In the seven or so years I’ve published this blog I don’t think I’ve presented a guest author before. But this Miami Herald article is so wonderful and inspirational that I just had to share. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. For complete transparency, you should know that I’m on the board of Our Kids.
BY CARLOS DE LA CRUZ JR. AND CLAUDIA DE LA CRUZ
Unexpected moments in life are often the most rewarding. May is National Foster Care month and it is also a time when our family reflects upon one of the most unexpected and rewarding times in our lives.
Education and improving the lives of abused and neglected children have been the focus of our family’s community service. For the past several years, Carlos has served as a volunteer board member and the immediate past chair of the Board of Trustees of Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Inc., the lead agency for Community-Based Care in Miami and the Keys.
For years our family believed that serving on boards and volunteering to support charities was the best and most effective way to give back to our hometown community. This thinking all changed abruptly last August when we received a call from Our Kids about a teenager attending school near Key Biscayne, where we live, who needed a temporary home. Our Kids’ staff wanted to ensure that she would not need to be moved from her high school and they contacted us to see if we knew of a family that lived nearby that might be willing to consider becoming foster parents.
Halfway through the conversation we had our eureka moment, and before the call ended we knew that by calling us, the staff had already found the family they were seeking for this teenager.
Although Carlos was very knowledgeable about Florida’s foster-care system as a result of his years of service on the Our Kids Board, the thought of becoming foster parents had never occurred to us — until that instant, during that phone call.
Without hesitation, we said we would love to be considered as her new foster family. That was the day our journey to become foster parents began. Without warning or planning, and only with our instinctual desire to help a family in need, we jumped in headfirst. We soon met with the young woman and we all knew that we immediately clicked. Our adult children and our extended family were enthusiastically welcoming and supportive — everyone was on board.
Our Kids’ staff visited our home, conducted the necessary background checks and we immediately began attending the training classes so that our new foster child could come live with us.
While we had been involved with Our Kids for years, this was the first time we had experienced firsthand, the amazing support, training and protections Our Kids and its network of case-management agencies provides for hundreds of foster children and families in Miami and the Keys.
That was almost a year ago, since then we have worked diligently to earn our foster child’s trust and the trust of her biological family. In between, we have attended many court hearings and staff meetings with her and for her.
This year we will celebrate her 18th birthday and we plan on having her remain with us after she ages out of foster care. We have already begun the planning to help her to transition to college and we will continue guiding her toward a fulfilling and rewarding life. Our home has been a perfect fit, matching her needs with our strengths.
We created a home for her that allows her to complete an impressive and competitive high school education without interruption or disruption. We are doing for her exactly what we did for our own children when they were teenagers: helping her prepare for SATs; supporting her preparation for AP tests; taking her on college tours; and otherwise preparing her for life as a responsible adult.
Many people tell us that our foster daughter is lucky to be with us, but through this fortuitous and very unexpected turn of events, we discovered that we’re the lucky ones. She is a brilliant child, blessed with many talents and gifts. The greatest gift of all is the joy that she has brought into our lives.
Despite all the years we’ve spent helping to positively impact the lives of children through our charitable work, we never could have imagined how personally rewarding it could be to serve at this level — as foster parents.
By becoming foster parents, our lives have been forever changed for the better.
If you live in Miami or in the Florida Keys and are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent, contact Our Kids by calling 1-855-786-KIDS or click HERE.
My father was a passionate proponent of architecture and design. Throughout his career he worked with some of the best in South Florida, including Gail Baldwin and Don Sackman, Roney Mateu, Frank Schulwolf, Jordan Barrett and Murray Gaby, and Manny Abraben. I don’t think my dad ever worked with Alfred Browning Parker but I know he was a big fan.
Wikipedia says Alfred Browning Parker “was a Modernist architect who is one of the best-known post World War II residential architects. He gained fame for his highly published modern houses in the region around Miami, Florida.”
Once a year House Beautiful, the primary architecture magazine of the 1950s and 1960s dedicated an entire issue to their House Of The Year. Four of Parker’s homes were selected, more than any other architect. In 2006 Wallpaper* magazine chose Woodsong, Parker’s Miami residence, for their “Top 10 Houses of the World,” the only house chosen in all of North America.
On Friday I was lucky enough to have lunch with a group of Miami creative leaders that included Parker’s son Robin. Robin sent me his dad’s list of “Aphorisms For Architects” from an early issue of The Florida Architect that I know my dad would have loved. More relevant to all of us, Parker’s aphorisms are perfect not just for architects but for marketers, entrepreneurs, speakers, business people and anyone striving to do a great job and make a difference. You might have to change an architecture-specific term here or there to fit your own profession — and life — but I think you’ll get the picture.
I am honored to share these with you. Thank you Robin (and ABP).
Alfred Browning Parker’s Aphorisms For Architects
In response to last week’s blog post How To Skin A Horse Of A Different Color, John Calia wrote, “A great modern day parable that explains the power of inductive reasoning. It’s McKinsey-level strategic thinking applied to everyday business and personal challenges.”
Thanks, John. I just thought it was a simple explanation of a complicated concept.
That’s what we do every day — reduce very complicated and not very compelling product explanations into short, simple, easy-to-understand, and profitable brands. Because these strategically simple messages make consumers regard, remember, and respond.
But if you’re thinking about how to reduce your brand message to just one word, I know what you’re thinking. “Sure, Bruce, defining an issue and standing for something makes a lot of sense and I can see how it works for others, but…(big sigh)…I’m different. After all, my business is much more diverse, much more creative, and much more customized to my clients’ specific needs…(bigger sigh)…you see, I do too many different things. There’s just no way I could shoehorn everything I offer into a couple of words.”
Really? Your business is too complicated to brand simply? Well then, consider Volvo.
Volvo is ostensibly in the car business. But that means they are really in a number of different businesses — transportation, manufacturing, research and development, metallurgy, engineering, upholstery, design, import/export, logistics, to name just a few. Plus, they operate retail stores (for both new and used products), and also provide sales, service, and accessories. Volvo operates under the governmental regulations of the hundreds of countries, states, and municipalities they operate in. They work in multiple languages, with multiple consumers, and in multiple currencies. And don’t forget that they don’t just make consumer automobiles. Volvo also manufactures buses and trucks and provides engines and engineering for lots of other companies. And yet despite this incredible complexity, Volvo still describes themselves with their commitment to one word: safety.
Volvo’s brand description isn’t even about what they actually provide. Nowhere in their branding do they talk about transportation or about getting from point A to point B. They talk about safety. And this positioning is so valuable that when Volvo introduced an SUV, arguably the new American suburban family car, their XC70 outsold all foreign SUVs (European and Asian) combined.
But it’s not just Volvo that understands the value of a simple brand position.
New York is “The Big Apple.” Chicago is solidly Midwestern. Los Angeles is movies, Las Vegas is sin. Miami is hip. What are you?
Apple built their brand on the da Vinci line, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and it’s driven their product philosophy ever since, most recently resulting in one single button controlling your iPhone or iPad. Despite the outcry from Blackberry users, Apple’s iPhone does not have a raised keyboard.
Here’s what Mr. Mo’ sang:
“Two cars, three kids, six phones; a whole lot of confusion up here in my home.
500 stations on the TV screen, 500 versions of the same ol’ thing.
Y’all know it’s crazy, and it’s drivin’ me insane.
Well, I don’t wanna be a superman, I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands.
And keep it simple.
I called my doctor on the telephone; the lines were open, but there was nobody home.
Press one, press two, press pound, press three; why can’t somebody just pick up the phone and talk to me?
Well I went down to the local coffee store; the menu went from the ceiling all the way down to the floor.
Decaf, cappuccino, or latte said the cashier; I said gimme a small cup of coffee and let me get the hell up outta here.
Y’all know it’s crazy, and it’s drivin’ me insane.
Well now I don’t wanna be a superman, I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands.
And keep it simple, real simple.”
Thoreau famously wrote, “Simplify, simplify.” But maybe if he had heard Keb’ Mo’s song, he would’ve cut his credo in half to just “Simplify.”
The most exciting and profitable part of my business is often also the most frustrating — valuing our ideas.
After all, clients don’t come to us because they want to be patrons of the arts. They call us up and hire us because they have a problem and they need to find someone to help them solve it. Of course this is not a new phenomenon. Based on my reading I often wonder if the Medicis hired Michelangelo in 1512 because they wanted to support his talent or because the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was stained.
Sometimes client problems are really problems of implementation – they need a website built or a brochure created by a certain date. Maybe they need a media plan strategized and carried out or maybe they need a new signage and wayfinding program. They come to us because we’re good at what we do, sure, but they also come because they know we can get it done – on time and on budget.
But the clients who really value what we do and who get the real money making ideas from us are the ones who come asking for a strategic solution to a big problem. How do they change their brand to address the new demands of a more diverse marketplace, for example, how do they profit from the new realities of an economically powerful Latin America, or how do they introduce and manage new media into their successful but quickly aging traditional marketing plan?
These clients know they need to change and they know they need new ideas, they just don’t know how to find them. And so they come to us.
Our best clients, the ones who give us the latitude and the resources we need to do our job, are also the ones who get the best results. That’s because we can come back to them with breakthrough ideas that change their consumers’ perceptions and create the powerful brands that build business.
When Michael Earley was named CEO of health care company Metropolitan Health Networks, the stock price was in a death spiral and had fallen to a record low of 85 cents. We helped Michael create and build four brands, including MetCare, AdvantageCare, Symphony Health Partners and ContinuCare. Last month, Michael and his team sold Metropolitan Health Networks to Humana for approximately $850 million at a share price of $11.50.
When Bill Talbert took over the reins at the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau 23 years ago, the community was rocked by a number of disasters that kept visitors away in droves. Today, our “It’s So Miami,” campaign is on everyone’s lips and Miami is one of the most valuable tourism brands in the world with record attendance of over 13.4 million visitors in 2012.
When Hank Yunes hired us to reposition his company’s retirement communities, the financial crises had forced housing prices to new lows. Just one year later, our Younger Next Year branding program had increased home sales by over 62% in their properties outside of Orlando and Phoenix.
With successes like those, you might wonder how valuing ideas can be frustrating. After all, we’re very well paid to help our clients build their businesses. But here’s the problem: before we go to work, and before our efforts pay off, our pitch of great ideas and compelling brands is just a promise. It’s not until after our ideas are implemented and begin to bring in business and dollars that our clients can truly see the advantages.
Because of this disconnect, we’ve had clients who have looked at our solutions and said, “I could’ve thought of that.” Needless to say, they hadn’t thought of it yet, but that reality didn’t stop them from devaluing our ideas. After all, if you sit an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters, one of them will type Shakespeare. But you have to read an infinite amount of monkey babble before you find it.
Of course great clients like Earley, Talbert, and Yunes see the value up front and encourage us to do whatever it takes to respond to their needs. And these are the kinds of guys who look at our presentations and never say, “I could have thought of that,” but instead nod, smile, and say, “I should have thought of that.”
Recognizing the value of an idea, and the difference between “should’ve” and “could’ve” is often the difference between success and failure. And de-commoditizing our services to better differentiate our solutions from other generic practitioners is our challenge for the new year. My guess is it’s yours, too.
Last Sunday night about 110 million Americans sat around their HD campfires and shared in a traditional event – the Super Bowl.
But this year something was different this year , and I’m not talking about the 34-minute delay caused by the Superdome’s super brownout. Instead, it was the proliferation of multiple screens people used while they watched the game. This year, more than any other, we didn’t merely discuss the game and the ads with the people in the room with us, but we interacted with our tribes from all around the world over Twitter and Facebook.
As I’ve written before, if the only tool you have is a hammer, all solutions look like nails. So while I was watching the big game, most of the online conversations I was following were about advertising. Opinions were flying around so fast and furiously that it sometimes seemed like people must’ve had their heads buried in Twitter during the game and only looked at their TVs when the commercials came on.
Here are a couple of insights I picked up from reading what people were saying:
Women viewers hated the face-sucking ad for GoDaddy (supermodel Bar Refaeli making out with proto-nerd Walter) and the male fantasy ad for Axe (a young bikini-clad woman ditches her hero lifeguard for a beach-walking astronaut) while they loved the feel-good Budweiser ad with the baby Clydesdale. Though the first two products probably aren’t bought by as many women as men (and boys), I always assumed that Budweiser was a male-skewed product, too. But perhaps the brewery wanted to appeal to the women who still buy the majority of groceries.
Audi was a big winner (the kid who goes to the prom by himself and scores both a kiss from the prom queen and a black eye from her football captain boyfriend) as was Mercedes-Benz (Willem Dafoe’s Satan pushes a contract for a new Mercedes CLA over the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil). In fact, the auto segment probably garnered the most winners with standout ads from Jeep, Kia, and what I thought was the best effort of the night, Dodge’s “So God Made A Farmer.”
Coming on the heels of Dodge/Chrysler’s last two Super Bowl winners featuring Eminem and Clint Eastwood, the automaker continued to create an emotional statement about their products and the people who use them. Eschewing over-the-top special effects for simple photographs, Chrysler’s agency, The Richards Group, employed artful writing and the resonant voice of Paul Harvey to craft a modern classic (recorded in 1978, by the way, and used in a remarkably similar ad for Farms.com as well). Regardless of the original source, anyone who’s interested in the art of compelling writing could take a master class in this text:
And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a caretaker.” So God made a farmer.
God said, “I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the field, milk cows again, eat supper, then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.” So God made a farmer.
God said, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt and watch it die, then dry his eyes and say, ‘Maybe next year.’ I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from an ash tree, shoe a horse with hunk of car tire, who can make a harness out hay wire, feed sacks, and shoe scraps. Who, during planting time and harvest season, will finish his 40-hour week by Tuesday noon and then, paining from tractor back, put in another 72 hours.” So God made the farmer.
God said, “I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bales, yet gentle enough to yean lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-comb pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the leg of a meadowlark.”
It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed, and brake, and disk, and plow, and plant, and tie the fleece, and strain the milk. Somebody who’d bale a family together with the soft, strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh, and then sigh and then reply with smiling eyes when his son says that he wants to spend his life doing what Dad does. “So God made a farmer.”
Did you notice something odd? They never mentioned Dodge or Ram trucks. Or that Harvey’s description of farming has little to do with the reality of today’s corporate agri-business. Instead, the ad created an aural and visual emotional banquet that made us feel good about America and about ourselves, even though most of us haven’t been to a farm since our fifth grade fieldtrip. All of a sudden, a Dodge Ram pickup becomes the way that we can embody the attributes of the farmer God made.
Fact is, actual work trucks account for less than 40% of total demand for pickups. Figures from Ford (Automotive News, June 1, 2009) show that only 39% of trucks sold in the U.S. fall into the “work” category with the remaining 61% of truck sales falling into the categories of “personal use while towing” and “image.”
But Dodge’s ad is a brilliant example of how brands work, creating an emotional badge that consumers can use to tell the world — and ourselves — who we are.
My friend and client, Juan, went on a holiday a couple of months ago. Juan’s from a small town in the Pyrenees, just outside of Barcelona, and he was going back home with his wife and kids for a two-week vacation. Unfortunately, it turned out to only be a one-week vacation because his company’s international marketing meeting was held in Barcelona during his break and he felt duty-bound to attend.
Of course I could empathize. When Gloria and I got married, we didn’t go on a honeymoon because I had some client emergency or other and had to cancel our trip so I could deal with it. But here’s the funny part: 27 years later, we still remember that we didn’t go on a honeymoon but we can’t remember what it was that was so damn important at the time. And even though we have worked with the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau for going on 20 years now, we don’t have any 26-year old client relationships so whoever it was isn’t with us anymore regardless of what sacrifice we made for them.
What was so damn important anyway?
The past few weeks have been dark ones where I’ve attended a number of funerals, including one for my longest running friend, Alan Somerstein. Alan’s mom and my mom met in the maternity ward at Mt. Sinai Hospital on Miami Beach and he and I were lifelong friends after that. Alan and I were born five days apart and we used to tell people that we were twins. If they asked who was the older twin, I’d proudly answer “Me.” If they asked how far apart we were born, Alan would say “Five days.” Then we’d walk away giggling while they scratched their heads and tried to figure it out.
Alan and I were roommates for a couple of years after graduation and stayed in touch after we both had gotten married and started raising kids. And even though Alan was a rabid sports fan and I never even know what type of game people are talking about, we always found things to chat about.
At most funerals, people go on and on about how nice the recently deceased was, even though they often weren’t. But Alan was. Alan was easily the nicest person on the planet.
At Alan’s funeral, the speakers all talked about how much we loved him. We told stories about Alan’s life and how he made us smile. And his daughter Lindsey made us cry with her poignant words of love and loss.
But no one talked about how much money Alan made, how big his house was or what kind of car he drove. Not because he wasn’t successful — Alan was the leading salesperson at his company every single year, even after he got sick and had to cut his hours way back — but because those things no longer seemed to matter. Still, like the honeymoon I never went on and the family vacation that Juan cut short in Spain, those are the things we worry about every day.
The stories that made us laugh through our tears were the stories of the kind words Alan had for everyone, his concern for their well-being, and the funny things he did and said in his life.
In his beautifully crafted The New York Times article, You Are Going To Die, Tim Kreider writes, “You are older at this moment than you’ve ever been before, and it’s the youngest you’re ever going to get. The mortality rate is holding at a scandalous 100 percent. Pretending death can be indefinitely evaded with hot yoga or a gluten-free diet or antioxidants or just by refusing to look is craven denial.”
As Erma Bombeck wrote in her 1979 book Eat Less Cottage Cheese and More Ice Cream, “If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more. I would have cried and laughed less while watching television… and more while watching real life. But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it… look at it and really see it… try it on… live it… exhaust it… and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.”
Alan did just that. And I hope I’m halfway smart enough to learn that from him. After all, what was so damn important anyway?
Last week we talked about the futility of sending out self-serving newsletters that completely ignore the recipients’ interests and needs (you can read it HERE). Francisco Gonzalez summed it up by quoting his mentor who used to say, “This is clearly a case of suppository marketing, because it only pleases the person administering it.”
Damn!! I wish I had that eloquent economy of language.
Besides being stuffed full of self-serving blather, there’s another common attribute that most newsletters share that also reduces or eliminates readership — their inherent newsletter-ness.
Let me explain:
I used to receive a monthly newsletter from a friend of mine. Because I was interested in what she was doing, and because she was my friend, I was always eager to read what she sent out. So each month I’d open my email to find her newsletter waiting there all fresh and hopeful.
It was what you would expect — a good-looking page layout with a masthead, headlines, three or four articles, and even a video box with an inviting “Play” arrow smack dab in the middle.
It was handsome, it was attractive, and it was carefully crafted.
It scared the hell out of me.
I mean, who has the time to read all that stuff? Especially right freaking now, when I’m so busy doing something else.
So I did what I think you would do, too. I clicked the email shut with the promise that “I’d get to it later.”
Then, over the next week or two, I’d see the newsletter sitting forlornly in my email box and remind myself that I needed to get around to reading it already.
But then a month would pass by and her next newsletter would appear. So I’d go through the whole guilty avoidance dance all over again, dragging the older newsletter into the trash and promising that this time I really would read the new one.
Finally I got up the nerve to do something about my guilty secret. I confessed my crimes to my friend and made a recommendation that I thought would increase her readership. Instead of sending such elaborate and content-laden mailings, I suggested, what would happen if she sent out a single article at a time? And what if, instead of sending them monthly, she sent out the single articles once a week?
After some arguing, my friend agreed to try the new schedule and format. And guess what? Her readership went way up. More people opened her newly slimmed down mailings and more people responded to them. Plus, she found that once her newsletter was shorter, more people forwarded them to others so her distribution list grew as well.
The fact that the mailings were now easier to produce and distribute was an extra bonus that helped her get excited about the project all over again. And the new format substantially reduced the pressure she had felt about sending out a four-page newsletter month after month.
But most importantly, by increasing her readership, simplifying her newsletters made the program all the more valuable to her business. Which proved once again that less is more (and also proves how we make our clients’ brands and businesses more valuable).
I believe this will work for you, too.
I usually write about branding and creativity but here’s something a little more important this week – a developing list of ways to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Thanks to David Cohen for the research.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
The Red Cross has started a preventative campaign in Haiti, using SMS and sound trucks to provide early warning messages. Emergency response teams are also in place, ready to hand out relief supplies for up to 11,000 families. In the United States, the Red Cross has released an app that allows users to track the impending storm, receive weather alerts, directions to the nearest shelter, tools like a flashlight, strobe light, alarm, and even a one-touch “I’m Safe” button that uses social media to let family and friends know you’re safe. Learn more here.
Mayor Bloomberg has activated the hurricane shelter system in New York and will be in need of trained volunteers. Help volunteers at evacuation shelters and after the storm. To learn more, email email@example.com.
New York Blood Center
The New York Blood Center is calling for donations to prevent any shortages after the storm hits. The organization is working with local hospitals to make sure it have adequate supply. The center needs at least 2,000 donations a day to maintain the center’s blood inventory. Learn more here.
As Hurricane Sandy hits the eastern seaboard, the Feeding America network of food banks and agencies is prepared to deliver truckloads of food, water and supplies to communities in need, through its network of more than 200 food banks and the agencies it serves. Its food banks will also set up additional emergency distribution sites as they are needed. It is anticipated that roughly 25-30 food banks will be impacted by this storm. In times of disaster, Feeding America supports immediate and long-term recovery for individuals and families in need of food assistance. Learn more here.
Direct Relief has placed seven hurricane preparedness packs in the Caribbean, each containing medicine and supplies to treat a variety of traumatic and chronic conditions that can support 5,000 people for a month. Packs have also been placed along the U.S. East Coast including 300 clinical partners along the storm’s projected path. Direct Relief works with 70 countries to provide disaster relief and preparedness during the most critical hours after a natural disaster. Learn more here.
Team Rubicon, which utilizes the skills of military veterans to assist in responding to and recovering from natural disasters, has teams of highly skilled military veterans working with local authorities preparing to respond to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in communities from Washington, D.C., to Boston. In New York City, Team Rubicon veterans are assisting the city’s mobile assessment teams as well as coordinating joint operations in the city’s Emergency Operations Center. This not only provides a skilled and motivated work force, but provides a new mission for America’s veterans, allowing them to continue to serve here at home and abroad. Learn more here.
International Medical Corps
With Haiti under a state of emergency, the International Medical Corps has teams in place with emergency kits, fuel and flashlights and mobile medical units on standby. In 2010 the International Medical Corps had teams on the ground treating within 22 hours after the earthquake. Since then it has established cholera treatment, primary health care, water and sanitation, and disaster preparedness programs. Learn more here