Make America Safe Again

The events in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio a week ago left people around the word shocked and rattled. For Americans I can only imagine how unsettling these mass shootings are. 

For Americans of a certain heritage, I can’t even imagine how horrifying it is to think they were targeted because their head of state has created an environment where hatred is the new normal.

Last week I was ready with a snappy blog post in response to the news. It was going to be an open letter to the multiple candidates for the Democratic nomination. Being a marketer, I was going to offer them a powerful marketing campaign to ensure they get elected in 2020. 

My campaign idea was purposely patterned after the winning 2016 campaign. Clearly, it only takes four words to win an election because that’s all it took last time. You remember those words. 

Make America Great Again. 

Simple. Powerful. Smart. 

So smart that their real meaning was hidden to many, but have ultimately resulted in the death, deportation, and defiling of those who were the intended target. 

My rebuttal campaign idea was simple. 

Make America Safe Again. 

Makes sense doesn’t it? A country that clings to its constitution that allows a person to buy an AK-47 and hours later kill a six-year-old boy with it (refresher, that was the mass shooting in California one week BEFORE Dayton and El Paso), needs to realize that it’s so-called rights have created a country of domestic terrorism. 

All the people who argue that the right to bear arms has stopped any country from invading America for hundreds of years has forgotten about 9/11 and Pearl Harbour. Your guns don’t scare anybody. 

Anyone who says that the right to bear arms is the best defence in the face of these brazen attacks hasn’t looked at the fact that not ONE perpetrator of a mass shooting this year has been stymied by an armed civilian. 

Those who argue that many other weapons are used to kill people in more cases than guns is probably the same person who has a preferred form of deadly disease they wish to endorse. 

I mentioned at the beginning of this entry that I was ready to roll with this blog post a week ago. A post that consisted of a pitch to politicians who seek office in America.

But then something happened. My own city was rocked by bloodshed. My home town of Toronto was a scene of senseless and brazen shootings. No matter where you turned, there was more calamity to be witnessed. 

So I hit pause. America needs to be safe again. But so does all of North America. We all need to question our laws, our leniency towards criminals, our under-funding of social services, our ignoring of our youth, our lack of support for those living in less fortunate circumstances. 

There is no quick fix. There is no political fix. But a fix is required. 

We live in a society where a slaughter of innocents a week ago evaporated in a few news cycles as the next story rose to the top. The longer we participate in this pattern of shock/awe/forgetfulness, the more threats to our own existence will live on.  

Make North America Safe Again. 

The Power of Habit

Many people say that reading is one of their favourite habits. Is it one of yours?

Are you a morning news person? Do you like to read books? Magazines? Blogs? (Sorry, cruising through Insta doesn’t count as reading in my world.)

I know for a fact that I am at my best when I read regularly. I am the best entrepreneur when I am regularly reading the right magazines. I am the best thinker when I am reading the right books. I am the best coach when I am reading the best journals. I am the best creator when I am reading creative writing. I am the best conversationalist when I am reading the news. 

I am also the best coffee drinker when I am reading the morning paper. 

This weekend I polished off a fantastic book – The Power of Habit. I enjoyed it so much, I not only copied the book’s title to entitle my blog today, but I am overwhelmingly compelled to share this book’s wisdom with you. It is rare when you read a book that will truly change your life. This one will. 

The Power of Habit did an amazing job at explaining to me why I do so many of the bad things that I do. Why I react angrily to certain workplace moments. Why I have a craving for sugar after lunch. Why I don’t stretch.

The Power of Habit

Plus, the book could not have come at a more opportune time because I am seven pounds into a thirty-four pound diet to get me under two hundred pounds for the first time in a decade. 

Losing weight. 

Motivating others. 

Saving money.

They are all a function of habit. But you know that. Unless you have read the book, you may not understand what compels some people to perform the right habits so effortlessly and others to make the same mistakes over and over. According to the author, Charles Duhigg, it comes down to a simple loop in our brains:

  1. First is the cue. It’s what causes us to act. 
  2. Then the routine – what we do in response to the cue. 
  3. Then comes the reward earned by the routine.

What is amazing to me is how often we react inappropriately to the cue. Reading the book is making me pause and consider my actions. For example, do you eat when you are full? Or do you grab a handful of chips on your way to the dinner table? Is the elimination of your salt craving as the reward for those chips really worth the extra calories? Reading The Power of Habit has made me understand why I pre-snack RIGHT before dinner. 

I won’t spoil the understated beauty of the message by explaining how I was able to change my pre-dinner routine of savoury and post-meal routine of sweets. You need to learn it for yourself and apply it to your own vices. 

Then you will learn the true power of habit. 

Old Coaches Never Die, They Just…..

I have many, many questions for you.

Have you been a coach for an extended period of your life?

Did you do it professionally? Were you a volunteer? Was it part of your role as a school teacher?  

What sport did you coach? Was it one you played? One your child played? Was it something you learned as an adult, or have you been involved all your life?

These questions are important to me. But not nearly as important as the next group I have for you. 

If you coached for any length of time, you will know what I am getting at. I want to know what it’s like for you. From that day you decided, hmm, I have done it long enough. Time for a new chapter.

I want to know what you missed the most. Was it practice? Games? Pre-season? Training camp?  Was it the locker room? The bus rides? The roadside coffee shops? The equipment room? The trainers table? The field house? The weight room?

What four walls do you remember the most? What was your highest high? Was it more impactful than your lowest low? Do you have more smiles than regrets? Or a balanced blend of both?

Do you remember that moment when you couldn’t believe your eyes? Or ears? Or nose? 

Is there a right way to step away from what you love? Should it be sudden? Gradual? Or, maybe just don’t do it. Did you think about stepping down and then crushed those thoughts?

People need you. The kids need you. Their families want you. The sport needs you.

Let me know if you’re that old coach who never let the flame die. Or are you that coach who walked away while you still could?

I want to hear your words, and mix your wisdom with others.

Father of the North

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

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!

sponsorshipX Nashville – 04/22/19

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. 

sponsorshipX Nashville – 04/21/19

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?

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?

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

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.