networking

Introducing Blend // Headlines: Rebel Makes News

Blend InviteBlend kicks off this Thursday, October 15. This is an original concept I've been developing and I'm very excited to share it with you. I grew up around music and DJs. Used to spend much of the week looking forward to what was coming out on Tuesday, and then rush to the store with whatever money I had to make sure I was up on the latest vinyl. More recently, I would spend at least 5 nights a week listening, dancing, and connecting. These days, I've given up late nights for early morning yoga and quality time with friends. The appeal of keg cups and Patron shots have been replaced by a good glass of wine.

But good wine is hard to find, with more than 5,000 producers in the US, and several times that when you add in Europe, South America, etc. Wine marketing does a really poor job at helping us navigate the choices available, and the experts' appeal is limited mainly to the hard core. For those of us who like wine but aren't ready to make the commitment of taking classes or lots of trial and error, the simple task of having something enjoyable to drink can be pretty frustrating.

Enter Blend - debuting Thursday, October 15th at 7pm - which combines wine tasting with top DJs in stylish venues. Wines are selected by Erik Kelley of the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, and once America's youngest sommelier. Music is selected by KCRW's Garth Trinidad, who collaborates with Erik on pairing — of sorts — the wine with the music.

We are grateful to have Puma as a charter sponsor, premiering the new AFRICA collection on Thursday. Our host venue is The Celebrity Vault, a Beverly Hills gallery specializing in contemporary art and iconic photographs of celebrities. Really cool stuff to look at.

We have a couple surprises planned as well, so I'd love it if you would come out and let us know what you think. Your feedback is essential as we grow this brand.

Tickets are $30 in advance and $40 at the door. There's also a VIP ticket available at $75. You can see all the details and purchase tickets at www.blendwineandmusic.com

NEW-LA and Practice Makes Perfect // On The Run

Ken Aiso at Philip Press, Sunset Blvd.I recently attended an event for NEW-LA: the Network of Executive Women, which I'm helping to build with Curtis Estes. The idea is to provide a forum for networking and peer support for highly successful female executives, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists. Part social, part business.

This event featured classical violinist Ken Aiso. Not exactly my style, but enjoyable anyway, probably because I'm always interested in watching someone who is amazing at what he does. That was definitely the case with Ken. Truth be told, he sort of won with me when he performed The Story of Ferdinand, which I think I remember was my favorite book as a small child. He alternated playing and reciting passages from the book, and sometimes both at once.

But for me the most interesting part was when he finished playing and took questions from the audience. Someone asked him how often he practices each day. So I'm sitting there thinking, this dude is at the top of his game, plays concert halls all over the world and for the emperor of Japan. He just told us he's been playing since 4 years old. He doesn't need to practice every day anymore. Ready for his answer...

"About four hours." Every day. Damn. While that was freaking me out, Ken kept talking. He explained that some of that time was spent expanding his repertoire, but most of it was maintenance. He likened it to a gardener pulling up weeds. Then it hit me.

It's like Gladwell talks about in Outliers, this is what it takes to be the best in the world, at anything: Unending dedication to practice and improvement. Aiso is surely past the 10,000 hour mark, and of course, he can't stop there.

Neither can you. Neither can I. Most every business conversation lately involves some discussion about key differentiators in one form or another. To put this differently, it's about what you can do better than anyone else. What it takes for all of us to even come close to that mark is relentless dedication, the willingness to improve, to challenge ourselves, and to keep pulling up the weeds.

If you're interested in NEW-LA, either for yourself, someone you know, or perhaps you need to market to this audience, let me know.

Vistage // Down With Us

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Fortune Small Business has an article about the seven things that kill small businesses, naming problems with accounting, pricing, hiring and firing, lack of standards and control, and finally, poor branding as the key culprits.

The diagnosis is spot-on, but the author incorrectly argues that entrepreneurs have no where to turn for help with these things, which sort of makes me wonder why they bothered to publish the article, but that's not the point.

They didn't know what we know about Vistage. The purpose of Vistage is to help members address exactly these types of issues. Here's how it works: You pay your membership fee and join a local group. Then you meet monthly with other business owners and senior executives in a similar boat to yourself. You ask each other tough questions and confront reality on business and personal issues that you consider important. It's a little like a board of advisors. Sometimes there's a little networking too, but that's not really the point. The point is that running a business is largely the same, no matter what business you're in. It's usually less about how special your technology is, or how amazing your hit record is, and more about how your business runs that determines whether you stay alive or not.

If you're wondering how in the world you would tackle some of these core business problems, maybe Vistage is for you. Let me know if you want me to make an intro.

UCLA Magazine // Headlines: Rebel Makes News

jluclaI'm very excited to be featured on the UCLA Magazine website in a profile called Rebel State: Emotional Branding. I went to UCLA. I was not a very good student. I had a twisted sense that school was for dorks, although I was secretly proud to be attending a top educational institution. So I went, and refused to participate... in class, social activities, just about anything.

I had no idea how lucky I was to be a dorm-mate of three football players. I became fast friends with three huge, black, Southern guys whose jock egos were surpassed only by their brawn. I found out later that I was the third white boy to share a room with Meech Shaw, the other two having moved out after he threatened them for asking him to turn down his music. Lucky for me, it never occurred to me to be scared of big black guys, or to ask Meech to turn his music down.

Meech indirectly introduced me to the music business, which changed my life profoundly and led me down a path leading to where I am today. So, in many ways, I owe much of my career success to having attended UCLA.

A few years ago I woke up to the fact that I had missed out on a lot of what the school had to offer. At that time, I started making sure I would no longer miss out. I began speaking at Entertainment Networking Night - and I met two young guys there and hired them directly out of college. Nowadays, I give as much as I can in the form of speaking, volunteering, and mentoring so that today's students might learn from my mistakes. I also serve on the marketing and strategic planning committees for the Alumni Association. I know I get a lot more out of it than I give.

So, check out the article.  I'm humbled to be in the company of so many accomplished Bruins, and I feel a little bit of validation to be recognized.  It's never too late to become involved, right.

ThinkLA // On The Run

Nice phone, guy. Last week I snuck into ThinkLA's Entertainment Marketing breakfast, thinking I might learn the master plan the movie and advertising industries were hatching for world domination. After all, the way things are today, the stakes are pretty high for keeping us distracted with mindless drivel and making us buy candy.

Well, if we're relying on the big brains in Hollywood to lull us back to prosperity, we're in big trouble. Just like the economists I heard speak at UCLA last month at the Anderson business school's "Thrive, Survive" panel, nobody here seems to have a plan either.

Despite the fact that the movie industry is coming off its biggest year ever, the esteemed panel of experts had little insight to offer that the rest of us might be able to use. Moderator Sam Rubin of LA radio station KTLA asked what Hollywood did right, and unfortunately nobody had the balls to say "we got lucky," or even to give proper credit to the failing economy that generally drives people into movie theaters.

WB's Mike Saska almost spilled the beans when he said "we've been doing what we've always done," which begs the question that since what they always do often doesn't work, how the hell is that a strategy? Just one year earlier, vehicles for major stars like Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tom Cruise, and Angelina Jolie failed to make any real money despite their star power and marketing budgets. Saska went on to explain that they're leaving no stone unturned in marketing their products, trying every wild and cutting-edge marketing tactic from, "polybagging newspapers to billboards in the Lincoln Tunnel." I think he was serious.

To be fair, it wasn't really their fault. I'm sure they're all nice people, but they aren't incentivized to tell the truth. Nobody's going to get up in front of a sold-out crowd and admit that their success had nothing to do with them. Nobody but me anyway.

Here's what I propose: Let's stop having meetings unless there's something to say. No more conferences, breakfasts, networking whatevers. Part of the problem (albeit possibly a small part) is that we've become a culture of meeting and networking, instead of doing.

The only people being helped by all the networking are the business card printers. Do I really need to go out and meet two dozen biz dev people, all of whom have little more to offer than a firm handshake and their elevator pitch? In the words of Gordon Gekko, "Come on, pal, tell me something I don't know. It's my birthday."

Who do I want to network with, you ask? Someone I can look in the eye and say "You're doing it all wrong. You're going to blow it. I can help you do better." Or someone who can say that to me.

The only way out of the mess we're in (multiple messes if you ask me: the general economy, the collapse of mass market brands and mass advertising, the overburdening of consumers with too much choice) is for all of us to get a whole lot smarter. In order to do that, we don't just need to network together, we need to work together.