the people at your event have to pee

I will be moderating a panel discussion later in the month about “creating great events” which has prompted me to think about what’s essential in creating and marketing an event.

Events have the ability to build awareness and create personal connections that other marketing tactics can’t match. But even with their power, you know there are lots of bad events to attend. And you’ve probably attended ones that didn’t pass marketing muster. In fact, many times most conferences and meetings are a complete waste of time/money/resources for both organizers and attendees.

I think for all that can be said about event planning, a great event comes down to one simple rule: Primal first, enlightenment second.

You have to make sure the basic needs of your attendees are catered to before the awe-inspiring stuff. It goes back to our old friend, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that I based much of Brand Zeitgeist on.

You’d think the key to event planning would be to focus on the big bang sublime stuff. But those first three levels of basic 1) physiological, 2) safety, and 3) group needs are in line before the transcendent self-actualization growth occurs. It’s only in the two top levels of the hierarchy that people can learn and grow. You delight and awe in the basic stuff before you hit the other levels to wow the audience. The trouble is that most event planners see the bottom three levels as “just logistics and details” that have to be taken care of.

In simple terms what this means is, that on a fundamental level, your event attendees are more concerned about the rubbery chicken they’re eating and their need to pee …  than the $50,000 speaker you paid for them to listen to. Looking at event planning in that frame of mind could help you to focus on the mundane as a way to delight attendees.

branding in the carolinas

I rarely post about specific speaking engagements because they’re typically closed corporate events, but I wanted to alert you to two open-to-the-public events coming up in South Carolina later this month.

I will be doing the evening keynote at the AdFed in Greenville, SC on January 17.

Then I’ll head down I-26 to speak to the AAF of the Midlands luncheon in Columbia, SC the next day on the 18th.

If you’re anywhere in western South Carolina (or southern North Carolina), make plans to come to one of these events. Click the links above to find the specifics for each event.

I’ll be talking to both groups about branding … from what a real brand is (and is not) to developing a brand strategy that works with my three essential elements of any marketing strategy. I’ll have a few copies of ‘Brand Zeitgeist‘ for sale, but I’ll also be happy to sign any copies that people want to bring in. (Actually, you’ll probably find them cheaper on Amazon anyway.)

And if your group or business needs a corporate business speaker in 2012, I’d love to speak to your group. Please visit shotgunconcepts.com/speaker to find out more.

no one cares about your company’s history

I’m sure you’ve had this happen to you.

Someone is making a sales pitch or educational presentation to you. They need your attention. Then as they begin, they say…

but before we get started let me tell you a little about our company. It was founded by Joe Whatsisname back in 1923. We merged with Whatsicallit Corp in 1934. The new company decided…

And on it goes for the next several slides and minutes.

Why lead with this?

It’s the equivalent of pulling out slides of your parent’s trip to the Grand Canyon when visitors enter your front door. It’s only mildly interesting to the person presenting. It’s sheer boredom to the audience and the potential customer.

But you might say they need to know the history of the company so they can see our longevity in the market and make an informed purchase decision…

Okay. Then in the first 5 minutes of your next job interview, tell the interviewer about the writing award you got in 7th grade.

It falls back to one of my fundamental precepts of marketing and communication. Approach all communication from the audience’s perception, not yours.

Tell them things they care about and want to know, not what you (or corporate) want to tell them.

three commencement addresses that are worth your time

‘Tis the season for people to sit in hot black robes and listen to vague motivational pomptitude (and circumstanitude).

Out there in the cultural zeitgeist, I think there are three commencement addresses that are worth your time. These three are good; not only for recent graduates, but also for anyone who needs some business motivation.

To satisfy the Apple fanboys, I’ll list Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address first. It consists of three stories, and I like the first one best. You never know what connections from the past will come together to create new ideas. Here’s the text of the speech or you can watch it here.

Conan O’Brien’s 2000 Harvard address is mostly jokes and very funny. (naturally) But it actually contains one of the best messages that a twenty-something or anyone can learn: Failure is necessary to succeed.
The quality of the video below is poor so you’ll find the text version is better.

The odd thing about Conan’s speech is that he gave it about ten years before the Leno / Tonight Show fiasco. It’s been his only commencement speech until this year when Conan is scheduled to address the graduates of Dartmouth. It will be interesting if he expands on his theme. (UPDATE: He did.)

“Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” was originally a 1997 column in the Chicago Tribune, but Baz Luhrmann reworked the column as a spoken word / musical track on an album. The track became a worldwide radio hit in the summer of 1999. It became an ear rut for me that year in my radio days. The lyrics contain many truths.

One of the final verses of Sunscreen pretty much captures the essence of all commencement addresses…

Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

TED2012 Full Spectrum Audition

Probably a heck of a long shot, but I’m throwing my hat in the ring for the TED open auditions.

These crowdsourced TED talks are MUCH shorter versions of the regular 18 minute TED talks. They are also supposed to utlilize a different type of story telling. For my one minute TED audition, I went with a combination of a few of their suggested ideas and came up with a ‘blizzard of images’ (new slide about every 3 seconds) that are choreographed to my point.

And I do have a point. It’s a kind of a different riff and new take on my “marketing in the collective consciousness” work.

Overall, the basic idea of my TED audition is:

  • For the past 75/100 years, society has been “learning” a huge amount of knowledge from the media, marketers, and others.
  • You’ve retained more of this meaningless pop culture knowledge than you realize.
  • You can quickly communicate a large idea with others in our culture using seemingly meaningless phrases and ideas because you’re both working from this basic pop culture framework.
  • The definition of “the media” is changing from “them” to “us”
  • Will “we” do a better job than “they” did?

(Think of it as a less musical version of “We Didn’t Start the Fire“)

Obviously, the final version of the talk will be longer than this so I can get the whole point across. I would love to present it in Long Beach at TED2012.

(I could also present it to your event! Contact me)

free call for speakers

Any speaker worth their salt should never speak for free.

What many people (including many meeting organizers) don’t understand is that even though a speaker is “only speaking for an hour”, in reality, there are several days of prep, travel, and other efforts expended to produce a good presentation. You wouldn’t ask another professional to work 3 days for free, but people ask speakers to do it all the time.

Speakers should also never say never. I actually will speak for free at things like barcamps or local non-profit and professional meetings because there’s low travel investment and immense value in it for me. That value comes from the opportunity to practice new material in front of a real audience or to help out a group that needs it.

Even when I don’t speak for free, I offer a ridiculously cheap speaking fee to groups like AdFed / AAF chapters, AMA, SMEI, or other similar groups because I want to be in front of those people as those people hire marketing speakers for seminars, conferences, trade shows, and other corporate events. But even with those, I still have a travel reimbursement in the contract.

And, of course, my offer still stands to speak at TED.

But a call for speakers came in my email this morning that I found incredibly amazing and somewhat funny…

Call for Speaker on Negotiating
{redacted} is looking for a speaker for the April 14th lunchtime event on negotiating. You must be willing to donate your time and travel. The RFP can be found here: {redacted}

A few points worth mentioning:

  • They want you to fill out an RFP to speak for free and not get travel reimbursement? (I looked at the RFP. It would take at least 30 minutes to fill out properly.)
  • They’re looking for a speaker who supposedly knows how to negotiate. The winner of the RFP should be the speaker who negotiates a fee and travel reimbursement from them!

In the end, all meeting planners should remember that you get what you pay for. And speakers should remember that you’re worth what you’re paid.

the one where I offer $500 for a burger

Ever feel like you get attacked by a certain topic?

The universe is assaulting me with In-N-Out Burger.

in-n-outJust a few examples: Earlier this year, the advertising class I teach delved into a long discussion about the brand equity of the chain. A few weeks ago, this oddly fanatical account of ordering every item on the menu came in on my feeds. Last week as I took the kids to Barnes & Noble, this book was lying beside the Thomas train table. Today, I saw a story that In-N-Out is expanding east into Texas.

It has all added up to cruel and unusual punishment for someone in Kentucky who is over 1,600 miles from the nearest In-N-Out.

Every time I have a speaking engagement near an In-N-Out, I make the effort. My last one was an enjoyable afternoon at Fisherman’s Wharf last summer while I was at the San Francisco #140conf. I had just sat down to eat when a Wharf tourist stopped by my table, pointed at me, and yelled to his wife, “Hon! This guy got his fries Animal-style!”. I felt like a celebrity while I smiled and waved at her.

While I don’t eat there that often, I’m a big fan. On a gastronomical level for sure, but also on a marketing level. It’s a great brand that’s been built through a great customer experience from the cleanliness of the restaurants to the fresh ingredients to the “secret” menu.

But it seems the only time I get to eat at an In-N-Out is when I’m speaking near one on the left coast. So with all these cues coming at me, I figured I needed to do something about it.

For 2011, in addition to the three normal speaking discounts that I’ve always offered (KY/TN, multiple program, and non-profit), I am adding another discount.

I will take $500 off my speaking fee if your meeting is held within a 15 minute commute of an In-N-Out Burger location.

I guess it’s like my own version of the secret menu. You’ll have to ask for it to get it. If you’re planning a meeting or corporate event in California, Arizona, Nevada, or Utah (and now Texas) in 2011, let’s talk.

You can see my speaking info with topics, testimonials, etc here or my National Speakers Association listing here.

UPDATE: It’s still happening. I was watching Undercover Boss on CBS last night and the MGM Grand’s manager’s family brought him In-N-Out for supper.

learning marketing from local media

So your {insert local media outlet} is offering a free seminar that will “teach you how to market your business”.

How benevolent of them to offer such a community service.

I’m amazed at how many small businesses are suckered into attending these events and don’t realize the true motivation behind the “seminar”.

If the radio station is sponsoring this knowledge fest, I’ll bet you my hat that they will try to convince people that radio is the best option. The newspaper seminar will tell you the printed word is the way to go. The TV station’s seminar will tell you why radio and newspaper are a waste of money. And now added to the mix, you have agencies that have a small social media following teaching the way to Facebook and Twitter bliss.

Think about this: Would you go to the “How to choose the best place to buy a car” seminar hosted by the local car dealership?

The truth is that every advertising medium has strengths and weaknesses. It depends on what you’re trying to communicate and who you’re trying to reach.

Just because a salesperson has the words “marketing consultant” on their business card doesn’t mean you should listen to them about your overall marketing strategy. They’re doing their job trying to capture as much of your marketing budget as they can. You should never let someone sell you advertising; you should buy it.

The only reason to ever go to the local media outlet’s seminars is that they typically offer some really good deal to the attendees. If you’re planning on buying from them anyway, it’s a good way to save some money. It’s like going on vacation and sitting through an hour of a timeshare pitch just to get free theme park tickets.

And shame on marketing speakers who lead biased events like this.

barcamp nashville

There are lots of reasons that you should come to Barcamp Nashville.

Chris Houchens will be speaking at Barcamp NashvilleBut personally, I think you should come for me! I’ll be leading a session on how brands can tap into the online zeitgeist.

I really enjoyed speaking at the 1st Barcamp Nashville back in 2007. This 2010 event looks like it will be even more robust. You should come. You’ll learn something and meet some neat people. I’m looking forward to meeting some new folks in the Nashville digerati at the Cadillac Ranch on October 16th.

san francisco #140conf

Marketing author Chris Houchens will sit on a panel at the San Francisco #140conf about using social media to promote a business bookI will be on the book author’s panel (with Pamela Slim) at the #140conf in San Francisco on Aug 19th. This San Francisco version of the #140conf looks to be interesting as it’s a part of Connected Marketing Week.

During the panel, I will be discussing how I am using Twitter (and other forms of the real time web) to promote my book, Brand Zeitgeist.

What? You haven’t read Brand Zeitgeist yet?
http://www.amazon.com/Brand-Zeitgeist-Relationships-Collective-Consciousness/dp/1450206794

(btw – you can use this link  to get a 5% discount on a pass to the #140conf)