Tuesday, August 18, 2009
August 17th, 1994. It's a day that I remember fondly for two reasons. First was the severe storm that raked portions of northwest Oklahoma from late morning into the early evening, featuring winds over 110 mph, which was blowing hail to the size of softballs (and, in at least one case, the size of a football) horizontally. As a weather wonk, a storm like this in the middle of August is a surprise bonus in the middle of the long, hot summer. While I don't root for damage or seeing people hurt, the ferocity of such a storm is always a thrill.
The storm lost intensity as the worst of it missed Oklahoma City and basically dumped a lot of rain on rush hour. What this meant for me was a washed out bike ride and an opportunity to instead meet my friends Steve, Lacy, and Penny for drinks at VZD's.
While Steve and Penny were printers and Lacy and I were ad types, we were all friends who shared the same sense of humor and twisted world view. Instead of getting together to bitch about our jobs or our clients, as so often happened with industry people, we were friends who generally shared the same occupation who just enjoyed each other's company (and sense of humor and twisted world view). Though we'd all gotten together separately for lunch or drinks, this was the first time we all managed to get out together.
I seem to recall it was just going to be a drink or two but, very quickly it was obvious that we were going to have too much fun to stop so early. Blue Sapphire martinis were the order of the day and the evening turned into a wonderful confluence of four sharp witted people sharing all their wildest observations, their best jokes and, occasionally, something that didn't elicit laughter (rare though it might have been). Ultimately, it was one of those nights that you don't recall much of the next morning, but remember forever. Four people, in rare form, doing nothing but spending a few hours together, enjoying cocktails, enjoying each other's company, and making each other laugh (hysterically).
Finally, the evening had to end and I remember we all checked each other in the parking lot to insure everyone was safe to drive home. Yes, this was the equivalent of the inmates running the asylum, but it worked for us that night, and we all got home safe, as the follow up calls to each other the next morning confirmed. I seem to remember heading to the Varsity for one or two more afterwards, but it was a sad follow-up to where I'd just been.
It was such a wonderful night that we all made a pledge to do it again. We all met individually for lunch or drinks, but the four of us never again got together. It was probably a good thing anyway, as nothing would have ever compared to the indescribable magic of that night.
A few years later, Penny decided to cast her lot in San Francisco, so the old gang of mine was never able to get back together. Sadly, it became an impossibility when Penny passed away in July 2007 after a long, valiant battle with breast cancer.
Till my dying day, that night will be the fondest memory I carry of Penny, hazy though it may be. In retrospect, it was her magnetism that brought us all together and it was her anything-goes, love of life that we all fed off of that night. August 17th, 1994 was 15 years ago and Penny's been gone for two years. And I remember Penny, and that night, like it was yesterday.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
With Lance Armstrong's return to the Tour de France this year, cycling returned to the American consciousness once again. And with that increased visibility, I again fielded more questions about pro cycling, how it works, the intricacies of team tactics, and more. And it dawned me as I explained a cycling concept to a friend how many parallels exist between an ad agency and a pro cycling team.
First off, they're both filled with dopers!
OK, that's not true, as cycling now tests relentlessly and, in spite of some the ads I see that leave me asking, "What were they on?", performance enhancing drugs don't really enhance advertising creativity.
Seriously, the Tour de France in its' broadest sense is all about advertising. The race was introduced in 1903 to sell more of the sponsor's newspapers and the iconic yellow leader's jersey was tinted to match the color of said newspaper. Today, the Tour de France sells official sponsorship opportunities for almost everything, a caravan precedes each day's stage with a rolling Mardi Gras of advertisers handing out promotional items and samples to spectators along the way, and each team has a corporate sponsor who wants to use pro cycling and its' vast (and mostly European) audience to promote their goods or services. Just like a Nascar vehicle, the rider's uniforms themselves are emblazoned with sponsor's logos designed to be seen as often as possible, including the primary sponsor's name across the back of a rider's butt, so it will appear prominently when I rider is shown from behind. In fact, so conscious are cyclists of getting the sponsor's name out, you'll often see a rider who's broken away from the pack for a stage win, sit up on his bike ato zip up and straighten his jersey, allowing the sponsor's name to be clearly legible in video and photos as he crosses the finish line.
On a smaller scale, each team is built like an ad agency. The team sponsor is the client and each rider is assigned a specific role to help the team win the race or even an individual stage and garner the most publicity and goodwill for the sponsor. Just as there are copywriters, designers, photographers, producers, and account execs at an agency, a cycling team is composed of time trial specialists, mountain climbers, sprinters, and domestiques, whose job is to support the riders on their team who excel in all those areas with the ability win the race overall.
So, given the parallels between a cycling team and an advertising effort, my challenge to you is this: Just as a pro cycling team would never count on a mountain climber to help win a time trial stage, do you have an IT expert designing your ads? Is a Sales Manager writing your ad copy? Getting an advertising message over the top of the mountain and winning the race requires the combined efforts of a team of specialists. Who's filling the important support roles on your team?