Even Though I Finished 22,545th – You Overwhelmed Me, Boston.

Posted on April 29th, 2014

I finished my 3rd Boston Marathon last Monday and can only compare the experience to what it must feel like being on a duck boat during a Boston championship parade. Overwhelming. I lost track of the number of times that I looked into the crowds and was completely overcome by the outpouring of emotion and goodwill.

Because there’s nothing like witnessing millions of people coming together to form something bigger. When the sum is much greater than the parts. Like watching your children grow up and do things you always hoped they would. I moved to Boston in 1994 and for years, the most unifying thing I saw in New England was a shared hatred and jealousy of things from New York. The Yankees. Derek Jeter. The financial services, publishing, fashion, media and other major industries. No matter what great things happened here, the region never seemed to shake its underdog mentality. The Sox, Patriots, Celtics + Bruins championships of the past decade started to pop this bubble – especially the Sox breaking the curse in 2004 – but what I saw on Marathon Monday was something bigger.

As the adidas campaign said, “We All Run Boston.” This city and region came together as it hasn’t since the Revolutionary War to take back what it had taken away from them and created something bigger at the same time. Something that the world overwhelmingly wanted to be part of. I saw reporters, runners, spectators, families, tourists and dignitaries from all over the world on Monday.

You know from the news that the crowds were enormous and estimated at over a million. Five deep on every barricade and sidewalk all the way to the finish line and up in trees on Comm Ave. Screaming, cheering and willing the field of runners on. Soldiers, police, armed patrols, technology on the ground, helicopters in the sky and thousands of undercover law enforcement mixed in the crowd ensuring we could run in safety. The thousands of tireless BAA volunteers who exhibited a level of dedication and customer service normally reserved for five-star resorts and restaurants. The charities and their tents, flags, banners and signs supporting runners fundraising for them.

For the runners on the other side of the barricades, it was even more amazing. As I always do for races, I wrote my name in large, bold letters on the front of my jersey so that I might get a few random cheers. On Monday, I heard my name thousands and thousands of times. I lost count. And I was in the last wave. The slowest one. Even though I ran a personal best by 29 minutes, my time was double that of the men’s winner. I finished in 22,545th place. Usually, most spectators are tired, sunburnt, buzzed and long gone by the time I go through. Not this year. The energy, spirit and goodwill from the people was cathartic. Not only getting over a tough, long winter but taking back our Marathon from the idiots who took lives last year. Millions living the Gospel of Big Papi, taking back “..our fucking city!”

A week later, I’m only beginning to remember that I got to run with the Hoyts on their final trip up Heartbreak Hill. Had former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis shake my hand after crossing the finish line. Right after Natalie Morales from NBC News gave me a high five. And saw Bob Kraft from the control booth clapping for the crowd crossing the finish line with me.

But all of that pales in comparison to what continues to build in Boston right now. There’s no limit to what a group of people unified by a common cause can do.

Even though Boston is nearly 400 years old, it feels like we’re just getting started.


Surviving Viga

Posted on April 4th, 2014

5 key tactics for surviving your trip to our stellar local italian eatery, Viga.

1. Know your order before you go in: You won’t have time for guesswork. It’s a high stress environment and you can’t be caught with your pants down. If you are a first-timer, check out the online menu before you go. Otherwise, order the first thing you see. It’s likely to be good, and you will cause chaos with any delay.

2. Stay right: The hot food line forms to the left as you walk in the door. This means pizza and pasta. If you are having a sandwich, you need to stay right as you enter. Once you make that first move, you either stay right for cold sandwiches, cutting through the checkout line to get to the counter, or split the middle for hot sandwiches.

3. Act like you are from New York: This is no place to air-out your sensitivities. You may need to throw some elbows. Above all, keep your head on a swivel, and attack the line like Bo Jackson.

4. No banter: Keep conversation to a minimum. It’s crowded, and the people behind the counter are moving fast, so there is no time for excessive questions. Make your order quickly, don’t talk to anyone else, and proceed to step 5.

5. Quick exit, meet outside: Once you have been handed your food, you make a bee-line to checkout, which looks a lot like the cold sandwich line. The line does not move in a linear fashion, so be prepared to jump ahead if beckoned by the cashier. Never try and wait for your friends inside. Pay for your food and then exit the building immediately. Your friends will be waiting for you outside.

6. Bonus: Take Xanax.

Marketing: The Song Remains The Same.

Posted on March 26th, 2014

The more marketing changes, the more it stays the same. Or, as the Talking Heads would say, “same as it ever was.”

Earlier this week, I gave a talk in an International Marketing class at Boston University’s Isenberg School of Management taught by former Reebok colleague + good friend, Pat Hambrick. Preparing for Monday morning’s class (MK 467 for those who sweat the details) by reading the syllabus (there’s a first time for everything)  I realized that I had taken the exact same class during my fun-filled stay at Villanova’s School Of Business over 25 years ago. Once I got over the bustle in my hedgerow about my age, it struck me that so much has changed in marketing over the past 25 years – yet the fundamentals of marketing haven’t changed at all.

The course description reads:

The principal objective of this course is to help you develop a critical appreciation of both the opportunities and challenges associated with the increasing globalization of markets.  During the semester, you will learn about the key environmental forces shaping consumer needs and preferences, the impact of foreign political and economic factors on U.S. companies, the influence of international competition, market segmentation and strategy decisions specific to international marketing.  You will:

  • Assess various foreign markets
  • Analyze the impact of cultural, social, political and economic factors on marketing strategies
  • Determine when to use different market entry and penetration strategies
  • Examine the different skills and systems required to implement marketing strategies across country borders

Since 1989 – a couple little things have irrevocably changed the marketing landscape thanks to Al Gore and his invention of the Internet:

Email. Even if you’re still you@aol.com. Or you Yahoo! Websites. Ecommerce. YourBusinessHere.com. Unless its Pets.com of course. Social media. Whether you use it to organize an uprising or post a selfie or your entire Occupy movement Tebowing. Blogs. Tumblr. Mom blogs. Fashion blogs. Moms blogging about fashion on their Tumblr. YouTube. Cat videos. Cellphones. Smartphones. Laptops. Tablets. Chromebooks. MP3s. Napster. MP3 players. iPods. Pandora. Spotify. Kindle. Wal*Mart. Amazon. Infoseek. HotBot. Yahoo. SEO. AdWords. The Google. The world is flat. Everything is global. Brands can’t get away with anything. How’s that new Gap logo looking? The CMO has the shortest tenure of all executives.There’s no such thing as a one-company career. Unless your name is Zuckerberg, Gates or Brin. Google Analytics. Anyone can easily start a business now. Lean Startup. Squarespace. Amazon Web Services. Must See TV is now on DVRs + Netflix, only occasionally on NBC. Reviews aren’t in the paper, they’re on Amazon, Yelp and Rotten Tomatoes. Speed. Apple. 

And hundreds if not thousands of others. An innovation-driven economy never stops changing, evolving + moving forward.

But while the tools and mediums have evolved and been disrupted, the fundamentals of great marketing are the same:

  1. Product is king (or queen, depending on your orientation). Without a great product, marketing doesn’t matter.
  2. Customer understanding, insight and conversation is central + critical to building a great product.
  3. Understanding how to connect with them is both an art + a science. All of the tools listed above have changed the ways companies are able to connect with potential customers.
  4. Your brand is everything you do. Including your product + your people. Even more important now when you can’t have any weak links or the Twitterverse will not be shy about pointing out your flaws to the world. No matter how small you might be.
  5. We’re all in sales.

So as we wind on down the road, be current on major shifts in mediums, tactics and on never forget the fundamentals.

And remember, there is no finish line.

Lego just built the coolest brand in America.

Posted on February 21st, 2014

If you told me what I’m about to tell you, I would think you were an idiot with lowest common denominator taste and write you off as an arbiter of anything relevant, good and worthwhile in culture.

Gloves are off. Chin is out.

The Lego Movie is one of the best overall films I have seen in a long time. There. I said it. It was actually easier to say than when I acknowledged that One Direction’s Story of My Life was a pretty good song. I still have scars from that one. But like Ron Luciano behind the plate of a Yankees game, I call ‘em like I see ‘em, fully anticipating a full beer to rein down on my head from the 300 level.

The Lego Movie is one part Toy Story, one part Bugs Bunny, one part Old School. It’s a movie for kids written on a subversive highbrow adult level with inside jokes on everything from the Showtime Lakers of the 80s to the smooveness of Billy Dee Williams to the questionable superpowers and sexuality of the Green Hornet. The only joke they missed was the construction worker suspended by his helmet from a girder with a single dab of Krazy Glue.

Suffering through the horrific similarly themed previews in the theater before the movie started and ready to barf my Junior Mints, I went on IMDB to get the backstory. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why nearly 15 major stars would sign up for such a script. Will Ferrell. Nick Offerman. Will Arnett. Jonah Hill. Will Forte. Guys I not only love as actors, but would have over for a barbecue. But as the story unfolded, I got it. The concept was brilliant. The writing was extraordinary. The movie was fun. And the revenue and merchandising opportunities were off the charts.

Sometimes brands make incredible mistakes getting out over their skis and pushing beyond what they are capable of supporting from a personality and believability standpoint. The $100,000 Volkswagen Phaeton rings a faint bell. The Pat Boone metal album had vultures circling his career before it was even released. But sometimes a brand gets just enough smart people around it to tease out the true DNA and reconfigure it into something original, creative and completely unexpected.

Just like playing with Legos.

Breakaway Roadshow Hits Salt Lake City

Posted on February 10th, 2014

A couple of weeks ago the B.I.G. crew hopped on a plane and headed off to the Winter Outdoor Retailer Show, a biannual product show held in Salt Lake City. A place where retailers, manufacturers, and suppliers from all over the world descend for a few jam-packed, inspired days to review and fall in love with products related to the outdoor recreation industry. The energy was high, the show was huge, flannels and beards were in full effect and we were stoked to be there.  Stoked even became a part of our vernacular for a few days.

But our main excitement wasn’t the gazillion garments, it was the show stopping presence of our client, Bemis‘ 30 x 50 booth. For the past few months, we have worked with Bemis to develop their brand expression and carry that through their marketing efforts. As one arm of these efforts, we partnered with an exhibit company to design the overall look and feel of the booth, making sure it exceeded their requirements for their upcoming show tour at ISPO Munich, and ISPO Beijing.

Our journey to Winter OR was our chance to see it all come to life, and to document the week. We interviewed some of their Premium partners, Project OR contestants and Bemis designers as well as President and CEO, Steve Howard, and Global Director of Marketing, Taylor Duffy, to talk Bemis, the future of bonding and what it takes to be a Partner to some of the world’s best brands.

Much more to come, stay tuned.

Bemis is a leading global manufacturer of heat-activated film adhesives, seam tapes and custom films who partners with some of the world’s greatest brands to design, create and construct cool stuff.  Their Sewfree® bonding solutions are in much of the technical outerwear apparel, performance wear, handbags, tablet covers you see today.  Basically if you’ve worn it, they’re probably in it. 


The buzz on Facebook Paper is well deserved. I just don’t use it.

Posted on February 7th, 2014

On Monday, Facebook unveiled their uber-hyped news and stories app Paper. Like Zite and Flipboard, Paper serves up content surfaced by your social network, but also offers curated news, videos and images from a handful of categories like tech, sports, and cooking.

Here is what I wrote that afternoon ….

“The buzz is well deserved. Paper is beautifully designed, and at the most basic level it’s simply a better Facebook. More visual, less busy, thumb friendly. Paper is built around a few simple gestures. You don’t scroll through Paper as much as you flick through it. You explore HD photos by titling your device to see what you want to see. It’s intuitive, ad-free (for now) and also something else that Facebook hasn’t been for a while. Cool.”

This is all true, but here’s the thing, I haven’t used it since. Not once.

There are a number of contributing factors as to why I haven’t even considered launching the app since that first day, despite the fact that I sent around a half-dozen emails to my co-workers when it launched proclaiming the app to be the second coming of Christ.

Here are the Top 5:

1. As an iPad owner, and a religious daily user of Zite, the small format of Paper is annoying for me. I think Facebook did a tremendous job with the touch gestures. I just don’t want to read anything that small. I think Facebook could have made a better play by leading with an iPad  and desktop app, even if that meant a smaller launch on fewer devices.

2. I don’t want Facebook to be my news source. I go to Facebook to see the cat photos and Chuck Norris memes that my friends seem to think are so funny. I like that my news comes in as part of that feed, but that my friend’s minutia is prioritized. I already have Zite, and Flipboard, so there is no real pull here.

3. Paper doesn’t navigate that well for the way I want to use it. It’s cool, and thumb friendly, and they figured out how to get a lot in a small space … but it’s a pain to flick through casually, and the lower panels are too small to be useful. Using the regular Facebook app and the continuous feed may be less visually interesting, but it’s easier and faster.

4. I’m limited to seeing content that has already been published within Facebook’s ecosystem. This covers a lot of ground obviously, but I’d rather not be limited in getting exposure to content from other platforms.

5. I don’t feel like I can customize and take control of my experience in the way I can with Zite or Flipboard. I can’t create a custom feed, or curate the feeds they give me.  Whether the sense of control I get from these other apps in an illusion or not, it does enhance the experience.

Are you using Paper? What do you think? Leave a comment below and drop some science on me.

New CEO Appointment Proves Culture Is Microsoft’s Real Problem

Posted on February 6th, 2014

Steve Ballmer announced his retirement as Microsoft CEO in late August, 2013. Satya Nadella – a 20+ year company veteran – was announced as his replacement this week.

To paraphrase the song in their Surface TV spots, we want to see him be brave. I wish him nothing but the best of luck. We need a strong Microsoft. (But clearly, no one needs or wants a Surface). And I have had a lot of friends that work there. Natella sounds like one of the smartest technology minds in an industry already full of scary smart minds, who should understand how to deliver against the vision he announced this week of  “Our job is to ensure that Microsoft thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world.”

But until he cleans up the bureaucratic, slow, political culture at Microsoft, the company’s results won’t change.

For those of you keeping score at home, it took Microsoft five months between CEO announcements. For an internal candidate.

Getting slower is exactly what Microsoft cannot afford at this point in its life. The company has been defending its cash cow franchises against extremely formidable competition. Not just Apple, Google, Amazon and Salesforce, but upstarts like Dropbox, Box, and others specialized in the conception, creation, launch + iteration of disruptive technology.

These companies have cultures that are all about swift, decisive action.

Most reports from inside the company led us to believe that the company stagnated during that time. Critical decisions weren’t made. Bureaucratic inertia crept in. Internal politics were probably worse than Washington DC. Imagine the sclerosis in any leaderless organization for 5 days – let alone 5 months.

When your culture is all about speed and failing fast, you can topple giants. When you’re a giant who relies on consensus and politics to make decisions, you’d better watch out for the cloud, mobile, and disruptive companies that are the opposite of what you are.

And when your founder Bill Gates – one of the brightest technology minds in history and now your technology advisor – can’t manage to install your flagship software on his own PC, there are bigger issues to fix.

Good luck Satya. Burn the boats. Maybe Clippy can come back to help you (and your technology advisor).

Super Bowl Commercial, 48, Dies

Posted on February 3rd, 2014

The Super Bowl commercial, once the crown jewel of marketing and one of the most anticipated events in American society, has died of irrelevancy. It was 48.

The Super Bowl commercial had been suffering from a long, increasingly debilitating illness caused by focus groups, lack of creativity, and the tightening of sphincters brought on by marketing executives over-managing their careers and under-delivering ideas. It had been confined to a wheelchair since 2009 when Danica Patrick first appeared in a GoDaddy spot about plastic surgery and fake breasts with J. Cornflako. Its health, though, had been decreasing for years and was originally diagnosed when Budweiser began the puppy and frilly leg warmer horse pussification of what was once America’s greatest beer.

The Super Bowl commercial was once a powerful, awe-inspiring cultural behemoth. Its Mount Rushmore includes Mean Joe Green, George Orwell, cat wranglers, the E-Trade monkey and Betty White. But once crowd-sourcing, narcissistic patriotism and the USA Today Ad Meter entered its bloodstream, it was only a matter of time before it succumbed to John Stamos and a creepy blowjob reference.

The Super Bowl commercial is survived by the Academy Awards.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the advertising industry to make Bud Light funny again.