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685x600threvsleepwalkI tell a lot of stories in my public speaking. So many that someone recommended I write a book. So I did. It was cathartic.

Yesterday I went into Manhattan to see a storyteller by the name of Mike Birbiglia (pronounced Ber-Brow-Ski). I first heard him on NPR’s This American Life. The story was called “My girlfriend’s boyfriend” and I had to listen to it twice it was that good. And it’s true. I know this because at the beginning of his stories yesterday he said, “These stories are true.”

SIDEBAR: Why do people always ask that? “Was that a TRUE story?” As if they are reserving their learning from it or loving it until it’s confirmed…..interesting.

Storytelling is such a powerful tool in building relationships.

I went to a stress management seminar back in my twenties (actually my boss MADE me go to it) and at the beginning of the class the instructor asked us to think about our stories. When you are getting to know someone, what STORIES do you pull out? You know the ones, the ones that you feel define you somehow or will make a good (or not so good) impression (whichever is your goal).

At that time my biggest stories were of me being “sentenced” to the Catholic church growing up. It felt like prison at the time. (Only later did I become a born-again Catholic, because it was MY choice.) But anyone who’s grown up Catholic can relate…without saying much more, there’s a certain and immediate bonding that occurs.

According to the Stress Management Teacher, the stories you tell reflect the issues you’re still working on. Things that may be the root of your stress.

My sister always tells the story of not just having four kids, but having four difficult pregnancies and deliveries. Her kids are all grown and out of the house, but she’s still dealing with this. She’ll tell a complete stranger on an airplane the gruesome details of her four C-Sections and subsequent hysterectomy. Word of warning if you ever fly.

Mike Birbiglia’s stories are not only true, but are so randomly told. That’s the best way I can describe it. His A.D.D. allows him (and the audience) to go from one branch to another, swinging along with highs and lows and eventually settling in securely on the starting point – it almost leaves you breathless. Once you’re in the rhythm of it, you can let go and meander with him, knowing he’ll bring you back around safely. And boy did he deliver. The last line of the story still blows me away.

I never thought of a comedian being self-employed until Mike said it. And his tales of life on the road and ego-googling and how email is like a slot machine in Vegas (am I gonna make money?) I realized, I’m kind of a stand-up.

Tomorrow I fly to Reno to speak to a bunch of Agricultural Economists at a luncheon. Why am I speaking at lunch? Because apparently I’m entertaining. And the rest of the seminar is very dry (or so I was told).

So I guess what I’m trying to say – Mike, thanks. This economy has kind of pooped in my punch bowl and I was feeling a bit anxious about my future, and you helped me see that I chose this life. I love traveling and meeting new people and telling my stories and hoping someone will be better for it.

I hope you find this post in your Google Alerts, watching the news, in your sleeping bag, mittens at your side, waiting for that pizza ring pillow to be placed gently around your neck.


I was the middle of five kids in the typical Catholic family in Northeast Portland in the seventies. My mom had to go to work to help ends meet and so the house cleaning was pretty much left up to the kids. My mom used to say (sometimes scream):

“If everyone would just pick up after themselves, we wouldn’t HAVE a dirty house!”

But since no one followed this brilliant advice, we had a chore schedule. And on Saturdays (when my dad was in charge) NOBODY got to go out and play until the chores were done.

If my mom were still alive and was a culture consultant, like me, she would convert her sage advice to the front-line and it would look like this:

“If everyone would just DO what they SAID they would do, we wouldn’t NEED a customer service department!” 

For example:

  1. If Verizon had actually KEPT their appointment instead of making me wait for hours, and then days for service, I wouldn’t have given up and switched to their competitor (after calling their customer service department four times and being on hold – giving up four hours of my life).
  2. If the guy at Saturn who changed my oil last Friday had properly torqued my oil filter, I wouldn’t have had to pull my car over in Northampton Massachusettes because my check oil light came on and it sounded like a jackhammer under the hood of my car. 
  3. If the guy at LIPA would have made a note in our new file that our house in Port Jefferson is a SINGLE family dwelling instead of a duplex, like we discussed, our gas would not have been shut off today.
  4. If the gal at Group Health pharmacy would have mailed my prescriptions overnight like she promised instead of Bulk Rate USPS – I wouldn’t be blogging bitchy topics like this!

img_0897When I was a kid, I fancied myself a dream interpreter. My sister Daedre gave me this gift. She’d ask me to decipher her weirdest dreams. Only after a few years did she catch on that her “imaginings” always led to how she could be a better sister to me!

Last night I had a dream about the ocean. I was walking out to sea, feeling the warm water (okay – I was NOT in the Long Island Sound apparently) pick me up. I was bobbing along looking for a wave. I could see one starting to form – and then nothing. Like it gave up. I waited for another – same thing. And then there was this guide, bobbing along the ocean’s surface and I said, I’m trying to “catch a wave” and they don’t seem to want to break.

He looked at me and said, “Well, you don’t get your money back if they don’t – it’s nature and we have no control over it.”

So I just decided to float along and feel the current and well, just go with it.

The waves never came. It’s true, we have no control over nature. But how about human nature?

I’m working on my second book right now – called The Ripple Effect. When I started it I only had a few (but really good) examples of my premise: Corporations don’t have values, people do. And when those people change, so do the values, and the ripple effect is often a dramatic change in your brand (reputation).

Krispy Kreme was always my favorite example of this. You know the story: The dream of a donut, the perfect donut. Donut theatre was born. Many years later, the founder (the donut dreamer) dies and KK went from being very regional, with exceptional quality, and people flocking to the “Hot and Now” sign to stale old crap in every gas station across America. Values shifted to “quantity over quality” and all but killed the brand.

Right now we’re experiencing a tidal wave of the cause and effect of an American values shift.

I’ve said this publicly and I’m included in the group (barely) so I’m not afraid to say it again – I think this economic crisis is a direct result of the Baby Boomer generation.

The largest generation in US history – and when they came to power (meaning to control both industry and government) it all went to hell. Why? Because the values shifted from their parents (thrift and economy) to “I want it NOW damnit!” (rampant debt). Get it now, pay for it (or have my kids and their kids and their kids) pay for it later.

Is it human nature to be greedy?

Yes and no. We are in a cycle. Kind of like the tide going in and out, or the seasons changing. The reason this season feels so severe – the sheer volume of participants. But it IS a cycle. And we can’t market our way out of this one. We have to live our way out of it – by a tremendous shift in values.

If you want to read a fantastic paper on the cycles of human nature in America – check out: “Boomers, Your Crisis Has Arrived!” By James Quinn.


will-work-for-foodI’m in Seattle today – walked a couple blocks from my hotel to a salon. In those two blocks I was panhandled six times. Times are tough.

But it got me thinking. This is a form of marketing (and I mean no disrespect to the growing homeless problem). But if you are forced (or is many cases choose) to work the streets for cash, you have lots of competition. Here’s what I saw:

1. A kind of scary looking guy holding out a cup.
2. Two teenagers with a cardboard sign that read “Conducting Human Compassion Experiment”. Clever.
3. A very jovial man who complimented everyone that walked by. Big smile, and holding out the lid of a cardboard box (like the kind printer paper comes in). He loved my hair (told me that coming and going) but it felt weird to “tip” the guy for a compliment. Right?
4. A young girl with career limiting facial piercings and tattoos and wild wild hair (even by my standards) playing the violin that could land her a symphony position. She was amazing! Also had an adorable dog with a red bandana around his neck.
5. Cardboard sign that read: Cold and broke.

I could see all five of these people if I stood in the middle of the intersection (which would not be a good idea) but you get the point.

Again, I am hesitant to write about this, and even ran it by some friends last night who encouraged me to do so – to make a point.

Brand is your reputation. Period. We all have a brand. And in this economy it’s important to figure out what that is – not only for your business, but for yourself.

Do you ever find yourself saying this in the workplace?

“I need to go after 25 to 35 year-old females.”

Just for fun, say that in a crowded public place out loud. Creepy, right? And yet that’s what we’ve been taught to do – “go after” a particular product or type of member.

By believing that’s the only way to market, we’ve created this:

1. A federal law against marketing. The National “Do Not Call” registry was created NOT because people were making prank phone calls – “Do you have Prince Albert in can?” No, a federal law was passed against marketing. Tele marketing, aka annoying marketing.

2. TiVo and DVRs were created so you could finally watch your shows in peace – without marketing.

3. iPods give us the ability to drive, walk, ride, anywhere with only our music – no annoying radio advertisements (marketing).

4. And finally – 10 years ago, did you own a shredder in your home? Why do you have one now? Not only for “privacy” but it feels good to shred marketing, right? How many of you are considering buying a BIGGER shredder?

I call these old techniques “Stalker Marketing”. And when I googled the word stalker, I got this: According to the April 2001 issue of Psychiatric Times:

“Stalking” is defined as repeated and persistent unwanted communications and/or approaches …….. The stalker may use such means as telephone calls, letters, e-mail, graffiti and placing notices in the media.”


That’s why marketing today has to feel like dating. You don’t “go after” someone when you’re interested in them. You take the time to learn about them. You make yourself attractive to them. On a first date, we all talk about pretty normal things looking for a common bond. “Oh, you like Battlestar Gallactica too?” Because that common bond makes it easier for us to build a relationship.

Common bond is a very powerful marketing tool.

Relationships are work. Pushing products is easy.

Relationships take time to build. Campaigns are over in a month.

Relationships evolve over time, and we have to pay attention to them.

Checking accounts are free – and free is fun to put on a brochure. In fact, I recently saw someone touting that their checking account was the “free-ist!”

We need new tools in our marketing toolbox today. And one of the most effective and cheapest marketing tools is word of mouth. To begin to cultivate relationships, we need to change the way we speak.


Let’s all practice “building relationships” again and leave the stalking to Hollywood.


I love the CU Journal. I subscribe. By the time I get the hard copy I’ve pretty much seen and read all I need from their online, but I like to look at the pictures. Just like People magazine. See who’s in there – who got promoted. I love those fun branch pictures of staff holding a giant check to charity or the stiff ribbon cutting shots.

I’ve been moving this month (from New Mexico to New York) and let them pile up. So this morning, cup of coffee in hand, decided to catch up.

I had no idea Michael Fryzel became a woman! That NCUA job must be hard!



I’m in Pittsburgh today talking to Pennsylvania marketers. Yesterday, Harrisburg with about 30 marketers. When asked, over half said their marketing budgets had been cut this year. Others were clinging to theirs.

My subject – Marketing on a Budget During a Recession – sexy.

The Pennsylvania League launched a statewide brand campaign last year called iBelong. It’s really good. It’s timely. It’s affordable. It’s a no-brainer. Illinois and Mississippi leagues picked it up.

Yesterday three credit unions showed what they are doing with the iBelong campaign. Some of the things that stood out for me:

– Joint advertising on billboards and banners at community events. (picture the iBelong logo and then three different community credit union logos on the bottom).
– Buying cable TV spots for like $5.00 (in some markets that’s possible).
– But THE BEST one – a credit union in Scranton, PA was able to get an bumper sticker on the set of The Office (look for it this season behind Pam’s desk).

Now is the time to drop everything – stop pushing products, stop “going after” members with membership bribes (aka stalker marketing) and join together for a national brand campaign.

I’m not the only one that thinks this – check out THIS article today in the Huffington Post.

I know some state leagues are launching their own campaigns and this particular campaign is getting attention. It might not be the kind of attention we want right now.

Forward this link to your CEO. Let’s get this going. The window of opportunity is closing!!!!

Thank you Deborah Eastman, Chief Marketing Officer at Satmetrix for the heads-up on the article.

Thank you to Franklin Oil Region Credit Union for giving me their last magnetic bumper sticker. My car wears it proudly!


nunsYou know why I’m so passionate about word-of-mouth? Because every single job I’ve ever had was because of a referral. From my ‘Enry Beazely’s wench job to all of my NPS consulting gigs. It’s powerful stuff when you have an “invitation” to apply. You’re definitely at the top of the heap of anonymous resume’s. Such was the case with my interview with the Oregon Credit Union League. Job title: Consultant. I liked the sound of that.

The League put me through several interviews. The typical HR butt-sniffing, then a group breakfast (to meet the team of consultants) and finally one-on-one lunch with my boss. I’ll admit, I’d never been on an interview IN a restaurant. It so freaked me out I did a rehearsal breakfast just to familiarize myself with the menu, lighting, location of the bathroom, etc. Seriously. I ordered oatmeal and coffee if you must know.

Anyway, I got the job, was shown my cube, the phone, and the volumes and volumes of legal books that will act as my references. We also had an in-house attorney and an entire law firm on retainer. My job – to consult on compliance. In other words, help credit unions make decisions by educating them about the implications of the law. Or so I thought.

My favorite book I called the Brady Bunch Book. You see, most credit unions at that time had been offering share draft accounts for only a few years. And these things were tricky. The Brady on Bank Checks book was about 4 inches thick and was the source for all negotiable instrument law. A learned that a check is merely a contract and must contain certain parts to be a valid contract. Signature, amount owned, payable to, date. Can you use a cocktail napkin as a check? Sure, if someone will cash it. Can you collect on a cocktail napkin? Sure! If someone wants to pursue it.

The most important lesson I learned consulting on checks? Always ask the dollar amount of the check in question. I remember spending HOURS researching a particularly stick endorsement issue and finally after many back-and-forth phone calls the employee sighed and said, “Well, it’s only a $5.00 check so I guess it doesn’t matter!” Ugh.

Lawyers. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. The problem with the law? It’s so stupid. If we followed every law that was ever written, we wouldn’t have any members at all. I like to “bend” laws. Show me a check cashing policy that exposes you to zero risk and I’ll show you one that doesn’t take checks! Period.

We are IN the risk business – but we’re also here to serve our member/owners. To treat them like they matter. Common sense is seldom wrong. When compliance starts running your organization, you’re bound to screw up relationships.

I LOVED consulting – hated complying. Maybe it’s because I was raised Catholic. I guess what I’m trying to say is, we HAVE to comply with the laws, but not in a “If you even think about breaking this law you’re going straight to hell” way. Sister Rose Delores was the “compliance officer” at my school. Not only did she take the fun out of being a teenager, I think by being so strict, it MAKES you want to, what I call, viciously comply.

You know what I’m talking about – I think a lot of employees viciously comply. You want me to never take a bad check again – you got it! Holds for everyone! Oh, I’m sorry, that was the chairman of the board’s wife? Yikes.

The compliance officer (sounds like they should carry a badge) needs to understand what business we’re in – people helping people – and that 99.9% of our members are honest, hard-working folks just trying to make a deposit and get some cash. Sure, there’s that .1% out there that’s looking to mess with you. Let Sister Rose Delores handle them.

denise-crazy-picI’m a New Yorker. It’s official. We flew into LaGuardia Sunday afternoon. Drove down the LIE to Port Jeff. Hit the Target for some supplies and there I saw her. A woman that had EXACTLY my same hair color. I gasped, so did she. We paused, and she said “Nice ha-ih.” (that’s Lawn Guy Land for Hair).

I knew I was home.

It started to snow. And snow. Like I’ve never seen snow before (originally from Portland, Oregon). We hunkered down in the lobby bar of our hotel, ordered a Kettle One martini and a dozen oysters on the half shell.

The next day we went to Wal Mart to buy a snow shovel. Couldn’t find any so we asked a nice gal that worked there. She yells down an aisle “Hey Tony, we have any shovels left?” Tony yells back “No!” Then I hear him under his breath say “What ya, go a whole yea-ah widout a shovel?”

I love this place……..

Not a big fan of the snow shoveling btw.
Will continue my story tomorrow – I gotta meet the boyz in half an hour to unload my stuff.

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March 2009