I began my publishing career in 2000, reporting to a 30+ year publishing wizard named Jim McDermott. Jim taught me an incredible amount, both about publishing and about navigating internal politics.
A few years later Jim was promoted to a new position. Before he left, he gave me an assignment.
“Go see Don Schultz,” he said.
“Who is Don Schultz?” I asked.
I dutifully did my research on Mr. Schultz, as well as reading his hallmark book, IMC: The Next Generation (worth the read, even today).
To put it bluntly, Mr. Schultz was a genius. He was arguably the father of integrated marketing, teaching at Northwestern University and giving keynote speeches on IMC all over the world. Why would he ever take a meeting with me?
After a couple tries, I found his direct phone number. His assistant picked up (I later learned this was his wife) and handed the phone to Mr. Schultz.
I quickly told him who I was and that I was to be in Chicago. While I was there, I wanted to buy him dinner and discuss marketing.
NOTE: I’m writing this, getting that nervous feeling in my stomach. It still seems like such a strange thing to do.
He said yes. I gave him a date and he gave me a time and a location. “Make it Gibson’s Steakhouse on Rush,” he said. I didn’t know anything about Gibson’s but I’ve been there a half a dozen times since.
I arrived 30 minutes early. He was right on time.
For the next hour and a half I was given the opportunity to listen to a truly amazing person.
The dinner was mostly a blur, but I do remember this. Mr. Schultz said [paraphrasing] “…whatever you do, stop focusing on what you have to sell. Focus on why the customer wants to buy.”
He also talked about how so many people think that a brand is something a company builds. “A brand is a relationship between a customer and an organization.”
It was so simple, but those words changed my life, and my career direction. If Mr. Schultz was correct, and a brand is a relationship, then communication is the key. A relationship either grows or falters based on communication.
So, a business can succeed or fail on how they communicate. Loving, trusted relationships involve consistent and helpful communications.
And then I began to think. What if a company delivered truly helpful communications to a customer on a consistent basis, over a long period of time? Executed properly, the customer would trust the organization sending the communications, and ultimately want to have some kind of relationship with that organization.
Seven years after meeting Mr. Schultz (now Don), my wife and I started Content Marketing Institute, based on the principle above. Three years after that, Don came to Content Marketing World and executed a truly amazing keynote (here’s a great snippet Don recorded for me during the event that year).
Don was also a key actor in our documentary on content marketing called, The Story of Content: Rise of the New Marketing (if you haven’t watched it, it’s a must see).
I was lucky enough to spend more time with Don before he passed away a few months ago.
I guess if I have to give any advice around all this, I would spend today not asking about your sales or your products. Spend today asking yourself, “how’s my relationship with my customers?”
If you’re unsure, you most likely have a communication problem. Let’s take care of fixing that ASAP.
I also learned that, to get a meeting with anyone, no matter how important the person, you first have to ask.
I miss you Don.
Important News of the Week
If you haven’t watched Nike’s new ad featuring Kobe Bryant, take 90 seconds and watch it.
Did you see that marijuana media company, High Times, purchased 13 dispensaries in California? If media companies want to survive, they’ll need to diversify outside of normal media revenue channels. This is an incredibly smart move. BTW, you can invest in High Times along with 30 thousand others.
Here’s a worthwhile Digiday podcast episode with Substack CEO Chris Best. In it, Best talks about what elite newsletters do differently. His answer: they have a distinct point of view. Does yours?
Sir Ken Robinson passed away this week. His TED talk on schools and creativity is one of the most watched talks in history. Watch it here.
The following was an excerpt from Joe’s newsletter. Only subscribers receive the full version.