Early last year, I started touring my little how-to-market-yourself-without-being-a-tool talk at a series of conferences hosted by the American Society for Media Photographers (ASMP).
I like to keep things lively, so I tend to use a lot of photos, much as I do here on the bloggity-blog. And, because I’ve never been especially good—okay, because I’ve sucked at taking photos, I’ve tended to use a lot of screencaps or terrific photos from Flickr to do the illustrating.
But occasionally, I cannot find the image I’m looking for elsewhere, and am forced to come up with it myself. This is how a truly horrible photo of a truly awesome thank-you note ended up in the presentation.
My point was—and is—that all the fancy visual branding in the world does you no good unless you have great behavior to back it up. In this case, Chris Guillebeau combines great visual identity work (designed for him by the delightful Reese Spykerman) with the right action of sending a handwritten thank-you note, something he did for every single one of the 500 attendees of the first conference he hosted. It turned what was essentially a piece of collateral marketing (albeit a pretty one—yay, Reese!) into a meaningful memento. And really, that’s what you want to do with all of your marketing: create stuff that either literally or metaphorically passes The Fridge Test.*
I did the best I could with my shaky skills and rudimentary equipment, then tacked on a self-deprecating credit line at the bottom, “Horrible photo taken by yours truly” and turned my nonexistent skillz into a joke. Because (a), play to your strengths, and (b), always head ’em off at the pass.
What I did not expect was for an enthusiastic young photographer named Felicia Perretti to bound up to me after the talk in Philadelphia and assure me in no uncertain terms that I could learn to take better photos, even with “just” a point-and-shoot, and that she could show me how. She seemed sincere enough, but as it was a heat-of-the-moment situation, I did not take it seriously. Nor did I take it seriously when she followed up with emails #1,2, and 3, a few days, weeks, and months after the presentation.
It was not until I received a birthday card in the mail—hand-drawn, with individual tips and a likeness of me holding a point-and-shoot camera—that I realized this girl not only was a woman of her word, but that she truly found joy in turning people on to the incredible things she’d already learned.
So when I had to expand my presentation from 60 minutes to 90 (and from 211 slides to 300!), naturally, the first great marketing story I had to add was the one about how selfless actions can end up being the best kind of marketing there is. Because some eight months after a sincere offer to help, Felicia Perretti was now a fixture in the canon, her name, story, and website plastered all over screens everywhere as an example of Doing It Right.
There is no guarantee that a small thing you do will make any difference in someone else’s life, much less have a huge ripple effect. If you are using actions as lottery tickets, stop it now. (Or don’t, but know that’s what you’re doing.)
But the things you are moved to do, big or small, “successful” or “failed”, will always make a difference to you. After almost eight years of writing posts here, I can promise you that. Many, many times when I hit the “publish” button, I was sure that THIS post was (god help us all) going to be the one that ignited the blogosphere, that THIS brilliant thought would make me, would usher in fame and fortune. No such luck—which is good, because it would have been the shittiest kind of luck.
It is not what ignites or explodes or propagates that matters. It is scribbling in journals, doodling on margins, pausing to take a photo—and another, and another, and then, applying the Rule of Thirds, thoughtfully, another—that matters. Conscious effort to improve yourself, your world, and the way you interact with it. Meaningful work, engagement with other life forms, and, as I am finally (finally!) on the verge of learning, having some damned fun in your life.
I have good teachers. Thanks to them, I am slightly better than I was last year, last month, last week, a moment ago.
And, god willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be slightly better than that tomorrow.
This is Day 13 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.