Life is Messy, and Other Things I've Learned on Vacation

I'm halfway through my first family vacation as a father of two little boys.  In fact it's the first proper family vacation we've taken in a while.  It's funny how a few days away can put a lot of things in perspective.  A few random things that have dawned on me.

Vacations are messy - just like life

My wife and I both work.  To a large extent, I'm kind of naive to what happens between the hours of 7am and 6pm.  I get home and the kids are fed and ready for bed, house tidied up.  Not so on vacation.  Vacations are a wreck.  Spills.  Scraped knees.  Ripped clothes.  And more.  And the more you obsess about controlling the situation, the more frustrated you get.  It's only when you sit back and accept that vacations - like life - are messy, that you can really let go of all that need for control.  It's a simple yet wonderful realization.

Kids are mini versions of their parents

It's fascinating to sit at the pool and watch families.  The physical resemblance is striking in nearly all cases.  I've spent the last few days wondering if others are looking at us thinking the same thing.  But even more interesting is that behavior is clearly learned, passed from parents to kids.  The parents who seem intent on not smiling, keeping their arms crossed and ignoring the beauty around them have spawned children who - you guessed it- don't smile, keep their arms crossed and ignore the beauty around them.  It's a good lesson for me as a parent.

A little indulgence is good for the soul

Frosted Flakes for breakfast, followed by cookies.  A beer at 10am.  90 minute massage.  A 3 hour nap.  All things that don't make sense in the real world, but are good for the soul in the vacation bubble.  A vacation is one big indulgence - it feels good to go all the way with it.

Nothing replaces family time

I'm reading a horrifically cliched book - or at least I thought it was until I settled into vacation mode - called If I Knew Then What I Know Now.  It's a book of quotes from prominent business people about what they wish someone had told them 25 years ago.  I'd say half the quotes have to do with the importance of prioritizing family over work (or at least striking a balance), and how the memories you make via those small family moments far outweigh any conference call, meeting or memo. 

I know it sounds cheesy, but I can't think of anything in the world that could make me happier or more fulfilled than the joy on my 4 year old's face when we swam in a waterfall in the El Yunque rainforest yesterday.  At that moment it dawned on me that this is what life is all about.  Oh sure, I'll slip back into normal mode after a few days home, but I'll keep this picture handy to remind me of what's truly important.


Hotel Partnerships

[I wrote this for the Ogilvy PR travel and tourism blog, and thought it had some relevance here]

I recently read on Springwise about a nice promotion from Omni Hotels called Omni Flips for Summer.   From Springwise …

… families staying at any of the chain’s hotels and resorts in North America can borrow a pocket-sized video camcorder for free and use it to record their most memorable moments. The camcorder provided is the new Flip Ultra video camcorder, launched this spring by Pure Digital, and it’s available to guests who purchase any “Omni Flips for Summer” weekend package … When their weekend filming is complete, guests can upload their video memories to their own laptop or use the Omni Hotels Business Center at no charge to transfer the footage to a thumb drive to take home. Guests are also encouraged to upload a three-minute video to Omni’s Local Scoop social networking website as part of the Omni Flips for Summer Video Contest, the winner of which—announced in September—will get a free trip for four to the Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Pennsylvania.

In the last few years hotels have become a very attractive environment for brands to reach their targets.  In my experience, here are a few things brands should keep in mind when partnering with hotels:

  1. Simplicity. Hotel brands are usually governed by a centralized brand team, but operations are very much determined property-by-property.   And these days, operations teams are stretched thin.  The more you - the brand - can do to create a truly turnkey promotion, the better your chances for success.
  2. Beta. Rolling a promotion out to an entire chain of hotels is risky, expensive, and will require logistics coordination you never imagined.  Instead, pilot the promotion in one or two markets - validate guests interest and take the opportunity to tweak the operational aspects to make it easier on a grander scale.
  3. Localize. If possible, try to localize the promotion to make it more interesting to the guests in a particular market.
  4. Delight. Travel - particularly business travel - can be grueling.  When possible, delight guests with something unexpected and fun.  At the very least, don’t make them jump through hoops.
  5. Talkability. Don’t think me too.  Think me first.  The latter will generate much more word-of-mouth.

So what else should go on this list?

American Airlines - Name Our Facebook App

Not often these days you see positive blog posts about the airline industry, but I give American Airlines credit for this promotion.  As you can see, they are asking their fliers to help name their fare-finding Facebook app.  Pretty simple execution, with a nice payoff - 25,000 miles.

So far, 1,400 fans. 

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Bad Boy Pitch Men

[This post originally appeared on Ogilvy PR's travel and toursim blog, Being There Doing That]

Bob Marley is a legendary singer/songwriter, unmatched political activist, but also arguably the world’s best known lover of sensimillia and a prolific producer of children (12 in all … three with Rita, two adopted, seven with separate women).

Iggy Pop was the dynamic front man for The Stooges (and later a solo artist), but also was know for his on-stage antics including self-mutilation, audience abuse and stage diving (not to mention his legendary drug habit).

On paper neither Marley nor Pop are the celebrities who immediately come to mind as corporate pitch men. Yet Marley – 28 years after his death – is still very much the voice of Jamaica tourism; and Pop’s “Lust for Life” has been the soundtrack of Royal Caribbean commercials for the better part of the decade.

In a world where brands go to great lengths to protect and promote a reputation, what gives?

Bob Marley put Jamaica on the tourism map (some would argue Chris Blackwell, the legendary founder of Island Records, put Marley, and therefore Jamaica, on the map). Marley and Jamaica are – and always will be – inextricably linked. Don't you agree that most travelers to Jamaica come to experience the Marley lifestyle (whatever that entails)? As the island’s most famous son (Legend alone has sold upwards of 20 million worldwide), it would be a huge miss if Jamaica didn’t feature him in their outreach.

The Royal Caribbean case is a bit trickier. There's some online chatter questioning the choice of Pop’s song for a family-friendly brand. But I’m of the mind that (1) Iggy Pop was never a household name and (2) “Lust for Life,” at least in the US, was never a “hit” song (according to Wikipedia “Lust for Life” reached #28 in the UK Albums Chart and peaked at #120 on the Billboard charts in US). I doubt that beyond a small percentage of the population, Pop has a lot of relevance. And while the bulk of the lyrics are PG-13, the refrain, I’ve got a lust for life, works for Royal Caribbean (both lyrically and energetically).

Iggy Pop

Many brands use music from well-known artists to market their product/service (it makes particular sense for travel services and destinations as music can immediately convey a lifestyle or feeling) . And with the music industry in a rough state, bands will continue to aggressively license their work for compensation. Some fans consider this selling out. I think most bands consider this lunch money. Four immediate lessons come to mind for brands considering this route (it should be noted that I spent a few years in the music business, at a label, several small agencies and as a consultant for brands looking to connect with bands):

  1. Embrace an artist who epitomizes what you are trying to sell. Easier said than done – there are only so many Bob Marleys.
  2. Do your due diligence. Go beyond the lyrics. Demand that your agency provide a full research backgrounder on the artist (particularly those you aren't familiar with). Make sure you’re turning over all rocks. What does the mainstream press say? What’s the chatter in social media? Is there a conversation ready to erupt? If so, you might want to walk away.
  3. There are different levels of association with an artist ... from licensing a song/lyrics to the artist's likeness to the artist as a pitch-man. The latter is highest risk/highest potential reward.
  4. Again, with the state of the music business being what it is, there are deals to be had. Leverage your spend, particularly if you're interested in working with the artist beyond just using their music (e.g., personal appearances, exclusive content, etc.)

Hotel and Technology Roundup

From 2004-2007 I logged hundreds of thousands of air miles, countless nights on the road and roughly 30 international trips (and probably the same amount of domestic).  That's all to say, I know a thing or two about staying in hotels.  And while mercifully, I don't travel much any more, it's still with great interest that I notice articles and blog posts about hotel marketing/experiential innovations.  Thanks heavily to Springwise, here then are a few things I've Flagged For Follow Up recently:

Interactive Surface Technology at Sheraton:  Guests at Sheraton hotels in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Seattle can use Microsoft's Surface technology to access entertainment content, local tourist information and information about other Sheraton properties worldwide.  Springwise recently documented the collaboration.

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Westin Chicago Designs Special Rooms to Fight Jet Lag:  Also from Springwise, Westin Hotels and Philips have partnered to design a concept room specially aimed at helping jet-lagged travelers combat sleep troubles.  Amenities include Philips' new blue-light ActiViva lamps, a light therapy box at the work desk station,  a eucalyptus shower fizzer in the room's "Heavenly Shower," a guided-meditation sleep TV program, a special room-service menu and specially designed running local running maps.


New York City's Pod Hotel connects guests with each other before arrival:   Once guests have booked their reservations, they are sent a link to the hotel's PodCulture blog and a  user ID, which allows guests to connect and interact with others who will be there at the same time.

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Sheraton (again) Invites People to Experience Their Brand In An Unconventional Way:  As part of their Global Out of Office Day, Sheraton invited New Yorkers to work from Central Park, where it recreated its new Link@Sheraton lounges [a collaboration with Microsoft to infuse useful technology into its hotels].

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W Hotels Gives Guests a Quiet Place for a Cell Phone Call:  This is something I am particularly proud of since I was Nokia's point person on this project.  Simple concept - a modern take on the phone booth, combining Nokia Nseries technology and great looking design.  Visit PSFK to read a short interview with Carlos Gomez de Llarena [the designer from R/GA with whom we worked on the booth design and interaction].

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Key Learnings:

  1. Make sure it works
  2. Make it simple
  3. Make it additive
  4. Work with the right partners to bring your vision to life
  5. Help people fight the loneliness of business travel
  6. Make it surprising and fun
  7. Understand the context in which the technology exists
  8. Experiment until you find something that really resonates with guests


I was in a meeting last week and someone usedthe Finnish term Sisu.  They were shocked that I knew what it meant until I explained that l worked for Nokia until May of this year.

Anyway, this episode made me think about what I've learned along the way ... sometimes it takes a random remark in a meeting to make you pause and reflect upon the journey.  No great insights or revelations below -- just a little background on Sisu.   

What many people know, but many more don’t, is that Nokia is a Finnish company.  I had many [+15] opportunities to travel to Finland.  As you can imagine, I got to know many Finns and learn about the Finnish culture.  One of the guiding principles of Finland is something called Sisu.  As Wikipedia describes it, Sisu …

“… could be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. The equivalent in English is "to have guts", and indeed, the word derives from sisus, which means something inner or interior. However, sisu has a long-term element in it; it is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain the same.”

I suppose the closest American equivalent is “patriotism,” but that does not get at the essence of Sisu.  You see, the Finns have endured centuries of struggles against the Russians, Germans, Swedes (and probably several others I don’t know about).  Not to mention that Finland is a tough place – cold, dark and vast.  These factors combine to give Finns a fortitude unlike any I’ve ever seen. 

Interestingly, Sisu can also cause insularity -- it is after all a bunkerish mentality.  Despite that I always very much appreciated Sisu -- maybe not so much for what it stands for, but more for the fact that an entire nation operates under such a clear guiding principle.


2-time World's Strongest Man winner [and Finn], Jouko Ahola, likely has tons of Sisu.

Puma Does it Proper

[Via the Guys at  Electro^Plankton]

My friends know I am a sucker for a nice piece of luggage.  The Puma Urban Mobility Bag looks like it might be worth the splurge.  According to Electro^Plankton ...

"Only 600 of these bags will be made. The shell is made from premium leather and features a wood plank on the bottom with the Puma logo die-cut. The bag also comes with 2 smaller bags to hold your toiletries. No pricing yet but they go on sale worldwide at Puma and high end department stores in July. "

More photos here.

Puma_urbanmobilitybag_01 Puma_urbanmobilitybag_03

Virgin Gorillaz Train

Gorillaztrain4_2Saw this on Cool Hunting today.  Not the usual same-old train wrapping stunt.  This looks very cool.

"This is how public transport should be done. Unveiled Monday and travelling back and forth between London and Manchester, this tricked-out locomotive from Gorillaz aritst Jamie Hewlett is to promote the forthcoming circus/opera he's involved with called Monkey: Journey To The West . It's based on an ancient Chinese legend and the music has been composed by Hewlett's partner in the cartoon band, Damon Albarn. The show kicks off this year's Manchester International Festival which runs 28 June - 15 July 2007. Click here for more info on the festival."

Click here for more images.

My Kind of Town [Chicago Is]

After nearly 11 years in New York I'm packing up the family and moving back to Chicago [my home town].  As it's been quite a while since I last lived in the Windy City I was hoping that any readers who live in / spend a lot of time in Chicago can make some suggestions for restaurants, things to do, etc.  We have a 5 month old son, so our beat is less swank and more chill.  If you've got anything feel free to drop them in the comments section of this post.  Greatly appreciated.