Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Winter Repeat - What I've Learned

I first ran this a little less than two years ago and it seemed a good time to air it out again.

What I've Learned

Despite some pretty dubious watch coverage, I still really enjoy Esquire and I am a big fan of their "What I've Learned" interview segments.  So given some recent interactions I've had both in person and online, and considering that if I count back to when I first stepped behind the counter at Tourneau in San Francisco, I've been "in the game" for 15 years now, I thought it might be fun to put out my own "What I've Learned" piece.  So, gentle reader, here is some of what 
I've learned -

For some outlets, nothing is ever really free.

Now in fairness, people who write about watches are largely divided into two groups:
Those who do it out of passion alone, and those who do it for a living.  Quick note, nothing 
wrong with doing it for a living.  Of the second group, some do it for a living, but are still
passionate about what they do, and actually consider writing about a watch, a brand, 
a watch maker WITHOUT asking for payment (be it advertising, sponsored posts, outright payola) 
first.  For those of your out there in the marketing departments - if your going to spend
marketing money, then spend it on people out there writing about things that they
are passionate about, not just what they are being paid for.

While it is true that Hayek saved the Swiss Watch industry, Jean-Claude Biver would have still kicked ass with Blancpain and would have lived happily ever after either way.

I was there before Hublot became what they would become.  
I am still here now that it is a somewhat bumbling PR gas factory that, apparently, also makes watches.  Although I know that I have the ability to highly irritate him, I have a great deal of respect for Jean-Claude Biver.  But now is the time to start thinking about legacy.  About what happens when he is no longer there.  Jean-Claude Biver is a very, very impressive man.  He has done some very amazing things. Here's hoping it doesn't get washed away.

When a brand manager or CEO asks you "How are you my friend?"  The translation of that is - "how you doing, asshole?"

Brand managers, CEOs, PR people?  By and large, they are not your friends. No offense intended to brand managers, CEOs or PR people ; ). But be honest with yourself, you're not likely to be invited to their kid's wedding. Don't delude yourself to the contrary.  You might get lucky with a few - and I have, but the true friends will reveal themselves over time, and they are the ones you should always make time for at BaselWorld.

Having said all that - sometimes you will, despite your compulsion to serve up cold cups of coffee, find some true friends and supporters in some very unexpected places.

You will learn to see when people are genuine.  Hold onto those people like a non-treatable social disease.  They have every reason to dislike you based on what you write or say, and yet they are your audience.  And they are your friends indeed.

Rich, famous, important people - are a lot less interesting when you finally meet them.

Little known piece of Henki lore, my father was a country club manager.  Translation?  He worked so that the more well-heeled could play.  I worked in the locker room of the club, my first job working as a shoe shine guy.  Believe it or not, in the 70s and 80s, there was an actual industry based upon shining the shoes of rich people while they walked around a park-like environment, drinking beer and whacking small white balls.  Rich people, famous people?  They are people.  George Steinbrenner was a titan of industry and master manipulator.  I can tell you from personal experience, his shoes smelled just as awful as an orthodontist, dermatologist or mid-level auto executive's.   The one thing all four of these guys had in common?  They were shitty tippers.

I have met some of the big swinging dicks of the industry.  It is all too often underwhelming.

When anyone tells you how amazing you are and how "just as soon as you take advertising, we're in!"  this person should be taken with about as much seriousness as you would take the drunk person asking for $3 on the commuter train so that they can "buy a healthy snack".

We all say a lot of highly dubious stuff when we've been drinking.  That's why your wife/husband/partner learns over the years to apply the bullshit filter.  Make sure you do the same, it will spare you a fair amount of frustration and disappointment.

When you have made it clear by your actions, your writing, and your passion that you are predisposed to write nice things about a brand, and said brand treats you with a fair amount of indifference?  Take it on the heel and toe.  Love needs to be reciprocal.

I am still somewhat miffed by my interaction with a certain member of the SWATCH group.  I gave up a Thanksgiving holiday, spent several hundred dollars of my own money to interview their CEO, and then watched as the outlet that they were on retainer with got so-called "exclusives", review opportunities, etc., and I got the cold shoulder.   To this day, I have no doubt that the North American brand manager of SWATCH GROUP brand X just thinks that I am a difficult person.  But in fairness?  If someone is willing to give you so much for NOTHING?  You can spare a little time and a little effort.  And for what it's worth?  In speaking with retail partners of SWATCH GROUP brand X, they are not exactly selling like the waffle's sexier cousin - the hotcake.

Brands are made up of people.  The brand does not exist without the people.  If a brand has good people - I will do ALL that I can.  If a brand has people that just don't care?  Why should I care about them?

I get the odd comment - "I thought you were a fan of Brand A".  Well, I have come to learn that brands are made of people.  It's not as if the founders of Girard-Perregaux are going to make a special appearance in the physical world to tour me around the factory.  The brand?  The brand is the people who work there.  So put it in another context - do you like spending time with people who treat you poorly?  Of course you don't.  Molly Ringwald's entire career was based on this notion.  A watch is an inanimate object.  It can't speak for itself.  A brand is not simply products.  A brand is the people who make those products, and share that message.   

Brand ambassadors are about as worthwhile as what you wipe your backside with.

There is a reason why Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot are not mentioned as customers of Brand X.  

Churchill, Napoleon, Lindbergh?  All flawed, all now "ambassadors" from the great beyond.  Well, they won, didn't they? They were all flawed, all had baggage. But they are a whole lot more palatable.  

Question - do you think that the Mario Batali Ernst Benz is a big seller right now?  

Sorry, too soon? 

A brand ambassador will not be there with you when they turn out the lights and escort you out of your now former office.  A former brand that was "ALL IN" can attest to that.

Remember everyone you meet when times are good.  You will see them again on your way back down.  

It is inevitable to fail.  The trick is not to make a habit of it.  More importantly?  Don't be a jackass when times are good.  Sooner or later, it is likely you will fail.  By and large, most of us want to help people and offer our support.  That is, of course, presuming that person behaved, well, like a person when times were good ; )

Don't fake the funk 

Because in the immortal words of that other great commentator on the watch industry Daryl Dawkins:
“When everything is said and done there is nothing left to do or say.” 

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