Friday, July 3, 2020

What I've Learned - The 10th Anniversary Edition

So irony of ironies, the 10th Anniversary of Tempus Fugit arrived while I was busy writing grant proposals and ironing out budgeting issues at my day job! But I have had some time to think about this one, and as the odometer has officially flipped on ten years, here we go -

What I've Learned Covering the Watch Business:

The Real Meaning of Friend of the BRAND -
There really is no such thing. You might be a friend of a sales rep, you might be a friend of the marketing folks, but there is no relationship with the brand other than the one you ascribe in your own mind. Friend of the Brand gets bandied around by pr agency representatives as a palliative to make you not feel like such a loser while you are forced to wait beyond your appointment time in the reception area while someone from one of the bigger outlets is enjoying sushi with the CEO and head of PR in the big room. Don't get me wrong, I have made some very good friends in the business who I am still in touch with after they've moved on to other brands and even to other industries. But you will learn, in time, that the majority of relationships you have with brands are transactional. Keep that in mind, and you'll never be disappointed.

The REVOLUTION is, for the most part, over -

Ultimately, there is not a lot left to be discovered. Let me re-phrase that so I don't sound like such a "Henki-Raincloud". What I mean is that the days of wonder and amazement have probably gone the way of the rock-star CEO. There was only one Ludwig Oechslin, and without Rolf Schnyder to partner with him and coax out the Freak, or the Trilogy of Time he is the part owner of ochs und junior.  Nothing wrong with that, but while it would be wonderful to have him come back with another extreme complication, it does not seem highly likely. The Corum Bubble has not necessarily burst, but a lot of the air has been let out of it. The Big Bang has seen its day, and AP can only make so many reiterations of the Royal Oak.

A Cult of Personality might work in North Korea, but not so much in the watch business -
On the real side, Blancpain could not have been done by anyone other than Biver. And in fairness, Hublot went as far as he could carry it on his back. But even the sheer force of will that Biver brought to bear on Zenith could not really turn the tide. Inevitably, in the words of that other great commentator on watches, Chuck Yeager as played by Sam Shepard in The Right Stuff -
"Sometimes you get a pooch that can't be screwed, ya know?"

I guess my point is this - you don't really see Thierry Stern or Jean-Frederic Dufour mugging with "celebrity chums" at movie premieres and red velvet rope events. For a brand to really truly endure, it has to be more than just the face of the current boss. Patek and Rolex will continue to be here, continue to set the tone for everyone else. Zenith, among others, needs to resolve its revolving identity crisis, make a decision about who and what they are, and stick with it for more than 6 months at a time.

"My Friend" is still not so subtle code for "You Asshole" -
I still stand by this, and after more than 10 years my belief in this reality is stronger than ever.

Sincere gratitude is scarcer than a NIB vintage Daytona -
1. If you are writing for pay? Make sure you get paid.
2. If you are writing for personal pleasure and satisfaction? Then only you can provide that for yourself.
3. If you are writing with the hopes of praise and thanks? Refer back to points 1 and 2 or cease and desist.

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

Little known bit 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 those worn by 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 and writing that you are predisposed to write nice things about a brand, and said brand treats you with a fair amount of disdain? Take it on the heel and toe. Love needs to be reciprocal -
I find it ironic looking back that the first brand I ever wrote about here was NOMOS, and that last year they invited me on a press trip, assured me it was arranged, and then when I wrote to follow-up 3 weeks prior to the travel date, I was informed that I was "uninvited", no explanation, and some bullshit about the trip being "overbooked", which was false as at least one invitee had declined the invitation and I knew that they were scrambling to fill the space - apparently (and specifically) not with me ; )
Well then, NOMOS, fuck you very much.

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.”


  1. James congratulations on your tenth anniversary. Ive always enjoyed your posts and your friendship and you've never been afraid to tell it like it is..even to friends. Truth sometimes hurts but its desired. All the best and heres to 20 to 30 more. Pete

  2. James Congratulations on your 10th Anniversary. Ive always enjoyed your writings and your friendshipas you've never been afraid to hold back...even amongst friends. Truth can sometimes be hard but its often desired. Heres to 20 or 30 more years. All the best. Pete

  3. "whacking small white balls" to describe watch exec's. Not saying antything....

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

    People will show you their ugly side when they are at an all time low, or when they are in a position of power.
    You should be forgiving with the first... not so much with the latter.