I’ve always had a passion for advertising. My favorite class in grade school was “show and tell.” As a paperboy, I would add subscribers by copy-testing leaflets. (“If you buy from me, I promise not to throw your paper in the bushes” outranked “You need the news; I need the money.”)
In general, I didn’t like school very much. And according to my report cards, it didn’t like me back. At the ripe old find-something-to-do-with-your-life age of 18, I was either going to get drafted, become a rock star, or attend college. At the same time, there was this puzzling war going on in Vietnam. And the most money my band had earned was playing for a junior-high dance party. College won by default. But once there, I discovered my latent calling. I majored in advertising and took to it like NEW! takes to IMPROVED! I even went on to pursue graduate studies.
Soon after graduation, I took a job at a major agency in Chicago as a copy contact, or a hybrid account manager/writer, a position that has since disappeared from agencies. Later, having to choose between the two, I chose account work as a way to avoid being tied to a desk and a typewriter (a thing once used for word processing). And move around I did, working in offices and agencies in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Baltimore before returning to Chicago in 1992. During that time I was fortunate enough to gain experience across a wide variety of categories and on major accounts like Citibank, Kraft Foods, Burger King, General Electric, Toshiba, Arby’s, KFC, Blue Cross, and many others.
In 1999 I decided that over 50,000 advertising agencies in the United States was not enough. So I started what now goes by the name of eswStoryLab. Started with three people, a lot of prayers, and frequent pumps of adrenaline, we grew to be recognized by Inc. magazine as one of the fastest-growing independent companies in the United States.
A few years ago, I became interested in the power of story. I set out to understand why stories are so powerfully persuasive, hoping I could apply my findings to marketing. I discovered more than what I had hoped for. I also found that the biggest difference our agency could make in a sea of agency sameness was to help brands draw from the principles of story logic. You can read about this journey and how we apply the precepts of story to branding, in my book StoryBranding™: Creating Stand-Out Brands Through the Power of Story. I was pleasantly surprised to have recently been awarded the Gold Medal Axiom Business Book Award for marketing and advertising.
When I’m not working I enjoy my family, a good round of golf, and rock-star fantasies while playing drums to Led Zeppelin on my iPod.