Friday, June 27, 2014

Boomer Bummer

Maybe this reads like a rant but I'm just recently becoming more at peace with generational differences. I mean you just have to put it into context. Boomers ruled for a long time. Generation Xers were just starting to make some progress in the world and BANG the Millenials hit the  ground running with a completely new digital reality. 

So a bunch of us were born between 1947 and say 1962. We were celebrated as a generation with loose morals and anti-war sentiments. We also thought about mind altering drugs as a way to tune in and turn on man. We were against the status quo and looking for alternative lifestyles. We wanted justice and equal rights. The post World War II period was a time of unprecedented prosperity in the United States. Our parents built homes and bet big time on the American Dream. It spralled and it spawned a lot of us kids who believed in making the world a better place through peace and love. We watched a lot of TV but still made time for our friends.

Fast forward a bit and all of the sudden nearly 78 million of us are reaching retirement age. We aren’t all that happy about it either. Some economic downturns and a lot of sea-change in how business is done makes boomers uncomfortable. Well, let’s just talk about a few businesses that have changed radically as a result of digital media/technology: Photography. Printing. Newspapers. News. Telephony. Well sure we saw it coming for years. It was kind of cute when the generation X’ers started talking about: how film would be replaced by digital media; how news would be more open and free flowing through the constant stream of internet sources on the information superhighway; how conventional news organizations would be trumped by social media and how we’d all have to have smart phones that can do what cameras, newspapers and land lines used to do for us. Xers predicted it. Millenials own it.

OMG we are on the fast track to Squaresville. I mean really daddy-o. The technology is cool and we have apps that help us negotiate even the most routine tasks like grocery shopping and finding the way to that really great new restaurant. Now the Millenials (born after around 1980) are making the X’ers feel tragically un-hip. It’s all so intuitive man. I mean really. Boomers are getting side-swiped daily by hit-and-run digital geeks that suggest that lives are scarcely worth living if we cannot access movie times, restaurants, groceries at the click of a finger. And how un-cool is it to ask just a few close friends when you can ask your peeps online or (better yet) crowd source an even larger pool of people.

Is this really better? Maybe. Maybe not. But we aren’t going back. Sorry Boomers, its not our turn anymore. Step aside old man, I got a killer app for that. It’s called Retro…it’s all in B&W, you’re gonna have to watch a lot of commercials.  

Friday, June 13, 2014

Business Development Problems

The Business Development Meeting

“Hey, where’s Chris? He was supposed to be here at 8:00. We said we we’re going to discuss strategy for this county hospital project. The first response is due this week. I’ve read this RFP. I’m not in charge of this thing but Chris asked me to sit in on this strategy session. By the way, one of the things I bring to this group is the fact that I am an architect. Since an architect seems to be taking the lead on the Hospital project, I think I might be able to provide a little insight on what they might be looking for.”

“Oh, here’s Chris. I’ll see if I can get the president to join us. Hey marketing guy, can you show me a copy of the book we sent in response to this RFP? “

“Sure, I’ll be right back.”
The conference room which minutes earlier was populated by a dozen members of the estimating team is now occupied with a business development meeting that is trying to get underway. 

 “We really need to consider how we position our approach as an advantage.  We’ve put 15 million cubic yards of concrete in place in this region. That gives us a ton of information and local knowledge.”

“Where did you get than figure.”

“I made it up.  I’m kidding, it’s a real number.”

“You know this is a Brownfield site. Who in this room really understands Brownfield Sites?  This is going to be important to these guys. “

“Well, the Construction Management part of this is something I have no experience in here. I mean I can try but true Construction Management and Conceptual Estimating in particular is not something I can point to a bunch of jobs where that has been my responsibility.”

“Your experience is more relevant here than you realize. Don’t kid yourself Dan, your experience might be more relevant than the B.S. some of your competitors put out there. I mean our primary competitor has a guy that does nothing but conceptual estimating in-house.  We need to structure it so our team has a Mechanical, Electrical, Structural, Civil -  These guys don’t have to even be in the room but they will want to see a team that is that comprehensive. Remember this is an architect leading this selection process. The thing architect dreads the most is having to re-draw. If you don’t have a good group up-front with conceptual estimating the architect will roll his eyes and think to himself – here we go again.”

“That’s right. When we do our estimating now we tend to send it out to a bunch of subs to get a number. We need an in-house guy that can come up with a number that is at least a starting point.”

“Now we can talk like developers.”

 “Okay, so with all due respect - Who is going to lead this team?”

So, does this scenario seem at all familiar? 

Business Development – Case Study

As a follow up to the scenario provided in part one of this two part blog we deconstruct a little and challenge you to consider how you can avoid common pitfalls. Based on our case example, here are eight common problems that arise.

Problem 1.  Passive Aggressiveness “Hey, where’s so and so? He/she was supposed to be at this meeting. Make business development a routine part of business. Your business depends on timely responses to requests. Ad hoc teams sometimes are needed but winning new business should be an understood top priority.  

Problem 2. Self-Declared Leader Just because someone claims to be uniquely qualified doesn’t mean they should drive. The more technical the job; The more complex the stakeholders; The more likely diverse skills will be required. This is not a time for musical chairs. Manage the business. 

Problem 3. Marketing in a Silo Sometimes routine is so seamless we forget. Be involved in all the components of your company positioning and marketing materials. If someone in your project leadership team has to say: Hey marketing guy, can you show me a copy of the book we sent in response to this RFP?  Something might not be quite right.

Problem 4. Positioning The object of the game is NOT to change colors like a chameleon. True positioning doesn’t work like that. You need to learn from each proposal but you also need to be true to your company strengths as you respond.   

Problem 5. Gaps in Expertise Part of being true to your company and your brand is recognizing weaknesses and owning them. By doing so you can fortify or augment those gaps. Surprisingly, candor will strengthen your credibility. You must be willing to truly examine requests as they matches your capabilities. By doing so you will better understand the marketplace.

Problem 6. Believing your own Hype It is important to celebrate your accomplishments and pat your colleagues on the back. BUT, you are in a competitive situation. Put your best foot forward. But always with a clear understanding of your resources.

Problem 7. Trashing the Competition. It is a mistake to underestimate your opponent. It is also mistake to fall into a false sense of security because you allowed yourself to be superior. Things change.

Problem  8. Status Quo You may be playing a numbers game with responses RFQ/RFI/RRP (requests for qualification, information or proposals). Beware of the boilerplate assumptions and the idea that one size fits all. Treat every request as a unique opportunity. You may even decide to walk away from some of them. But if you decide to go for it: Go for it! 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The U at the Shoe at OSU

Welcome to the Shoe
OSU vs. UM
September 11, 2010

So I find myself with a bottle of Heineken and a $15 Rocky Patel cigar on Varney’s lawn tossing bags filled with corn kernels into a hole placed on an inclined plane just under 12 paces away. This tailgate activity is in anticipation of the meeting between The Ohio State University Buckeyes and the University of Miami Hurricanes. Ohio State is ranked number 2 and Miami is ranked number 12 prior to this early season contest. The football game isn’t until 3:30 p.m. but we are already in pre-game ritual mode at 10:30 a.m. (I know right away, it’s good to pace yourself. There will be more beers at the Thirsty Scholar and the Varsity Bar before the game.)

JV is an awesome host and he has worked his Columbus network so my boy Ben and I can sit front row center at the 50 freakin’ yard line. It’s dreamlike and remarkable. We are both Hurricanes, Ben being of a more recent vintage. The good fortune is too good to be true. I know Ben and I are both secretly worried that the ‘Canes might embarrass us in the Shoe, in front of 105,000+ fans, mostly in scarlet, grey and white but this is something to experience even if you have no stake the game.

It’s great to have Ben along. He gets a glimpse of my nephew’s success, bravado and good humor. Jim and Susan Varney are all smiles around their little girl, Colleen. She’s 17 months old and an absolute sweetheart. Don’t try to double cross her by offering a cookie without delivering the goods, though. She’s still a baby, but such an angel. Jim and Susan manage the compound on Sharon Hill with grace and ease. Still JV is determined to “get off the grid” and sell the house and eventually get some property with some acreage.

JV (Jim Varney) is his own man. He’s enjoying a good bit of success after years of building his roofing business. He is a bootstrap entrepreneur who proudly accepts his responsibility as a good corporate citizen. Universal Energy is not a complicated business model but it is one that requires full attention to details and relentless pursuit of insurance money of which his customers have claims after storm damage or deterioration over time. Your home needs to be right. You need to be whole. You need Universal Energy to make sure the job is done right. Universal Energy signs are popping up all over the state of O-H!….I-O! and you can’t fault JV for a little pride in his own alma mater.

Team spirit and school pride are both good things. But Miami has a reputation for gangsta swagger and Ohio State is the college experience on steroids. This isn’t a quaint college town and this ain’t just any given Saturday. These boys came to play. And the alumni, the town and the atmosphere is charged. This is NOT a neutral site. There are only smatterings of green and orange and white gear, Ben is sporting the shades and do-rag with a jersey and green pants that scream “I am a Hurricane” and I’m wearing a Miami baseball jersey. Both brave apparel choices as we enter enemy territory.   

Jim warned us that Ohio State fans can be assholes, especially on game day when the pride is pumped up with each cold beer. They walk a fine line between gracious and vicious. You can see emotions run high. How you interpret trash talk and how you respond can easily ignite an explosion. It’s all in good fun. But it’s also wise to respect the away turf. Thousands of people milling around house parties, parking lots, bars and local taverns are getting ready for the big show at the Shoe. Not everyone is a ticket holder. This is a celebration and the game is on n national television.  

This is an event in Columbus, Ohio that you simply cannot ignore. If you are bold enough to be sporting Hurricane Gear you will most certainly be greeted with passing comments that fall into three categories:
1.      Pity – “Oh, I’m so sorry. We hope you enjoy the day.”
2.      Contempt – “You suck. You are going down.”
3.      Sportsmanship – “Good luck and Fuck you.”

The outcome of the game is somewhat predictable. The Columbus Dispatch sports page put it this way: As classics go, this was no January night in Tempe, circa 2003. But who wants to live in the past anyway? Ohio State validated its No. 2 ranking with a big-game victory that was earned equally by its offence and defense. Now, about those special teams…

A perfect segue for media to feed on itself. God knows they need to sell newspapers and provide chatter for talk radio. Why not start the discussion with how we might improve the Buckeyes? Any expanded conversations about the Hurricanes play will be used only as a basis for given props to the Buckeyes. Example: Star of the Game - Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. He passed for 223 yards and a TD and, most important, committed no turnovers. In the duel between him and Jacory Harris – and considering Harris was intercepted four times – the nod goes to Pryor.   

You see they aren’t trying to dis the Hurricanes. They only wish to seek an illustration, albeit painful maybe, of how dominant they are as Buckeyes. Fine. But when the Hurricanes get home they can head to South Beach. The Buckeyes will have to drive a good distance away from Columbus to escape the smell of beer, the roar of self righteous fans and the sounds of wet-vacs in barroom restrooms.

Ohio remains among the hardest hit states for an ongoing economic downturn[W1] . Ohio State is a source of hope, optimism and a vision for the future. The Buckeyes, like the Hurricanes are part of a team that represents so much more. I’m happy for the Buckeyes and I was glad to witness their success, even though it was at the expense of My Hurricanes. The cool thing is, a handful of these players will be pulling down some major coin as professionals playing for the NFL on Sunday soon enough.   Jim and Susan – I can’t thank you enough. Thanks for having us. I know Ben and I had a great time!

Wes Morgan is founder and Principal of Morgan Studio/East. Recent projects have included a new product (The Inferno by Harris), a food color  ingredient campaign around a key industry trade show(ROHA) and a brand assignment for integrating the trademarks and logo treatments for RehabCare and Triumph. In September, Wes will start as Director of Marketing and Communication for Crossland Construction Company, a top100 contractor according to Engineering News Record. Contact:


Happy Anniversary Dave & Joyce

Little Egypt, Saluki Golf at Hickory Ridge, Tres Hombres,
Old Load Weekend, the Burning Purse, “Draw Me” Commercial Art Correspondence School and the opposite of a Bucket List

April 30, 2010

Dave is late meeting us at SQWIRES restaurant parking lot at Lafayette Square in St. Louis, probably due to the orchestration of passengers Sammy, Danny, Nicole and of course, Joyce; not to mention his brother Steve and his boy Taylor following in a separate vehicle.  Shaughnessy and I are not concerned as the caravan does come together at 8:20 a.m. (only about five minutes behind schedule). We depart on the two-hour drive to Carbondale, Illinois led by Shaughnessy in a Japanese-manufactured minivan followed by Joyce and the girls in Dave’s Chevy Suburban and brother Steve with Taylor in a sport utility with the license plate EARBOB.

Dave explains that the vanity plate is what’s left of Steve’s share of a business he started with his ex-wife. Earbob is a brand of funky fashionable earrings but Shaughnessy and I agree that plate has got to go, since that business is no longer any concern of Steve’s. He’s got enough on his plate as Creative Director at Paradowsky where he’s worked for 20 years. Paradowsky is a leading design firm in St. Louis which until recently had a long tradition of no layoffs. The economy has Steve a little distracted on this Spring Friday morning.

The brothers Cox are both alumni of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIU-C). Both of them credit the school with their early training and discipline as graphic designers. Today, Dave is principal and founder of Sandbox Creative.  He blazed the trail to Carbondale after considerable angst with his father, a former Navy man who lived through stress of the Cuban Missile Crisis. As a young boy, Dave came across a three-ring binder from one of those “Draw Me” Commercial Art Correspondence Schools with assignments completed by his father a long time ago. The binder was living proof that a career in commercial art was something Dad seriously considered himself. But it was the Guidance Counselor at Griffin High School in Springfield, Illinois that suggested the school in the southern part of the state might have the program that could make this dream a reality for Dave.

Professor Yack only had to hint at the idea of two brothers graduating from the rigorous design program after Dave demonstrated the quality of instruction and a hereditary talent, and Dad was on board with the idea of Steve following in Dave’s footsteps at SIU-C.

The drive to the southern portion of the State of Illinois takes you though rural towns and cities like Nashville, Pinckneyville and Murphysboro. Tiny shops and small town squares are evidence of life in the Middle-West in times gone by. The southern tip of Illinois was dubbed Little Egypt for its extremely fertile soil and supposed similarity to the Nile river delta. 

Dave is proud to wear the Maroon and White of his alma mater and insists on pointing out landmarks on the campus and surrounding area. The Bookstore (where Dave worked for part of his tuition), the Pullium Hall Clock Tower (the image of which is the basis of the school’s logo), the McAndrews football stadium (soon to be demolished in favor of a newer stadium for the Salukis) and several old haunts from “back in the day.” The campus is 1,133 acres and accommodates more than 20,000 students. Dave and his brother (and Dave’s wife Joyce) are among the 220,000 graduates of this fine institution which was founded in 1869 originally as a teacher’s college.  

The school’s mascot is a gentle, friendly, even-tempered and extremely devoted ancient breed of dog. Ancestors of the Saluki were found mummified in tombs of the Pharaohs. The greyhound like animal made perfect sense as a choice for mascot for the school situated in Little Egypt.

Hickory Ridge golf course is ready for the alumni event and our foursome is ready to go…or maybe not. Steve is preoccupied with his iPhone messages and we are starting on a par three hole which we all agree is a less than optimal place to warm up to the round that will require a scramble score of ten under to win. Nevertheless, it was a day in which the impending thunderstorms held off and the weather cooperated for the most part, with the exception of some gusty winds that made approach shots tricky.

“I have an idea that I would recommend to anyone,” offers Steve, “and it’s the simple notion of the opposite of a bucket-list. You remember the movie where Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson have a list of things they want to do before they die ….well I have a Fuck-it list of things I’m never gonna do….like run a Triathlon. I encourage you to start your own list.”

“Someday… the Cox Brothers Auditorium will be located adjacent to the Sandbox Pavilion on campus. You know just off the quad. Surely you guys are gonna bankroll some alumni tower at least, right?”(This is part of my running gag, but you never can tell.)

Shaughnessy is focused and Dave is often competing for the long ball with his brother. All things considered, we did okay. Clearly we needed to sink more putts. We finished five under par.

At Tres Hombres we encountered the girls golf team auction; Dave and Joyce’s best man, Gary (selling raffle tickets); Michelle, the Executive Director of the Alumni Association; a string of  former Rugby followers here for “load weekend” and full house of patrons at the bar. It was here that Dave proposed marriage to Joyce with a crafted puzzle, the last piece of which had the ring. She said yes. Now about twenty years later, we are seated at a table with 11 year old Sammy (“She’s taller than Joyce, can you believe it?”), Danny (Danielle) and Nicole.

“After ten beers… I was pretty impressed with Joyce… All 98 pounds of her.  It was a blind date not long after the burning purse incident… You see Joyce used to smoke.”  Dave is giving Shaughnessy and I all kinds of insight into the early days of Joyce and Dave. (Some of which Joyce would just assume not share with the girls.) They met at SIU-C and are glad to be back. They are happy the Tres Hombres is still doing a brisk business even as they mourn the loss of the Hanger. It feels like home.    
Tom and I make good time going back to St. Louis, even if we missed the only directions Dave gave us which was “See this road, it’s Thirteen West….It splits and you need to get back on it when you leave Carbondale… oh look at those people tied together …it must be old load weekend…” (No worries, Tom is expert at accessing Mapquest directions on his iPhone). We drove through a spectacular lightning and thunderstorm that delayed the St. Louis Cardinals vs. Cincinnati game. The lights were still on at the ballpark as we arrived in St. Louis.

Another big adventure comes to a close. Go Salukis!

Notes: The “burning purse” is a perfect cliffhanger for the end of Season One of the 13 episode hit TV show. And Yacovelli’s Restaurant (near Lenny’s house) in North County is a perfect segue from chapter 12 to chapter 13 where we meet Professor Yack in the fictionalized novel based on Dave, Joyce and the Carbondale experience. In the book, we flash forward to Griffin High School Guidance office and flash forward again to a giant alumni gathering at the Sandbox Pavilion on campus and flash back to Dad working hard to complete the “Draw Me” Commercial Art Correspondence Course….and flash forward to young Dave Cox discovering the finished product of that course in a three ring binder that changed the course of his life. 
Graphically, the TV show features that burning purse. The Book will feature the three ring binder and the “Draw Me” ad that started it all. 

# # #

Wes Morgan is Principal of Morgan Studio/East, a firm designed to help companies with planning and execution of effective marketing communications. For More Information Contact: Wesley A. Morgan, 2 Glenmaro Lane, Town & Country, MO 63131 (314) 692-7982 Cell (314) 488-9430, e-mail Morgan is author of Plan. Design. Execute. which is available at and can be downloaded FREE a chapter at a time.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Art of Loss

It was November of 2012 when last I visited the home of Barb and Ray Flunker. I recall thinking how nice it was to be invited to someone’s home for the express purpose of art and conversation. I had visited with Barb at the “Carts & Cocktails” fundraiser event at Laumeier Sculpture Park just a few days prior. She was the official docent outside Jackie Ferrara’s site specific sculpture that night. She is a wonderful guide and loves to engage people in dialogue.

But this time, I am among the friends and family coming to the Flunker’s house to pay respects and celebrate their son Joe who died in a house fire. Barb and Ray are surely dealing with unimaginable grief. No-one should have to lose a son or daughter. It isn’t supposed to happen that way. Yet both Barb and Ray heroically demonstrate strength and gratitude for the time they had with their son Joe. Their son was taken
and likely passed peacefully. His two dogs managed to get out of the house. These dogs (one of which is a beagle sleeping on the kitchen floor) are now in Barb and Ray’s home.

Through the docent program at Laumeier, I have come to appreciate the Flunkers as patrons of the arts, maybe a little philosophic and genuinely nice people. Barb shares the wonder of a near perfect “last visit” with her son. She says this while admitting she is avoiding eye-contact with so much empathy. It is with a mixture of joy and sadness that she recognizes those moments in hindsight. Ray says the emotions come and go. “It’s the little things that trigger it,”  he says. He knows that the (seemingly trite) advice we often hear “to cherish those little things in life before it is too late” is too painfully true. Barb is happy to have guests arrive but matter-of-factly notes, “All these wonderful people are here because Joe is no longer with us.” Barb is a rock as a receiving line forms. She is gracious and proudly wears glassworks on a necklace, of which were recovered from the rubble of Joe’s charred house.

It is times like these in which we look for meaning. Symbolism abounds. A practice portrait, a study for a painting that was lost in the fire is on display by the circle drive. Barb’s painting is an expression of Joe and his dogs jogging into the horizon. The composition was collecting light rain as if tears. As friends and family queued up and filled the foyer and front hallway the sun began to shine. The rain returned later in the day, as that joy and sadness would surely do.

Until we die, we cannot know that death is not the greatest joy.