Most FOPs know that I’m no fan of April Fool’s Day, but the folks at Airborne took advantage of the serendipitous timing of the day with the opening of the Wireless Industry’s semi-annual CTIA conference to pull off another one of our major “What Will They Think of Next?!” Pow! operations.
Here was the plan—parodying the sponsorship overload of most such conferences, we printed up 1,000 stickers proclaiming Airborne Mobile to be the official sponsor of the event’s elevators, bathroom breaks, shoeshine stands, garbage cans, coffee carts…even all the event’s signage itself. The stickers were bold, colorful and impossible to miss. They were also backed by easy-to-remove adhesive, so we wouldn’t get busted for vandalizing property. Here's one:
To cut as wide a swath as possible, we also printed up generic stickers with blank space so we could customize with a Sharpie as we went along (a la “This Escalator Sponsored by Airborne Mobile” and “This Water Cooler Sponsored by Airborne Mobile”). No inanimate object could escape our whirlwind. Check out a couple more pix, and keep reading after ‘em.
We did a dry run on March 31st, and it went like clockwork. Running a covert operation with four Airborne cohorts was a blast, the shoeshine people loved us (we gave ‘em each $20 to decorate their stands), and we watched with glee as our handiwork brought smiles to the faces of those who passed them by on the relatively quiet pre-conference day.
We were all set for full-press deployment the following morning. We were to gather at 8:00 a.m. on the official opening day of the conference (April 1) and plaster the place; a visually-explosive operation back-stopped by a hilarious press release that would hit the wire at 9:00 a.m., proclaiming Airborne as the new title sponsor of the entire CTIA conference (overshadowing giants like Microsoft, RIM, Samsung, Motorola and their brethren), and filled with made-up laudatory quotes attributed to the association’s CEO and President Steve Largent.
But then, just as I’m leaving the Convention Center for the day, someone asks me: “Did you hear what happened to Mark?”
Tragically, sadly, my friend Mark Desautels, the high-ranking CTIA exec who shepherded Airborne into the wireless space over a decade ago when we were a wobbly, 10-person start-up, had died late the day before of a massive heart attack while playing golf.
Despite months of planning, with only hours to go before pressing “Play,” there was to other choice—out of respect to Mark, his family, Steve Largent and CTIA, we aborted the operation and cancelled the press release.
The moral of the story? In business, in life, no matter what your plans, the only one that matters is to do the right thing. You can cross all your “t”s, dot all your “i”s, check and double-check, and sometimes your best laid plans have to be laid off due to circumstances beyond your control. While there was a very brief debate about us going ahead with the operation, we realized that the downside of being considered a bunch of insensitive idiots grossly outweighed any upside we could’ve mustered.
Desautels was a great man, with a history of successful lobbying for an industry he helped grow. A truly good-natured soul who would’ve roared at the sticker/sponsorship stunt, he is now linked to it, if only within the confines of this blog.
Mark, you will be missed. This one’s for you.