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Do’s and Don’ts of Press Conference Presentations

You’ve seen the headline news stories. Hollywood Director Michael Bay Suddenly Stops During Press Conference and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer Says, “No Comment.”

As viewers, we feel the awkward tension when the teleprompter fails and Michael Bay isn’t prepared to speak, and we know what Sen. Schumer is thinking when he says, “No comment.”

As communicators, we need to ensure that public appearances for our organizations are planned, practiced and delivered with skill. These straightforward do’s and don’ts will set the tone of your presentation — because practice and preparation are crucial.


BODY LANGUAGE: Throughout your presentation, it’s okay to use natural hand gestures, move around the podium or point to supporting slides. Remember to make eye contact with the audience, maintain good posture and use positive facial expressions.

SPEECH: Speak slowly, and enunciate your words. A natural inflection in your voice will communicate sincerity to your audience. Read through your notes out loud, then video yourself giving the presentation. While it may seem like an uncomfortable exercise at first, it will allow you to correct any awkward habits.

PRESENTATION CONTENT: Use photos and videos to better illustrate your message. Keep slide content, especially written content, minimal to allow your audience to easily follow your key points. It’s a good idea to bring your presentation in several formats such as on a USB drive, in an accessible email account and stored on your computer

RESPONDING TO QUESTIONS: When someone asks a question, remember to speak in sound bites. This allows your thoughts to easily and accurately be used within an article. Learn to deflect negative questions with positive answers that direct the conversation back to your key message.


BODY LANGUAGE: Don’t hide behind the podium or use negative or closed gestures such as folded arms, bad posture or a blank facial expression.

SPEECH: Don’t talk too fast — your audience won’t retain the message. Additionally, reading word-for-word from your notes (or slides) will lose the attention of your audience and make you appear unprepared.

PRESENTATION CONTENT: Don’t select distracting or illegible fonts and colors for presentation slides. If your content is technical, avoid the use of acronyms if you don’t have time for an explanation. Most importantly, don’t solely rely on technology it often fails.

RESPONDING TO QUESTIONS: Don’t speak “off the record” — the audience could be recording your presentation. In fact, always assume someone is recording your presentation. If asked a tough question, avoid using the phrase, “no comment.” This two-word excuse is typically associated with guilt, which can be avoided by replacing with the better phrase, “I don’t know, but I will look into that.”

Using these straightforward tactics will enhance your confidence and credibility while positioning yourself and your company as industry thought leaders.

Let us help you plan your 2014 press conferences and speaking engagements. Call 281-448-3435 to schedule a meeting with Foster Marketing to discuss how we can help prepare your employees and executives for upcoming presentations.

Not All Sponsorships are Created Equal

Sponsorships Won’t Work Unless You Do Your Part

By Laurel Hess, Account Executive, Foster Marketing

It’s 8:30 p.m. and I’ve been standing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome’s Stadium Club on the 300 Level for more than two hours. Recently renovated, Anheuser Busch has held the sponsorship rights to the room for several years. In previous years the Bud Light logo was projected on the wall but with a bevy of high-profile events on the horizon, Anheuser Busch was eager to maximize this sponsorship opportunity. Discussed is changing the fascia of the bar from its painted stripe design to the beer maker’s trademark blue condensation pattern. I silently applaud Anheuser Busch’s persistence to maximize its sponsorship dollars. Anheuser Busch knows something many potential sponsors fail to realize: You have to work your sponsorship in order to get the most out of it. When it comes to sponsorships, the rule is: If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

Why Sponsorships?

Sponsorships are a great way to launch a brand and to be seen as a major player in the marketplace. They are also great for community outreach and a way to boost your level of interaction through social media and dialogue within the community. Why is Bud Light so pervasive in sporting arenas? They have a strong sponsorship plan that grants them high-profile visibility in sporting facilities and aids their brand recognition efforts. If you’ve been staring at a Bud Light sign for long enough, sooner or later you’re getting up for that beer.

You can also leverage your sponsorships in your company’s advertising and social media program to engage with the marketplace, giving you reasons to reach out and post non-sales related messaging. For example, if you’re sponsoring your local sports team and you tweet about an upcoming game or recent win, you will most likely get re-tweets or more followers, boosting your visibility.

What’s the Real Return on Investment?

One of the thorns of sponsorship marketing is the difficulty to track ROI. Since sponsorship is mostly a public relations and brand awareness initiative, there are not as many tangible impressions to track or dollars/purchases to follow. So, how can one effectively track sponsorship ROI? The easiest answer is that you can’t — at least, not without room in your budget for multiple tracking surveys and other efforts — and even this could miss some gains.

If you plan to dip your toes into the world of sponsorship marketing, it would be foolish to jump in without a concrete plan to measure the effectiveness of your campaign. Setting benchmarks and using follow-up surveys ensures that you spend wisely and allows you to make informed changes to your sponsorship campaign in years to come.

Why Do I Have to Track My Return When the Sponsorship Provider is Already Watching Impressions?

Can’t I just rely on the team/sponsorship entity to track for me? Aren’t their measurements good enough? Not if your brand is relatively unknown in the market.

Say you sponsor a sign at a stadium. The team tells you that you can get 250,000 impressions per game if you sponsor the sign next to the jumbotron. More than 2 million impressions per season sounds pretty good; however, if you are not quite as established, time and work will be required to eventually see this type of impact.

For example, if you are Coca-Cola, this opportunity makes sense and hitting 2 million impressions in a season is attainable — people will see your brand and it will register in their minds from the first preseason game.

If you’re Jim Bob’s Cola with little to no brand awareness at the start of the season, the recognition will not be there right away. Your impressions will grow over time as your brand name is out there but you won’t be hitting the promised 250,000-impression impact early on.

To get a true measure of sponsorship impact, we suggest doing a benchmark survey at the start of the season or sponsorship and then a survey at the conclusion to see how much your brand recognition grew as a direct result of the sponsorship. This way you can determine if sponsorship dollars are well spent and if you should continue or upgrade your deal.

Five Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Sponsorship:

  • Bigger isn’t always better: A well-placed logo on a program or scoreboard that’s often checked by patrons may increase visibility and repeated views over another location.
  • Non-traditional sponsorship opportunities: Look beyond the typical sponsorship placements for unique outlets. Perhaps that large sign by the jumbotron is out of your price range but instead you can put your logo on all of the stadium’s beverage cups if you pay for the inventory
  • Change the message/look or position each year: Patrons will become blind to your brand if you never move or change it. They will get used to seeing you in the same place or with the same message and they will cease to see it. If you are in a prime position, change the color or message each season/year so the patrons have something fresh to register. If you have the ability, move your messaging each season so patrons have another chance at seeing it and registering it.
  • Milk it for all it’s worth: Incorporating “Proud Sponsor of:” on your advertising and engaging fans via your social media outlets and website can start a dialogue and also support your sponsorship money. If a patron sees “Proud Sponsor of:” on your ad and then goes to the game, they are more likely to recognize and register your signage.
  • Take responsibility for tracking: Don’t rely on the sponsorship venue or event coordinator to give you a true impression count or ROI on your sponsorship. They often have blanket numbers and apply them across the board. The truth is Jim Bob’s Cola and Coca-Cola will not have the same rate of impressions and return on investment.

Sponsorships are a great way to boost your brand awareness in the marketplace, but you may be missing out on real gains if you aren’t working your sponsorship plan, measuring your efforts and cross promoting these efforts in your advertising, marketing and online campaigns. A few well spent dollars can bring eyeballs to your name and lend credibility to your brand.

If you’re interested in identifying potential sponsorships for your business or making the most out of your current sponsorship initiatives,Foster Marketing is here to help. Click to contact Foster MarketingAccount Executive Laurel Hess.

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Using YouTube: Show ‘Em What You’ve Got


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By Kristy Bonner, Digital Strategist, Foster Marketing

Move over YouTube legends Charlie, techno-unsavvy grandparents and Justin Bieber — a new player is moving in.

Memorable uploads like these have nudged YouTube’s numbers upward to more than 800 million unique visits and more than 4 billion hours of video watched each month. Today, of the 72 hours of video uploaded every minute, a new star is emerging— businesses who want to use the medium to market and sell their products and services.

Most of us have enjoyed a laugh, watched a how-to video or just passed some time on YouTube; and reports are showing more and more businesses are adding their contributions to the mix. Fifty-six percent of B2B companies are using YouTube to share their marketing messages, according to a study by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, B2B Content Marketing: 2012 Benchmark, Budgets & Trends.

If your company isn’t making the most of this online opportunity you’re missing out on brand awareness benefits, engagement opportunities and search engine gains. Consider these potential perks to jumping onto the YouTube bandwagon.

  • SEARCH: Search Engine Marketing (SEM) has become a hot topic for anyone who wants to edge out the competition. YouTube has pushed its way above Bing and Yahoo! and is second only to Google in its search numbers. YouTube users watch billions of videos daily and billions of searches are typed into the YouTube search box each month.
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: YouTube is the third most visited website on the Internet. Plus, its use of mobile and sharing technology gives your video efforts an added boost. Does your business extend beyond the United States? So does YouTube. You could even create videos in multiple languages to target specific international markets.
  • MARKET COMPETITION: Just about every topic is covered on YouTube, including most industries, products and services. Type in anything from drill pipe to pipeline cleaning and you’ll find something on YouTube.
  • THE POTENTIAL: Visual messages can inform and engage customers. Plus, YouTube allows users to email, share and embed videos into their web pages, so you are increasing the chances of your video going viral!
  • INTEGRATE YOUR EFFORTS: You likely already have content that could be repurposed for YouTube. From trade show kiosk videos to lunch-and-learn PowerPoint presentations, all of these can be formatted for YouTube with a little know-how.

Opportunity is knocking, so answer and get posting. Here’s how to start:

  • CREATE A BRANDED YOUTUBE CHANNEL. Develop a channel with a unique profile name that fits your business and reflects your company’s brand.
  • GET STARTED: Start with the content you already have, and add as you go. Consider posting videos of product demonstrations or on-site installations. Turn images from a photo shoot into a video to showcase the products and services you offer. Convert PowerPoint presentations into videos to share company information and expand your thought leadership efforts on specific topics. Create a video that offers a tour of your facility to spotlight your company’s capabilities. The possibilities are really endless.
  • SET A GOAL: Set a goal of adding a new video to your channel at least every three months. If you really want to build a following, aim for a new video monthly or bi-monthly. In other words, develop a YouTube plan.

Need some inspiration to get your video camera recording? Here are some tips from GigaOM and Google that would work well for oil and gas companies and others working in the business-to-business energy sector.

  • Upload recordings of presentations you’ve given to showcase your knowledge.
  • Share slides from PowerPoint presentations.
  • Conduct an interview with one of your experts.
  • Add your channel URL to marketing collateral (and other social networks).
  • Post customer video testimonials.
  • Show your product in action using movie trailer style: fast, creative and catchy.
  • Create how-to-videos to help your customers use your products.
  • Post solutions to common problems.
  • Embed videos on your website, including product support and facility tours.

Videos can be used for product demonstrations; branding messages; public relations and community efforts; education; and even to encourage or inspire. All you have to do is get creative and use what you have. That’s what these companies did:

  • An LED manufacturer melts chocolate bunnies with competitors’ products to show its energy efficiency.
  • A storage company stacked space with a ton of food (to be donated, of course) to prove just how much stuff you could fit.
  • A vacuum cleaner company has become the go-to place for minor vacuum repairs and maintenance with its how-to helpful approach.

YouTube reports viewer engagement is growing with 100 million people taking a social action such as likes, shares and comments each week; and millions of videos are favorited each day. As an added bonus, your YouTube efforts can bolster your social media efforts as recent figures show 500 years worth of YouTube videos are watched every day via Facebook and more than 700 YouTube videos are shared on Twitter every minute.

So put on your thinking caps, pull out your cameras and show ’em what you’ve got.

Foster Marketing can help with all your strategic digital efforts, from planning to posting and landing pages to email messaging. Learn more about the services we provide at

It’s first in the mind, not first in the market

By George Foster, President of Foster Marketing Communications

Much has been made of the term “branding” in the past decade. However, decades before branding was a hot marketing topic, the descriptor du jour was “positioning.”

Nearly 30 years ago, Al Ries and Jack Trout penned their seminal book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. In fact, we still have a half-dozen, age-worn copies of the paperback version in our agency library.

The main premise of the book was that the essence to creating a brand and being a brand leader is to be first in the mind, not necessarily first in the market.

This was brought home to me again last week when I saw a TV story on the Snuggie™. For those of you who aren’t familiar with a Snuggie, it’s a body-length blanket with sleeves usually made of fleece material. It is similar in design to a bathrobe and is meant to be worn backward (i.e. with the opening in the back).

As of January 2009, more than 20 million Snuggies had been sold, at anywhere from $15-$20 apiece. That’s nearly $4 billion in sales. In fact, the Snuggie is a staple for our ladies in the Houston office.

The “Snuggie” brand of sleeved blankets became a pop culture phenomenon after a direct response commercial promoting the product was aired, leading to a mocking of the product and its commercial by comedians such as Jay Leno, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg and Tim Burton. This month, 20,000 Cleveland Cavalier fans wore Snuggies at a game, setting a world record.

However, it wasn’t the first.

What is interesting is that the Snuggie wasn’t the first sleeved blanket in the market. That distinction goes to the Slanket™.

In 1997, Gary Clegg, a freshman at the University of Maine, cut a hole in a blanket and began to market it. Here’s how he described it:

“One subzero night in 1998, during my first semester of college, I could not escape Maine’s winter bite. While watching Late Night with Conan O’Brien, I decided I needed to tear a hole in my sleeping bag so I could keep my upper body warm as I channel-surfed during the commercial breaks. During Christmas vacation I commissioned the first Slanket to be made by my mother … and it was born.”

First, he sold his blankets on chat sites and blogs; he couldn’t afford TV ads. By 2007, he was selling his Slankets on QVC – and on one show sold 17,000 blankets in 11 minutes. Unfortunately, the Slanket wasn’t patentable.

When the economy turned south, the Snuggie snuck in.

“We did have unique timing,” said Scott Boilen, president of Allstar Products Group, a leading direct response and consumer products and the marketer for Snuggie. “The recession and the car companies and financials pulled out of the advertising market so we had a 90-day window during the fall of 2008 and we swooped in and ran every bit of media we could.”

Those forgotten firsts.

To demonstrate the power of first in the mind, not first in the market: does anyone remember Hurley? Hurley built the first washing machine, but the brand never got into the mind.

Duryea built the first automobile in America, but the brand never got into the mind. Ford was the first brand in the mind and is still the leading automobile brand in America today.

Du Mont built the first television set, but the brand never got in the mind.

There are even more applications of this principle. Take the iPod, the brand that turned around Apple Computer.

Apple wasn’t the first MP3 player with a disk drive. More than a year before Apple introduced the iPod in November 2001, Creative Technology Ltd., a Singapore company, was selling the Creative Nomad Jukebox, an MP3 player with a disk drive, in the U.S. market. In addition, the Jukebox had a 6-gigabyte hard drive versus the 5 gigabytes for the initial iPod.

What happened? Ries, in a recent blog, said four things went wrong for Creative Technology:

• Line extension. Creative Technology was already selling two other players with basically the same name and limited memory (only hold about 20 songs).

• Generic name.“Creative” is a generic name, not a brand name.

Long, complicated name. Compare “Creative Nomad Jukebox” (7 syllables) versus iPod (2 syllables).

Lack of focus. Besides an MP3 player, Creative Technology made many other products including digital cameras, graphic accelerator cards, modems, CD and DVD drives, PC speakers, audio chips and electronic musical instruments.

Therefore, even though you might be first in the market (like the Slanket and the Creative Nomad Jukebox), you’re better served if you’re first in the mind (like the Snuggie and the iPod).

For more information on how we can put you first in the mind of your potential customers, call or email us today.

Pre-show Marketing … It’s Everyone’s Job


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The experts at Foster Marketing are often asked to share their insights with industry professionals and participate in forums on trends in our field. This article was written by Trade Show Expert Megan Hebert to be shared with the exhibitors at this year’s East Texas Oilfield Expo. As trade season is in full swing, we wanted to share this article with all our readers as pre-show marketing is a key part of any show. Enjoy!
By Megan Hebert, Trade Show Coordinator, Foster Marketing

As the trade show quickly approaches and your to-do list is growing, I’m sure you’re considering ways to maximize your investment of time and money. What can we do (or should we have done) to have a successful and rewarding show? Trade shows by nature call for a large marketing investment (money, time, travel … more time). To ensure your participation is worthwhile, do not overlook the ever powerful and often cost-effective initiatives utilized in pre-show marketing.

Effective event marketing should begin months before the event, but often times exhibitors do not have that luxury. Whether you’ve been planning for more than a year or only have a few weeks before opening day, the appropriate pre-show marketing efforts help get the word out and build momentum leading up to an event.
And, yes, show organizers have a responsibility to promote their event. If it’s a quality group, then promotion will be a high priority and be executed well. However, your investment is too large to not take personal responsibility to promote the show and ensure customers, prospects and media know where to find you!

As trade show coordinator for many clients across the oil and gas industry, we’ve implemented numerous strategic and creative pre-show marketing campaigns to broadcast our client’s message — and to get traffic to their booth. Where’s your campaign?

  • What are your objectives? Trade show marketing plans should be an extension of the overall marketing strategy. Are you launching a product, expanding into another area or looking to build existing client relationships or find new ones? Pre-show marketing strategies must work within your company’s overall marketing vision to secure the best results.
  • What’s your plan? What tactics will help achieve your objectives? Each tactic employed is a part of the bigger overall strategy. Here’s a start …
    • Strategic advertising development and placement centered on your presence at a show. Where are the right people going to see your message … and who are the “right” people?
    • Sponsorships offered by the show to enhance your company’s visibility before, during and after a show.
    • Development of a direct mail campaign (to both the inbox and the mailbox). A campaign puts your message in front of the right audience and if created properly, moves the recipient to action — to contact you! Most attendees plan what booths they are going to visit — make sure you’re on the list.
    • Incorporation of specialty items into marketing strategy. Choose an innovative, sought-after giveaway or in-booth promotion to move traffic into your booth and provide memorability after the show is over.
    • Utilize public relations. Whether it’s distributing news releases to industry media or holding a press conference during the show — take advantage of this cost-effective and powerful method of communicating.

Trade shows are only as successful as the thought and effort put in beforehand to promote your company’s message and drive traffic to your booth. Utilize the tools provided to you by the show organizers (electronic guest passes, sponsorships, networking events, advertising options, etc.), and consider the value of hiring oil and gas marketing specialists to be your partner in managing the details and making the most of your investment!

Foster Marketing handles trade show coordination for energy industry clients throughout the United States and beyond. From Salt Lake City to San Antonio and Kuala Lumpur to Rio de Janeiro, Foster Marketing’s trade show experts can be there to plan, coordinate and set your next show.

A Contrarian View of Digital Marketing

By George Foster, CEO, Foster Marketing

There may be no bigger supporter of digital marketing than I. However, I have learned to be skeptical about most things (I guess it’s my journalistic upbringing). Along that line, you all know the nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall;
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.[1}

The common belief is that Humpty Dumpty is an egg. However, there’s another version of its origin.

In 1648, during the siege of Colchester in western England, a huge cannon, colloquially called Humpty Dumpty, was strategically placed on the town’s wall for defense. A shot from one of the Parliamentary cannons damaged the wall and Humpty Dumpty came tumbling to the ground.

The Royalists (all the King’s men) attempted to raise Humpty Dumpty on to another part of the wall, but because the cannon was so heavy, ‘All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.’

For awhile now, I’ve been thinking of applying that contrarian thinking — like the origin of Humpty Dumpty — to the value proposition of digital marketing.

We are asked all the time what kind of results we will get from our digital efforts. We mention awareness; impressions; click-throughs; sales leads; and, ultimately (hopefully) sales.

For the longest, I’ve kept articles on the changes in digital marketing, especially the rise of social media — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, tracking, etc. In preparing this article, I basically threw out any article more than a year old. The uses and technology are changing so fast.

In fact, Facebook just this month filed an initial public offering which could value the social network between $75 billion and $100 billion and put the company on track for one of the biggest U.S. stock-market debuts of all time. The rise of Facebook is the subject of the movie Social Network, an interesting view.

First, let’s look at digital advertising from a contrarian view and then move to the social contrarian view.

Contrarian Idea 1: A third of ad
impressions are never seen

In a recent article on, author Danny Frankel mentioned that, “There is a growing consensus that digital advertising, whose targeting abilities were supposed to eliminate waste in marketing campaigns, is still very much a work in progress. Barely a week goes by without another person bemoaning the lack of reliable measure of ad effectiveness.”

ComScore, a global leader in measuring the digital world and a source of digital business analytics, recently produced a study titled “U.S. Digital Future in Focus 2012.” It can be downloaded by registering at comScore. Some key findings:

  • Across all measured campaigns, 69 percent of ad impressions were classified as being “in view”. The remaining 31 percent, the study says, were delivered but never seen by a consumer for various reasons.
  • An average of 4 percent of ad impressions were delivered outside of their targeted geographical region.
  • 72 percent of campaigns had at least some of their ads running next to content deemed “not brand safe” by their respective advertisers.

Contrarian Idea 2: You can’t break up conversation with ads.

Even before the Facebook IPO, Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the world’s biggest advertising group WPP, cast doubts on whether advertising will ever work on Facebook.

Sorrell said the social networks were “not the right context” for commercial advertising because they would interrupt something that was fluid and informal.

“Facebook, Google+, Twitter are advanced forms of social interaction,” he said. “We used to write letters to each other and now we correspond through Facebook and Twitter. If you interrupt that with a message you may run into trouble.”

Makes sense to me. And, Sorrell went on to further diminish the Facebook play by saying that Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, had been forced to withdraw two “failed experiments” at commercial activity after they sparked a “revolution” by users.

Contrarian Idea 3: There is no revenue model

David Baker, another contrarian and a management consultant for marketing services firms, says that “the purveyors of social media are losing money at astounding rates (except when they sell the platform to someone else who can afford to lose even more money) and “everyone wants to be on the bus, but they really don’t know where it’s going.” To bear that out, in its IPO filing, Facebook showed revenues of $3.7 billion, $400 million under projections.

And, it’s interesting to read the comments on the Wall Street Journal on the Facebook filing. Among the more than 200 include:

  • “85% from ad revenue with virtually zero verifiable ROI. Fun times.”
  • “This IPO is ridiculous. Anyone who bought into this bubble 2.0 needs to have their head examined. Way over valued. There’s already starting to be a social media backlash due to privacy concerns (especially Facebook’s ever-changing policies) and new platforms every day that are going to compete with it.”

Finally, then, what’s there to love?

Lots. Digital is here to stay and growing. We are right in the middle of a major shift of marketing dollars for our clients from traditional to digital media and it looks to increase. In the same comScore study, the following points were made:

  • Social networking continues to amass online users. Social networking accounted for 16.6 percent of all online minutes at the end of 2011.
  • Bing closed out the year surpassing Yahoo! for the No. 2 position among search engines. Google is No. 1.
  • More than 100 million Americans watched online video content on an average day to close out 2011, a 43 percent increase from 2010.
  • 4.8 trillion display ad impressions were delivered across the U.S. web in 2011 magnifying the need for greater transparency and accountability in ad delivery.
  • At the end of 2011, more than 8 percent of all digital traffic was consumed on devices such as smartphones and tablets.
  • Total U.S. retail and travel-related e-commerce reached $256 billion in 2011, up 12 percent from 2010.

Thus, it’s a wild, wild wacky worldwide web ride. You need a firm that can make sense out of it. That’s Foster Marketing.

Let Foster Marketing help manage your online presence.

The Pursuit of a ‘Happy New Year’


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By George Foster, CEO, Foster Marketing

Last Sunday at a Christmas morning service the pastor related a story that immediately captured my attention. It was about a business owner (first perk up) … his name was George (second perk up) … and he was the last to leave the office (was he talking about me?).

He then related an inspirational story that had meaning not only for Christmas but also as we sweep out 2011 and welcome 2012.

It was Christmas Eve, and, as usual, George Mason was the last to leave the office. He walked over to a massive safe, spun the dials and swung the heavy door open. Making sure the door would not close behind him, he stepped inside. A square of white cardboard was taped just above the top most row of strong boxes. On the card a few words were written. George Mason stared at those words, remembering …

Exactly one year ago he had entered this self-same vault. And then, behind his back, slowly, noiselessly the ponderous door swung shut. He was trapped — entombed in the sudden and terrifying dark. He hurled himself at the unyielding door, his hoarse cry sounding like an explosion.

Through his mind flashed all the stories he had heard of men found suffocated in time-vaults. No time clock controlled this mechanism; the safe would remain locked until it was opened from the outside. He would have to wait until tomorrow morning. Then the realization hit him. No one would come tomorrow — tomorrow was Christmas.

Once more he flung himself at the door, shouting wildly, until he sank on his knees exhausted. Silence came, high-pitched, singing silence that seemed deafening. More than 36 hours would pass before anyone came, 36 hours in a steel box three feet wide, eight feet long and seven feet high. Would the oxygen last? Perspiring and breathing heavily, he felt his way around the floor.

Then, in the far right-hand corner, just above the floor, he found a small, circular opening. Quickly he thrust his finger into it and felt a faint, but unmistakably, cool current of air. The tension release was so sudden that he burst into tears. But at last he sat up. Surely he would not have to stay trapped for the full 36 hours. Somebody would miss him. But whom?

George was unmarried and lived alone. The maid who cleaned his apartment was just a servant; he had always treated her as such. He had been invited to spend Christmas Eve with his brother’s family, but children got on his nerves, and expected presents. A friend had asked him to go to a home for elderly people on Christmas Day and play the piano since George was a good musician.

But he had made some excuse or other; he had intended to sit at home with a good cigar, listening to some new recordings he was giving himself. George dug his nails into the palms of his hands until the pain balanced the misery in his mind. Nobody would come and let him out. Nobody, nobody.

Miserably the whole of Christmas Day went by, and the succeeding night. On the morning after Christmas the head clerk came into the office at the usual time, opened the safe and then went on into his private office. No one saw George Mason stagger out into the corridor, run to the water cooler and drink great gulps of water. No one paid any attention to him as he left and took a taxi home. There he shaved, changed his wrinkled clothes, ate breakfast and returned to his office, where his employees greeted him casually.

That day he met several acquaintances and talked to his own brother. Grimly, inexorably the truth closed in on George Mason. He had vanished from human society during the great festival of Christian fellowship; no one had missed him at all.

Reluctantly, George began to think about the true meaning of Christmas. Was it possible that he had been blind all these years with selfishness, indifference, pride? Wasn’t giving, after all, the essence of Christmas because it marked to the time God gave His own Son to the world?

All through the year that followed, with little hesitant deeds of kindness, with small, unnoticed acts of unselfishness, George Mason tried to prepare himself. Then, once more, it was Christmas Eve. Slowly he backed out of the safe and closed it. He touched its grim steel face lightly, almost affectionately and left the office.

There he went in his black overcoat and hat, the same George Mason as a year ago, or was he? He walked a few blocks, and then flagged a taxi, anxious not to be late. His nephews were expecting him to help them trim the tree. Afterward, he was taking his brother and his sister-in-law to a Christmas play. Why was he so happy? Why did this jostling against others, laden as he is with bundles, exhilarate and delight him?

Perhaps the card had something to do with it, the card he taped inside his office safe last New Year’s Day. On the card is written, in George Mason’s own hand: “To love people, to be indispensable somewhere, that is the purpose of life. That is the secret of happiness.”

There is a road for anyone who is feeling trapped or stuck. But, before that road can be traveled there must be destruction of the old. The old George Mason had to die before the new George Mason could travel that new road.

Our lives are like that. We want newness but are we willing to bury the old? George Mason was trapped until he rid himself of his indifference and selfishness. Unfortunately it took being locked up in a safe in order for him to see himself as he really was.

We don’t have to spend two days in a safe to travel a new road. There is a new highway for all of us when we are willing to allow our old ones to be destroyed. New relationships, new understandings, new opportunities can all be realized when we let go of the old ones which are keeping us from being fulfilled or experiencing the joy of life.

Happy New Year from Foster Marketing!