Saturday, January 31, 2009

Directions Business Conference inspires the uninspirable

I had good fortune to attend Red River College's Directions Business Conference this week, and was not disappointed.

Actually, I'm never disappointed by the conference, but this year it seemed to be even better than usual and, dare I say: "inspirational?"


1. Lunchtime speaker Gail Asper.

After seeing her in person, I'm not surprised that she raised the nearly $265 million needed to make the Canadian Museum for Human Rights a reality. By the end of her speech, I was ready to hand over my wallet, and she's much richer than I am (although my nickname is Moneybags Larsen).

Among the memorable moments of her speech:
  • Her father, Izzy Asper, told her, "Never do a little deal." She went on to explain that it takes the same amount of time to get City Hall to install a traffic light as it does to build a giant museum, so you might as well go big.
  • Speaking of City Hall, she joked that her next initiative will be to get the speed limit raised to 60 on Grant Ave. "I get so many speeding tickets on Grant, they have a separate line for me on the civic budget," she said.
  • She asked that everyone present make a pledge to not "knock" Winnipeg here or when they travel.
  • She stuck it to Manitoba Hydro for its huge building on Portage Ave; primarily because it will open onto Graham Ave and not Portage. "What's the point of opening onto a street that's only open to buses?"
2. Heather Stewart from Lilyfield Cakes.

Heather proved to be another engaging speaker; and she came to the conference fresh from catering Barack Obama's inauguration with her signature cakes, which cost over $100 a pop. I'm sure Barack's cakes were even more pricey; just check out these cake boxes.

Responding to a question about her business plan, she said, "Business plan? I've never bothered with one of those." Rather, her promotional plan consisted of contacting magazines and seeing if the editors wanted a free cake sample. Who wouldn't want a free cake sample? And, apparently, the rest took care of itself.

She gave conference attendees (and, more importantly, "me") free samples. Her cakes, which have no icing and don't need it, can be shipped anywhere in the world by Fed Ex in 24 hours. And, she says, "The cake tastes best after it sits for a day, so the delivery time is perfect."

After a thin slice of sample, I'm happy to report that I'm planning to order a $150 cake. And I'm going to eat it all by myself. Please don't call me that weekend, OK? OK!

Here's Heather and her cakes at the Oscars:

3. Hilary Druxman

Her jewelry store in the Exchange District is one of Winnipeg's rare "New York" boutique experiences; in her presentation she chalked up her international success to embracing risk, commitment, and adaptability.

One of the most interesting parts of her speech showed how U.S. business declined after Sept. 11 and how she restructured her business to minimize the impact. She also talked about how important it was to get her jewelry featured in Flare and In Style.

4. Ed Huot of Clark + Huot

As I mentioned in a previous blog, Ed has the power to talk about branding like it's a religion.

In his presentation, he spoke about a company's "brandscape," a concept that is "easy to understand but hard to conquer."

He explained the concept by way of Apple, Starbucks, and his firm's campaign for Winnipeg Airports Authority by walking us through the importance of "storytelling" to the WAA campaign.

"We are our own heroes in this imaginary story of our lives," he said. So, for the WAA campaign, he imagined the story from the viewpoint of a fictional character, "Darren."

"Darren's a guy who is heading to the airport at 5 a.m. in minus 30 winters, going, "Oh my God, I hate my life,"" said Huot. By analyzing this character's story, Huot said, the WAA was able to make the airport experience more personal for travelers.

According to Huot, the secret to any promotional campaign (or "experiential marketing") is to be open to technology and invite people into a community that you create, using online tools like Facebook, YouTube, and Flicr, among others.

1 comment:

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