Father of the North

MH3 —  June 16, 2019 — 1 Comment

As I jet across the continent tonight on another work trip, it is hard not to be reflective looking at so many Father’s Day posts. They are distracting me from my work, but are a nice diversion from my task list and the endless Raptors content I consume.

I was fortunate to have lunch with my Dad today.

Not fortunate due to some luck or twist of fate. No, I am simply fortunate that at almost eighty-eight years old, the legendary Ronald Frederick Harrison keeps chugging along. I am very fortunate to still have him. In fact, I have been so blessed from the day he and my mother signed the adoption papers that transformed me from Richard Lane Zemans to Mark Alfred Harrison.

He could have been the mayor of my hometown Orillia – he is so well known and beloved. Instead he did something much more meaningful than politics. He taught. High School Machine Shop was what it would have read on his resume, if he ever created one. Like many teachers he was much more than a teacher. He was a life coach, friend, confidante, and father figure to many. Not just his students, but anyone who needed it. 

As a kid I think I may have been jealous at how many people relied on my Dad to be, well, their Dad at times. As an adult it fills with me pride. I didn’t want to share him as a boy, but now I know how invaluable his help was.

My Dad has a unique approach to people. He treated the school janitors better than anyone. He has never cared about what you looked like or where you came from. His respect had no judgement meter. Perhaps it was his own challenging, at times racially desecrated, background that made him this way. I don’t know. I just know that his approach to humanity is both rare and in high demand. 

Even today, my Dad took time to say a quick hello to the singer who performed on a lonely stage at the restuarant. I have often thought there must be nothing worse for a performer than being background music. Now imagine you’re performing for a room full of families with their backs tuned, while they focus on celebrating their patriarch. Now I am not saying my Dad saved the world with his words of thanks as we walked out, but I am sure they made the singers day feel a little more special. (Not surprisingly I went the Mark Harrison route to kindness. I dropped $20 in his tip jar. Who says you can’t buy love?)

At Mother’s Day I slipped Dad his Father’s Day gift in case our schedules didn’t align to see him. So I came to lunch today empty handed. But as we excitedly shared our perspectives of the Raptors amazing win, the impact it has had on Toronto, and the invisible genius that makes Kawhi, well  Kawhi… I came to realize my Dad was a big fan of the Raptors slogan.

Turns out he wants a We The North shirt. So cool. Somewhat wish I had known (or thought about it) before I headed north. Dad wants to be the Father of the North. My loves are colliding. My love for my Dad. My love for the Raptors. My love for sports marketing. Call me out if you want, for deviating from a feel good Father’s Day post, but I think it’s an amazing example of how the Raps/MLSE/Sid Lee have crafted an amazing brand that appeals to kids, teens, and the octogenarians of Orillia.

Three more hours in my flight. Lots of time to order that shirt and get myself a few championship goodies as well!


sponsorshipX Nashville – 04/23

MH3 —  April 23, 2019

Tuesday, April 23

I have a confession. I succumbed. The 24 hours before panic beat me.

My speech sucks. Or the ideas are awful. I really am an impostor. Sometimes its one shot. Other times it’s a combination. These words seep into my consciousness and become a full fledge chant. They come out of nowhere. These voices that haunt me. But they come fast and furious. They used to defeat me. But then I learned. 

I had it beat for years. I mean I still get the 24 hour panic. It always comes after me the same way. Almost to the minute, one day before I have an important presentation a dose of panic sets in. 

Realax. Stick to the plan. Deal from strength. The approach you took when you were calm and thoughtful is the best approach. It’s like game planning. If you’re in the heat of a contest, the best approach is to go back to what you practiced. If you forget your lines when on stage, go back to rehearsal. Deal from strength. 

Today it hit me. I didn’t love my opening commentary for sponsorshipX Nashville. I told the team. They snickered and said you always feel this way. I tested out my material on them. I think they liked it. Who knows. Maybe I am hearing what I want to hear. 

But in the end I lost. I didn’t hold my ground. I retreated to my room and redrafted my message. Reloaded the script.Rewound  the tape. 
It feels better now. I think it’s more straightforward. A little less of a speechand lot more of a chat. 

So maybe I didn’t lose. Maybe the fact that it took such a loud clamour from the voices in my head validates the need for change. Maybe the real strength is knowing that sometimes the original approach doesn’t need scrutiny. I am good to go. 

Our conference kicks off tonight with a little networking reception on a rooftop. Rooftops are very big here in NashVegas!. Thankfully I won’t have the cloud of a fuzzy speech hanging over my head while I’m schmoozing. 

Not sure why I am so riled up about my opening comments. It’s not like I am on this enormous NFL Draft stage!

Monday, April 22
Ninety-nine percent of the people reading this know what our team is going through right at this moment.

The day before. 

The dreaded day before staging a major event is the most challenging planning day of them all. There is no time left on the workback clock. But changes and circumstances are popping out of nowhere. There is no margin for error and still a need for improvement. 

The day before is draining. 

Your nervous excitement has no outlet. You don’t want to rehearse that speech again for fear of being over-rehearsed. Your last minute site inspections reveal opportunities you are shocked you didn’t see before. The complicated choices are matched by the priority of even the most mundane.

The sponsorshipX Nashville flag football tournament will be played at Vanderbilt Stadium on Wednesday.

The day before can’t end soon enough. 

Because after the day before comes the day. The first day of the event. The day you transform from planner to host. The day your venue goes from a site map to a movie set.  The day the words flow effortlessly out of your mouth, the music plays on cue, and the cameras roll in synch.
Today is T-1 before the opening of sponsorshipX Nashville.

Today, you know what I am going through. 

Sunday. April 21. Nashville
My excitement for this week was the perfect antidote to my fear of flying. 

Safely landed in the Music City. A community dreading the potential playoff elimination of their Predators, yet teeming with excitement for the arrival of the NFL Draft. 

The stage isn’t quite set for the NFL, but it will be soon.

Team sponsorshipX is on the ground and ready to roll.  

In 2005 I hatched this baby. The idea that a conference could be an event, and an event could be a conference. A forum where competitors could collaborate, properties could participate, and sponsors could celebrate. I know for a fact that we have produced one marriage, several hires, and multiple new business partnerships over that time.

This week marks the first step in our international expansion. In five weeks we will have been to three countries, and we have a fourth signed up for 2020 already.

But this week is all about Nashville. All about the NFL Draft. Country Music. BBQ. But it’s actually not about any of that. It’s about the people. That’s what sponsorshipX is about.

The hospitality we have been provided by Nashville in planning this event has been otherworldly. Matched only by the excitement of the people joining us to participate.

It all starts Tuesday night at the Holston House. Where the delegates, the speakers, the partners and a surprise musical artist will all step onto the stage.

Who Wins the Popularity Contest?

MH3 —  March 25, 2019

Just because your coach didn’t make you a starter, doesn’t make them a bad coach.

Just because your employee didn’t say what you wanted to hear, doesn’t make them a bad employee.

Just because the company you pitched didn’t pick your bid, doesn’t make them a bad client.

I think in many aspects of our lives today, we make bad judgements based on popularity as opposed to process and performance. The popular boss promoted you. The good boss focused on your performance and had a fair process to determine if you were ready for that promotion.

Making judgements and decisions based on output is so much more difficult than basing them on likeability. I like chocolate bars. I love Aero bars. I could eat one or two a day. Wash them down with a butter tart and then achieve a fully balanced diet by scarfing several oatmeal raisin cookies. Those foods are very popular with my stomach.

But while popular, the nutrition of those foods is not what I need. Nor do I suspect you need. You need performance. Your body does. Your mind does. Your heart does. Most importantly, your soul does.

In fact, you need performance in all aspects of your life. You need friends who will do their best to support you. You need mentors who will guide you. You need leaders who will light the path for you. You need customers who will be candid with you. You need colleagues who will row the boat with you.

Popularity has gotten us into trouble. Popularity is allowing us to elect leaders without ethics. Popularity is allowing companies to chase sales over safety. Popularity is allowing social media to replace real media.

It is time for us to put more emphasis on process, which will in turn provide more emphasis on performance.

Process is being purposeful. It is about being intentional. It requires us to examine the steps we are going to take and ensure they are ethical, respectful, and economical. Process requires an overemphasis on communication. Communication requires an overemphasis on listening. If you are not purposeful when you set out on any mission, you will wander aimlessly. Being aimless will easily result in your choosing the easy, shiniest, and most popular path.

The 100 metre dash is the most simple all of competitions.
One person says go.
Another person runs.
And another.
And another.
And another.
The first of those persons to cover the distance is the winner.
They get promoted. They get the raise. They get the trophy. They get the fame. They get the money.
The performance outcome is clear.

Unfortunately, much of life is not as simple as the 100 metre. Teams are picked based on judgement. Roles are assigned based on perception. Partners are selected based on fit.

However, if we look at those choices through the lens of the 100 metres, we all may make better decisions. We also may be able to deal with being the subject of those decisions better.

The desired outcome of all 100 metre runners is to go faster. The choice mechanism of all decision makers is to pick the fastest. But, what if we combine process inputs to help us make those decisions?

If we look at the process, we will be able to understand a lot about the runner. Are they a cheat? Are they a hard worker? Are they a good listener? Are they motivated? Are they improving? Are they willing to sacrifice?

Now we have a more robust picture of this person. Yes, the fastest is still important to us, but what if they cheated to get there? What if they have no potential to ever go faster? What if you discover they are unmotivated, and could actually be running faster?

Then who would you choose?

If you’re frustrated with the situation you are in, there is no value in blaming the decision maker. Or suggesting they don’t like you. You have a simple solve. First, you need to look at the performance metrics used in that decision. Then you need to look at the process for the decision.

Once you understand that, you can recalibrate your processes and approaches to achieve a stronger performance. A performance that will be validated by your efforts and enthusiasm. A performance that will be more important than popularity.

The 100 metres is a short, fast race. But it is the result of a life’s worth of effort. Better known as The Long Run.

Remember Me?

MH3 —  February 26, 2019

I am not sure if it is good or bad form to apologize when you haven’t posted for ever. So if you want a apology, I have a heartfelt one for you. If you want an excuse, I have a few too many of those.

I do know it is good form to rekindle past relationships by asking about the other person. But that is hard to do in this one-way format. But, I’ll ask anyway and hopefully you will reply.

How are you?
How is your 2019 going?
Can you believe it is 1/6 over?

Yes, how depressing is that?

2019 has been off and roaring for me.

I went to CES in January and hereby want to again proclaim it my favourite business event. If you haven’t planned to go, put the 2020 dates, January 7-10, in your calendar right now. Let’s go together!

I also went to Nashville in January and found a wicked venue for sponsorshipX Nashville, our first stateside forum. This event is going to be a little different than your typical sponsorshipX experience. Smaller than our past events, but with lots of opportunity for engagement. A flag football tournament. Live Music. Influential delegates. Celebrity Appearances. NFL Draft Experience. Mh3 (ha!).


Closer to home I took a trip to Front & Bathurst to see the new venue, Stackt Container Market, that will be our home for sponsorshipX Toronto in May. This will be an amazing conference venue to go along with our inspiring partner – SickKids Foundation. Our theme this year, Every Brand Has a Heart, is really resonating as we have as strong a sponsor registration as I’ve seen. sponsorshipX Toronto will climax with our delegates participating in a new fundraiser – Capture The Flag for SickKids.

I have been asked many times which conference to attend, and the answer I give is this: Networking, inspiration, and learning will be in abundance at sponsorshipX Toronto. While sponsorshipX Nashville will be a chance to connect with powers in sport and entertainment, experience activation in real time, and see the ins and outs of how a growing city can host a big event.

My most recent trip was to Ottawa for the semi-annual AGM of Football Canada. I am a new board member and excited to help build the sport I love. Football gets an unfair rap these days over injuries. Hey, they happen in our sport, but our approach to contact has changed so much in the past few years it has never been safer. I am part of the Marketing Committee and we have bold plans to build the business. A key partner will be the Canadian Football League who unveiled some great new plans to help the sport grow at the meeting.

Closer to home I am also a new board member with Big Sisters Big Brothers Toronto. Every meeting, call, and email I have with this group inspires me. Our city needs mentorship now more than ever. The challenges many of our youth and families face can be overcome with the support of others. I am thrilled it is my time to help out.

I didn’t get to go on it, but some some of my teammates had an amazing trip to India recently shooting content for a new client The client and project are still confidential, but their voyage was a success and I can’t wait to see the work.

Speaking of travel, my first born is now a student at University in Halifax. I am sitting at my desk typing this as he heads back from reading week wondering to myself, wasn’t it just two thousand and zero when he was born?

Time flies. It’s almost March. I won’t let some many weeks pass before I say hello again!

From the Edge of Darkness

MH3 —  November 5, 2018

At the heart of who you are as a person, you will find what truly motivates you.

Is it happiness or sadness? Is it good times or bad? Is it success or failure?

Don’t rush to answer this question. You need to be honest with yourself… truly honest. Think hard about what genuinely motivates you to create change.

My suspicion is that your initial response will be that you believe you are motivated by passion, by achievement, and by belonging. That you are an eternal optimist. A glass-almost-full kind of person.

I don’t believe you have dug deep enough if that is your answer. Try again.

When you dig deep, and truly understand yourself, you start to expose the rawness of what truly inspires you. It is an exercise worth doing, andI believe it is a powerful practice for you when developing your next marketing campaign. (Hopefully, I didn’t lose you with that sharp left turn).

Last week I opened the Infopresse RDV Sponsorship and Event conference addressing this topic. My talk, titled From The Edge of Darkness, is my take on how pain, tension, and suffering can be powerful fodder for the best storytelling.

First of all, I believe a marketing story should do three things: it should Entertain, Educate, and Inspire. The Inspiration is crucial, as it will lead to action.

To create a great story you need many components. You need a heroine faced with a significant challenge. You need stories about how that heroine battled adversity. You need a triumphant moment when they succeed or fail. Then, you need to wrap it all up in a neat and tidy package.

But how do you communicate that great story? I believe that in order to tell a powerful story, you must first know and understand your own. Next, you need to understand the pain and challenges of the person who you are telling that story on behalf of. Lastly, you need to understand what is troubling your audience.

This requires a new approach to briefing, creating, and producing.

Your brief needs to talk about the true pain your audience faces. Why do you care how old they are or how much they make? Wouldn’t you rather know what it is they fear?

Once you know that, it is time to talk about the tensions between your audience and the brand. The first step is to take some time to understand the pain of your coauthors, both personally and professionally. Adding self-discovery to the process will spark new thinking. With the pot now stirred, mine the tension that exists between all the parties – You. The brand. The audience. The brand owner. The agencies and partners. The consumers. The distribution channels.

Finally, it is time to write your story. It should be a movie script. Full stop. Writing a movie script, and sticking to that principle, will ensure you tell a great story. Not just an ad with a nice twist.

Consumers today want brands and companies to operate with a purpose in everything they do. Marketers today claim to be responding to this demand. I have my doubts.

Marketers today claim to be creating authentic content. The words that comprise that sentence disprove this claim.

Marketers today claim to be in touch with what consumers needs. Yet they shy away from things that truly matter.

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just Do It.”

I don’t have to show you the NIKE Colin Kaepernick creative to secure your agreement that this was a story truly written from the Edge of Darkness.

There is nothing more powerful than a story well told.

To Be Coached Is To Be Loved

MH3 —  October 16, 2018

I borrowed this quote from USC football coach Clay Helton as the title for my blog this week.

Today it has multiple meanings for me. It applies so well to many aspects of my life: To my volunteer football coaching. To my role as an entrepreneur. To my role as an investor in a startup. To my new role as a not-for-profit board member. To my role as a boss conducting performance reviews.

Coaching. Managing. Leading. They are roles that are so subject to criticism these days, it’s become an epidemic. I am puzzled as to why.

People need to be held accountable to standards. However, they like to complain if they perceive being micromanaged. They like to complain if they feel their boss is too hard on them. They like to complain if their boss changes their mind.

Why all the complaints?

Perhaps the boss is micromanaging as a result of your demonstration that you’re not yet ready to lead. Perhaps business circumstances have changed, meaning that direction and strategy need to follow suit. Perhaps your boss isn’t being hard on you, but merely raising expectations because they believe you have the talent to do more.

While people like to complain about being managed, lead, or coached, they are also quick to seek out “mentorship”. Everyone wants a mentor these days. An older advisor. A soul mate. A pal.

Mentorship today has become a cop out. It’s a place where people can seek feedback that they can pick and choose from, based on what suits their liking. Sure, the best coaching, managing, or leading includes mentorship. Being a good mentor is as simple as being a good listener. Equally as vital for a good boss. A bad mentor, and a bad boss, doesn’t listen or hear your point of view.

But make no mistake, being a good listener doesn’t mean your boss is always going to agree with you. They usually have information, experience, or insights that you don’t. So let’s stop being so offended when they set a direction or a course of action. Very few bosses are picking a course of action to be intentionally stupid or mean, as you no doubt have accused them of behind their back.

Today I borrow Coach Helton’s words to reframe the discussion. Instead of finding a reason to complain, you should be grateful that your boss, coach, leader, manager is taking the time to provide you direction. To me, nothing could be worse than being ignored.




Administrator —  August 27, 2018

Dear Whistler;

Thank you for being such an enchanting hostess for sponsorshipX.


“This was the 3rd sponsorshipX conference I attended and the best one yet. The workshops were insightful and the networking opportunities were second to none. In addition to establishing some great business contacts, I came home with a few new friends”

Your twin mountains embraced my sponsorshipX friends with passion.
Your rugged beauty and massive peaks challenged our souls.
Your endless skies, filled with sun and smoke, inspired us.


“It was an outstanding conference hosted in an amazing part of our country. I thought the topics were incredibly relevant, presented by engaging individuals.  I learned a lot and made many great connections.”

You were the perfect hostess.

Perfect because your mountains provided an apt metaphor for our conference theme. Perfect because your mountains provided an arena for our delegates to become bikers, hikers, and zip liners. Perfect because you challenged every person at sponsorshipX to challenge themselves in new ways they never thought possible.

“…this was the most impactful conference that we’ve been to. Everybody was excited to be there, open to chat and learn, and generally easy to engage with.” 

When I decided two years ago that you would be the first ever hostess of sponsorshipX, my only hope was that you would speak to everyone, the way you did to me. I was wrong about that. You sang to them. You sang to them in a way that the lyrics they heard were different for each of them, yet the tune was familiar. You made it personal. You made it powerful. You made it real.

Dear Whistler. I know my thanks are something that would be shared by all of our sponsorshipX guests. You can see the gratitude in these pictures I have shared. You can sense your impact in the words that I have shared. You can feel the gratitude in this message I have shared.

“Many thanks to all of you, and the entire T1 team for pulling off such an incredible and engaging conference… was off the charts and think you nailed not only the spectacular venue, but the approach to snack sized content was ideal.”

All I have to left to say is that I can’t wait to come back to you.


Head Coach, sponsorshipX

I’m With Chuck

MH3 —  August 7, 2018

In the 1990’s the administration at Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute in Toronto decided that the sport of football was no longer worth the share of the school’s budget, almost killing a tradition that had been a major part of the school since 1937.

What the administration didn’t count on was running into the passion and fervour of a young alumnus named Chuck Richardson. A former player, and at the time I believe a volunteer coach of the Panthers, Chuck quickly rallied his former teammates and those that came before him. Golf tournaments, fundraisers, donations, and protests all quickly ensued. Chuck led his band of rebels with a righteous tone and t-shirts that read “I’m With Chuck”.

The Lawrence Park admin had unleashed a storm they couldn’t control.

Upon saving the program, Chuck worked like mad to ensure it’s survival. He founded the Lawrence Park Football Alumni Association, created alumni lists, started annual golf tournaments, invented an annual exhibition game between Lawrence Park and North Toronto called the Parn-Reynolds Cup, and began selling to anyone who would buy into his vision in order to get them to help.


I was one such person. In 1998 Chuck recruited me from another school to take over the reins at Lawrence Park. Though he loved coaching and was great at it, Chuck wanted to focus on fundraising, his career, and his health. The plan was for me to help him for a year and then assume the head coaching role. But as fate would have it, Chuck’s plan to ease back from football was thrown through a major loop. That year, the teachers adopted a work to rule protest and once again Lawrence Park football was on the brinks. Not just at our school but all schools in Toronto.

Chuck and many others around the province jumped into the void. He created the Metro Toronto Wildcats, got a permit for the field, and loaned the Wildcats the Lawrence Park equipment since it was actually owned by the LPFAA.

The rest is much more than history.

Chuck spent the next twenty years of his life devoted to the Metro Toronto Wildcats. He also coached junior and senior at Lawrence Park for as long as he could, regularly helped fundraise, and worked hard to keep the legacy of the Parn-Reynolds Cup alive.

I am personally grateful for his introducing me to Lawrence Park football which ranks closely behind my family and my business in my personal pecking order.

But my voice of thanks is just one compared to the thousands of lives he has impacted through the Wildcats. Boys, girls, parents, coaches, and volunteers by the thousands owe it to Chuck. He created opportunities where only dust existed. All who were given an opportunity to experience and love the game the way Chuck did. He found a way for the talented and the clumsy, the rich and the poor, literally the black and the white to bond together. He produced NCAA, USPORTS, NFL, CFL, and even GFL players. (Trivia question – what is the GFL???)


In short, Chuck created a community of which he was head cheerleader, head coach, and mayor.

Unfortunately, that community lost their leader on July 24th when Chuck passed away (suddenly) at the age of 54.

RIP Chuck.

But this blog shouldn’t be about the final whistle to Chuck’s career. This blog should be about doing something for the community and kids in your neighbourhood. This blog is about fighting for what is important. This blog is about impact.

While we didn’t always get along or see eye to eye, after all, what would sports be without some disagreements, there is one thing I want you to remember. “I’m With Chuck.”