Archive for March, 2009

Impossible Pie

Posted in art, personal on March 23, 2009 by barryshapiro

I am into making pie. I had never really baked until recently. I do love to cook and I learned to cook from a master – Joe Yaccarino of Joe’s Place, once a Brooklyn culinary institution. But baking has never been my thing. I think I tried to make bread once and it wasn’t too good. Back in my hippie days I made my own tofu but that’s got nothing to do with baking – I just thought I’d mention it to impress you. After all, who makes their own tofu?

I don’t know how the urge to bake came upon me but I’ve always loved a good slice of pie. Pecan is my fav. I was never big on the fruit pies except for the strawberry rhubarb they make at Briermere Farms in Riverhead, NY. That is one exceptional pie.  When I was a kid I always loved coconut custard pie and also those amazing strawberry cheese pies from Juniors, also in Brooklyn, and the place we would go to visit grandpa Sam when I was very young. Juniors is still crankin’ them out and they still rock.

So I got this jones for making pie and now I’m collecting recipes. I get them from friends, from the NY Times, from books, and even a few on-line. Lynn Cleare Goldman, my old college flame, has been kind enough to send me some of her mother’s recipes and they are terrific. We did a blind taste test with her mom’s pecan stacked up against the recipie from Juniors and mom’s won hands down. By the way, Lynn now lives on Big Island, HI and is doing some great art these days. Check her work out. That’s my plug for the day.

The difference between baking and cooking in general is precision. I’ve never been one for following instructions but in pie making I find you have to do just that. I always considered cooking to be like painting – mixing flavors was like mixing paints. But baking is more like architecture – leave out a brick or a beam and the whole damn thing is gonna collapse. So far, I’ve had a few collapses but also some impressive little houses going up! But there is one pie you can’t really screw up and that is the Impossible Pie. I got this recipe from my landlady Karen and it’s great. You take all the ingredients and put them in a blender. After mixing them up you toss everything in a greased pie pan and bake. That’s it. And it is delicious, creamy – real good. I have to come up with another name for this pie – Impossible just doesn’t do it. Should be Anything’s Possible Pie.

Having a Lamb Moment

Posted in directing, personal on March 18, 2009 by barryshapiro
Baby lambs are pretty cool. Once we were shooting commercials, for what is now Comedy Central, and we had vignettes with baby piglets. The piglets squeeled and pissed everywhere but they were cute. The animal wrangler, Steve, was a friend I’d worked with many times (sometime I have to relate my adventures with the Dreyfus lion) and he asked if I’d mind if he brought other animals to the set so he wouldn’t have to rush back to New Jersey to pick up the lambs for that evenings performance of Gypsy. (I had already shot the promos for Gypsy with Tyne Daley so I was happy to be helpful). The lambs were in a small cage under a tarp so they would sleep and not make noise but when I saw them I said let’s play with them – life of the set between takes can be very boring. Anyhow, I never had held a lamb before and in about two minutes I was purring, stroking it’s coat and about as passive as can be – or as ever I get. My producer, Heidi Gottleib, came over and was instantly in love – she HAD to hold that lamb – so then she was transfixed. We were having a lanolin overdose.
Next came the grips, the big guys with muscles that do the heavy lifting. The the electrician wanted in and the best boy and the prop master and so on… everyone wanted to hold the lamb. Someone asked Steve what would happen to the lamb when the show closed and he mentioned that they only keep the lambs a few weeks. By then they are too big and they send them to the butcher. I thought he wouldn’t get out alive – there would be a murder on the set. That lamb was going to live, damn it! Even the teamsters were up in arms. With Steve’s agreement we decided to have a contest whereby whoever came up with the best name for the little lamb would get to keep it after it’s Broadway run. We formed an independant panel of judges.
There were many names: Lamb Chop; Fluffball; Lamikins; Elia (Lamb); Lambaramadingdong, etc. The winner was a grip named Doug who came up with “Rack-O.”
I wonder what he ever did with that lamb?

The Absurdity of it All

Posted in art, political on March 16, 2009 by barryshapiro

Life just seems more and more absurd everyday. We (our government) are spending trillions of dollars to stimulate an economy but nothing to change the culture that created the crisis. The entire world seems to be in need of Ritalin. Take these examples:

A high school in Newport Beach, CA bans a student production of “Rent” and the entire nation is freaking out about a play. Another school in LaGrande, Oregon bans “Picasso at Lapin Agile, ” a play by Steve Martin in which Picasso meets Einstein at a bar and shares a drink. I wonder if they would have objected if the students wore arrows on their heads, played the banjo and pretended to be mentally retarded? Probably not.

A group of Hindu activists protest the erection of a statue of Charlie Chaplin which is being made as a backdrop for a movie dance number. They think it’s bad to build a statue of a non-Hindu that is anywhere near their temple. Haven’t they heard that Chaplin was a secret Hindu? He never ate cow.

We need more art in our lives. I walked around the exhibits at the annual “Art Under The Oaks” art fair in Vero Beach, Florida in the warmth of the sun, taking in the art of greater and lesser quality. There were some amazingly talented artists represented as well as the usual share of questionable talent:jewelers, T-shirt hawkers and kitch creators. I really enjoyed speaking with some of those artists whose work really stood out. Had a great chat with Gary Barnes of North Carolina (www.barnesstudios.com), a fellow pastel artist and a very talented and unique woman named Farhana who did richly textured watercolors which achieved a classic Moghul appearance – really interesting original technique. Perhaps most interesting to me of all was a Japanese woman living in Christiansburg, VA, who painted in gouache, something you don’t see much of these days. Her work combined traditional Asian themes with European technique. I noticed Yumiko Ichikawa’s mission statement, which related that her life’s goal was to create a harmonious world in painting. That’s what we need, a more harmonious world and it is in the arts that we can best create that end. So why isn’t Congress spending a few extra shekels of stimulus on the arts?

The other day I went to see the Mets play the Nationals at an exhibition game in Port St. Lucie. It was a lousy game but we had good seats. It was around the 6th inning of a one run game in a half filled stadium – even the beer vendors were asleep – and the couple just behind us would not stop screaming. “Let’s Go Mets!,” “What’s that ump, are ya blind?” and so forth. No one else in the stadium seemed to be that interested in the game, forget yelling at players and umpires. But these folks had no qualms about standing, stomping, and shouting to the skies for their blue and orange clad heroes. I tried to appreciate their enthusiasm but all I could think was ‘shut up you dorks and let everyone else enjoy the afternoon in the sun!’ If only they could be that excited about John Currin.

On the way home I saw a sign on a billboard that had a quote from George Carlin. It went something like this: “Ever notice how anyone driving slower than you is a moron and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?” It was like a lightbulb went off in my head. Yes, that’s so true!

I noticed that Stuart, my compadre, had been driving in that middle ground of not too fast and not too slow and mentioned the billboard. He remarked that he never speeds, always goes at just the posted speed limit. “Never?” I asked? Never was his response. And he never has received a speeding ticket. Now I myself have a heavy foot and I have paid who-knows-how-many dollars over the years in fines. I just got a ticket a few weeks ago for going 12 miles over the limit – I thought I was getting screwed. How could they ticket me for only 12 measly miles on US 1? My theory is that anything within 12 miles of the speed limit is not speeding. I even set my cruise control at about 10 miles above the limit. I also believe that if you are going 5 miles under the limit and not in the extreme right lane you should be arrested for being a danger to society. I don’t know, maybe I need to reevaluate my theory? Maybe I need to follow the rules and play the game? That sounds sooooo boring and SLOW.

While I’m on the subject of speeding objects, last night I was sitting outside having a hamburger and beer with friends when someone said “Wow look, there goes the Space Shuttle!” We all turned to see the bright lights of the rockets burning through the sky at dusk. The smoke trail looked like a fantastic elongated white feather which then turned orange and white again with the changing reflection of the setting sun. As the sky faded to black, we watched the rockets separate and fall to earth while the Discovery soared toward it’s rendezvous with the Space Station somewhere out in the great beyond. It was quite stunning and magnificent. That was a work of art both Picasso and Einstein would have admired.

Marketing in the Midst of Disaster

Posted in marketing on March 12, 2009 by barryshapiro

The following is an article I wrote, but was not published, in the Pinnacle, a magazine published by Pathfinder Business Strategies LLC. I wrote it last October and I think they passed it over due to the political references. Never the less, I was just reading it over and though some things have changed – like the economy sucks even worse than it did – by alot – I think that much of what I wrote is still relevant. Points of view welcome.

How Do I Sell In A Down Economy?

By Barry Shapiro

The global economy is in the tank, the Stock Market has lost 40% of its value and unemployment is at a 20 year high. Credit is all but dried up and the banks don’t want to hear from you. One piece of good news is that gas prices are down but at $2.60 per gallon that’s hardly any consolation, especially if you’ve invested or work in the alternative energy fields. Yes, times are tough for everyone but certainly no one has it harder right now than you, the small business owner.

Yes, the small businessmen and women of America are in a real bind. All you have to do is listen to the current Presidential candidates talk about the plight of small business, the backbone of the American economy (this article was written just one week before the election) and refer to people like “Joe The Plumber” to know that it’s dog eat dog out there.

With money tight, people are not spending on luxuries and cutting back on essentials.  This is especially a tough time for businesses that depend on disposable income like restaurants, hotels and resorts. If you are a supplier to those industries your business may be suffering. I know of many established businesses that are feeling the squeeze. Even my favorite restaurant in New York City has closed due to a precipitous decrease in business. This is getting to be truly disturbing!

So what do you do? You have bills to pay and promises to keep. It’s time to take some aggressive action but what is the right thing to do when cash is tight? The last thing you want to do is cut back on production and lay people off. When the economy takes a downturn, there is often the tendency for business owners to cut down on the expense items that they deem most expendable, like advertising and marketing. But there is another way to look at this: it may be the right time to be aggressive in the marketplace. Just because there is a recession does not mean that people will stop buying altogether, they just reset their priorities and get very stingy. An aggressive approach to marketing your business may just be the thing that keeps you one step ahead of the competition in the new economy. But you have to be smart and keep a keen eye on your marketing budget while you do this. To use a well worn cliché: you need to be thinking outside of the box if you want to control the box.

Here are a few things to think about while pondering your next marketing moves:

1. Survey your customers  – Remember that old TV ad for United Airlines where the boss handed out tickets to the sales team and told them to go out and meet their customers in person because they had gotten  ‘out of touch’?  This may be an excellent time to reach out to your customers and make an assessment of your business and theirs. A personal survey of your client’s needs and concerns may be just the thing that creates a positive vibe. You will be able to learn what they are thinking about your products and services and be able to put that information to good use. You may find that just a little tweaking can boost sales. This does not have to be an expensive proposition but it can have a real impact on your ROI. You can do your survey with a simple postcard, a letter, by phone or through an email blast. But if you go the email route make sure your mail gets through and doesn’t get spammed. An email that does not get read is a waste of your time and time is money. I prefer the method of a short letter with a pre-paid return postcard inserted that has a few simple questions and enough space for a short comment. Those comments can turn into great testimonials. If you can afford an incentive, all the better – something like ‘please return this card and accept our free gift for your troubles.’ A small product sample works really well and allows for great cross promotion.

2. Explore new media venues – Look at your ad budget and see how you might get more bang for your buck. If you advertise on TV or radio, you might consider something like direct mail as a cheaper alternative or even consider adding outdoor to your marketing repertoire. There are a lot of good deals that can be made right now as large corporations cut back on their ad budgets so explore every possible avenue of communication at your disposal. I am a big fan of radio. It’s comparatively inexpensive and can be demographically targeted to suit your business needs. Also, I enjoy the recording process which may be why I am so partial to the medium but the fact is radio is effective for the right audience.

3. Write a great sales letter – A well written sales letter can be a very effective way to get your message across. Using a four or eight page spread can give you ample room to speak to your customers about the benefits of working with you or using your products. Pathfinder students may remember seeing large, brightly colored Mylar envelops in their mailboxes. It’s almost impossible to ignore them. But it’s the copy that makes the letter and there is an art to it. If you can afford to, I recommend searching out an experienced copywriter to work with you on a targeted, focused sales letter.  A sales letter can be geared to existing customers and to potentials as well. If you don’t have an extensive mailing list you can buy a targeted list pretty cheap from several reputable companies. Just make sure you are dealing with a company that has a track record when you shop for a list and try to get referrals from someone who has used them before. I say this from experience.

4. Empathize with your customers and let them know you’re all in it together – Misery loves company. Let your customers know that you are there for them. If you are in a position to help them you could create a customer for life. Here’s a scenario that illustrates my point: Let’s say you find that a customer is cutting back on his orders this month because of a slowdown in business. Look and see if he or she is in real trouble or is just stuck in the general malaise. If this looks like a temporary slump then try to work out some creative financing or other way to see that the client gets their goods. Not only are you building customer goodwill but there is no reason that you cannot turn that around to your advantage as a great piece of PR for your business.

Now I realize that you are not a bank and you cannot be expected to float all your customers just because things are tough but by judiciously helping a solid customer get through a slow sales period you could actually be building business for the long term. Think of every situation as a marketing opportunity.

5. Add the personal touch and stay positive – It is said that on a day of disastrous carnage at the Battle of Shiloh that Ulysses Grant stood in the pouring rain in front of his troops, his ever present cigar soggy and rain water dripping off the brim of his hat. There was no available shelter to stand in as the tents were filled with the wounded. At some point William Tecumseh Sherman walks up to him and says something to the effect of ‘Well, we had a bad day today General’ and Grant says just loud enough to be heard by the troops behind him, ‘Yup, Lick ‘em tomorrow, though.’  The point is that no one wants to hear how bad you’ve got it when it is looking bad all over. Having a positive attitude, even in the face of adversity, can inspire and promote positive results. When you interact with your customers make sure your outlook is always bright and reflect that in your advertising and marketing campaigns. This will not only affect your customers but your employees as well. And it can also have a very energizing effect on you. If you feel like things are going to get better, usually they will. Call it the power of positive thinking if you like but remember, in the words of Norman Vincent Peale: “You are what you think.” Here’s another great quote that sums up this attitudinal approach:

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be”

                                                – Abraham Lincoln

Or to quote Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t worry, be happy!” And convey your optimism to your clientele. It can be infectious and they will certainly enjoy doing business with you more if your approach is upbeat.

6. Be Aggressive – While I’m on the topic of attitude, I recently read an article in the New Yorker about General David Petraeus and how he managed the “surge” in Iraq. I was particularly inspired by one phrase that I believe taps the best way to approach any business. To sum it up, what Patraeus said to his officers was ‘It’s time to stop thinking about what the enemy can do to us and let’s start thinking about what we can do to the enemy.’ I realize that analogies of war and business can be a little off-putting but in truth it is a little bit like a war out there for the small business person. It’s a war of survival! Look out there and see what the competition is doing and develop a marketing plan that goes right at them. Use comparison ads to put your products and services in the best possible light. If you see an opening, take it. Make bold moves. By the way, that’s exactly what some of the top Wall Street players are doing right now. They are zeroing in on the weaker businesses and going for the jugular. And they are using killer marketing strategies to place themselves at the front of the pack. The banks that are best positioned are not cutting back but taking aggressive marketing positions. Barclays, HSBC, Citibank and Wachovia, to name a few have launched big, expensive ad campaigns to show people that they are out there, strong and open for business, even at a time when their industry is in a perilous state. It’s clear that someone at those places has read Miyamoto Musahsi’s Book of Five Rings!

7. Make use of the Internet – If you are a Pathfinder client there is a good chance that you are someone struck by the entrepreneurial spirit and that is a good thing, especially in hard times because it means you are flexible. You are also probably someone who is Internet savvy. The best way to get your message out to a broad audience today is on the Net and the good news is that it’s economical. A solid SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategy properly employed can get you way up on the Google and Yahoo pages and you can even name your price on things like placing your videos on TV or print ads in newspapers. But there are even more interesting ways to get your message out. I know companies that are putting their videos on sites like You Tube and generating interest. I cannot go into detail here but if you have not explored the power of the Web than you are way behind the curve. The Internet is all about marketing and now is the best time to take advantage of what’s out there.

8. Think Green – Green sells! More than ever before, the ecology is prominent in people’s thinking when they go to they are about to make a purchase. High gas and heating oil prices are pressing everyone to not only make smart choices but we are seeing a demand for green thinking from quarters where you’d never have expected it before. Consumers like to think that they are making good choices and they like the idea of environmentally conscious products. But what if you don’t sell a product? Well, even if you are a service organization you can go green and it’s a good idea to let everyone – consumers and vendors alike – know that you are concerned with the future of the earth and its inhabitants. It has never hurt a corporation, even an oil company, to market themselves as a concerned member of our society.

9. Think Local – Local cable operators are practically giving away air time. I just got an email from one of Brighthouse Network’s sales reps offering me local cable rates in Florida as low as $650 for one 30 second spot on Monday Night Football. That’s a no-brainer for certain companies who want to reach a wide but targeted regional audience. Deals are there to be made!

10. Make your product or service invaluable – Or at least seem that way! Look, I don’t know your business or your product line but I do know that when I am shopping for anything from a computer to a landscaper for my house there are certain things I am going to be looking for. I look for things like value, reliability, consistency, durability, service and I want honesty. I do my research and then just before I buy I ask myself the question, “Do I really need this?”

Look at your business, your products and services and see if you are offering up a high value product to your public. Then ask the question, “Do they really need this?”  If the answer is yes than the marketing challenges are lessened greatly. But if the answer is vague then you need to look at the whys and why nots. You may need to make some adjustments so that what you offer is just better. And you need to develop a marketing strategy that plays to your strengths. In an economic slow-down, everyone is looking to get the most for their money and to paraphrase the words of President Bush, “Fool me once, shame on me… fool me twice, you can’t fool me!”

While many firms and individuals are looking to just survive the next few years, there are many sharp, aggressive small business owners and entrepreneurs out there who are looking to flourish. A strong, focused marketing approach can be the difference between creating money and creating an ulcer. Take this time to step back and re-evaluate your business and your marketing plan. When you feel confident that you have the right plan, the right price points and the right team in place to execute it, I say go forth in confidence. The world will not end because of this financial crisis and there is no reason your business cannot thrive as well.

My Head Is Spinning

Posted in personal on March 10, 2009 by barryshapiro

It’s been quite some time since I have contributed to this blog but over the last couple of months it seems that my life was sucked up in a whirlwind. First it was the Election and then the Inauguration. No, I did not attend but Patricia and I were so caught up in the events that we seemed not to notice how much time we were spending in front of the television. Every night we just had to have our flat screen tuned in to MSNBC and especially Rachael Maddow, America’s cutest lesbian TV pundit. We became liberal news junkies.

But then, before we knew it, the grip of the economic collapse began to hit us. I can’t say I didn’t see it coming but I was not smart or agile enough to do a damn thing about it. As the news of friends being laid off began to trickle in from around the country, we got the word that my key client was going through some financial crisis and all attention went to keeping them afloat and keeping my income flowing. And then Patricia lost her job, well at least her paycheck. Her entire department was eliminated from her company and with it, in essence, her job. Still they were going to keep her around in some new position but within a couple of weeks that changed and she was told she would have to work on sales commission only. The problem with that is that she is not a salesperson! She was the events manager. So now she is scrambling to create a new sales event schedule that she can make commissions on. It’s crazy but we are resolved to it. She doesn’t want to leave the company so she is going to fight for some kind of position there.

Somewhere along the line I realized that all I ever did anymore is work, eat, sleep and watch TV. That is very very very very bad. Today I determined to kick myself in the ass and get back to writing (for myself) and drawing and blogging.

So I am back friends and I intend to keep my wits sharp and my tongue sharper. Stay tuned.