Tuesday, May 28, 2013

One in a Million.

The Greatest Generation is a term coined by journalist Tom Brokaw to describe the generation who grew up in the United States during the deprivation of the Great Depression, and then went on to fight. The men and women who lived at the time of World War II, in retrospect, seemed to have lived through a time of incredible upheaval with courage and style. 16,112,566 individuals were members of the United States armed forces during World War II. In November 2012, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that approximately 1,462,809 American veterans from this war were still living. On Memorial Day 2013, my Dad is among the living veterans. I always known him to be at least one in a million!

As a kid growing up in Lakewood, Ohio, (a West Side suburb of Cleveland), it was a special occasions when Dad took us to the movies. I remember one such occasion at the Detroit Theater on a Saturday afternoon in 1962 to see The Longest Day. The movie tells the story of the D-Day invasion of Normandy in WWII. It was a retelling of June 6, 1944 (based on a book published in 1959) from the perspectives of dozens of characters and was almost three hours long. I was seven.
In hindsight, my father who was just about 42 years old at the time and sitting in that movie theater with us. He had served in the U.S. Army for four years with distinction but was lucky enough to stay out of harms’s way. I suppose he was probably still trying to make sense of the period of time in his own life. Meanwhile, I was having trouble staying awake through the multiple parallel story lines staring actors like John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Robert Mitchum.

My Dad will be 95 in July and he still remembers his army years. He attended Officer Candidate School (OCS), worked with camouflage units and generally was a good soldier. The experiences helped define him as a person. After the war he joined an art studio and eventually started his own business. Mom and Dad has six children (I was number 3). A Great man by any measure.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Boomer and the College Professor

His reading glasses, the remote control, some unpaid bills, a stack of business cards collected from a recent networking event, and a large Kleenex tissue box dispenser teetered on the side table next to the  Queen Anne chair he bought in Joplin before the EF-5 tornado in 2011. Happy to be back in St. Louis, Will was, maybe for the first time in his life, starting to doubt himself. His 58th birthday was only two weeks away and, as always, he was not especially excited about marking the passage of time. Sue was working harder than ever running a coffee shop in Clayton and baking some too. “Sunday is Mother’s Day,” he remembered. He must think of something thoughtful to thank her. The kids were gone, grown up and making their respective ways in the world. The house seemed so empty during the day.

Will knew he should be looking for a job but was coming to grips with the very real and very scary notion that he really didn’t know just how to work the system of online job boards. He was fearful that his skill set was becoming outdated. He believed in his heart that there was still room for an organized manager with a creative vision and an ability to get things. But he was painfully aware of the pervasive chatter of social media and the digital age. As if everything that came before in marketing was now “old school” and irrelevant.
Berry seemed to be a dramatic illustration of where the world was headed. A professor recruited to UMSL to implement coursework in digital marketing was making tremendous strides. Will met him at the Remarkable Leadership Conference put on by the American Marketing Association – St. Louis Chapter at the Missouri History Museum in February. They became quick friends because, in part, Will was connected and Berry was seeking connections to build his local network quickly. Connections in the "big small town" of St. Louis, a parochial place where face to face meetings are still critical. Ironically, the rest of the world seemed to be buying what the new "social" more than the basic “blocking and tackling” of message strategy and attention to the touch-points that telegraph the quality/design/promise of a brand. Suddenly, the soft science where “Art meets Commerce” that Will loved was rapidly becoming the technology, crowd-sourcing an engaging the multitudes in conversation of Berry's expertise.

Last month Berry and Will sat for a while in the Starbuck’s in Clayton. Berry’s Digital Marketing Conference was compelling proof that marketing is changing with big data, social strategies and new rules of engagement. Will could see it but, like many of his boomer generation, he was slow to embrace it. As a chapter leader for the American Marketing Association in St. Louis for more than 15 years he is the first to admit the changes brought on first by the internet and personal computing and now the plethora of electronic devices is puzzling to him. What does it mean? What happened to thoughtful planning? How are you supposed to manage marketing in this environment? Where is it all heading? Students, agency leaders, businesses - large and small represented in the audience of 300+ that filled the JC Penney Conference Center on the campus of the University of Missouri, St. Louis (UMSL) that afternoon in early April and were hanging on every word for clues.
Will remembered a time when such a meeting over coffee with a professor was on a different footing. It was the professor who was living in the ivory tower and out of touch with reality. Now the tables have turned. The platform of rapid change in the marketplace offers a natural confluence of events for the campus setting. It’s a place for learning and discourse. Berry is a runner and he is pacing himself well in front of the pack. He’s old enough to be a part of a time when direct marketing offered the best chance for studies of responses. (But only after test cells were carefully constructed with a “control” module as a basis for comparison. One wonders if there will ever be time for such experiments again.)

“Colleges are for rhetoric and the hypothetical and still somewhat less than authentic life experiences. Nevertheless, we are living in a time that is unreal and fantastic. The world is connected in ways which only a decade ago seemed impossible.” Will reminds himself. “A marathon runner like Berry can only hope to record what is happening anecdotally,” Will says out loud.

Will makes his way to the municipal golf course while across town Berry is looking at a personal best pace at a 10K Fun Run.