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.

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.   

Are You A Drain On Those Around You?

Your trials may create hope for others.

I was recently stunned when I heard that Kelsey Clous just celebrated her tenth-year of being a survivor.  I got to know Kelsey five years into her survivor journey.  She was a 21 year-old woman fighting a rare blood-clotting disorder.  While working at Bill Marsh Auto I helped organize a fundraising event called Caring for Kelsey.

The family, headed by mama Carol, was being overwhelmed with debt due to a steady stream of medical and non-medical bills.  They were about to lose their home and Carol was struggling to hang on to her job due to all the trips for medical treatment.

Thanks to tremendous community support the event was a huge success.  It was followed by another fundraiser hosted by J&S Hamburg called Grillin’ For Kelsey.  If I recall correctly the two events raised over $50,000.

Grillin For Kelsey was held at J&S Hamburg

Five years later, I would love to tell you that there is a storybook ending to this.  I’d love to say there was a medical miracle and Kelsey was cured.  I’d love to say Kelsey and her family are living happily ever after.  But life is not a storybook.  I can’t tell you those things.  What I can tell you is that Kelsey is a 10 year survivor.  She still struggles with the blood-clotting disease.  Mom tells me she has more good days than bad days.  Kelsey and her mom were able to attend a conference in Florida recently and take a few vacation days.  She did pretty well.  But life for the Clous family is a struggle.  

Carol will often have Facebook posts about all the blessings in her life.  Those blessings are often about folks that may have helped them. It could be a string of great days for Kelsey.  It could be that trip to Florida where Kelsey and Carol enjoyed themselves.

The intent of this blog post is not to pat myself and our community on the back and say we did such a great job in helping the Clous family.  No, what really struck me was that I was pretty sure that Kelsey, her mom and the whole family have no idea how they impacted the people around them. And in a recent conversation with Carol she confirmed my suspicion.

A huge crowd showed up to support Kelsey’s battle with a rare blood-clotting disorder

Getting to know the Clous family and to share their struggles and their triumphs has been a blessing to me.  And I know others who worked on Caring For Kelsey felt the same way.  I got to watch the dignity of this family as they dealt with a medical problem that would have broken the spirit of most other families.  I watched as they praised God for all their blessings.  Carol wrote, “I have faith that God has a plan for her (Kelsey.) She is lifted by God, and those who have come beside us to walk along on this journey.”

When I may be filled with self-pity for whatever reason, or challenged with my own lack of faith – I realize that I have been blessed to know the Clous family.   I am not their blessing – they are mine.

We have no idea the impact we have on the people we touch every day.  We can trigger self-loathing in others based on how we treat them. Or we can be an inspiration for them to pick themselves up and make the best of their day.  The inspiration you give to others could be given on the days you may be at your weakest. It could be showing others how you face adversity today.

For ten years Kelsey and her family have faced adversity.  For ten years the family has been an inspiration to others. They just didn’t know it.  

Kelsey’s story is still being written.  There is still time for a storybook ending.  But right now, in the middle of her story, they are a lesson to us all.  Face your adversity with strength.  You never know the lessons you are teaching others.

Caring for Kelsey included a lunch, silent auction and plenty of outright donations.

Life Is Like A Pop Machine – Advertising Is…

Manage your expectations

It’s really not an unrealistic expectation.  You stand in front of that bright red and white machine with a dollar or two in your hand. That hard-earned money goes to work for you the moment you put it in the machine and push a button. After you hear the mechanical sounds at work, the machine spits out a pop (or a soda if you live someplace other than the Midwest).  

It’s a great expectation when you are buying a pop.  And many people think the same should be true about their hard-earned advertising dollar.  That’s where you run into trouble.

We develop an expectation that if we put a dollar in the advertising machine, we should be able to sell a product — a dollar goes in and the product spits out.  That product can be a car, new shoes, dinners at a restaurant, or anything else you may sell.  

But advertising is not a machine.  It can be just as complicated as the mechanical works of that pop machine, but its impact is dependent on so many things.  What media are you using?  Who is your audience?  What was your message?  What is the reputation of your business?  How much repetition did you have with your message?

That last item can be key.  Studies indicate that each and every day we are subjected to anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 commercial messages.  It could be that logo on the red and white pop machine.  It could be a Facebook ad.  It could be a TV or radio ad.  You are constantly being bombarded.  It’s easy to get lost. 

There’s widespread disagreement on how many times an ad needs to be seen in order to be remembered.  It can be anywhere from three to 20.  If you’re paying for the ad, you want it to be three.  If you’re selling the ad, you want it to be 20. Based on my own experience, I tend to believe that number is around seven or eight.  So if you place one ad and expect people to respond, you may have an unrealistic expectation.

Then you toss in the Broca impact.  Roy H. Williams is known in advertising as “The Wizard Of Ads” and I’m a huge proponent of Roy.  He talks about this area of the brain that is responsible for a large part of your ability to talk and understand communication.  It is also the part of your brain that anticipates the predictable.  If Broca sees or hears something that is fully predictable – it has a tendency to discard that information.  And when you sleep, it treats your memory like a blackboard and wipes out much of what it considers to be useless information. That means if you want an ad to be noticed, there needs to be something unpredictable so that Broca sits up and takes notice.  That’s why comedic ads (think Old Spice ads) or strange ads (think most Geico ads) are carefully crafted by high-priced New York ad agencies.

Most local advertisers don’t have the budgets to hire those New York ad agencies.  But they do have the time to carefully consider what their message should be.  If you ever find yourself looking at an ad or a script and say, “That’s good enough.”  You can bet it isn’t. 

Dig deep into your business.  Figure out what you do better than your competition.  Ask your customers why they came knocking on your door.  Take time to understand their needs.  And most of all, craft a message that is “You.”  It represents what you stand for and how you hope to benefit your customer.  Take the time to make it look good or make it sound good. 

When you craft the message, make sure that it’s not about you – it’s about the customer.  I recently signed on as the agency for Lautner Irrigation.  I’m excited about this.  It’s a family run business that’s been around for nearly 50-years.  They made it clear to me their success is tied to the quality of their product and focusing their business on the customer. If we run an ad that says, “we’ve been in business for 47 years,” that’s about them.  If we run an ad that says “we bring 47 years of knowledge to your yard,” that’s about the customer.

Finally, be in marketing for the long run.  Don’t look to see what happened this month or next month.  Give it at least six months and be very aware of trends.  Is your advertising impacting your trends?  

I have seen aggressive advertisers go black for months and not see an impact on their business. That blackness eventually caught up and the businesses saw a predictable decline.  It can take two or three times to recover from letting up off the gas.

Advertising is not a pop machine.  There will be times you put in a dollar, and get nothing back.  Other times you put in a dollar and get three pops out. There will still be times when you push the button without putting in your dollar and you get that pop. Advertising works.  You just have to make sure you have the right medium, frequency and message.