The ten things they don’t teach you at USC


Oct 24, 2017 • David Morgenstern • Blog


Wise words from David Morgenstern, one of the members of the Advisory Board for Morningstar Communications. David's wise counsel, gleaned from his 40+ year history in advertising, has been invaluable as we celebrate our 20th anniversary this month.  Please enjoy the top tips he shared recently with students in a graduate program at USC.  This is timeless and relevant for marketing and communications professionals at every career stage.  Thanks for letting us share this, David.  Onward and upward.  - Eric

Some years ago, I made this presentation about some real-world advice to a USC graduate marketing class filled with smart, ambitious students, taught by my friend, Larry Londre. These lessons still hold true today.

  1. Return every call, text, and email quickly. Show up on time, even if you’re the only one there. Dress like you deserve your salary. Believe me, these three things will put you ahead of a surprising number of people. Remember birthdays. Acknowledge the assistants, and the secretaries, the coordinators, and the mailroom folks. Marketing communications is a people business. And people never forget how they are treated. Karma is real.
  2. Every day you place a brick in the tower of your reputation. Everything you do, big and small, either adds or subtracts from that tower. For example, here are five words that you might like people to use to describe you: speed, accuracy, passion, imagination, and integrity. Or maybe you have a different list of words, that’s certainly OK. But ask yourself before turning off the light and going to sleep: “What have I done today to deserve those words?”
  3. Be careful of what you say in elevators, in restrooms, on airplanes, on social media, and in casual conversation. He could be the client’s spouse. She could be the boss’s sister. She could be your competitor’s accountant. He could be FB friends with your rival.
  4. Whenever more than 8-10 people get together to do anything, something is going to get screwed up. Get used to it.
  5. Don’t care who solves it. Just get it solved.
  6. Learn how to tell a story. Every presentation, every report, every deck, every Twitter campaign, every video or commercial—it’s all about a story. Stories are how human beings make sense of the world. Think drama, character, conflict, catharsis, resolution. Read Dickens. Read Tom Wolfe. Read children’s books. How does the author get you to turn the page? Pay attention to how CNN and FOX turn a news event into a story with a beginning, a middle, an end…along with a logo and theme music that cues your emotions. How does a podcast keep you engaged while you’re standing on a noisy subway platform? If you want to succeed, be able to tell stories in ways that capture your audience’s attention—and charm (or frighten or inspire) them into staying with you long enough for you to deliver your message.
  7. When emotions are running high, make sure yours are running low.
  8. Nobody wins every time. You will lose for the wrong reasons. You will also sometimes win for the wrong reasons. Life is unfair: So learn to lose with dignity. Also, learn to win with dignity. That means no excuses. No crybabies. No bragging. No trashing. Learn how to move on.
  9. Proofread. Spell-check. Be extremely careful of “reply all” and double-check which documents you are attaching. This is from someone who has learned the hard way.
  10. Good enough, isn’t. There is going to be someone who will sleep less and work harder, who will give up their weekend, and give it one more shot to make it great. That is the person that I will bet on to win the pitch.
  11. Say thank you. When somebody does something to help you, makes a referral, or supports you in a meeting, take the time to send an email, text, or handwritten note. Or go old-school and call them on the phone. Better yet, seek them out privately and tell them face-to-face. When you hear that someone has trouble in their life, or has gotten fired, or failed spectacularly, do the same. Not only is this the right thing to do, but the recipient will never forget your kindness, because it’s so seldom done.
  12. Be brave. The world is full of people with conventional ideas who go along with the crowd and never make a difference. It’s the mavericks and the dreamers and iconoclasts who move the world forward. It’s how progress—and careers—are made. Whether you are creator of the idea, or you are the person who can approve or reject that idea, keep that in mind. Being brave isn’t easy—not when you’ve got your rent, car payments, or your kids’ private school tuition on the line. But every once in a while, when you have (or hear) a great idea that scares and thrills you, gather your courage, put some fire in your eyes, and walk out on that limb. Hey, you might even be right.
  13. Over deliver. You have received an excellent education here at USC. You are all achievers, and the corporate world is waiting for your contributions. You will quickly discover that excellence (not competence) is the minimum of what you must do in return for your salary, organic breakroom snacks, and expensing cocktails with co-workers. But know this: Nobody ever got promoted, recognized, or rewarded for doing their job well. The only way to become the go-to woman or man for your team, your boss, and your clients, is to do more than what you are asked for, do it better, and do it faster. Everyone will remember where the good stuff came from. That’s how you get raises, promotions, recognition, and a better job. That’s how you will make a difference. That’s why, instead of writing “Ten Things They Didn’t Teach You At USC”… I wrote 13.


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