In my sophomore year of college I made the mistake of reading Jerry Della Famina's "From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor". It spoke to me. I thought I was creative. I knew I was irreverent. And I figured I'd enjoy getting paid for drinking and debauchery in the office.
In my senior year of college, I learned Madison Avenue didn't pay recent grads squat. So I went into direct mail. With a sleazeball boilerroom operation that sold overpriced school supplies as "fundraisers". I was the guy who produced the leads. And just like Kevin Spacey in Glengarry Glen Ross, that role made me either a salesperson's best friend or the biggest asshole on earth, depending on the day.
Seedy as that place was, it was the second largest direct mailer in Westchester County, NY, behind only the venerable Reader's Digest. I learned to do 64-cell direct mail tests by hand. This was pre-desktop computing. And I tested everything. Copy. Formats. Timing. Offers. I knew direct marketing fundamentals like nobody's business.
When that gig met its natural end, I moved onto a copywriting job with the company that was to become Reed Exhibitions. For the next 14 years I marketed and managed trade shows, with several of the world's largest producers of expositions and conferences. Along the way I did the first email campaign for a trade show (Nepcon 1994, with Mike Critser) and created the first web-based content management system for events (Advanstar, 1997).
But none of these event producers tested a thing. Attendees were simply the currency to attract exhibitors and sponsors, who paid the bills. There was no relationship with attendees. So it was no surprise to me that when the 21 century rolled in and brought with it blogs and social and mobile and relationship marketing and context... well, guess what industry was late to the party.
I left trade shows a couple of times. Once to become CMO for Passkey for a couple of years pre-9/11, and again in 2004 to start up a coffee cafe that won a "Best Of" editor's award from Pittsburgh Magazine - and one that was built on blogs and Twitter. I sold that in 2011 for a multiple of earnings.
In between and since I've consulted on marketing and social media for a number of events partly because that's what I know and partly because that's what I'm typecast as. Having 20+ years of doing one thing on your resume will do that.
I wrote columns. I spoke at conferences. I marketed events. And I still dream of a time when attendees will wield the power. Meantime, there's this blog, which will be celebrating its 12th year in July, 2015.