Living Your Legacy

Will Your Life Live On

“He had a strong sense of what was right and what was wrong.”

Bill Rustem

“He was truly a great gentleman.”

Arlie Brower

“What did make him great was his enduring decency.”

Jack Lessenberry

These were all comments given during a memorial service for former Michigan Governor William Milliken.  With all fairness you would hope kind words would be said about someone at their memorial service. But there was so much to take in during this event.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer talks about the impact Governor Milliken has had on her even to this day

I was a cub reporter, first in radio then in television, during the governor’s final years in office.  An office he held for 14-years, longer than anyone else in Michigan history.  There were many times I interviewed Governor Milliken and as a reporter you try keep a skeptical eye on everyone you talked to in political life.  But with Governor Milliken you couldn’t help yourself, because you were probably going to like and respect him.

As a cub reporter I covered the final years of the Governor Milliken administration. I’m deep in concentration here at the Capital Press Room.

In 2006 during a television interview Milliken was asked how he would like to be remembered.  I think his answer would be true for anyone on this planet, “A governor who tried to do the right thing.”  In political context he said, he wanted to be known as a man, “Who tried to put intense partisanship aside, to do what I thought was in the best interest of Michigan as a whole.”

It’s interesting that I went to this memorial at a time when I’ve been thinking a lot about the legacy we leave.

I started having these thoughts after a recent interview I did for a magazine article. I talked with a man who fought during the Vietnam War.  He was caught in an ambush and was severely injured.  In the hospital they put a toe tag on him and thought he was killed in action.  Death did not take him that day.  Instead he lived a life serving the veterans in his community.

A Vietnam Veteran lives a life of service after a near-death experience during the war.

I will never be governor of Michigan.  I will never live my life in service to veterans.  Pretty sure I will not find a cure for cancer, negotiate world peace or find a way to eliminate hunger.  So what is my legacy?  I have three children who are better people than I ever was.  That is one possible legacy.

Somehow raising three great kids seems to be pretty small compared to negotiating world peace.

The Kent Family

Do you ever find yourself looking for a greater calling?  I think most people do.  We are not here to punch the clock, put in our time then head to the pearly gates.  We are on this planet to do more.  To quote the famous philosopher, Uncle Ben from Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Sometimes that power is being a parent.  Sometimes that power is being a boss.  Sometimes that power is running a business that provides an income for multiple families.  I do know that if you accept the power, you better be willing to accept the responsibility.

There are times in my career when I truly felt I was doing exactly what I should be doing. There are other times when I felt I needed to be doing more.  When you are doing what you should be doing, no matter how tough the job – it is tremendously rewarding.  When I interviewed that Vietnam veteran I really felt I needed to be telling his story.  I felt that people needed to be inspired by his near-death experience and what he made out of his life.  I was doing exactly what I should be doing at the time I should be doing it.

Ultimately we will probably never know our legacy.  I have no idea what will be said about me when I am dead and buried.  I have no idea if the life I lived will have an impact beyond my immediate family and those closest around me.

But what became clear from the Governor Milliken memorial is that it doesn’t matter your age, the more you live your life with purpose – the more of a legacy you will leave. During the memorial Bill Rustem summed it up by saying, “The end will never come to the good you have done.”

That’s a pretty good legacy.


Take A Stand

Teachings from Zolton Ferency

You either have plenty of gray hair or are a Michigan political junkie if you know the name Zolton Ferency.  Fortunately for me, I’m both.  I had the great fortune of getting to know Zolton even though he died in 1993.

Depending on your views, Zolton was either your champion or a devastating stain on the political process.  For me, I found that I voted for Zolton nearly every time I could.  He earned my vote even though I probably agreed with his politics maybe ten-percent of the time.

A campaign shirt supporting Zolton Ferency

Zolton ran for Michigan governor five times between 1966 and 1982.  At other times he ran for the state Supreme Court and other elected positions.   At one time he was head of the state Democratic Party and in that position came out against the election of Lyndon Johnson.  He did so because he didn’t like the candidate’s position on the Vietnam War.   It was his LBJ opposition that ostracized Ferency from the Democratic Party.  He was shunned so much that at one point he ran under the Human Rights Party. He really had no chance of winning most of those contests he entered, but he continued to put his hat in the ring.

As a young reporter I vividly remember asking Zolton, “Why do you continue to run for office when you know you have no chance of winning?”  His honest response still echoes with me to this day. “I run because I raise issues that need to be discussed,” he said.  And Zolton was a champion of many causes.  At the time of his death his biggest cause was the creation of a Unicameral (one Chamber) Legislature.  He felt it would be most representative of the state’s population.  It was that answer to my question that made me realize there are many good people involved in government.  These are people who believe in something.  These are people who are fearless in taking a stance.  We don’t always have to agree with them, but we should listen to them and respect them for their character.

It’s easy to lambast our political leaders and harshly attack their character. But those people who fearlessly take a stance still serve on the national, state and local stages. I could easily list some of them now, but don’t because I know each of those people would be fiercely attacked by those who disagree with them.

Today we have large numbers of people taking to the streets to make their beliefs public: Black Lives Matter, gay rights, reopen the state’s businesses, end police brutality, support the second amendment – and the list goes on.

Black Lives Matter protest in Traverse City

Business owners and businesses traditionally take a quiet stand when it comes to community-shifting ideals.  They fear alienating their clients or potential clients. Many are dragged into the public spotlight when their support for a cause is reluctantly made public on social media.  A rare few use their business as a megaphone that reflects their personal beliefs.

For me, I have lived my life as a moderate – in the middle.  It may be a result of too many years working as a reporter and attempting to be open to all viewpoints.  I’ve walked in only two protests.  One was in Detroit to protest the jailing of a colleague that was arrested for not revealing his sources on a story.  The second was in support of friends in the LGBTQ community.  On social media I bite my fingertips and veer away from taking political stances.  I have two exceptions: 1) Support journalists when they face the “Fake News” attacks. 2) Oppose national legislative term limits. I oppose this second one based on the belief that we already have term limits – it’s called an election. If we choose not to use it that becomes our right and responsibility.

Traverse City Pride March in 2019. Photo credit: Allen-Kent Photography

Despite my life in the middle, I still really respect those who have the courage to shake up the status quo.  There are still politicians and community leaders dedicated to bringing up issues that need to be talked about.  I don’t support free college for everyone, but Bernie Sanders felt we needed to have a public discussion about the issue.  I’m really glad we’ve talked about it.  We have community leaders who still talk about civil rights, women’s rights, abortion rights, gun rights.  These are not easy issues to discuss, but we need to talk about them openly and freely.

Don’t shut out the voices in opposition to your perspective.  Listen to them.  Argue with them.  Respect them.  When that happens then I know that Zolton Ferency is still alive and well.  When that happens, it’s a good thing for our democracy.

2019 Pride March. Photo credit: Allen-Kent Photography


Hit The Gas – Not The Brakes With A…

Learn from history — now is the time to kick in your advertising

Think of yourself as driving along I-75 at 85-miles per hour (because let’s face it you always go just a little over the speed limit) and out of nowhere a brick wall falls from the sky and lands in front of you.  What I’m going to suggest you do next, doesn’t make sense.  It’s counter intuitive.  It defies logic.  Don’t hit the brakes; instead give it a little more gas.

Perhaps it doesn’t make sense driving on the expressway.  But it does make sense when it comes to advertising in an economy that hit a brick wall.

Most businesses look at where they can cut when the economy gets soft.  And often the first place to feel the knife is the marketing budget.  We can go back 100-years and learn from history that marketing should be the last place to cut.  In fact, Henry Ford is credited with saying: “A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.”  

Last year Forbes raised a red flag and warned of a softening economy.  They took a history lesson and concluded: “Those advertisers that maintained or grew their ad spending increased sales and market share during the recession and afterwards.”  

But when you have the alligators snapping at you from the swamp, it can be nearly impossible to keep that marketing budget untouched.  And the thought of increasing it, can keep you up late at night.

Here are some of the lessons of history:

1930 Chevrolet rose to the top during the Great Depression
  • During the Great Depression Chevrolet ousted Ford as the auto industry leader because Ford didn’t follow Henry’s suggestion and cut back advertising – Chevy became aggressive. 
  • In the mid 70s Microsoft took the lead on personal computers, beating out IBM in part because they advertised in good times and in bad times.
  • Proctor and Gamble, Camel Cigarettes, Fed Ex, Verizon — these are all companies that established themselves as category leaders during economic downturns when they turned up their advertising campaigns.

Studies of recessions in 1985, 1990 and 2001 showed that companies that remained aggressive in marketing enjoyed sales that were 2.5 times above the average of all other sales.  And that boost continued for up to three-years.

More than two decades ago I talked with Bill Marsh Jr. about joining his auto dealership group in the marketing department.  I remember asking him what would happen when we hit the next economic downturn. His response was, “That is when we will need you the most.”  And we did face uncertain times after the 9/11 attacks and the 2008 Recession. Through it all we kept up the advertising budget while our competition cut back.   What happened?  The economy eventually turned around and we recovered quicker and gained a greater market share.

I understand that not everyone can do this.  Restaurants have had to close their doors during this Coronavirus and lay off their staff.  How can they justify to continue their marketing, when they don’t know when and if there doors will ever be open again?  But I recently talked with a client who has run a financially responsible business for decades and while he has had some cancelled projects he’s in a perfect position to gain market share.  His competition is not in a position to weather the storm – my client can. My client is prepared to continue his marketing plan with the hopes that when the storm passes, he will be in great shape.

There is a lot of fear and panic in the advertising community.  Media reps are seeing some clients cancel their orders, while others are delaying their ad campaigns.

Don’t panic. Keep a cool head.  But be smart when it comes to your ad budget. Those cancelled and delayed orders can result in media groups that are eager to work with you, and perhaps offer some great deals.  The cost of advertising typically drops in soft economies, although this is an election year, so costs may not dip too much due to a higher demand.

Look at your media message – does it need to be adjusted to acknowledge the economic uncertainty of the time.  You may need to offer discounts. If not discounts, you may need to build value into your service or products and explain why it is worth the cost. You may need to offer empathy and understanding about what others are going through.

Above all remember that people are still out shopping and still need your products or services. In fact, I was out recently helping my sister shop for a car.  She was warmly welcomed in that mostly quiet dealership showroom.  And the manufacturers are stepping up and making it really easy to get into a new car.

Buick/GMC is currently running an aggressive TV/Social Media campaign titled “We’re Here To Help.” They’ve adjusted their message to reflect both compassion and great sales opportunities. This is a fantastic example of adjusting the message for the economic times.

There’s a reason the carmakers are advertising heavily right now.  They know the “noise level” with advertising has become pretty quiet. They have a chance to get their message out and have more people take notice of it.  You will see GM, Toyota, Ford and other car makers especially advertising in news programs – because there is high interest in the virus updates in news.  The car manufacturers know they are not just influencing today’s car shopper, they are impacting the buying cycle of car shoppers that will be in the market six-months from now or a year from now.

My lawyers want me to tell you that if you do find a brick wall along I-75, you really should hit the brakes.  But we just had a brick wall crash down in front of the economy.  Don’t hit the brakes – give your marketing budget a little extra gas if you can.


Turning Adversity To Strength

How would your life have changed if you graduated from high school and you could not read?  You were smart, but your friends called you stupid.  Your teachers said you were just lazy and didn’t even try.  You picked up a birthday card from your grandma, who loved you so very much, and you couldn’t read a word.

How would your life have changed?

This is a real-life story from a friend that I captured in a recent article about dyslexia in (231) Northern Michigan Living Magazine.

My friend’s name is Kirk.  Kirk was eventually diagnosed with the reading disability in his 20s and today can read.  It’s a struggle, but he can read.  Then I countered his story, with a Blair Township Firefighter named Curtis.  Curtis was diagnosed with dyslexia in third grade and has gone on to a college graduation and working as a successful Paramedic in northern Michigan.

What struck me most about these two men is that they were from two different generations. While they both faced the same reading disorder, they both concluded their struggle was not a handicap. In fact they were convinced it made them stronger and better people.

Kirk shows off the first book he read when he was in his 20s. It took nearly a year to read the book. He broke down in tears when he finished the final page.

There is an old saying that God will never give you more than what you can handle.  If that is true, God clearly thinks I’m a wimp. Sure there have been struggles, but in reality I’ve lived a pretty charmed life.  I was raised by incredible parents in a working class home.  There was always a roof over my head.  There was always heat and food to eat.  Mom was always home at the end of the day to check up on how things went at school.

Compared to many in this country, I was doing pretty good.  Compared to most around the world, I was doing fantastic.  I never had to face a war-ravaged homeland. I was never persecuted because of my religious beliefs or because I lived too close to a drug operation. I never had to walk a mile to get water for the shack where I lived.  It was charmed.

Me with my mother who helped create an idyllic childhood.

You can probably whip through this blog post pretty easily.  I guarantee you that Kirk and Curtis will have to struggle with every word.  They will get through it.  They will understand it.  But it won’t be easy. 

It makes me realize that we all face adversity.  Some more than others.  Your adversity could be financial or bad health.  But does it define you as handicapped?  Or does it help make you stronger?  Or to take it further, does it make you a better person?  Do you turn your adversity into a way to help others?

That’s what both Kirk and Curtis did.  They both took their dyslexia and moved it into their own personal radar. Kirk worked as a custodian in northern Michigan schools and would be keenly aware of students that appeared to have trouble reading.  He would sit with them in the hallway and rejoice when he saw the light bulb go on over the kid’s head, that moment when the child understood something he read in a book.  Curtis works as an EMT trainer and to this day keeps a sharp eye out for students that may struggle with things that they are trying to read.

Curtis on the job in Blair Twp. as a firefighter/EMT

Both these men exhibited tremendous courage as they faced their handicap.  Both these men took that handicap and turned it into a strength.  They took that strength and used it to help others.  To me they both exhibit great courage and bravery. So, what’s your handicap? What’s your struggle? What’s your weakness?  Can you turn it into your strength?

Want to learn more about dyslexia? Go to


Follow The Leader

What are the leadership traits worth following?

When you find it, it’s rare.  When it’s real, you know it right away.  And when it’s real, it can be life altering.  Thousands of books have been written about leadership. There are many experts in the world who profess to know about leadership.  I am not one of those experts.  But I have experienced true leadership.

In my career I have been placed in many leadership roles.  My leadership ability ranged from OK, to pretty good.  I have headed up news departments at radio and TV stations.  I have led a wide variety of non-profit organizations.  Never has that ability peaked to a level of life-altering leadership. All leaders would like to think they have super powers in leading others, like the picture at the top of this blog, but it is seldom true.

Recently a dear friend of mine wrote a Facebook post for an obituary of her former boss.  She talked about working for many wonderful leaders, what she called – “…people of great vision, integrity and humanity.” It caused me to think about those who were leaders in my life.  

To be perfectly honest, most of the leaders in my life were just like me.  They were people thrust into leadership positions and didn’t always have the leadership training or temperament but did the best they could.  There were others that just didn’t try to be a leader.  These were people that demanded you do what you were told, because they were the boss.

For me, the person who epitomized leadership was Bill Marsh Sr.  He owned the car dealership group where I worked for more than two decades?  I considered Bill to be one of a handful of professional mentors in my career.  Bill had an office across the hall from me and I would often stroll in to learn what I could from the master.  We would talk about business and marketing for a short period of time.  But for a longer time we would talk about family, faith and he would talk about his love of Ireland. 

Bill Marsh Sr. in 2014

In 2014 I sat down with Bill for a training video and we had a deep discussion on a wide range of topics.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but that interview ended up being his obituary.  He died two years later from Alzheimer’s.  I was honored to record some of the reasons Bill was a respected businessman in the community.  He talked about leaving his law studies at Yale to help his dad with a struggling Ford dealership in Newtown, Pennsylvania. He explained how he got hooked into the car dealership business.  

The world would have been a little poorer if Bill kept to studying law and never got into the business world.  He summed up leadership with one word: Trust.

And we did trust Bill. We viewed him as a visionary. Bill set a clear direction for the company and let everyone know where we were headed.  We were not just selling and servicing cars, we were building relationships.  We were to become an important part of the community and get involved in a wide-range of community events.  None of us had to be ashamed that we worked in an industry that was loaded with negative stereotypes.  Bill made it very clear that we did the “right thing” for the customer, even if it wasn’t the most profitable thing for the company.

While many thought Bill was a risk-taker, he didn’t share that belief.  Even when he attempted to buy the Buick franchise in Traverse City, Bill faced opposition from GM.  Bill had a family history with Ford and GM was reluctant to sell this Ford guy the Buick franchise.  He sent a letter to GM that made a wild offer to give them the franchise back within a year if he didn’t make it the top performing Buick store in the region. He was good to his word.

I witnessed Bill’s leadership when the Iraq war broke out.  There was great uncertainty in the world and in business.  He gathered his employees together to assure us that all would be well.  And it was.  His reassurance came at the perfect time.  

I think we all want to be involved in “bigger” causes.  We don’t want to just sell cars; we want to make a difference in people’s lives.  We don’t just want to help a business make a bigger profit; we want to impact our community.  A good leader supports you to reach for bigger goals, to have a greater impact and to accomplish things you never thought possible.

If you find that rare leader – follow her.  If you are that rare leader – inspire others.


Let Me Tell You A Story

We don’t care about the numbers – we care about the people

Let me tell you a story – 

About a boy in school who looked at a book and just saw a jumble of letters and numbers.

That boy was called slow and stupid.

That boy was me.

These were the words I recently used to start a radio script about dyslexia awareness.  While researching this script I found out that 43.5-million Americans are dyslexic.  And what I came to realize is that, unless you have dyslexia – you don’t care that 43.5-million Americans have dyslexia.  43.5-million is a big number but we really have no concept of how big it is.  We just know it’s big.  

We often spend a lot of time swimming in numbers.  It could be a dollar number that we need for the rent payment.  It could be a horsepower number on the new car you want to buy.  It could be a financial goal that results in a commission at work.  

Kids with dyslexia are often labeled as stupid or slow. This image was taken for a TV commercial created to raise awareness about dyslexia.

Generally it’s really tough to care about numbers.  But it’s really easy to care about people.  With the dyslexia radio script we don’t care about 43.5-million people, but we can care about a boy that is called names because he can’t read.  That’s why I felt it was important to tell his story.  And the story in that script was based on a real boy I knew. That boy grew up to be a successful firefighter and EMT.  He overcame his inability to read and has become a trainer of other firefighters. It really is a great story of a young man who overcame a personal adversity to become a success.

Telling a story can often be the best way to get someone to care about someone else or about an issue.

That became crystal clear to me several years ago while working with the northern Michigan Toys for Tots campaign.  The campaign is all about numbers.  We need to collect over 20,000 toys to help over 7,000 kids in a five-county region so they can have a great Christmas.  I’ve told that story for the over 20 years that I’ve worked on the toy collection program.  The community responded and met those needs every year.

Here are some of the thousands of toys collected for Toys for Tots of Northwest Michigan.

But the real importance was not in the numbers.  It was when a lady pulled up to one of our toy collection events in a rundown, rusted out minivan to proudly make a donation.  When she opened the hatch it was packed with toys she proudly wanted to donate.  This woman gave me a big bear hug with tears coming down her cheeks.  She told me that last year she needed help from Toys for Tots so her kids could have a great Christmas.  But this year she was able to donate toys.  She purchased as many as she could afford and it filled the van.  The warmth of her hug stays with me to this day.  I turned to the other volunteers, relayed her comments and reminded them that this is what Toys for Tots is all about.  It’s not about collecting over 20,000 toys – it’s about the impact it has on one person – several thousand times in northern Michigan and millions of times around the country.

Children are proud to give their own toy donations at the Toys for Tots kickoff in 2018

Over 650,000 people are expected to be released from jails and prisons in the US this year. Again that’s a big number. But I recently talked to a woman whose son, Tony, is in prison and will soon be released.  He’s scared.  He never wants to return to prison.  But he’s scared that he won’t be able to get a job, to get housing, to have skills that allow him to function outside of prison.  Our prison system has a real problem getting public support for the incarcerated.  Because prisons are intended as punishment for the crime – if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime, the saying goes.  Unless it impacts you directly, you probably don’t give much thought about the 650,000 people being released this year.  But I’m rooting for Tony.  I want him to find success outside of prison.  I want him to be able to get the skills he needs, to get a job, to find a way to never go back to prison.  I’ve only met Tony through the story his mother tells, but it’s enough for me to care.

It can be tough to get people to care about those in prison, but we can care about the people.

Stories can be an effective way to advocate for change, to appeal for fundraising, to get support for a cause.  Numbers can help reinforce your story.  But don’t get caught up in the numbers.  Get caught up in the people.  Get caught up in their stories. 


When Your Ads Clash With Politics

Plan now for the 2020 campaign season

With a long history as a broadcast journalist, I am fantastic working under short time deadlines.  Long term deadlines – not so much.  Give me six months to plan something, odds are I’ll wait until the last minute and adrenaline forces me to move quickly and efficiently.  

Something is taking place next year that will force me outside of my comfort zone.  I will be forced to plan events a year out. That “something” is the 2020 election cycle.

As a reporter I would love political campaigns.  I worked as a state capital reporter and the election was the Super Bowl of politics.  It resulted in long hours but for me it was great fun.  As a media planner, I start to worry about the next political cycle as soon as the last political cycle is over.

Think about this number for a moment.  In the 2016 election, campaigns for federal office cost $6.5-Billion. With that massive amount of money spent, the $27-million spent on Michigan state house seats seems to be almost chump change.  Add senate seats and ballot issues and you’re talking about a significant amount of money.

The 2020 campaigns are sure to be even more expensive.  We have a Presidential election, a Michigan US Senate campaign, US congressional seats, state house seats and more ballot issues. Campaign fundraising is in high gear right now and the pressure to raise more money will be more intense throughout this year.

When a campaign has tons of money and is behind in the polls, they don’t really care how much a radio or TV spot costs, they will pay whatever it takes.  Political media planners can spend like drunken sailors on payday.

So if you have a business that regularly depends on mass media advertising to get your message out, you have a problem.  The drunken sailors are out in the market and ready to pay whatever it costs to buy the ad you want, from under you.  If a radio station can sell a spot for $300 instead of the $30 you are going to pay – guess what the sales manager is going to do?  You guessed it, they are going to take that $300 ad.

So now is the time all media buyers should be working on their 2020 media plans.  There are things that can be done to protect your ads.  It does mean making some commitments and having a clear understanding of your media budgets for next year.  You can take action now to assure you will not have all your ads bumped by political campaigns.

Consider some of these tactics:

  • Make an annual commitment, and make it early.  It doesn’t guarantee your spots will run.  But typically if you are the first in, you can be the last one to be bumped.  Candidates can’t and won’t buy an annual contract.
  • Sponsorships – It could be sponsoring the weather, the sports report or the daily trivia question.  Sponsorships require a longer commitment that political campaigns won’t do.
  • Streaming TV – OTT advertising is a way to reach an audience that doesn’t normally watch regular TV.  You can target demographics and geographic locations.  You pay per impression and target viewers on tablets, desktops and mobile devices.  It’s a way to get a share of audience that could dry up during political windows.
  • Be financially flexible.  You may have to pay a little more for your ads during the political windows, but hold the station’s feet to the fire.  Make sure they are flexible too.  They may have to bump you this month, but maybe they can give you two spots next month.  If you are a regular advertiser they value your business because you are with them in the busy months and the slow months.

I hesitate to include this, because it will be viewed as self-serving.  In reality it is self-serving.  But this is also a good time to consider hiring an ad agency.  The agency should have more clout because they are buying for multiple clients.  They should also have a better handle on competitive rates and ratings.  They should also know your targeted audience and alternative programs that could target that audience. Political campaigns will generally target news programming, but you may be able to hit a similar audience with other programming at the station.

2020 will be a year that I watch the political campaigns in amazement.  I still love following politics.  I will still get frustrated when a candidate bumps my client’s ad.  But as long as campaigns cost billions of dollars, that is going to happen.  Now is the time to plan for the inevitable.   


D-Day Lessons Still Relevant Today

Are you worthy to stand on the shoulders of greatness?

75-years ago today this newspaper, that hangs in my office today, was hot off the press in suburban Detroit.  

Its crisp pages blared a siren that had been expected for a long time.  The invasion of France had begun.  The untested US troops were hurled against the war-hardened German army.  It was the beginning of the end of World War II, but just the beginning.  Many more battles would be fought.  Many more young lives would be lost on foreign soil.

This paper captures the events of the day as best they could.  It was released as an Extra Edition, meaning the events were still unfolding as the paper went to press.  At that time there was no CNN, no Fox News.  There was no 24-hour coverage.  There were no “experts” filling in time while the details came in.  In fact if you read the stories, the content was mostly filled with German news sources and not Allied sources.  Yes, General Eisenhower confirmed the invasion, but there was not a lot of information to be told.

A WWII Veteran is honored at last year’s TC Patriot Game

Having spent many years as a news reporter, I am still a news junkie.  I read the news of today, but also read books that captured the news of history.  In fact I’m currently reading a book about WWII told through the narration of a German officer.  

Unfortunately humanity has a tendency to mark time by its wars.  There’s never a lack of wars to fill in our timeline.  I was born after WWII and during the Korean War.  My children were born during the Afghan War.  It’s really a sad way to measure the passage of time.

At the same time, it seems to be the right thing to do.  It seems we should be honoring those who put their personal lives on hold in service to their country.  We do that during the TC Patriot Game in Traverse City.  We honor our Veterans, active duty military, first responders and especially those who have died in service.  Up close you see tears form in the eyes of Veterans when over 10,000 people cheer them on and give a heart-felt “Thank You.”

I have never intimately known the sacrifice of Veterans and their families.  My career never took me to war.  I missed the Vietnam draft by a single month.  

When we mark the 75thanniversary of such an important event like D-Day, you have to appreciate an entire generation of young people that volunteered to go off to war.  They volunteered when the odds seems stacked against them.  They volunteered when there was no expectation they would ever return. They volunteered when America was not a big, bad military power.  They volunteered when there was a good chance we would lose the war.  

Tom Brokow’s labeled these people as “The Greatest Generation” in his book.  He gave them that title not only for heading off to war, but for coming back and building a strong economy and democracy.

My generation, and the generations that are following me are, standing on the shoulders of the greatest generation.  Very few of these great people are still alive today. 

But the lesson for today, is that we must never forget what makes us great.  Every one of us can appreciate that the D-Day generation got involved in something bigger than them.  They accomplished what many thought could never be accomplished. They freed countries from oppression.  They opened the gates of concentration camps.  They rebuilt Europe.

Our goals don’t have to be to free a country or concentration camps.  But we can all strive to accomplish something that others feel we will never accomplish.  If we fail, we can try again.  We can deserve to stand on the shoulders of the Greatest Generation if we set our sights on something greater than us.


The Company You Keep

Saying “No” can sometimes be the best answer.

It’s been said that not all business is good business.  Any businessperson has to decide who do you want your customer to be.  But saying “no” to new business can sometimes be the most difficult two-letter, single-word response to give.  It can also sometimes be the best response.

Although I’ve been in communications for over 40 years, my business would be considered a start-up. I opened my office at the beginning of this year.  But it’s not my first time around.  Michael Kent Communications opened about 13-years ago and closed to return to a previous employer.

Both then, and now – I think the decisions I’ve been most proud of, are the clients I walked away from.

This time around I have plenty of room for growth.  I am actively looking for more clients.  It makes me hungry.  I like to say I’m hungry, but not desperate.  In fact I have turned away more clients than I have accepted. 

When you are hungry for business, it could be considered nuts to reject clients.  But 40 years of working in communications has taught me that I need to work for people who I want to succeed.  

The old adage is very true: “You will be judged by the company you keep.”  You can go to the bible to find support for this. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” Proverbs 13:20.

(I’m not sure you’ll come across the word “walketh” in your travels today, but so glad I could present it to you.)

I believe the business I have rejected, I rejected for all the right reasons.  Two of them could actually have been lucrative national or regional accounts.  I just wasn’t convinced they were on the up-and-up.

I had a bit of an epiphany in considering those potential business opportunities.  I realized I’ve worked for decades to create a reputation that I think is respected.  But that reputation can be precarious.  It can be destroyed quickly if you choose to work with shady people. Not only could I have dragged down, but the decision could have destroyed other organizations that are highly respected.  I chose to walk away.

Instead, my first client I got onboard is Leelanau Christian Neighbors (LCN.)  Recently we had the groundbreaking for a new resale shop called Samaritans’ Closet.  These are people committed to helping families in Leelanau County that have fallen on hard times.  I’ve known some of the people from LCN for years and have been in awe of the work they do.  At the end of the day when I work for them part of the reward is knowing I’m contributing to a greater good.

Volunteers join the groundbreaking for the new Samaritan’s Closet at Leelanau Christian Neighbors.

I also work with Lautner Irrigation in Traverse City and quickly embraced the company and the owners.  They are hard-working folks with a desire service their customers.  Last week we started a new TV ad for their water care services. I get jazzed when I know I can help people succeed that I truly respect.

A new ad for Lautner created for their water care systems.

I can honestly say I respect every one of my clients.  I want to help all of them to prosper.  You bring a different energy to your workday when you give your best effort for people and businesses you hold in esteem.

How can you tell if a massive company should be held in high esteem?  You can always check out their mission statement and values statement, if they have one.  Do they live it?  Do they have high expectations of their people?  Are they centered on making a dollar, or serving their customer?  You can usually tell.

My old boss, Bill Marsh Sr. use to tell me, “don’t worry about making a profit, just do the right thing and you’ll make money.”

I haven’t always worked for people or companies I would consider ethical.  But when I did it made a remarkable difference.  

There are plenty of honorable people running great businesses.  That’s the company I choose to keep.   That’s the company that will keep me excited about going to work every day.  That’s the company that will make long workdays seem short.


The Fine Line Between Hero And Stupid

When creativity goes amok

I’ve had this picture in my cabinet for years.  But needed to dig it out this past week to share with my old roommate.  It always makes me laugh.  (For the record my wife is a lousy seamstress and she would never stitch on my superhero outfit.)  It really got me thinking that those of us who are in a creative field live in a fine line between being a hero, or just plain stupid.

With my last name “Kent” I was the subject of many Clark Kent references throughout my life. While I was never faster than a speeding bullet, or more powerful than a steaming locomotive – there was one time I was able to leap a tall building (although it was a building my kid made out of Legos, and it really wasn’t that tall.)

The thing is, when you are involved in marketing, you are on a constant quest to find the right theme, the right words, the right visuals to make your client stand out.  Your goal is to trigger the consumer’s brain to remember your client or their product.  So as a result you will try to push the envelope.  You often hear that you’ll never be a success in marketing unless you make your client sweat a little.  You make them uncomfortable.

That comfort distress could be in how much of their budget they devote to advertising or it could be in the creative of the message.  Or it could be both.

There are loads of times in my 40-year career in marketing, news and public relations that I felt totally justified to slip into my superhero uniform and have the wind whip my cape.  There were probably more times in that career when I would have been stitching “Stupid” on my own uniform.

I think that goes with our territory.  

In northern Michigan there are loads of examples of really good advertising and really bad advertising.  

Typically when you see talking dogs in local ads, they are examples of bad commercials.  Just because you can make dogs talk, doesn’t mean you should make your dog talk.  In fact most local attempts to use humor in their advertising will almost always fall flat.  Putting humor into radio and TV scripts is an extremely difficult task.  In a previous blog I mentioned the creative and humorous billboard ads of Maxbauer’s Meats.  They understand how to use humor.

I’m not immune to creating bad ads that totally fell flat.  Back when I was doing Saturn TV ads I tried using humor and the ads got pulled shortly after they ran.  They were pulled for a good reason.  The ads fit the category of being just plain stupid.  I spent a lot of time looking for the ads to show you, but I fear they found their way to a trashcan that should never be found.

There are plenty of truly outstanding local ads that are on radio and television.  Hopefully I’ve been responsible for some of them. But I’ve always been impressed with most of the ads for McLaren Hospital.   They are beautifully shot with a clear message.

While working with Big Brothers Big Sisters I created an ad using John Cueter from Fox Motors and Bill Marsh Jr. from the Bill Marsh auto group.

Neither Bill nor John, were comfortable with this ad.  Both challenged me right up to the time we had the camera in their face. Yet the final product was effective and worked to get the message out about the bowling event.  We used that spot for many years. Every year we got great response.

It has become easier for local advertisers to use special effects in their commercials. I’ve been known to drop cars from the sky, have the cars flip over and fall into the earth and come out of the earth.

But the special effects should not tell the whole story. They can be eye-catching, but you still need to make sure the effects help relay the key message and don’t get in the way of the message.

Back in 2006 I won three national Telly Awards for spots that I wrote and produced.  Each was visually interesting and effective. But by today’s standards, none of these would be in contention for an award.  When you push the envelope, the envelope continues to change.  While the envelope will change, our job remains the same. We need to be story tellers. Discover the story we need to tell and make it interesting for the public.

I would not be so brazen to say that my work would ever put me in the advertising hall of fame. But I would say that my work reflects my clients very well along with the needs of my clients.  I won’t be putting on my superhero cape any time soon, but I also won’t be hauling out my sewing kit and sewing  “Stupid” on my uniform. 

Be bold when you can. Push the envelope when you can. But at the same time, realize there will be mistakes.  Pull those mistakes as quickly as possible.  But don’t hesitate to push the boundaries another time. There is a fine line between genius and insanity.  Perhaps the next time you’ll discover genius.