Yesterday someone who had a great impact on my work life died. I don’t know if Dave Winter was sick for long – we were out of touch. For years. But today I’m thinking about Dave and remembering what was unique and special about him on this earth. I’m sorry he’s gone so early (he was 57) and I am sad for his wife and children.
Dave was one of the best damn marketers I have ever met. He knew how to spin a product, and he was cynical and smart enough to recognize someone else’s spin too.
Dave taught me everything I know about Marketing. I still use what I learned working with him almost 17 years ago. Just last month I helped a client create an awesome tagline for their brand. I wish I could have told Dave that I felt him helping me think that one through.
Dave’s the one who taught me to ask “SO WHAT?” everytime I wrote something. He used to put those two words, in caps, in red, in the column of my copy. Right alongside what I thought was my most brilliant copywriting. He taught me to have the conviction of my words.
Dave taught me to “sell the system”. He made the link between customer service, and product experience, and product features crystal clear. He unapologetically targetted key audiences and smoozed them until they couldn’t help but love us. And he ignored the often whiny, but unprofitable, folks at the bottom of the buying heap.
Dave taught me to have several creative concepts rendered, and then prop the graphic designs up in your office and stare at them for a few weeks. He knew if you had the right eyes (and he did) the right one would stand out real fast. And the others would just irritate the hell out of you.
Dave used to brainstorm with me in the smoking lounge (companies had them then – actually inside the building). Dave hated the corporate ties that bind. He taught me the meaning of the expression, “it’s easier to ask forgiveness, then to get permission.” If he thought his instincts were right (often they were) he went ahead.
Dave was clever, but he wasn’t subtle. He expected you to take him as he was. I remember my first performance review with him. I was terrified – I had no idea what he was going to tell me, but I knew it would be brutally honest and direct. His review was glowing – he thought I was doing a terrific job. When I told him that I was surprised by that, and admitted my earlier trepidation – he laughed. “If you were doing a bad job, I’d have fired you by now,” he said. Pure Dave.
Dave was building a new house when we worked together. Every day at lunch we’d drive over to check on the workers and see how it was coming together. It was the first time I’d seen a house being built from the ground up. I was privy to his decisions on interior fixtures. The rooms were going to be big and the ceilings tall (Dave was a big guy). I saw a different side of Dave – the family man part – on our excursions to the house.
There was a side of Dave – a more vulnerable side, that he didn’t often show at work. I’ll never forget the time he got angry about a project – felt I wasn’t pushing our translators hard enough to meet the deadlines. He paced and he shouted. I was terrified. Next day, I determined to tell him of his impact. He was home sick with a cold (in the new house.) He told me to come over. We had tea. I told him that I was intimidated when he was angry. He was shocked and surprised (did Dave not know he was a big guy?) He was actually mortified. He promised never to pace and shout at me again. And he never did.
My few years working for Dave had a large impact on me. Because he was smart and demanding, I learned quickly and I never missed a deadline or made a careless error. I learned more about Marketing, from a man who proudly reminded me he was a “talking boot” in a previous life (in London, Ontario I think).