A few years back, I was invited to speak at Vermont/New Hampshire Direct Marketing Days.I wanted to be there but I didn’t want to travel there because the only flight was a toy airplane from LaGuardia.
But Larry Chait, my brilliant friend and mentor, had asked me to come, so I had to say yes and once I did the event’s organizer, Amy Africa, started calling.
She’s more than pleasant but Amy has one of those moose-and-mountain-country voices that suggests she might shoot and skin an unsatisfactory speaker and nail the hide to the barn door.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to Vermont. She sent gifts with notes. Cheese’s note read “All the big cheeses will be here.” On the Maple syrup was “This event will be sweet.”
I steeled myself and got into the little plane. We took off tentatively, cruised at wave height over Long Island Sound and at tree height over Connecticut and Massachusetts, then swooped and dived and yawed and banged and clanged our way into New Hampshire which, from where I sat, looked like Tibet.
Somehow the 15-year old pilot weaved us around mountains and along valleys and, suddenly, there we were. And it was worth it.
The VT/NH Direct Marketing (Circus Circus) event was outstanding: great speakers, circus acts, terrific food, and lots of laughs, all thanks to Amy and her volunteers. They had a raffle kind of draw and I won a rototiller which isn’t much use in a 46th Street apartment so it got “regifted” to a delighted Vermonter.
Amy and I kept in touch for a while; then, as she got more and more important in the Internet world and my agency business started hopping, the letters and emails slowed and we lost touch except for running across each other occasionally at conferences like the DMA’s in New Orleans and Inc. Magazine’s in Scottsdale.
Then Amy saw my face in Fortune Small Business magazine above an article I’d written about the challenges of moving my agency from New York to Florida.
Amy emailed that she was happy to see my smiling (and touched up) face and we started corresponding regularly again and got together in New York last December. At dinner, she asked if I was going to the 2008 DMA Convention in Las Vegas. “No,” I said, “and I’d like to because I’ve never been to Las Vegas.”
She couldn’t believe it. “Just since I’ve known you,” she said, “you’ve been to Istanbul, Moscow, Italy, Sweden, Canada, Thailand and who knows where else and you haven’t seen Las Vegas!
Amy decided it was time for me to see Sin City!
I demurred – we’re busy, the economy is tough, I’m not speaking there, the dog ate my homework.
But she was relentless and I gave in.
She planned it all, got a few friends to join us and I knew it would be fun. But Amy is Amy, and she doesn’t leave anything to chance so she launched the most amazing CRM campaign of all time, the AAGRM Program, short for the Amy Africa Guilt Relationship Marketing Program.
It started with a huge red inflated ball, mailed all by itself, addressed and stamped with a note: “You’ll have a ball in Vegas, Amy.” It was from SendaBall.com
Then came a huge carton from Dale and Thomas with assorted flavors of popcorn and a beautiful bowl. The note: “Vegas, Baby, Vegas.”
Our mailman laughed when he delivered an addressed and stamped little yellow rubber duckie – “Vegas? You lucky duck, Lois” – from Sendaduck.com. (He’s still sitting on my desk in the popcorn bowl with the red ball but the popcorn’s all gone.)
We all waited to see what was next.
Two huge boxes of gourmet Jelly Bellies. Then a mystery box full of bangerangs which are so delicious we ate the card too. Bangerangs from www.BangerangBakeShop.com are cupcakes in jars.
Next day, the mailman and the FedEx guy happened to show up at the same time and even they couldn’t wait to see what was in the next box.
Cookies that melt in your mouth, were next, the kind of cookies that on a scale of 1-100 rate 120. They were sent by Nana’s Cookies and Gifts in Montana. Nana really knows her cookies.
Now we were all Pavlov’s dogs. When the mailman showed up, we started drooling.
The next box overflowed with dozens of fortune cookies, all with little slips of paper inside with my name on them: “Lois, you’ll make a fortune in Las Vegas” and “Lois: Good friends, good times, good fortune in Vegas” and so on.
Then another box from Nana, filled this time with decadent chocolate brownies. They were even better than Nana’s cookies.
Now, I was getting excited about the trip (plus a sugar-high).
Just before I left for Las Vegas a golden box of Leonides Chocolates arrived. By now I was worried that the airline might consider me personally to be overweight baggage, so I saved the chocolates until I got back.
Amy and friends were at the airport. There was only one rule: no asking about activities but she did ask if there was anything I couldn’t do. I narrowed my long, long list down to no bungee jumping, please. It was off to a lovely lunch of tapas, followed by checking into a suite of my own at the Palazzo, and evenings of elegant dinners and Vegas attractions: a gondola ride, The Price is Right Game Show, Cirque de Soleil, Danny Gans, gardens, dancing waterfalls.
This was great.
Then one morning, after breakfast at the Hash House, a limo picked us up for a special surprise. This had my stomach jumping, because Amy said we’d be away for a long while, and she told us to wear sneakers. With some trepidation I got into the limo and it felt like the rest of the group was in on the secret. I didn’t have a clue but bungee jumping crossed my mind.
The car pulled into an airfield, over where they keep the helicopters. Helicopters? Sure, we’re flying over to the Grand Canyon.
Whatttt?!?! I begged, I pleaded, I said I’d wait for them to get back.
Barbara de la Riva calmed me down. This was going to be fine, and I was going to love it and she had never heard of a chopper crashing down the Canyon.
I bit my lip, held my breath and buckled in, sandwiched between Berenice Grossman and Linda Pickering. I prayed silently, then I prayed out loud, then we took off, not like an airplane. No, like a rocket, straight up and suddenly we were fluttering inches above mountains.
We saw the Hoover Dam, oooh is that big, and then there it was, the Grand Canyon, a giant and spectacular gully, miles across and over a mile deep. What a sight.
We landed near the north rim and had a picnic. Then it was time to fly back to Las Vegas. Would I like to sit up front with the pilot this time? Why not? With the glass under my feet the view was incredible: the Canyon, the mountains, the desert, the hotels on the strip.
Now, thanks to Amy Africa, I’m Miss Fearless, Wonder Woman.
What had I been afraid of? What’s the point of being afraid when all it does is keep you from doing things?
I was so delighted with my newfound freedom that it didn’t occur to me until I got back to Florida and started watching the news and reading the papers about banking disasters and recessions, even depressions, that FDR was right.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
If I’d really understood that when I was a kid, I’d probably have been a pilot and I would have flown myself to New Hampshire and over the Grand Canyon.
Amy had remembered my fear, developed a Machiavellian plan to overcome it and the remarkable AAGRM program to make sure I’d be there and then executed it flawlessly. That’s a real friend.