1988:  Pitching an Audio Get Well Card in Biz-Speak

So, now, it’s 1988, and the Chemo guided imagery tape is still a smash hit at University Hospitals of Cleveland. By now, I’ve moved my private practice from Washington DC to NE Ohio. My husband is Dean of Case Western Reserve’s Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, and I’m quietly seeing clients and doing my part as “The Lovely Mrs. Dean”, hosting many, many, many dinner parties and receptions.

These were the days when cancer patients would end up with a bedside stack of this one bestselling Bernie Siegel book (Love, Medicine & Miracles), because it was a gift that offered hope and inspiration, so everyone bought it for everyone with cancer.  

I decided that a perfect alternate choice, in lieu of a 4th Bernie book, would be an audio get well card that dispensed guided imagery into the ears of the patient. There were already rudimentary audio cards that could wish you a Happy Birthday or Congratulations.

And having gotten acquainted with various Cleveland hotshots and Captains of Industry through my Lovely Mrs. Dean soirees, I set up a meeting with the CEO of American Greetings to pitch my idea. We ended up having a terrific, 3-hour, deep-dish conversation, and he totally got the idea, but forthrightly told me that the company moved at a glacial, bureaucratic pace, and they would drive me crazy. Instead, I should talk to his good friend, the Dean of the Weatherhead Business School at Case Western.

Well, I knew that guy from about a bazillion receptions. He was a friend and colleague of my husband. For that reason alone, I knew he had to meet with me as a courtesy. So, I set up a formal appointment and came to his office.

I explained what I wanted to do. He listened carefully, and then gave me an assignment. He wanted a one pager describing my “product”, for what and for whom it was designed, and he wanted me to explain its unique attributes that were unlike anything anybody else had (he called this “barriers to entry” and I nodded sagely like I knew what he was talking about, then looked it up later). He also wanted samples of the “competition” in my category.

Then he gave me a friendly but no-nonsense look as he stood up, and, leaning in and tapping on his desk for emphasis, said, “I want one page. (Tap!)  I want it crisp. (Tap!)  I want it clear. (Tap!) I want it concise. (Tap!)  And I need it back here by December 18 (Tap!), because we’re leaving for London the next day. I can read it on the plane”

That’s when it occurred to me that this was a test, because all this dude knew about me was that I threw a pretty good party. He was not about to put himself out for what might prove to be a bored, dilletante Dean’s wife with odd ideas and too much time on her hands.

I worked diligently over my pithy one-pager, scrupulously looking up all the biz-speak terms I didn’t know. I showed it to my husband (who was bilingual, speaking both social work and biz-speak), and asked him if it was good enough to submit to his pal. He replied, “Honey, this reads like you channeled an MBA”, which I found both hilarious and encouraging.  

So, thus fortified, I returned to the Dean’s office, sailed past the receptionist, and plunked down the one-pager, along with some audiotapes by the competition.  I mirrored the no-nonsense look he’d given me, leaned in and said, “It’s one page. (Tap!) It’s crisp. (Tap!) It’s clear. (Tap!) It’s concise. (Tap!) And it’s December 16th. (Tap!) 

It’s hard to express how much fun I had doing that.  He looked disoriented for a second or two, then smiled broadly. I grinned back.

Three weeks later, we met again, and he gave me some great direction, even making intros to a local businessman to partner up with.

On my way out the door, I asked him one final question: “For this meeting with this guy, will I need to dress in business attire?” He pondered a moment and said, “Nah. He’s business. You’re ‘talent’. You can wear whatever you want.”