21
Jul
2016
0

Take Your Tears Back Now

(As published in Lilith Magazine July 2016)

When she was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer, my mother was 50. The cancer was advanced. Stage IV. The doctors gave her two years.

“You can’t tell me how long I have to live,” she told them. “I’ll decide.”

And so she did. For 14 years, she went in and out of remission. She had multiple surgeries. Non-essential body parts were removed. She became a grandmother, twice. She took acting classes, joined support groups, wrote poetry, discovered facials. She did cancer well. She went from overweight housewife with low self-esteem to role model. She gave hope to other women. With every passing year, her confidence grew.

But when her eyes turned yellow, she knew it was time to stop fighting. The cancer was back, and it had reached her liver. This time the doctors gave her three months. She would prove them wrong again.

My mother went home after her doctor visit. We spent time together that evening, and I asked her if there was anything she wanted to do, before…. We would make up for lost time, I thought. We had three months.

“How about we go to see Jackie Mason together?” she proposed. “I always liked Jackie Mason.”

“I’ll get tickets,” I promised.

The next afternoon, my father called me at work.

“Your mother won’t wake up,” he said. Then there was a long silence.

“But we had three months,” I said.

My father didn’t answer. He had already hung up.

I didn’t buy the tickets, I thought. I was always cancelling on my mother, but this time she cancelled on me.

My mother stayed in bed for the next three days. Alive, but not awake. The first day, I sat on the edge of her bed and waited. I wanted to be there when she woke up. Her breathing hissed like air escaping from a tire. Every breath was followed by a weak cough. Her eyelids flickered.

“Mom, it’s me, Shelly,” I whispered.

She looked in my direction.

“I had a daughter named Shelly once,” she said. Her voice trailed off and she disappeared again.

What did she mean? I wanted to believe she was confused. Was I already a distant memory? A nostalgic footnote as her life drained away? Over the years, I’d done so little to be part of her life. I was always working. I never stopped to spend time with her when that’s all she’d wanted. A lunch. Facials. A mother-daughter weekend together. I made promises I never kept.

Two days later, as if by choice, she cut three months of suffering short. She was sitting in a chair, her hair combed, a pillow tucked behind her head.

“She asked me to take her out of the bed,” the home hospice worker told us. “She wanted to sit.”

All of the histrionics, the dramas, low self-esteem, self-doubt, the woulda-coulda-shouldas, fears, self-sabotage, the need for control — all of the wasted energy that stood in the way of her happiness — and it was all over in seconds. On an exhale.

Even before my mother died, I was a crier. It didn’t take much. A frustrating encounter at the airport. An argument with my husband. An order gone wrong in a restaurant. Crying came easy, always triggered by an unwelcome incident.

After my mother’s death, the tears were out of control. One minute I was fine and the next minute I was fighting for breath, sobbing and heaving, eyes swelling, nose running. In the middle of meetings, my eyes would start to sting. I blamed allergies and pollen as I escaped to the bathroom, or would act as if I’d dropped something, lowering my head to search for a mystery object under the table.

“Go to a spa,” friends suggested.

“Get a massage.”

“A massage would do you wonders.”

Spa, spa, spa. Massage, massage, massage. That’s all I heard from everyone who knew me, and even from those who didn’t. As much as I didn’t like people digging into my body and moving around my stress, I couldn’t help but give the spa idea some thought. My friend Nellie recommended a place in Arizona.

Not only would I get a massage, but by the time I got off the phone with the resort sales rep, I had signed up for their week-long Life Enhancement program. The $3,250 price tag added to my stress. I hung up the phone and cried.

Then, out of the blue, a few days later, a check for $3,333.33 arrived from my grandmother. My mother’s mother was tight with money. She even charged interest on loans to her own children. She’d recently been advised by her accountant to start “gifting” each of her children $10,000 a year in order to avoid or defray taxes. My two brothers and I were each given one-third of what would have gone to my mother. The idea that the unexpected check was in a sense a gift from my mother made it easier for me to feel good about getting my life enhanced. Thanks to my mother, I was making an investment in myself. If she taught me one thing, it was not to wait for a death sentence to work on a life worth living.

A few weeks later, I landed at the Tucson airport. I spotted my name on one of the cards being held up by an attentive row of drivers, each waiting for his respective guests. My driver stood out. Better looks, better health, better posture. I started to cry.

“I’ll take that,” he said, reaching for my luggage and never mentioning the tears.

Looking out the window of the limo was like looking at the postcards my parents had brought home from their one-and-only trip to the Southwest. All pink and gray and pale yellow and green. Cacti and cliffs and adobe houses. It was a summer evening, and the desert heat had switched places with the desert breeze.

We turned onto a gravel road and drove past a gatehouse. The sun was setting, as if on cue. An interracial couple was finishing their check-in. I watched them from behind. Half of an interracial couple myself, I felt comforted by a sense of alignment. People like me stay here, I thought, trying not to stare when the man turned around. He was the film critic and TV personality Roger Ebert. I started to cry. My I-belong-here confidence gave way to no-I-don’t insecurity.

In the first session, all of the Life Enhancement participants disclosed why they were there. Turned out I was spending the week with a group of highly paid individuals, all of whom were highly flawed. Myself included. People struggled with everything from over-eating to over-drinking to over-working and lots and lots of low self-esteem. Each day we followed a schedule of highly structured exercises and activities. I sat through lectures on moderation and work/life balance, struggled to hold a downward dog pose in a yoga class and tried to sit cross-legged on a pillow and “be here now.” I began to think about my mother. She was an over-eater and an under-achiever. My mother would have gotten a lot out of a program like this. Shame she would never get the chance.

As I walked along the cactus-trimmed paths around the property, I saw an unusual number of young women in the company of older women. They looked like mothers and daughters. By the end of the day, I found out why.

“Are you here with your mother?” one of the guests asked me over my gourmet yet guilt-free dinner that night.

“No. No, I’m not,” I responded, debating whether to mention that my mother was dead. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, so many of us are,” she said. “It’s Mother-Daughter Weekend, after all.”

The next day, on a whim, I decided to see a hypnotherapist. The Life Enhancement program included a menu of wellness options and hypnotherapy was one of them. Maybe it could help me control my crying.

“Just relax and tell me about yourself,” the hypnotherapist said at our get-acquainted session. “When did all this crying start?”

My mother loomed large as I described a childhood that was undeniably dysfunctional, but not in any obvious ways. There was no alcoholic parent or child or spousal abuse. No drugs or gambling. No divorce, although I always wished there would have been. Just a detached father and a depressed mother and three kids treated like adults well before a child should be.

“My mother couldn’t handle us. She was in over her head,” I offered. “She may have been agoraphobic, but I’m not really sure.”

I wasn’t hypnotized, but I shared as much as I could remember. What I did know was that my mother had a hard time leaving the house. At times, she would spend whole days in her nightgown, eating and crying until well into the night.

As the session ended, I had an eerie feeling that my mother was somewhere in the room.

The next day I returned for a follow-up session. I would be hypnotized for the first time. The details of how I got into the trance are slightly unclear. I recall staring at some sort of focal point, a stone or a chain. There was an object of some sort. Then there was the backwards countdown from one hundred to I’m not sure what. I do remember feeling heavy, and in spite of being aware of my surroundings, it was easy to just go with the flow.

The hypnotherapist guided me down a staircase and to a door that opened into a room.

“There’s a bookcase by the door. On the top shelf there is a big book. Can you reach it?”

I reach for a big black leather-bound book and pull it off the shelf.

“Your mother wants you to give the book to her,” she continued. “She wants you to know that she’s OK and that she’s ready to take back all the pain and sadness and tears that you were holding onto for her from the time you were a little girl. You absorbed all of that for her, because you didn’t think she could handle it alone. Back then, she couldn’t. But now, she can. So she wants you to pass her the book and by doing so, she wants to take all the tears and sadness back. She knows what to do with it now.”

My face burned and itched as a hot stream of water flowed from my closed eyes. Tears ran down my cheeks and under my neck. I wanted to lift my hand to wipe the wet away, but my hands were heavy. They were holding this book.

“You can’t see her, but she’s there. Give her the book,” coaxed the voice.

My arms reached out into darkness and held the book out until the weight of it lifted.

“Now, you won’t need to cry as much anymore. The next time you feel like you might cry, you’ll count slowly to ten and take a deep breath and the feeling will
go away.”

The hypnotist brought me back into my body and back into the room. “Your mother was in the room,” she said. “I don’t usually experience that so strongly, but your mother was most definitely here.”

The lights were dim and I was confused about what time it was or what I did or didn’t have to do next. Uncomfortable with the silence, my cynical side tried to make sense out of what had happened. The whole mother-in-the-room thing could have been right out of the How to be a Hypnotherapist handbook. But my spiritual self piped up, albeit meekly. You felt her presence during both of your sessions. Doesn’t that suggest something? It had always been so easy to ignore my mother when she was alive, but suddenly she was all that was on my mind.

I wandered from the hypnotherapy session into another form of therapy — mindless shopping. The gift shop offered workout clothes, diet books, and meditation tapes. I really didn’t need a new pair of sweats or another way to prepare skinless chicken. I certainly didn’t need the Sounds of Water.

Two women were busy behind the counter finishing up with other customers. I looked at the jewelry display in the glass case that separated me from them. I was head down, lost in the copper bracelets and iridescent mood rings, when I heard, “Can we help you?”

“Yes, can either of us help you with something?”

I looked up, prepared to give one of the women my soon-to-be new possessions along with my soon-to-be-maxed-out credit card. The two women were standing side by side. My eyes moved down from their faces to the shiny name tags perched just above their breasts. Their names became clear to me one at a time. Ellen. Ruth. My mother’s name. Ellen Ruth. In that order.

I gasped and dropped what I was holding. My mother’s presence was undeniable. It hit me over the head with a pair of name tags and made sure I understood. She was there. Telling me. Letting me know. There is something after death. Call it life. Call it energy. Call it what you will. The saleswomen seemed perplexed, and I just couldn’t find the words so I left the gift shop empty-handed, looking for a place to cry.

As I walked out into the cool Tucson air, the sadness slipped away, replaced by a sense of comfort and calm. I took a breath and counted to ten. The tears didn’t come. My head was clear. My heart was able to take in what had happened.

This had been our first ever Mother-Daughter weekend together, and I didn’t want to ruin it. Stillness was important now. I remembered my mother’s last words to me. They weren’t about forgetting. They were about letting go. I took a deep breath and walked back into the store. The women were still standing side by side, their nametags aligned.

“I had a mother named Ellen Ruth.” I told them. Once. I whispered to myself.

4
Jun
2016
0

A Poet Laureate, Jell-O, and Me

“The shift from a manufacturing to a knowledge economy has lasted two decades. Now the next shift is coming: from knowledge to creativity. We no longer need to hire knowledge. It’s nearly all at our digital fingertips.” – Kaihan Krippendorf, Fast Company

*     *     *

I didn’t set out to wear a business suit. “Part Time. Girl Friday. Spanish helpful but not necessary.” Those were the words that led me into a world I knew nothing about: advertising. US Hispanic advertising, to be precise.

It was 1980. I was fresh out of college with a BFA in theatre, determined to support myself with the kind of part-time job that allowed for auditions and wouldn’t crush my creative spirit. In addition to light bookkeeping and other administrative responsibilities, my Girl Friday tasks would include ghost writing new business materials for a larger-than-life Cuban with a torpedo cigar protruding from his mouth and a toupé perched on his head. Even Bewitched didn’t provide that bilingual bicultural perspective.

“Rahchel,” he bellowed, “I need for dictashun for jew una carta. Escribe.”

Not even Spanglish captured his ability to mangle, manipulate, and make up words. He dictated to me in a language all his own. After a few days, I tried to quit, explaining to his gringa wife that I couldn’t continue because I couldn’t understand him.

“Give it a little more time,” she said. “You might get used to it.”

It wasn’t long before I picked up on patterns. The suffix “ation,” for example, was often a substitute for “ing.” So if he said “grabation,” I realized he meant, “recording,” since the verb “grabar” means “to record.”

“Rahchel, jew need for go to the estudio para one grabation.”

My mental conversions happened faster and faster, and soon I was tackling sixty-page presentations with complex passages about the demographics and psychographics of the US Hispanic market. His wife was right. I got the hang of it and stayed–for fourteen years. Before you could say Telemundo, I became the first employee of what turned into Madison Avenue’s largest Hispanic ad agency.

“Rahchel, we gotta makashure que el cliente tiene el entendation que el Mercado Hispano es one sleeping gigante.”

It was soon my job to help prospective clients understand the untapped potential of this sleeping giant—8 million Latinos with billions of dollars in buying power. For perspective, the US Hispanic population now exceeds 52 million with buying power upwards of 1.5 trillion.

I costumed myself in a two-piece business suit, pantyhose, and heels and presented my prose to a captive audience—CMOs, CEOs, Corporate America. Presentations let me write and act, albeit in offices and conference rooms. If I played my role just right, I could win their trust and, ultimately, their business.keyframe509RRcRochelleNewman-Carrasco_000

That’s when the conflict began. Winning business meant taking on more work. Part time became full time, and full time became all of the time. The pause button on my acting and writing careers got hit more and more often until the dream powered down all together. I promised myself I wouldn’t stay away from my creative pursuits for long. In the meantime, I collected a steady paycheck and was surrounded by some of the brightest minds in marketing and advertising. My clients included corporate giants like Procter and Gamble and General Foods (now Kraft).

*     *     *

In 2013, well into my third decade as an advertising executive, a career that included fifteen years of agency ownership, I had a now-or-never moment. Awakened by creative impulses, I pulled the trigger on the low-residency MFA program at Antioch University. As my first residency began, I spotted a familiar name on the list of guest artists: Dana Gioia (pronounced Joy-ah). If you’re not familiar with Mr. Gioia, and even if you are, his bio merits review. This past December, he was named Poet Laureate of California. Author of the controversial essay, “Can Poetry Matter?”, Gioia chaired the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 to 2009 and is considered one of the most influential voices in poetry and arts advocacy. His 2007 Stanford Commencement address was listed by NPR as one of the greatest speeches of its kind. Gioia has two degrees from Stanford and one from Harvard and is oft quoted as saying he’s “the only person, in history, who went to business school to be a poet.” In the mid-’80s, he was a rising star in the high-stakes marketing world of General Foods, and that’s where our worlds intersected. Dana Gioia was my client. I only met Gioia, the poet, years later, in a classroom in Los Angeles, just as I was taking my own creative leap of faith.

GioiaInterviewFinal

I attended Dana Gioia’s poetry workshop on The Poetic Line and listened to him read Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem, “We Real Cool” twice—once to accentuate the rhymes and once the way it was written. As he discussed strategies of syntax and stops, I could clearly see Gioia, the client, the man I knew more than two decades prior—the one who seemed different from other corporate executives even then.

When we had worked together, I was in my early twenties, he was in his thirties, and aside from a client crush sparked by his unchanged good looks and resonant voice, I was particularly enamored with his ability to simplify complex marketing ideas, communicating only what was essential. He was also one of the few clients who not only got the idea of culturally-specific marketing, but also seemed to embrace it. All too often, the average white male (or even female) marketing execs struggled with this new way of looking at the world. Nothing about Gioia was average. The son of a Mexican-American mother and an Italian-American father, Gioia was no stranger to cultural nuances, but there was more to his distinct style than that.  He wasn’t as literal as many of his corporate MBA-trained colleagues, and he approached problem solving with an open mindedness and imagination that was more often associated with liberal arts types. At the time, I had no clue that he was a poet and neither did anyone else at General Foods or the Agency. Likewise, he didn’t know that I was an actress-writer in a costume, playing a role. There was a time when such things were better left unsaid.

…What we conceal
Is always more than what we dare confide….
From Unsaid, by Dana Gioia

One day in 1992, I was informed that Gioia had left General Foods. The news came as a surprise to everyone. He had turned the Jell-O brand around. We had even worked on Jell-O Jigglers together, a product innovation that helped grow sales. I heard something about his leaving to become a writer, but it wasn’t anything too specific. I remember thinking, That makes sense. He was sensitive and soulful in an industry where souls were sold, not protected.

bd1915362fba6846b75276d6e1bc5ee5In his essay, “Being Outed,” Gioia writes about the Esquire  article that stripped him of his literary anonymity. “When I entered corporate life, I resolved to keep my writing secret,” writes Gioia. “There was no advantage in being known as the company poet. For nearly a decade I succeeded in keeping my double life hidden from my co-workers.”

Shame. So did I.

*     *     *

Trends often swing like pendulums. What once was good for you is now bad for you until it’s good all over again. Think butter or bilingualism. Such is the case with creative artists in the corporate workplace. In the ’80s and ’90s, there was no room for polymaths or multi-hyphenates; renaissance types were not held in high regard. In business, you picked a lane and stayed in it. Being part of the advertising world meant you were all-in, 24/7. There might be time for hobbies—particularly sports or immersive drinking activities like happy hours—since those could be leveraged with clients and prospects. But wasting time with “frivolous pursuits” that were not likely to turn a profit? Unheard of. Words like flaky, irresponsible, and artsy-fartsy characterized anyone who invested in their artistic dreams.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Fast Company, one of the leading publications on business innovation, has written countless articles on the Creative Economy. Not only can Creatives come out of the closet, but, also, they can ask for a raise. In a Wharton School of Business interview in which Gioia discusses the “close connection between business and poetry,” he alludes to some of the obstacles that have kept creativity and commerce apart. “I don’t know any senior executive in the United States that doesn’t lament the need for greater creativity, conceptual innovation and imagination in their corporation,” says Gioia. “But they don’t know how to foster it …”

Over the course of my career, I have witnessed uninspired hiring and training practices filter creative thinkers out or scare them away if they slip through. Not taking corporate culture seriously turned out to be my key to success, but not everyone starts out as young and clueless as I did. I had no business background, but I grasped the concepts inherent in marketing and advertising analysis. Soon, I had a business card that introduced me as a Strategist, in spite of my desire for a title like Storyteller, Struggling Artist, or even Comic Relief. I never thought about these identities as part of a whole—more complementary than conflicting—but it turns out they are. A De Gruyter Open paper, “Poetry and the World of Business—An Exploration,” cites a study examining the relationship between poetry and strategic thinking. Researcher Clare Morgan identified at least nine ways in which poetry can help business. She revealed poetry’s role in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and in learning to make associative connections—all important business skills. Poems encourage us “to question givens and make us more aware of complexity.” Additionally, being that poems don’t “offer closure,” and are “infinitely interpretable,” they help us “handle non-resolution,” and consider the views of others.

In her book What Poetry Brings To Business, Morgan asked Gioia, the executive, about his “success in turning Jell-O from a business with a seven million dollar loss to a twenty million dollar success.” Gioia, the poet, responded: “I looked at things differently. I made associative connections. I thought around and beyond and through the data that confronted me.” In the business world, my mind worked well because my mind worked like a poet’s.

Gioia left General Foods about twenty-five years ago in order to dedicate his life to his art, and he never looked back.

Money is a kind of poetry.– Wallace Stevens

Money. You don’t know where it’s been,
but you put it where your mouth is.
And it talks.
From Money, by Dana Gioia

It has taken me a few decades to pick up where I left off after I put the arts on hold and took a left turn into advertising. I used to call those lost years procrastination. I now refer to them as a digression, if for no other reason than it’s much more literary. To that end, I am on “modernity leave,” from my suit-wearing, business-card carrying career. If there were ever a moment to be a poet or a writer or an artist of any kind in the business world, this would be it. As I experience my creative rebirth and nurture an inner child, I weigh the trade-offs of keeping a foot in each world and, every day, come closer and closer to cutting the cord.

27
May
2016
0

Widen

DSC_0032

Hey you digger

making your way through an ocean

of rock exploded, exploited.

You built the canal. Barely

got a statue to show for it.

Now it grows wider, wider still

pushing boats the size of cities

through

In front of a wall

of tears I stand inside of you

dry. My father did this

by hand. His sweat his blood

his liquid labor filled the path

between the seas

I know your history

I am your history

and you will never be wide enough

for all the stories to flow through.

26
May
2016
0

Avoid the paralysis of perfection

http://www.portada-online.com/2016/03/22/walton-isaacsons-rochelle-newman-carrasco-on-social-advertising-experiment-avoid-paralysis-of-perfection/
Just how important is social advertising to running an effective multicultural campaign? We spoke to Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, the Chief Hispanic Marketing Strategist at Walton Isaacson, an agency with a long-running reputation for creating multicultural social advertising campaigns, to learn more.

Social advertising employs the use of networks in creating, targeting and delivering marketing messages. When strategizing to reach key markets within the U.S., big advertising agencies can no longer ignore the significance of Latinos, especially on social media, as they have become the group with the highest rate of early adopters” of new technology among U.S. demographics.

Some big agencies are embracing this, investing heavily in developing social advertising campaigns that connect with Latino audiences and generate long-lasting relationships with this active demographic. What’s more, they take advantage of the fact that activity on social networks allows agencies to gather important data about certain targets in order to better understand their behavior and priorities.

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco has almost 30 years in the field, developing business strategy, traditional and non-traditional campaigns and conducting research and product development for blue-chip clients. She reiterated that when it comes to building an effective social advertising campaign, “social isn’t a question of right and wrong. Everything informs you and brings you opportunities to use knowledge from real time activities to get closer to your consumer.” Social advertising gives brands a unique opportunity to engage with consumers in less traditional ways, see what works and what doesn’t, adjust strategy quickly and segment for different targets.

Pili Montilla at Té Para Tres (Photo via Zimbio.com)

“What would be wrong is not getting into the marketplace because of the paralysis of perfection. Social isn’t about perfecting anything, it’s about engaging with consumers and shaping the narrative based upon what’s really being said and done—not what you think might get said and done,” Newman-Carrasco adds.

Lexus Partnership

When asked about specific social advertising campaigns that stood out, Newman-Carrasco points to WI’s partnership with Lexus, through which they have “been innovating in the space for a number of years which has been invaluable in staying ahead of this ever-changing and dynamic methodology for truly targeting desirable consumers.”

An example of this is “Verses & Flow,” produced by WI and aired on TV One, which was a “spoken word and musical program supported by several social media programs” from bloggers to celebrities to live events that are documented through social media coverage before, during and after.

WI also conducted Hispanic marketing initiatives through a partnership with Pili Montilla on the production of Té Para Tres, which won an Emmy Award. This was a perfect example of making use of both traditional and non-traditional platforms in reaching key audiences:  “The program itself airs on a traditional media format (aka TV), (and) the eco-system of social advertising is where the consumer engagement takes place – be it the blogosphere, live events with embedded social media journalists and opportunities for on-line consumer interaction and more.”

Why did these campaigns stand out to Newman-Carrasco? Because “they are strategically aligned with the brand’s core values as well as with the consumer’s interests.” Using a strategic foundation, social media can be used to empower the messages delivered on campaigns featured on other platforms while targeting “more precisely,” giving the minds behind the campaign “access to data that is analyzed from a behavioral standpoint, a look alike standpoint, as well as other angles of relevance to driving bottom line sales.”

To Newman-Carrasco, multicultural campaigns and social advertising go hand-in-hand. When asked when social advertising is considered an important element of a multicultural campaign, Newman-Carrasco says: “One word. Always.” Why? To Walton Isaacson, social advertising is “as valuable for branding as it is for conversion,” because social advertising “isn’t one thing. It can take the shape of brand building creative and dissemination tactics as easily as it can be specifically developed to combat competition and convert consumers.” Spoken like an advertising veteran.

 

 

28
Feb
2016
0

What Marketers Can Learn from Stand-Up Comics

Human nature is complicated. Why do we think that culture is any easier to understand? Rather than acknowledge the complexities, Corporate America wants to put the cultural conversation in a neat little package and boil it down to superficial elements such as race-based casting, language versioning, and we-are-the-world Benetton imagery that validates its notion of diversity and inclusion.

When it comes to multicultural marketing, by and large, Corporate America continues to miss the mark. At a recent conference of America’s leading advertisers, CEOs and CMOs gathered to discuss the state of multicultural marketing and to celebrate the best examples of advertising addressing consumers from communities of color, the LGBT community, the disabled community, and others whom advertising has historically marginalized or ignored. A lot of complicated and convoluted buzzwords were tossed about as these successful and educated individuals tried to figure out why they couldn’t capture and bottle authenticity when it came to really connecting with multicultural audiences — their fastest-growing opportunity for gaining market share and increasing sales.

On the second day of the conference, the luncheon entertainment featured Aida Rodriguez, a stand-up comic who took the stage and gave a master class in cultural relevance and connection. That’s not what she called it. She called it a set, as comics do. That’s also not what the audience would say they saw. They were entertained. She was a really funny comic who made them laugh from start to finish. But when all was said and done, if you step back and look at what this comic accomplished, it was exactly what these marketers have been trying to accomplish with their multicultural marketing: connection, engagement, and relevance at both a macro and a micro level, meaning that the message can be enjoyed by many, while also having a heightened impact on a desired subset of the group.

What does Aida Rodriguez know that these marketers don’t? What are the lessons that marketers can glean from smart stand-up comics?

  1. Embrace Failure — Like scientists, stand-up comics not only expect to have some of their work tank, get rejected, not deliver, but they also understand that not failing means something is wrong. Are you keeping things too safe? Are you generating enough material to really grow and expand your act? Are you up at bat (or up at the mic) with the kind of frequency that comics require? Taking risks will result in material that falls by the wayside, material that gets cut from the act because it ultimately doesn’t fit. You can define that as failure or you can define that as testing and learning. Comics, like scientists, test and learn. Marketers can’t expect success in the multicultural space if they are afraid to try new things, accept “failure” as a by-product of growth, and learn from what doesn’t produce results with even more rigor than relying on those initiatives that do.
  2. Stay Connected — You can’t connect unless you really understand what makes those you are connecting to tick. Marketers often forget how insular their worlds become. They wind up talking to themselves and people like them, and then wonder why they’re not speaking the same language as their consumers. “Comics need to stay on top of trends, social commentary, and human behavior,” says Rodriguez. “We always need to think ahead.” Throughout her set, one could see Aida‘s focus on what’s now and speak to what’s next. It’s what makes her storytelling surprisingly fresh, even when she’s addressing topics that reach back in history and leverage the past in order to comment on the present and predict the future.
  3. Authenticity — The It word of the moment for marketers, authenticity tops the list when it comes to what millennials expect from marketers. You know it when you see it, but it’s challenging to define. Rodriguez’s life as a comic has taught her a very straightforward lesson: “Be yourself.” Authenticity starts with being true to who you are and how you see the world. That’s a challenge for marketers who are always bending their brands over backward as they try to be everything to everyone. Like audiences at a comedy club, consumers have a radar for brands that try too hard or purport to be what they are not. “Not everyone is going to like you,” says Rodriguez, “and that’s OK . . . in fact, it’s necessary.” Pleasing is not the same as delighting, and brands are better served by creating a delighted following of fans and ambassadors than by being pleasing and forgettable.
  4. Have Fun — Authenticity doesn’t always mean fun, but it does mean being comfortable in your own skin. The same level of comfort is essential for letting go and having fun. When you know who you are and, for marketers, who your brand is, you have permission to be playful and even to cross some unexpected lines. Rodriguez manages to speak to extremely diverse audiences, playing with culturally specific topics in a way that, in the wrong hands, would be taken as more of an insult than an insight. Her authenticity allows her to have fun and her ability to have fun allows audiences to listen and laugh, even when they’re not sure they understand the nuances of a joke. As an example, Rodriguez can play with tension points related to gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation and release the tension. If you’re from the particular group being skewered, you’ll likely get the joke on several levels. If you’re outside of that group, you’ll experience the contagion of fun as it spreads through the audience.
  5. Speak to Universal Truths and Unique Specifics — Storytelling is about specifics, and today’s marketing is dependent upon storytelling. It has been said, “Content is king,” but recently marketers are adding, “Yes, but then context is God.” Comics use context to write material grounded in universal truths — about family dynamics, or relationships or satisfying hunger — things we all experience and understand. They then layer on specifics to point the material toward a certain audience and deepen the connective tissue. Marketers should take note. Certainly consumers have a lot in common, but to get the laugh, which is the comedy equivalent of consumer engagement and response, it’s rich specifics that create relevance, breaking through the clutter and moving consumers from head to heart.