Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Iceman Breaketh

The Professional at the Podium

Joel was a master presenter. 

As head of research for a major radio broadcasting company, he spent a lot of time explaining the research to people both above and below his paygrade.

When explaining complex details to folks who didn't know much about research, he would get a lot of questions. Many of them off-point or unexpectedly obtuse.

And he would handle them all smoothly with skill and confidence.

In these group sessions, nothing could throw him off his game. He had a quick and easy to understand comeback for every question asked or point of confusion brought up.

He was a rock. The iceman. Cool. Calm. Collected.

Except for this one time.

We were in San Francisco at a highly successful station.

As Joel was masterfully presenting the plan for the station’s marketing research, he touched upon the types of outreach he would be spearheading, including Mall Intercept Surveys to get immediate, in-context feedback.

A hand went up.

It was Steve M, one of the station’s incredibly popular DJs.

Steve could best be described as the stereotype ultra-chill, surfer-dude California stoner. Think Sean Penn’s character Jeff Spicoli in the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”.

Sean Penn as Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Steve waved his hand.

Joel said, “Yes. Steve.”

Steve said, “Is that mall like where you shop or maul like what a bear does to a camper?”

For the first time in a hundred presentations, I saw Joel's facade start to crack.

“Uh … Steve … I’m not sure what you’re asking.”

“Dude, you said ‘mall interception’ … is that like mall like where you buy stuff or like maul like what a bear does to a camper?”

Joel stifled a chuckle.

Then he realized that Steve was asking a legitimate question. At least legitimate in Steve’s mind. 

Which made the question that much funnier.

“Steve, you want to know if the research we're going to do is going to take place in a shopping mall or in a campground where a hiker is getting attacked by a bear?”

At least that what Joel tried to say.

He could only get out a word or two at a time as he was increasingly overwhelmed by laughter.

It was the first and only time that I saw the unflappable Joel break his buttoned-up presentation demeanor.

Joel eventually regained his composure and let Steve and the rest of the room know that the research would not include the use of wild homicidal woodland creatures.

And Steve’s question became a form of communication between Joel and me. For a year or so, I don’t think a week went by without one of us asking the other, “Is that mall like where you shop or maul like what a bear does to a camper?"

Joel has stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

When he called to tell me, I felt like I'd been mauled by a bear.


Joel Reish passed 2 weeks after this was written. 

The day after his 62nd birthday, 2022.

Joel Reish - The Iceman

May his family find peace in their memories of him
as the truly good man he was.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Old Man's Shoes

My father always bought two pairs of the same shoes.

When the soles of his shoes couldn’t be patched anymore, my dad would buy two replacement pairs. One to wear, one to be stored in their box on the floor of the closet in my parents’ bedroom.

One day, with an exasperated, what’s-wrong-with-the-old-man attitude, I asked my mom, “What’s with dad and the extra pair of shoes?”

I was a kid. I was expecting an explanation of why my dad was an idiot. Not that he was an idiot, but I think I need to discover a way that I was better than he was.

He spoke 5 languages fluently. Or was it 6? Extraordinarily well-read and well-traveled, he was a tough target for competition for the boy who wanted to be as good if not better than he was.

My mom patiently explained, “When your father was growing up in Europe after the war, leather shoes were hard to come by. He was lucky and had a pair. He wore them for years, even when he outgrew them. He patched them with cardboard and anything else he could scrounge. When he sees the new pair of shoes in the box in the closet, it helps remind him of where he’s been and that he’ll never be there again.”

I was young enough not to have thought about my parents having a life before my sister and I were around. I was old enough to be impacted by a picture of my father's childhood so different from the one he was now providing his family.

I was also old enough to feel shame about thinking he was an idiot for buying two pairs of the same shoes.

I grew up a little that day.

The day I scratched the surface of getting to know my dad.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

In Search of a Title

Before deciding on The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald renamed his manuscript a number of times including: 

Trimalchio in West Egg

Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires

Gold-Hatted Gatsby

Under the Red, White, and Blue

The High-Bouncing Lover

Book Cover: The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

The world almost never had The Great Gatsby. 

The book yes, but the title no.

Kinda makes you wonder what other classic books had different titles before they were published.

A little digging to satisfy my curiosity turned up:

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was originally titled Atticus.

Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises was originally titled Fiesta. 

Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family was originally titled Before This Anger

Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind was originally going to be Tomorrow Is Another Day, Not In Our Stars, Tote the Weary Load, or Bugles Sang True. 

JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings series was originally titled The War of the Ring.

William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury was originally titled Twilight.

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four was originally titled The Last Man in Europe.

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita was originally titled The Kingdom by the Sea.

Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint was originally going to be The Jewboy, Wacking Off, or A Jewish Patient Begins His Analysis 

Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead was originally titled Second-Hand Lives. 

W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage was originally titled Beauty from Ashes.

Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth was originally titled The Year of the Rose.

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was originally going to be Alice's Adventures Under Ground, Alice Among the Fairies, Alice's Golden Hour, or Alice 

Don DeLillo's White Noise was originally titled Panasonic.

Jacqueline Susann's The Valley of the Dolls was originally titled They Don’t Build Statues to Businessmen.

Toni Morrison’s Paradise was originally titled War.

Carl Bernstein’s and Bob Woodward’s All The President’s Men was originally titled At This Point in Time.

Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast was originallgoing to be The Eye and the Ear, Good Nails are Made of Iron, or Some People and The Places. 

Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited was originally titled The House of Faith.

Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front was originally translated Nothing New in the West (a direct translation of the German).

Carson McCullers's The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter was originally titled The Mute.

William Golding's Lord of the Flies was originally titled Strangers From Within. 

John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men was originally titled Something That Happened.

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was originally titled First Impressions.

William Faulkner's Light in August was originally titled Dark House.

George Orwell's Animal Farm was originally going to be Animal Farm: A Fairy Story, A Satire, or A Contemporary Satire. 

Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden was originally titled Mistress Mary.

James Joyce's Dubliners was originally titled Ulysses in Dublin.. 

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was originally titled The Strike.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 was originally titled Catch-18.

Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace was originally going to be All’s Well That Ends Well or The Year of 1805.

Copy and content writers are naturally curious.

Which makes the internet a magical playground.

Have you gone down any interesting internet rabbit holes recently?

Monday, June 6, 2022

Batter Up


Baseball and Copywriting

Nobody hits it out of the ballpark every time they step up to the plate.

Not every piece of copy you write is going to work to the desired level.

In baseball, a season batting average of .300 or higher is considered excellent, and an average higher than .400 a nearly unachievable goal.

Batting .400 means you got a hit 4 for every 10 times at bat.

Businesses have batting averages, too. 

In high school, I worked for a small cheese and gourmet food shop in suburban New York. The owner, Bob Fortunato, had opened the place after quitting his job as a Sears store manager.

One day, while taking inventory of the cheeses that hadn't sold during a BOGO sale, he told me that during the 1960s, store managers at Sears were expected to have 3-out-of every 5 sales promotions succeed. "Get that number consistently and you had job security. Hit 4 out of 5 often enough and you'd get promoted."

Sears expected 60% of the manager’s promotions to win and rewarded those who achieved 80%.


If your client is expecting you to get on base every time you step up to the plate, you should do a better job of managing expectations.

Yes, be confident.

Yes, try to hit ‘em all out of the park.

But if you don’t, don’t make excuses. And don’t stop swinging the bat. Figure out why. Make appropriate adjustments.

And manage your client’s expectations.

You’re not going to hit 100%. 

You’re also not going to be judged by baseball standards where a 30% success rate isn’t only acceptable but celebrated.

Somewhere in between, find a reasonable expectation for performance that both you and your client can live with.

And give all that you've got to exceed it.

Every time you step up to the plate.

The Parking Spot Next to the Front Door

“You could sell sawdust to a lumber mill,” said my boss as he threw his arm around Byron’s shoulders. The team applauded as Byron held up th...