Monthly Archives: August 2010

Can Bob Dylan Fight? The answer, my friend, is…

Catfish Squares Off With a Legend

I’ve been fortunate to have placed about 1,200 talented people with creative agencies. One of my very favorites is Daniel “Catfish” Russ. Daniel has been a finalist on that television show Star Search; he’s been a stand-up comic on the comedy club circuit; he’s played the blues harp in the Texas blues bar scene; he’s a black belt in karate; he’s also been a boxer.  Somehow in all that, he’s had time to be a brilliant creative; authoring well-known campaigns for Pennzoil, Wal-Mart, The Air Force and Las Vegas Tourism.  There’s nobody quite like Daniel. On a recent visit to Austin, I connected with him and we sat by the river in Adirondack chairs to enjoy a Cuban cigar and a Single Malt scotch whiskey. What I love most about Daniel is that he’s an incredible storyteller. He never fails to amaze. All I had to do was mention the name Bob Dylan and out flowed this story — which  I’ve asked him to re-create for mikepalma.com:

Sparring With Dylan

By Daniel Russ

“April 2008. I am trying to figure out what to do next with my life. I have spare time and head to Richard Lord’s Boxing Gym on  Lamar Boulevard in a stinky old warehouse behind a Goodwill. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon, the sky is dark and cloudy and no one is there.

DownloadedFile-2I lift the warehouse garage door entrance, sign in on a moribund clipboard on an old nightstand stuffed into the corner. Richard Lord was a fairly successful welterweight boxer who opened this gym many years ago, and like all real boxing gyms, it is never clean, nor is it  ever cleaned. Unwashed hand wraps redolent of the years of sweat and grit hang from clothes lines. Ten heavy bags in varying sizes, many with the stuffing literally beat out of them and then duct taped back in hang wherever they fit. There are two twenty by twenty-foot rings, the ropes loose and sloping, the canvas spattered with dried blood and God knows what else.

The walls are covered in Boxing posters. Ali vs Frazier, Foreman vs. Moore, Jesus “El Matador” Chavez vs. Johnson. I head to the speed bag wall, pump a little air into a bag, turn on the electric bell that gives you a signal for the beginning and end of a three  minute round and one minute rest. The bell rings and  I start bouncing the bag off the top board.

After a few rounds, in comes Richard Lord. Skinny, mustachioed, and kind as the day is long. “Heeeeeey maaaaaaan….whar you been?” We hug. “Vegas man,” I tell him. “But we’re back.” “Hey man, glove up.”

“Me? Dude, I’m in my fifties. I don’t fight anymore.”

“Don’t worry,” he says. “This guy don’t have much. In fact, don’t even hit him. I mean not at all… just move around.”

Oh shit, I think. This guy better have nothing because I haven’t sparred in years. When I hung up the gloves and decided never to fight again, I swore I would not become one of those ghost guys I saw in Boxing gyms my whole life. The guys that can’t accept that they aren’t 18 anymore. The guys in their forties who get hit too often — their noses flatter and fatter, their ears begin to change shape, old cuts scar over, and regularly get bested by 18 year olds. Like I did when I was 18.

I wrap my hands. I jump rope to warm up. I dig out my battered caked-with-dust mouthpiece, rinse it off in a bathroom sink that looked like it was stolen from an old country gas station. I shove it in. It feels foreign. I have not had a mouthpiece in almost a decade, it makes me gag.

A few minutes later four people come in, all dressed in loose-fitting workout gear. Two guys and a woman. I look at the guys trying to figure out which one has nothing to hit me with. Frankly, neither of them looked like they could hurt me. A woman comes in. They all chat quietly and start digging out hand wraps.

In comes a diminutive, skinny man. Looks to be a little older than me, has short curly hair. He turns to face me.

It’s Bob Dylan.

BobDylanRollingBajaOK. I stopped bouncing around. Stop trying to get my heart rate up. I stare out the warehouse door into a now-rainy parking lot. I am trying to process this. I am about to step into a boxing ring with a man who I have idolized as long as I have had ears.

Richard walks over. “See what I mean?” he says.

“Richard,” I tell him. “If you paid me by the shot, I wouldn’t hit this guy….EVER.”

“Good,” he says. “Don’t. Just move around.”

We step in the ring. He does not look at me. There is no conversation. The round bell goes off. He’s old and tiny but he makes his way to the center of the ring, throws a series of jabs that don’t reach. Neither does his right. He throws a hook. I take it on my arm. I dance around, slip left and right. Before I knew it, the round bell rang.

DownloadedFile-1Dylan goes back into his corner. Richard mouths some advice to him. The next round begins. Apparently the advice was to throw more hooks. They all miss or they land on my right arm. I’m just dancing around. Every once in a while, I get into a cat crouch and lean in so he can land shots. He hits me on the forehead with a straight right. Pretty good shot. Bell rings. Second round is over

“Thanks,” Richard says. “That’s all Catfish. Thanks.”

No Richard. Thank YOU, I think to myself. I finish my workout. I go home and try not to wash my right arm or forehead for the rest of my life. In May of 2008 I succumb and finally wash Bob Dylan off me.

I tell you, Austin makes Vegas look like a booger.

Thanks Daniel. Stories are all we have. Stories connect us, define us. The world needs more good storytellers. History is a story, it just depends on who gets to tell DownloadedFileit.

Here’s good story about a boxer, as told by Bob Dylan:

The Leads, Part 2

What to Do With a Qualified Lead

Okay, you’ve hunkered down at your laptop on the business wires. You’ve paid particular attention to your niche industries. You’ve combed through The Book of Lists and separated the wheat from the chaff. You’ve subscribed to and tracked the trade pubs in your focus categories. This does NOT mean Adweek, Ad Age or the other advertising trade pubs. Instead, I am referring to Restaurant News, if you are focusing on the dining category or retailwire.com if you are chasing Big Boxes. And, finally, a tactic I am quite fond of, you have attended trade shows/conventions in your sweet spot industries (what a great opportunity to canvas an entire category — like a all-star summer camp for a basketball recruiter). You evaluate, qualify and prioritize your list of leads — now what? This is usually the juncture where paralysis sets in.

Moving on a qualified lead is a lot like dating (which ironically, I was never very good at). There is an unwritten protocol, a decorum. This is my attempt at writing said unwritten protocol. Here’s 6 Things to Avoid in the dating/qualified prospect outreach process. (Let’s have some fun with this).

1. The Wichita Lineman — Avoid repeated phone calls. There’s a fine line between stalking a qualified lead and nurturing a potential relationship.  Constant calling is a sure-fire way to get your calls screened out. Instead, deploy a holistic communications strategy; including emails, direct mail, hand-written notes and modest gifts (I like to send food, like sopressata, especially if it’s an Italian guy — everyone likes free food, if it’s good).

The great Jimmy Webb (MacArthur Park, Worst That Could Happen, By the Time I Get to Phoenix) wrote Wichita Lineman. It was first recorded by Glen Campbell in 1968 and ascended to #3 on the Billboard charts.  (Jimmy Webb-Wichita Lineman)

2. He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother — Don’t get too personal, especially with what you send out. I mean a little sopressata among paisanos is one thing; but bringing race, religion or politics into the mix (especially early in the sales cycle) is a no-no. Just because you read that your prospect is a member of the local Christian CEO Bible study, stay away from the John 3:16 stuff for now. And please, stay apolitical — there’s enough of that everywhere you turn. Finally, whatever you do, keep race entirely out of it (most minority CEO’s and Marketers are whiter than you’ll ever be). In short,  don’t be smarmy. Instead, send your prospect tickets to a ballgame.

The Hollies were underrated hit makers (“Bus Stop”, “Long Cool Woman”). They were finally inducted into the R&R Hall of Fame this past  March 2010 (what took them so long?). I love the way they harmonized. Some bits of trivia on He Ain’t Heavy  and The Hollies: the song was actually first recorded by Neil Diamond, and was certain to be a huge hit on the heels of Cracklin’ Rosie — but the album’s release bogged down and the Hollies version hit the airwaves first and became gigantic. Also, guess who’s playing the piano? None other than a young Sir Elton John. Finally, the group took its name as an homage to Buddy Holly. (He Ain’t Heavy)

3. I Don’t Wanna Know (the reasons why) — No potential customer or partner wants to be viewed as a sales lead, qualified or otherwise. Avoid technobabble like, “I noticed you opened our last email and clicked all the way through”, or “thanks for visiting our web site recently”.  It just feels gooey. Instead, tell them your sister attended their alma mater (it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a sister, at least that’s better than making the prospect feel like you’ve got them on the GooCam}.

Buckingham Nicks was one of my favorite bands. It’s not that they had a string of big hits — they didn’t until they became Fleetwood Mac. But the relationship between Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks was touching. They loved and needed each other. They relied upon each other, in life and onstage. I liked their thing better than John & Yoko’s. It just felt more genuine to me. No trivia here, just a great song from a great relationship (Fleetwood Mac-I don’t want to know).

4. The Great Exaggerator — Does anything turn off people faster than some blowhard inflating their statistics or case studies? Or distorting sales numbers beyond belief (“same store sales went up 52% and brand recall hit 111%”). Instead, leave numerology out of the relationship entirely. It’s just a number and it doesn’t solve the prospect’s problem. Instead, give the credit to your client who trusted you with his business and acknowledge his courage.

Soul Asylum is a curious case for the ephemerality of the alternative music machine. They went from cult icons to mainstream hit makers in the 90’s. And then, with the advent of the internet as the primary server of pop, they vanished into the millenium; until they resurfaced in 2006 with a polished album of mature, adult rock n’ roll (talk about a triple oxymoron). Well, I liked it anyway. (Soul Asylum-Great Exaggerator)

5. Nowhere Man“…doesn’t have a point of view/knows not where he’s going to./Isn’t he a bit like you and me?”. How many salesmen try to hit on this prospect? Hundreds? Try thousands, annually. You are just drone. Sales babble. An uninvited guest. Or worse, a gate-crasher. So you have 2 minutes to cut through the clutter. Telling the prospect what he already knows won’t cut it. Somehow, you need to make an impression. And you only have one chance to make a first impression. Be a personal brand. Have an informed, educated and insightful opinion. Stand for something so when you call back, he’ll think, “oh yeah, that’s the guy who…”

Don’t you wish we could just freeze-dry John Lennon, Brian Wilson and Bob Dylan in 1965? Those guys wrote songs then like it was an international competition, one trying to outdo the other. While not as adventurous as Strawberry Fields Forever or A Day in the Life; Nowhere Man remains perhaps Lennon’s most autobiographical work. It was the first Beatles song entirely devoid of romance or love. Everyone knows their version, which is sung in sublime three-part harmony. But my second favorite rendition is Paul Westerberg’s solo version, which can be found on the brilliant I Am Sam soundtrack. (Paul Westerberg-Nowhere Man)

6. Burning Questions — Every sales coach in the world preaches the power of the leading question…the closing question…the burning question. Is there anything more ingratiating than a salesman who calls you and asks a question ending with the word “correct” (you know, like “Mr. Palma, your investment portfolio is underperforming, correct?” I refuse to answer any question ending with “correct?”). Throw the old book out. Stop being presumptuous and borderline rude. It’s early in the sales cycle. The most incendiary  question is, doubtlessly, “What is your budget?”. Think about it — you’re like a guy on the street (except you’re not even on the street, you’re on the phone) and you stop someone and ask, “Hey, how much money do you have?” “Can I have some? I’ll help you make more”. Instead, keep your early questions big picture, like: “What’s your vision short-term?”

Just for fun, 5 Questions to Avoid on a First Date:

  1. “Do you eat beef?”  (ice water, menus)
  2. “Do you believe in the single-bullet theory?”  (first drink: Single Malt scotch on the rocks — an ill-advised play on the word “single”)
  3. “Are they real?”  (wine, with dinner)
  4. “Have you ever been to DUI school?”  (more wine)
  5. “I’m going to Havana, you wanna go?  (black coffee, 10 p.m.)

Nobody talks about Graham Parker, so I will. While his contemporaries, Springsteen and Costello went on to mega-stardom, he still loads out his own gear at NY-area club gigs. I always thought he had similar talent. Blame it on a simple twist of fate. Enjoy this clip from a Letterman appearance to promote his 1992 album, Burning Questions:

The Leads, Part One

Follow the Money


Identifying and tracking a lead is like trying to find out the real truth about anything — start by following the money. Does it surprise anyone that one of our planet’s largest depositories of gold and precious metals was housed in the basement vaults beneath the World Trade Center? Or should we be surprised that certain politicians (Vice Presidents, for instance) profit lavishly from war? Or that insurance company CEO’s had a very good decade? Stop me now before Omnicom begins monitoring my content.

You can call me a conspiracy theorist, but that’s what they want you to think.

While there is a dearth of creativity in the world today, there is no dearth of financial news and reporting. Therein lies the gold mine of new business leads. The Wall Street Journal refuses to give away its content for free. Why? Because their stock-in-trade is valuable content/information that most of the business community cannot live without. The business/financial wire services are rife with leads, almost hourly. The trickle down effect from the venerable WSJ to your local business rag is instructively correlative. Most of us (smaller creative agencies) can’t chase every NASDAQ bubble stock, but we can track our local business chronicle for cash infusions, venture capital and newly budgeted product or service launches. And I’ve found that many of these boons are often connected to a larger financial trend in that particular category or niche industry.

So I launch this series with an almost anachronistic notion — go back to basics and study the national and local business journals. Focus on categories that best fit your experience. Keep a folder/binder of financial bubbles and trends in your categories. It occurred to me that if everyone spent as much time on the business news wires online as they do on Facebook — maybe they wouldn’t need to be tweeting for dollars or relying on social media to do their job for them. I’ve found that the majority of leads I’ve generated from social media ultimately became tire-kickers, or worse, underfunded marketers looking for an agency to magically feed the multitudes with fishes and loaves. Wouldn’t you rather follow the money and try to control your fate than be at the mercy of Twitterdom? What appears to be the land of milk and honey may just be a mirage.

I like to hole up with The Book of Lists and a Cuban cigar and play bounty hunter. Every metropolitan market has a Book of Lists published by the local business journal. It may be the most underutilized tool in the new business community. For small agencies, I like the Fastest Growing Companies list. I also like the listings of VC firms. For another angle, try the Best Places to Work. There is a good chance that companies who are good to their employees, are probably good to their vendors and strategic/creative alliances. I like to read the bios of the top executives, because what’s at the top usually trickles down.

A few business development database companies have lead services. I haven’t found them to be completely reliable, but the best of these is Access Confidential (www.accessconfidential.com). Actually, what I like best about AC is their combined news wire service. It draws upon tens of thousands of news wire stories and archives them in one handy database. Like LexisNexis on steroids.

There are other services dedicated exclusively to lead generation for ad agencies — these are usually the product of someone else doing this very same homework for you. You could do the same thing for yourself if you weren’t on Facebook telling all your “friends” how smart or cool you are. Or tweeting. Or blogging. Or wallowing in LinkedIn, the land of the unemployed and disenfranchised shill. Most of these agency-focused lead services just comb the wires for press releases of announcements like new CMO hires. But, I’ve followed up on many of these so-called leads from pubs like Pearlfinders and The Delaney Report and usually the “lead” has been so bombarded by agency outreach that they have already retreated to their underground asylum. Think about it, you are paying to share leads with hundreds of agencies. I consider a new hire an okay lead.  But, I’d rather follow the money, it almost always leads to the truth.

Next: Action — what to do with a good lead.

The Leads, The Leads, The Leads


Finding and Qualifying Actionable Leads for Your Creative Agency

David Mamet may very well be the voice of our generation, perhaps the most riveting social commentator of the past 35 years. Playwrights inherit a unique responsibility to the masses. It is incumbent upon the playwright to hold a mirror up to society and reveal to us for the first time who we really are. They accomplish this by delivering insights into ourselves that we cannot see without their plot and character development. They also inherit the kindred spirit of the Bard of Avon, who held up said mirror better than anyone.

Mamet writes dialogue (“Mamet speak”) in the same familiar manner that we speak today — just as Hemingway wrote in the vernacular of his time, 80 some odd years ago (strangely, at least to me, Papa’s novels now read the same way an early Springsteen record sounds —embarrassingly dated). But, reading Mamet’s works can only help us write more effectively for today’s intense staccato marketplace, and therefore, communicate better to it. Seeing his films can only increase our creativity. But, experiencing one of his plays as a live performance can transform us. To study a Mamet script is a journey into the art of communicating — his tales totally rely upon minimalist but colorful language and dialogue. I confess, I find it mildly interesting that Mamet, Hemingway and Springsteen all sported beards (and for that matter, Shakespeare, too).

Glengarry Glen Ross, perhaps Mamet’s best known work, is particularly relevant to agency new business. The action is primarily centered upon “leads”, ultimately the Glengarry leads. New business professionals must accept that they are first in the lead generation business. As much as we are now grounded in a search engine-based marketplace, we cannot simply blog & tweet and sit and wait for an email response to our latest newsletter. Or just track the daily click-throughs to our website. Social media doesn’t replace the need to generate and act upon leads, it augments it. It’s another road, not the only road. At some point, we must make a sales call and ask for the meeting — or send a sales email requesting the same.

Everyone’s favorite scene in Glengarry Glen Ross seems to be the 7 minute “motivational” speech Alec Baldwin delivers to the boiler room of a real estate telephone sales team (whose members include some of the finest actors of the era — Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris — none of whom wore beards, except Pacino in Serpico). It’s a tour de force performance, with several lines forging their way into the lexicon of the contemporary sales and marketing person (“Coffee is for closers”, “Always be closing”,  “Get them to sign on the line which (sic) is dotted”, “The leads are weak? You’re weak!”). I also find it mildly interesting that Springsteen and Serpico briefly wore a similar wool hat.

This post and this video introduce a new series of original Palma content. In the coming days we will examine Leads. We’ll discuss what they are, where to find them, how to qualify them, what makes them actionable and how to act on them. There are a lot of lead generation services available to our industry, most of them are bogus or watered-down. It’s our responsibility to ultimately be our own lead generation service, and it’s easier and more effective than you may think. Enjoy the Baldwin clip and the forthcoming series.