1. Signs are meant to show the way if we let them

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    A few weeks ago I was in the Toronto Pearson International Airport headed back home. I got my boarding pass, and the ticket listed my gate as 97. As I got through security and customs, I noticed I was standing at Gate 1. Letting out a slight groan, I started walking, watching the gate numbers increase one-by-one as I headed to the gate assigned to me. When I got to the end of the building, the gates were numbered in the 80s, but there were no numbers in the 90s. I was confused. A polite Canadian custodian read the puzzlement on my face and offered help. The gate I was looking for was in a new annex, and I’d walked by the turn to the annex a long way back. I thanked him and backtracked to find where I needed to be.

    Similarly, when my friends and I were in London, we spent the last few nights in a hotel near Heathrow Airport. The hotel added a new wing, and our rooms were located there. The desk clerk pointed to a hallway, and we started our walk. When we got to the end of the hall, it ended; there was no turn. We backtracked and eventually found where we needed to turn to find our rooms. There was a sign, but it was a small bronze sign with very little distinction between the lettering and the background of the sign. It was also in a poorly lit part of the hallway. When I first saw it, I assumed it was pointing to an ice machine or a vending machine.

    I tell myself that I do a good job of paying attention. But, do I? Complacency kicked in when walking through the Toronto airport, and I completely missed the very large sign pointing the direction of my gate. The London hotel was different. I was paying attention, but the sign was so small and difficult to read that I dismissed it as not important enough to point the correct way.

    Thinking of this is a good wakeup call to me that I need to do a better job of examining signs. We all have signs in business. Whether they are sales reports, balance sheets, income statements, or other reports about the business, they are signs. How do they compare to the benchmark? Why is business getting better? Why is business getting worse? What is working? To what messages do the customers respond? Where do the patterns emerge?

    The most important question to ask about a business situation – whether positive or negative – is “Why?” There may not be a straightforward answer. It may take a hypothesis that will lead to a theory about “Why.” A hypothesis is a guess, an assumption. A theory is tested. Sometimes it has to be retested. This is where marketing can be both a science and an art.

    Signs aren’t meant to be distractions, they’re meant to show the way, even when logic tells us it shouldn’t be that way.

  2. Mississippi has a lot to offer

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    Twice a year I attend an Agency Management Institute (AMI) meeting. These meetings are held all across the United States. We have agency partners in Austin; Costa Mesa, Calif.; Denver; Des Moines; Hammond, La.; Houston; Minneapolis; New York; Pewaukee, Wis.; San Diego; and Tempe, Ariz. We usually travel once a year to a city where an agency hosts, and the other meeting is held elsewhere like Chicago, Key West and San Francisco to name a few. The irony is that it doesn’t matter where we have the meeting because the majority of the time is spent in a hotel conference room.

    Is this phrase familiar? “I’ve lived here most of my life and pass this attraction on a regular basis, but I’ve never stopped there.” I hear that a lot on the AMI trips. And, I hear it from time-to-time at Kiwanis Club of Tupelo meetings. When Dick Guyton, executive director of the Elvis Presley Birthplace, asks a group in Tupelo how many have never been to the birthplace, there are usually a few hands that go up. I’ve asked visiting parents of soccer players at Ballard Park if they’ve visited the Oren Dunn Museum. It makes a nice respite from the elements blowing across the fields. I’m appreciative of the receptions held at the Tupelo Automobile Museum. It is truly an incredible collection.

    Lodges of the Order of the Arrow, the national honor society for the Boy Scouts of America, put together a guide for troops of where to go camping. Some spots are more destination oriented. If you want to see a NASA rocket, Huntsville is the place to go. But, if you’re working on Astronomy merit badge, that can very easily done at the French Camp Observatory, which is in Mississippi. Why camp far away when there are activities close to home? The state parks of Mississippi have a lot to offer.

    In my last trip with AMI, I was in Austin, Texas. I got there early enough that I had a few hours to look around before our evening dinner started. So I pulled out my iPhone and started looking at what was there. I found a house where the author O. Henry lived. I stopped by and learned a lot. I was familiar with O. Henry because I’d read “Gift of the Magi” in Debbie Gibbs’ English class in 10th grade. What I didn’t realize is that most of his works were written while he was in jail and that he created the original character of the Cisco Kid that was later changed for radio and movies. I noticed a lot of similarities on the O. Henry house to Elvis Presley’s birthplace and the Tennessee Williams home in Columbus. And, I was a de facto Mississippi ambassador of tourism as others asked me about them. Hopefully, they’ll come see for themselves.

    I’m proud to be a Mississippian. There is a lot to see in our state, and there’s a lot I need to see. There’s a lot that can be seen in just a day’s drive, and there’s a lot that can be found right here. I want to tell the Mississippi story because I want more people to know what a great resource we have.

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