic (if somewhat creepy) Thompson Twins video below - click here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Association Management - Branding Efforts Gone Wrong

Sweet little princess
Let me introduce his frogness
You alone can get him singing
He's all puffed up, wanna be your king
Oh you can do it
C'mon [x6]
Lady kiss that frog....Peter Gabriel

The Short of It
  • That frog may be a king
  • But he can't be a king 'til you kiss him
  • Same thing with your branding
  • If all you do is call it king
  • People will still see just a frog
  • There must be some kissing involved
The Long of It

The other day I was driving through the middle of a local run-of-the-mill suburb as I have done many times before.  One of our main traffic arteries runs right through it, so thousands of cars blow through there on a daily basis, busily running errands or heading off to work and school.  This particular area is known for being plucky, having insisted on it's own city-hood a decade or so ago and local residents bemusedly watch it's efforts to continue to aspire to greatness.

There is little to no evidence anything changed once the crown of city-hood was bestowed. Coming off the freeway, you can see the requisite McDonalds across from the In-and-Out across from the Carl's Jr., and the Shell Station across from the Chevron station.  There's a K-Mart up and to the left with an enormous parking lot and never more than ten cars in it at any given time of day.  Down a little way there is an IHOP on one side of the road and the typical strip mall with all brick facades across from it.

Except for the newly boarded up Hollywood Video, this stretch of road has been the same.  For what feels like forever.

Until yesterday.

While driving, I happened to look up and lo and behold, noticed something new.  Hanging from various streetlights was a banner softly waving in the wind.  There appeared to be words under some red, white and blue medallion looking thing apparently meant to evoke some sort of patriotic fervor from commuters.  I was struggling to make the words out.  Soft font.  Italics.  And then....

City Life. Reinvented.

What?! You're kidding me, right?!?  Tell me you're kidding.  Same McDonalds.  Same K-Mart.  Same freeway.  Same cars.  All the evidence in the world that we are continuing to evolve into the third mall from the sun (quip courtesy of Bill Hicks).

But, no!  Apparently, I am mistaken!  This is City Life.  Reinvented.

Ugh.  Every marketing/communications/branding bone in my body is screaming about the fakey poser graphic design firm baloney, a beautiful screen-printed, meaningless slogan.

If you are going to stake a claim on such a statement as "City Life.  Reinvented." you MUST actually do some reinventing to go along with it.  Your brand must mean something.  Perhaps they are working on a, "If we speak it, we can make it true," theory.  We can't change until we know what our vision is.  Well fine.  Then keep that to yourselves while you make it happen before you shout it to the world.

Because the world isn't buying it.

And neither are your members.

If the first step your association takes in a re-branding initiative is to call a graphic design firm, you are making a huge mistake.  It is not enough to have a fancy logo and nifty slogan.  If you use terms in your branding taglines like community, inclusion, social, strategic, visionary you better be able to demonstrate those attributes at every level of your organization.  This is a deep dive into who you are as an association.  If you want to adopt a new vision, do it.  I'm all for it.  I can even help your association frame one.  But you have to start making things happen on that vision before you can roll out the new logo and the catchy taglines.  You have to be able to clearly demonstrate you ARE the thing you SAY you are.

City Life.  Reinvented.

Sure.  I'll believe it when I see more than NOTHING change.

Here is the link for those of you who can't see the video by Peter Gabriel.