“Without promotion, something terrible happens…
That’s a quote from P.T. Barnum, one of the greatest marketers and promoters ever. If you’ve seen the Movie, “The Greatest Showman” you’ll know his story.
One of the ‘rest of the story’ stories that is not fully portrayed in the movie is that when P.T. Barnum finally convinced Jenny Lind, a European opera singer, to come to the U.S, he realized that even though she was very famous in Europe, no one new who she was in the United States.
So, he went to work promoting her heavily in many newspapers before she even arrived in the United States, while she was on the boat on her way over. So when she arrived, she had 30,000 people gathered to meet her at the dock.
He then continued to promote her and she sold out every show. After a while, she thought she was so good that she didn’t need P.T. Barnum anymore, so she cut off her partnership with him.
After that, she couldn’t fill up any shows. And finally left the country without fame.
She thought it was because of her incredible talent that people flocked to see her, but in reality, it was the promotion of her by Mr. Barnum that produced her fame.
Nothing happens without promotion.
Many years ago, back in the early 2000’s I met a small group of guys at work who were studying the Theory of Constraints. They would meet on their own time, either during lunch or in an after-work meeting, and talk about the concepts in the various books written by Eli Goldratt.
I was invited into the club and began learning all kinds of very interesting concepts around productivity, removing constraints, and continuous improvement. It was so awesome, I thought more people should learn about it.
At the time, there were a variety of Technology Interest Groups (TIGs) within the company that you could join and learn about different technologies. They spanned a wide variety of topics, and were usually large organizations run by a steering team that managed and planned their efforts. I thought that maybe our little group could be an official TIG so we could grow bigger and get the word out about these cool concepts that we thought could really help the company.
So, I called the guy who was officially in charge of all the TIGs and asked him how to start one.
He said, “Well, you just get a group of people interested in your subject and start meeting.”
“I can do that”, I thought. We were already doing it really. He didn’t say there was a minimum number of people required or anything.
So, I went back to the gang and said, “We’re a TIG now! The TOC TIG!”
But we needed a few more people to join us. Just because. And we wanted to grow. So, we decided to have what they called back in those days, a “Brown Bag” event. (I’m laughing as I write this, because it was a funny term. But it was so incredibly common that everyone knew what you were talking about and no one made fun of it.) The term came from way back when people used to bring their lunch to work in a brown paper bag. So if you wanted to meet during lunch, you called it a ‘Brown Bag’ and people could bring their lunch and eat during the presentation. Even though even back then, nobody really brought their lunch in a paper bag. (Funny, now because of the sustainability movement that trend is coming back, I recently saw a guy bring his lunch in a big grocery paper bag (before COVID, when we were in the office, of course.))
We weren’t sure exactly what we were going to present at our first Brown Bag. We didn’t think anyone knew or cared about this Theory of Constraints stuff, so we decided to bring in a guest speaker. We asked a guy in Sales and Marketing to give us a presentation on the commercial airplane market.
We didn’t even really exist yet, but we were ‘sponsoring’ a guest speaker to make us look even more legitimate, like we had been around for a while. That was strategic positioning.
And then, we did what validated our existence the most for me… we posted flyers.
We made eye-catching flyers that said something like, “Join the TOC TIG Brown Bag with Special Guest Speaker, Joe Marketer, talking about something interesting!” (I don’t remember his real name. And it didn’t say that exactly.)
We made a whole bunch of flyers and put them up on bulletin boards in buildings all around the site – break rooms, just outside restrooms, and other places with bulletin boards. There were always flyers on those bulletin boards about all kinds of things, so when I was able to put one up, I felt legit.
This is what made me feel like I was starting a movement. I organized an event without asking permission from management. People came and enjoyed it. I had made a splash. I created an experience for many people. And subsequently, we increased the membership of our little interest group.
We went on, over the next few years, to grow a huge organization and hold multi-day, annual conferences with multiple tracks of presentations, factory tours, and outside industry expert keynote speakers, that drew in hundreds of people from all over the country. All with a little band of volunteers and no direction from management.
It was an exhilarating time in my career. And more importantly, personally…
I had become a movement maker.