Sunday, October 11, 2015

All I ever needed to know about business I learned from a Billy Idol concert

Spoiler alert: the headline is somewhat of an exaggeration. I’m sure I learned something about business in college. Except that I majored in art, which is more about learning to starve. Or, I could credit the advertising world with what little business savvy I have. But that would be an entirely different article, probably inappropriate for this venue. Instead, I’m taking my cues from a recent night at the House of Blues. Because the same tactics that work at the office are on full display at a Billy Idol concert. Take away the incense and it’s practically Marketing 101.

1. Always Leave ‘Em with White Wedding – AKA, know your audience

That Billy is no fool. The house was packed. There were overpriced t-shirts and tote bags printed with his face. (Because if there’s one thing that marks your fan base as suburban parents, it’s tote bags). Clearly, he knows his way around the soccer mom crowd. The set actually started on time. He knew what we wanted to hear, but he saved it for the encore. He played new songs first, capitalizing on the enthusiasm of middle-aged people who were, frankly, just excited to be out of the house. By 9 p.m., he was playing all the classics, and by 10, he’d played “White Wedding” and was out the door. Pretty genius when half your audience has to get home in time to pay the sitter.

Bottom line: if you give the people what they want – they will gladly shell out $50 for a ticket and $30 for a tote bag. Which is totally carrying juice boxes to three soccer games next weekend.

2. You Don’t Need a Gun – AKA, be polite and persistent to get what you want

Sometimes you need to get people on your side to get things done. Sure, you can try to bully or bribe, but that’s sort of frowned on nowadays, and it’s a lot of work. Call me old-fashioned or lazy, but I’ve found that if you’re just polite and persistent, you can often persuade people to do all kinds of things. This works whether you are trying to tame a tricky client, or get the hosts in the Foundation Room to seat you at a “reserved” table, which for some silly reason they are saving for “members only” (note to House of Blues: you’re a bar, not a country club).

Bottom line: you can accomplish a lot with moxie and manners.

3. All of us were once Sweet Sixteen – AKA, nostalgia sells

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a lot more than that to get me out of the house after 8. Why stand for hours in a crowd when I could sit at home and watch Downton Abbey, where the couch is comfy and the wine is free?

I’ll tell you why.

Because the first chords of Eyes Without a Face take me back in junior high, rushing off the school bus to meet my best friend, who was bringing her special picture disc single, imported from England. You may not remember picture discs, but they were records (yes, actual records) that had a picture imprinted on them and you had to special order them from an actual record store (Because? The internet? Did not exist?). Once you had it, you could only play it a limited number of times or it would warp or the picture would fade away or something would explode, IDK. What I do know is that we raced into the house, took out the record and stared at it reverentially for maybe ten minutes. And then, finally, she put it on the turntable and we turned the volume knob as loud as it would go until the old German lady across the street asked us to please turn that down. Which we did (politely, of course – see #2). And then we put the record away. Because you could only listen to once.

And Rebel Yell takes me back to the first Christmas after my parents divorced. It was awkward and quiet and didn’t really feel like Christmas. Until we opened presents and I got my very own Sony Walkman with the Rebel Yell cassette tape. After that, nothing else mattered. The uncomfortable silence was filled by the sounds of Billy Idol, in my ears. All.Day.Long. Seriously, I don’t think the headphones came off until dinner.

You can’t download those memories from Netflix. But you can sell me a ticket to see someone who loomed larger than life at a time when I needed it the most.

Bottom line: you can’t go wrong selling people their childhood.

4. Don’t be afraid to Dance with yourself – aka, don’t worry about looking like an idiot

Lots of perfectly good ideas start out sounding ridiculous and stupid to someone (hello, talking pictures?). You can’t be afraid to suggest them, just because you’re afraid someone in a meeting will think you’re an idiot. If they do, they’re the idiot. Tell them Billy said so.

In the same vein, don’t be afraid to jump and down and scream because OMG! He? Just? Came? Out? OnStage!!! Even if one of your friends is using her phone to capture the moment on video. And then puts it on Facebook. And you sound like you’re singing while simultaneously being strangled and having an asthma attack. Who cares? If you get hit by a bus, are you going to regret all the stupid stuff you tried? Of course not. Unless, of course, one of them was playing chicken with a bus. Which is definitely a stupid idea, so don’t try that one – you don’t want to look like an idiot.

Bottom line: don’t worry so much about what other people think of your ideas that you never voice them.

5. Remember, we’re all in this Rat Race together – aka, keep a sense of perspective

Sometimes new ideas are great, sometimes not so much. The Chevy Nova comes to mind, although my mom had one and honestly, it drove just fine. But the point is that in business, as in life, some things will succeed and some will fail. Sometimes it seems like the world just ended because a brochure is late. It hasn’t. The world’s still going, with or without your marketing collateral. Of course, try to do your best, but a sense of perspective goes a long way to preserving your sanity. It’s not rocket science. Unless you work for NASA, in which case, don’t you have more important things to do than read this post?

Let’s say, for example, you go to a concert and have a wonderful time. And after that concert, you’re woken up at 3 am by your dog barking at the life-size mummy on your front porch because your family is way into Halloween. And then you try to calm down the dog, but the wind sets off the motion detectors on the cackling witch, and the googly eyes start flashing in the bushes. Pretty soon you’re stumbling around in the dark trying to find the “off” switches because your entire front yard is like the Spirit Halloween store and the dog is freaking out. Do you lose your mind and declare the entire evening a disaster?

No. You slip the dog salami, go back to bed and wake up two hours later for work. Where you’ll juggle meetings and articles, and something will probably slip through the cracks, despite your best (sleep-deprived) intentions.

Bottom line: we’re all in this together. Do your best, and don’t freak out. Unless, of course, there’s a life-sized mummy on your front porch. Or Billy Idol. In which case?

Call me.