How to Raise a Buck on Halloween and Ebola

Here is a terrific example of advertising that enters the conversation America is already having in its head.

What are we thinking about on October 30, 2014? Ebola and Halloween, that’s what. Many fine American entrepreneurs are offering “Ebola costumes” this year.

An organization called Doctors of the World* has set up a fundraising landing page at, and is using the current American zeitgiest to raise some money and do some good.

They have cleverly tied donation levels to particular pieces of equipment — you can “donate gloves” for a buck, goggles for $10, etc. At the high end, you can “donate a doctor” for $2500.”

The ad below appeared in USA Today on October 30. It is awesome.


Ad appearing in USA Today October 30, 2014

Ad appearing in USA Today October 30, 2014


*I am not familiar with this organization, which claims to be “fighting Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone, engaging with local communities to prevent Ebola’s spread, raise awareness and deliver essential protective equipment”  and am not endorsing it in any way. Except for their advertising approach, which I endorse as heartily as it is possible to do so.

Remind yourself: you are in the MONEY business, which you get by SELLING THINGS. You are not in the views, likes, friends, re-tweets, etc. business. You don’t GET PAID to pacify Google, please your peers, or by a million people watching your video of the moose parachuting from a plane in polka dot pajamas, your logo on the parachute.

  • Dan Kennedy
The Dan Kennedy Letter October 2014 (GKIC, 2014), Pages 11/13

Ebola and the Power of Stories: A Marketing Lesson

The nation’s reaction to the arrival of Ebola contains a powerful marketing lesson. While statistics get ignored, stories compel people to act.

When Ebola began spreading across West Africa a few months ago, there were some stories in the American press, but the public as a whole didn’t take much notice.

Photo Credit: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection via Compfight cc

Americans began to pay attention when they heard the story of a Liberian man named Thomas Duncan, who landed in Dallas on a flight from Liberia and wound up dying of Ebola in Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital .

We got nervous when we heard the story of Nurse Nina Pham, who contracted Ebola while treating Duncan.

When we heard the story of Amber Vinson, another Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital nurse who flew from Ohio to Dallas while experiencing Ebola symptoms, we sprang into action. As I write this (and yes, this could change), we have a total of two people who are confirmed to have contracted Ebola in this country. Here’s what’s happened:

  • The plane she was on was taken out of service, and the crew was put on three weeks of paid leave.
  • Reports surfaced online of significant numbers of airline passengers wiping down their trays and armrests.
  • According to the New York Times:

…at least six schools in Texas and Ohio said they were shutting their doors because students or staff members had been on Ms. Vinson’s flight, or had flown on the same plane after she had. In Akron, Ohio, the Resnik Community Learning Center was closed for cleaning until Monday because a student’s parent had spent time with Ms. Vinson, school officials said.

The facts, at least those known as I write this, would argue against this sort of panic. We’re dealing with a virus that is contagious only under very specific circumstances. The odds of catching Ebola by sitting on a plane, or attending one of those schools, is incredibly tiny. The stories of these three people trump the statistics.

At the risk of trivializing what could still turn out to be a genuine national emergency, here’s the marketing lesson for those of us who make our living persuading people to act:

Nothing generates action more effectively than a good story.

Are They Really Just Looking? A Retailer’s Question

What do you say when they say they’re just looking?

I spoke recently to a group of Portland business owners and entrepreneurs at the Katie Kelley Networks Fall Soiree. In the audience was a jewelry retailer who asked the “just looking” question. Here’s how I answered it (video link here if you’re getting this by email).

In 2014/2015, there is less true “just looking” behavior than in the past. Many customers who used to walk into stores to get ideas are now doing research online. They’re much more likely to have a purpose when they come in. A single well-placed question — proceeded by a softener to indicate that you’ll respect their space — can start a dialog that can lead to a sale.

The Best Cold Call I Ever Got

“Hi, could I speak to Phil Bernstein?” I braced myself for the sales pitch.


The caller identified himself as Dan from Oregon Premier Real Estate*, and the call took a quick left turn:

Phil, I’m kind of embarrassed here. I have your name and phone number written on a sheet of paper. I know I’m supposed to call you, but I don’t know why.”



This threw me. It was 2006, at the height of the real estate boom, but I didn’t know him or his company. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t recognize your name.”

  • Dan: That’s okay, we’ll figure it out. Are you selling your house?
  • Me: No…
  • Dan: Okay, so that’s not it. Are you looking around for a new home?
  • Me: No, we’re happy where we are.
  • Dan: Wow… what else could it be? Are you shopping for investment property, maybe?
  • Me: Nope, that’s not it.
  • Dan: Is someone in your family selling, or looking?
  • Me: Wow, Dan. I’m drawing a complete blank here. I don’t think so.
  • Dan: Refinancing your mortgage?
  • Me: Already did that.
  • Dan: Well, gee, Phil. I’ve hit a brick wall. Sorry to bother you. Here’s my number — if you think of something later, give me a call.

We hung up, and I spent the next few minutes trying to figure out how I could help the poor guy. Then the light bulb went on.

I’d been cold called by a pro. As I sat on my couch, I gave him a golf clap.

I can’t justify the dishonesty — once I realized that he’d misled me, it disqualified him from ever representing me in a transaction. But there’s a lot to be learned from the way he politely qualified me with a series of questions, determined that I wasn’t a prospect — I wasn’t buying, selling, or refinancing, and didn’t know anyone who was — and politely ended the call so that he could move on to the next call.

*Names have been changed.

Question: What’s the best cold call you’ve ever made, or received? Who impressed you with professionalism, good questions, or sheer chutzpah?

Leave your answer in the Comments below.