Passion for Pop

November 8, 2009

Frostie cap sign from the 1950s

When I was in the six- to eight-year-old range, one of my favorite treats was to have a Frostie brand root beer. I remember it as being especially smooth and creamy with lots of sassafras flavor. This was the real thing, boys and girls. Finding a soft drink that’s not made with high fructose corn syrup anymore is extremely difficult.

It’s a shame what we’ve done to our food system. And it’s even a greater shame what we’ve allowed government backed big business to do to make small businesses work harder to gain a foothold and survive. But when a small business owner finds a niche and a passion for a service, then a market gets well-served.

In this video of John Nese, the owner of Galco’s Soda Pop Stop in Los Angeles, I believe you’ll find a passion for soda pop and delighting customers that will inspire you to carry that same passion over to the people you serve.


John Nese, Galco's Soda Pop Stop

I probably don’t drink more than one or two soft drinks a year. Watching this video got me teary-eyed and made me want to hop on a plane for LA.

Now, where can I find a “Frostie”?

Charles Gupton

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Image Awareness

September 29, 2009

This particular post by Seth Godin struck a chord with me this morning because several times in the past few weeks, people have asked my thoughts or advice either about their portraits on their business cards and/or web sites or they want to know how they can improve the pictures on their web site.

Since we all know folks who ask counsel from everyone they encounter until they get the advice they want to hear, the first issue I must resolve is whether someone really wants an objective response or just wants an “expert” to say what they’re doing is great. My return question is usually along the lines of, “Are you pleased with the images and the results you’re getting from them?” If they are, my job may well be done. I’ve generally found that if someone is satisfied with where they are, they’re just not that interested in moving to new ground.

In other words, if someone’s spouse/child/friend shot their web portrait with a Blackberry and touched it up in Photoshop Elements – at no charge – they don’t want to hear about the poor lighting that makes their face look red or that their web images are simply outdated. Very few people want to hear they lack sophistication. However, in Godin’s words, “We place a high value on sophistication, because we’ve been trained to seek it out as a cue for what lies ahead. We figure that if someone is too clueless to understand our norms, they probably don’t understand how to make us a product or service that we’ll like.”

Let me ask you a question. Say you meet someone at an event who could potentially serve a need you have, for instance, a realtor or a CPA. You’re having an encouraging conversation with strong possibilities of working together when you ask for a card. As you’re talking, you glance down and immediately notice the flimsy card stock, cluttered design and a photo of your companion with his/her company sign in the background and an expression that looks as if it was caught in mid-enema. (The added bonus comes when you flip over to the back to read, “Business Cards are FREE at!” Classy!)

Is this really the “professional” you want overseeing the details of your business or personal affairs?

In another post by Godin earlier this year, he detailed some of the things you may want to consider when you’re having a business portrait done. It’s a great starting point. One thought I’d add is to have the person shooting your portrait engage you so that you’re relaxed and reveal your true personality.

Admittedly, my interests are served when business people hire me to create their portraits. But this question is raised a lot and I’m more concerned with folks making a decision to do what’s in their best interest.

I believe it’s always best to present one’s image on the same level of business that one wants to be working on, not a level below. Every marketing/branding book and blog I read says that we are in the age of “Brand You”. When the economy and job market are at it’s tightest is the time you need to be most concerned with your image and your “brand”.

What does your portrait say about your market sophistication?


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Altered Image for Microsoft?

September 23, 2009

Because I monitor a number of blogs that are directed towards the communications industry in general and photographers in particular, I see a fair number of posts and articles discussing mistakes and PR blow-ups over the use or mis-use of photographs. Many of them seem to occur through the use of royalty-free or other cheaply sourced stock photos. Often, it seems, that in the interest of trying to do too much with too little, the ultimate cost for a company is much higher than if they simply hired original photography which fit their needs exclusively.

Obviously, I have a self-serving interest in getting hired for assignments, but I earn a good portion of my living from stock images, too. My primary desire is to work with my clients to find a solution that fits their need for the best value that they can get. That is the foundation of a lasting relationship in my book.

Altered photo in Microsoft ad

Altered photo in Microsoft ad

In this ad, Microsoft used a poorly altered head-swap for racial considerations, an Apple computer on the table and a cord to the monitor in the foreground was left unplugged. So, what were the savings versus the costs for Microsoft?

Just food for thought…


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Portraits of Children & CEOs

January 29, 2009

I now enjoy the challenges of photographing children.

Years ago a creative director I worked with kept urging me to promote my work with them. But I resisted because I didn’t want to be branded as a child photographer. I thought it would take away from my ‘serious’ corporate work. To be honest, what I was afraid of was their unpredictability. I couldn’t tell a child what to do and have them follow direction. They did what they wanted to do or they quit. Push a young child too hard and they cry. Although it was wonderful when everything fell into place, it was far too risky to build even part of my reputation on photographing children and then fail. Working with young children involves an entirely different set of skills. Or so I reasoned.

I love seeing a CEO this excited!

I love seeing a CEO this excited!

Then on one assignment it clicked with me. Photographing young children required many of the same qualities I used when photographing executives. That’s not intended to be demeaning to executives (or young children, for that matter). It’s just that there are a lot of similarities. For instance:
–    Both have a very short attention span, maybe a 3-5 minute window of opportunity.
–    Both respond poorly to ‘bribes’. Executives control their time and let you know it. Children focus too much on the reward and lose their spontaneity.
–    Both require a genuine emotional connection and interest in them. In truth every human wants that, but most folks will fake their way through to save face. Some CEOs will, but not any of the children I’ve met.
–    Neither will remember you unless the experience was bad. Or extremely good.
–    Both respond better to women touching them when under stress. I always like to have a female stylist to make adjustments to either men or women executives when possible. Young children also find women more nurturing and safe.
–    Both, interestingly, respond well to a mix of serious interaction and off-the-wall silliness at the moment of shooting.

The one major difference is that executives are very concerned with how their image is perceived and young children don’t care as long as their comfort needs are met. Neither group fakes this. At all.

Once I reasoned through the qualities and mind-set I needed to bring to a session with children, my entire attitude changed. It’s still a challenge and there are no guarantees that a melt-down won’t occur, but my enjoyment of working with children has risen exponentially.

So, what have I missed? What would you do to make the experience better for the people you’re photographing?

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Don’t be Ordinary

January 26, 2009

“I don’t think there’s anything worse than being ordinary” – Angela (played by Mena Suvari) in the movie American Beauty.

Don’t Give Up!

January 22, 2009

There’s a story in John Herman’s book “Hermanisms: Axioms for Business & Life” about Milton Hershey, the founder of the Hershey’s milk chocolate bar. It seems that Hershey was headed down the road of failure early on. Everyone around him, including his investors, had lost hope after his attempts at building a confectionary, first in Philadelphia, then Chicago, then in New York all failed before he returned to Lancaster, Penn. But Hershey believed. He persisted. In time the Hershey bar was born. But when success came, more seemed to be at play then making loads of money.


Perseverance is sweetest at the finish line!

In Herman’s words, “…in addition to stick-to-itiveness, Hershey possessed another trait common among entrepreneurs: that when they finally hit the big time, they often want to share their success with others. To a real entrepreneur, it isn’t about making money. It’s about winning. Being right about your idea. Seeing the realization of your dream. The money is great, and is something you can share, but it doesn’t offer nearly the same satisfaction as accomplishing your goals. Don’t quit on your goals because you didn’t achieve them the first time around.”

While there are job cuts all around us and numerous small shops are taking down their shingles and the owners shuttering their hearts, it’s important to keep your dreams (and heart) alive. Don’t give up!

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On Listening

January 9, 2009
Are you listening?

Are you listening?

I was not a great listener most of my life. Actually, I was a very poor listener. Although I could come up with a number of reasons, the bottom line was that I didn’t care about what other people thought as much as I did about what I thought. And I thought they should be more interested in what I thought too. So even though I’d wait until they stopped talking to speak, all I was waiting for was an opening to share my great wisdom. Know anyone like that?

A few years ago, a confluence of several events caused me to realize how my self-centered ways were keeping me from developing deeper relationships. I found that people don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care. Not only does listening show that you care, it gives you information to care about.

In the spirit of the “Brand You” movement that so many branding gurus have been espousing over the last couple of years, I started refining who I wanted to become in terms of the public perception of me. I also realized that the branding I wanted to take place had less to do with how much money I spent to create a perception than it did with who I was becoming as a person.  I wanted my ‘brand’ to be someone who listens well, someone who genuinely cares. Not surprising, maybe, but we all have to ‘do’ before we ‘become’.

Have I become a great listener? I don’t think so. But, I have become better. I’m learning to ask better questions as I try to clarify, to understand the heart within a statement.

As more of our conversations take the form of electronic conveyance, I see the same need to express interest in others’ thoughts. If the posts about social networking etiquette are any indication, folks are still annoyed by those who dominate the discussion with cries of “Look at me!!!”
In Seth Godin’s book Tribes, he writes “What most people want in a leader is something that’s very difficult to find: we want someone who listens.”

A great overview of the proper social graces when using Twitter can be found in this post by Jenny Cromie. Seems to me that they’re equally applicable in any conversational setting.

How are you leading? How are you listening? Do you feel that you’re being heard? What do you think?

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