Cultivate Useful Weirdos

Fortunately for my clients, I have a lot of weird friends.

I can neither confirm nor deny that I am related to this particular weirdo

By “weird,” I don’t necessarily mean that they wear only orange or like to hum Soviet propaganda tunes on the subway.  I mean that their vocations and avocations fall outside of the usual professional and para-professional realms.  Offhand, I can think of a theater set designer, an importer of European glassware, a sports memorabilia auction house owner and an alpaca farmer (Alpaca rancher?  Alpaca herder?  I dunno but she has a bunch of the wooly beasts.).

All of these folks have helped me at one time or another in my career as a marketing strategist and I recommend that you collect a similar array of acquaintances to help you.  Weird people know useful things!

As a consultant, I tend to specialize in a few areas I know pretty well–financial services, automotive and B2B tech.  So when I have a new project in one of these areas, I’m pretty much plug-and-play.

However, I often get projects that fall out of my expertise and, probably, most people’s expertise.  That’s when weirdos come to the rescue.

A few years ago, I wound up on a pitch for the United States Postal Service.  It helped immensely that I share a passion for photography with a former Postmaster General of the United States.  I can’t say that a 15-minute phone call won it for my client, but it sure gave me a leg up in developing ideas that might work.  Last year, I helped my good friends at Fancy develop some brand identity work for the company that provides payment services for Northwestern University.  Guess where I know a Director of Student Accounts?

Chances are, you have weirdos of your own.  I advise you to think about those weirdos and tuck them away in your mental Rolodex. When you get a request from a client that falls out of your depth, have a list of people you can call.

Is it mercenary to think of your friends as your own personal, free Mintel?  I guess.  However, I’ve found that a) it gives you a great excuse to talk with someone you might have fallen out of touch with and b) most people love sharing their wisdom with you.

Moreover, people with out-of-the-mainstream jobs often have perspectives that may help you think about something in a new and interesting way.  They may answer questions you wouldn’t have even thought to ask.

As Hunter S. Thompson said, “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

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