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. Experience as a teacher

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    This month’s blog post is focused on college preparation and career planning. Here is advice that I’ve received over the years.

    I have a B.B.A. in marketing with an emphasis on advertising from Georgia State University in Atlanta. Dallas Walker, my management professor, was a retired human resources director when he took a job teaching at Georgia State. Mr. Walker’s class was interesting, and he was quite animated in class. It was easy to remember his lectures. One thing that stuck with me was when he advised, “When I saw résumés come across my desk and compared a straight-A student with no work experience and a C student who had worked his way through school, I hired the C student every time.”

    When I interviewed for a job with advertising agencies in Atlanta, I came very close to getting a job there, but it was always my lack of experience that kept me from getting hired. I breezed through tests of proofreading and media math and was even recommended from one large agency to talk to another. Still, I didn’t have real-world experience, and that was a barrier to getting the job.

    I have a good friend who used to be a Boy Scout camp waterfront director. I overheard others who are in a position of hiring saying that being a lifeguard for a camp was not good experience. I hastily disagreed. I watched as this director had to work with youth who were in charge of the safety of swimming for a lake – meaning that the water was not clear, and the swimmers could not be seen when submerged. The director also had to deal with angry customers – scoutmasters and parents – when they learned that their youth did not pass the “swimming” test, mostly meaning the youth did not follow the directions correctly for the test or did not have the stamina to pass the simple test. While thinking that a lifeguard may not have experience needed in business, I can tell you that he does.

    My first job was with a quick-service restaurant. Showing up for work on time was very important. I learned to follow policies and procedures. I learned practical experience in working with a group. It wasn’t until later in my life that I realized we were working an assembly line. Sure, it was an assembly line for hamburgers, but it was an assembly line nonetheless. We had production callers. We had quality control. And, the employees who learned the different skills to do the different jobs that were available in the restaurant were the most valuable because they could work anywhere. I had a Sunday school teacher who would repeatedly tell us that “The greatest ability is dependability.” Showing up on time and following directions were important. We were allowed to discuss the directions to see if there might be a better way to complete the task. If the changes fit within the company guidelines, they were implemented.

    Marketing jobs include the skills and talents of many people. Artists. Communicators. Writers. Graphic artists. Analyzers. Managers. Negotiators. Researchers. Critical thinkers. Leaders. Planners. Programmers. Storytellers. Most importantly … listeners. These are a few of the skills necessary. There are a lot more. In the early days of radio, Camel cigarettes used the slogan “Experience is the best teacher.” I don’t know about “best,” but taking advantage of all experience has to offer is a great help in moving forward in business.

  3. 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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