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A Branding Guide for Small Businesses

9. Stand Your Ground when confident in your ideas.


Jerry was the new general manager at the ABC affiliate where I had previously been employed. Luckily, I had managed to escape before he took the reins. My first experience with him was the day he fired a good friend of mine. My buddy found out he'd been replaced as Sports Director when reading a trade magazine.  It stated a famous baseball player’s younger brother had taken the "recently vacant position." The station had leaked the story to the press before they made an announcement. 


Here’s a quick window into the kind of guy he was. When at a public event like a Chamber of Commerce dinner or a monthly Ad Club meeting, Jerry would grab my hand to shake it and squeeze as if he were taking the “strongman test“ and was down to his last quarter, desperately needing to improve his score. I would give him a fake smile that Seinfeld gives Newman but still remained silent.


On one particular day, I’d had enough of Jerry and I squeezed back. Apparently he had been planning his response to this for quite some time because he immediately let out a half squeal and half-laugh at the top of his lungs announcing to everyone in earshot that I was giving him a death grip. I doubled my strength just for grins. I guess the fact that he worked for the competition compelled him to behave this way.


About a month later I would find myself on a United Way committee tasked with convincing troubled kids who were on the verge of becoming dropouts, to stay in school.  The committee was lead by Jerry.


I was eager to help with the project so I joined the committee anyway. Since Jerry was in charge he immediately began barking orders at me as if he were my boss. Some of the suggestions were good ones, however, and I tried to put the committee's interests first.


I was only a few years out of high school and felt I identified the closest in age to the group we were trying to help. Jerry was in his 60s and lacked that insight. He proposed handing out T-shirts that had a cartoon kid in a graduation gown, throwing his cap in the air with a gleeful expression on his face to kids who were contemplating dropping out of school.


I’m terrible at concealing my expression when I think someone has a horrible idea. Although Jerry had established our relationship, I wasn’t confrontational about my disagreement but I sure wasn’t going to let this slide by.


I explained that these kids weren’t going to go for the carrot and stick. They would need something that appeared rebellious. Jerry wasn’t going to let me win this one so he attempted to humiliate me in front of our group in an effort to win them over and put me in my place.  


He strategically started to my left at the big round table, summarizing his argument until each group member nodded in agreement. Navigating around the table.  The bobble-heading continued as Jerry made his point while building his confidence.


Finally, he worked his way around to me, dumping his bucket of sheep droppings at my place at the table, regurgitating his point, stating what I can only surmise was straight from a leadership seminar, “Now, wouldn’t you agree, Chris?“


I took a deep breath and looked Jerry in the eye across the huge round table and responded,

“No, Jerry. I most emphatically disagree and here is why: The kids we’re trying to reach are 'outsiders' who would never wear this purple cartoon shirt you’re proposing. I’m not even sure the straight-A kids would wear this.  My design was defined by a snarky and currently popular catchphrase, 'Get a Life', with our logo placed subtly. It makes the kids feel like they’re getting away with something.  The shirt was black with Ransome Paste type and it resembled a concert T-shirt. You’re going to have to trick our target market into wearing this shirt.”


Whenever I’m tasked with designing a shirt, I try to stick to one rule: Create a shirt that I would actually wear.  I haven’t been to any persuasion seminars but I knew the audience we were trying to reach and the tiny chance we had was to get them to wear the shirt was to make them feel like a rebel.  The group voted unanimously to go with my design.  


The icing on the cake was when the PSAs that I wrote, created a jingle for, shot, and edited, won awards at a local banquet, because it was his committee, Jerry jumped up and accepted them in my place.


Just in case you’re wondering, he wasn’t wearing the shirt I designed at the time.

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