I’ll admit, I stumbled into marketing. I had no idea or intent to spend the majority of my 30+ year career helping others market their products and services. But fate, fortune…and success kept my phone ringing and clients knocking on the door.
I give most of the credit, or the blame to a T-shirt.
I was working in New York City in whatever way I could, trying to break into the entertainment industry. In the midst of my efforts to be the next great TV producer or movie director, I went to work for an equipment rental company that supplied audio gear to everything from the Met Opera, to commercial productions, to recording studio and concert tours. Over time, the owner of the company asked me to write some promo material for him, and that grew into what essentially became my first client. And, one of the great learning experiences of my 30+ year career.
It taught me two fundamental lessons: 1) Never follow the rules that other people tell you are the rules and, 2) Find solutions that do more than meet a clients need. Exceed them.
I wasn’t trying to either with my first client. But, perhaps of naivety or just dumb plain luck, we knocked one out of the park.
It was a T-shirt.
The owner of the company decided he wanted to create a T-shirt. We had created a rather cool logo that was printed on their brochures and business cards and he thought it would be fun to put it on a T-shirt. (NOTE: We did it because he thought it was cool. We didn’t do it because anyone thought it would drive business. Boy, were we wrong.)
I’ll date this campaign by saying that the popular T-shirts of the time were ‘baseball’ shirt – colored sleeves with white bodies. We bought red-sleeved shirts and printed the logo, name and phone number on the shirt. (SECOND NOTE: The company owner wanted quality shirts. Remember that as you read on.)
The shirts were, at first, not considered as promotional or marketing components. If anything, they were just a ‘thank you’ gift for the clients who rented the equipment and the crews that used the gear.
They were popular and people started to ask for them. We obliged until our inventory ran out.
Then something completely unexpected happened. The phone rang.
A movie crew shooting somewhere in Manhattan has a last minute need for some additional audio gear. We had it in stock and had it packed and ready to be delivered. But the production company wasn’t on file and was asked how they knew to call us. We were told that a Production Assistant on the crew was wearing our T-shirt, and, when asked, said we were a great company. We made the delivery – and earned a new client.
And understood what was happening.
While we originally were selective in how we distributed our T-shirts, we ordered boxes of new ones.
When someone came by to pick up an order, we gave them a T-shirt – maybe 2 or 3. When anyone in the company visited a client – be it the Met Opera, a Broadway Theater, a production company or recording studio, we brought bags (yes, BAGS!) of shirts and passed them out to any and all.
And the phones started ringing, and ringing and ringing.
We never could have expected, nor understood, but we created walking billboards for the company. T-shirts walking around the targeted clients we had tried to reach in other media.
My point here is three-fold:
- Your clients are a larger universe than just those who sign the contracts or mail the checks,
- You can’t learn this stuff from a book or a seminar or a supplier who wants you to pick something out of a catalogue,
- If (or better, when) you have an idea that ‘might be fun’, trust your gut, it could be great.
I offer my T-shirt story as no more than an example, a story. It’s a unique situation. But then, every business is unique – as are its challenges. As are its opportunities.
You can make your promotional items work for you – and sometimes the will tell you how they can work for you! But – and this is the big ‘but’ – they are worthless unless they do something to move your company forward. Unless they make the phone ring.
I’ll send you a T-shirt – or maybe something cooler.