Seize the day with a winning mindset

Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu composed the Art of War over 2,500 years ago. It is considered a definitive work on military strategy and tactics, and has had an influence on both Eastern and Western thinking. And not just within the military sector. The ancient strategies have been applied successfully to all aspects of business as well.

We used these war strategies at one of the largest advertising agencies in New York City, and continually won 99.9% of the clients we went after with the Art of War in our mindset – while other agencies were pitching a client, we were out to capture the hill.

When I left to set up my own agency, Ken Etheridge & Associates, it was only natural for me to adopt the same mindset. Here are a few examples of how I applied Art of War strategies to get noticed, stand apart, and close the deal.

Identify the competition’s Achilles heel

When the City of Miami issued an RFP to develop a strategic branding and marketing campaign for the Virginia Key Beach Park, I knew that the big agencies would respond with the standard 24-40 page proposal, confident that having an office in Miami, great creative, excellent staff, and business connections would land one of them the contract. This confidence was the chink in their armour.

I simply wrote a one page letter outlining how we would approach the assignment: That the very first step should be videotaped focus groups with all stakeholders – government, city officials, as well as past, present and future visitors to the beach – as their input would determine how to move forward on every aspect of the project.

Upon winning the business, we opened an office in Miami and developed the strategic branding and tagline “Paradise Renewed” for the Virginia Key Beach Park, which had been the premier beach for African Americans during the Civil Rights era.  Our campaign included newspaper and billboard advertising, radio spots, newsletters, Grand Opening programs, and much more.

Always be prepared and never give up.

My contact at the Bank of Montreal had me follow up with him for over four years. Then late one Friday afternoon, out of the blue, he called to ask if I could be in his office in one hour. I arrived on time, and so did the account rep from their international ad agency. Turns out the Bank wanted a national advertising program that would net 5,000 new small business clients within three months. We were both to be in his office at 9:00 am the following Monday with a proposal and budget. I was there by 8:00 am, proposal in hand, while their agency of record called to see if they could have another week.

Not only did we land the contract, the Bank of Montreal gained over 10,000 new commercial clients in just three months as a direct result of our program, more than doubling their objective. Vice-President & Product Manager David Schmalz described our work as “the most outstanding, innovative and market-driven I’ve seen in my many years in banking”.

Take the initiative at every opportunity.

We were hired to create a direct mailer for Nutri-Lawn International Lawn Care but felt their strategic branding did not do the company justice. While we did create the mailer as requested, we also took a chance and created a new logo for the company. The client’s initial response was “I did not ask for this”, but he loved the new branding and now needed all the franchises to sign off on it.

Our solution was to rent a hotel ballroom and outfit it to resemble the outdoors, complete with grass, lawn chairs, a swimming pool, barbecue, sandbox and more. The first thing franchisees saw upon entering the room was an 8’x20’ image of the new strategic branding mounted on the wall. I personally stood at the door, pad in hand, asking franchise owners to sign their name if they wanted this to be the company’s new logo. We had 100 yes’s before everyone was seated.

Be persistent and think out of the box.

I called the president of A&A Records and Tapes many times over the course of a year. He was always too busy to talk and would ask me to call him back at a later date. Finally, I asked his secretary what time he would be going to lunch and arranged for an airplane to circle the parking lot with a banner saying: Dick call Ken (and my phone number).  It got his attention, and we got his account for many years.

The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.

Upon joining the Board of Directors of the Seattle Central Area Senior Center, I discovered each Board member had a very different vision of the Center’s mission and how to reach its objectives. As a result, nothing got done. A consensus was essential if we were to move forward. So I sat back and listened carefully to what everyone had to say. This gave me the clarity I needed to create a strategic brand they all could buy into. Once united, with one clear vision and marching orders, we were able to create and execute a successful marketing plan.

We welcome your comments.

For tried-and-true winning tactics on how your organization can rise above challenges, take advantage of opportunities, and win business, contact
Ken Etheridge, President & Creative Director

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