It was like the baseball gods were showing off just for him, in honor of his first day of big league baseball. And surely the baseball gods were smiling that day, because the next batter was Larry Brown, and he was a scrawny, scrappy 23-year-old kid who’d never hit a big league home run. And yet he stepped to the plate and became just the second player in baseball history to connect and give his team four consecutive home runs.
― Tucker Elliot, writer
Last week, I attended a content marketing conference in Cleveland, Ohio. It was my third trip to the Midwestern city, which is in the eastern time zone – and not in the central time zone as I had mistakenly thought the first time I visited. In September 2013, I flew to Cleveland to cover a panel on mobility at a Cleveland Clinic facility on the outskirts of the city. Cleveland Clinic, by the way, is the largest employer in the city, and being a world-class healthcare system, the region is not quite the rust belt that people outside of the state still make it out to be. Last year, I attended the same content marketing conference, but with colleagues. This time, I was by myself.
Cheering on the Tribe
On the way to my hotel last Tuesday evening, my taxi passed by Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians. I’d whizzed past the stadium all three visits. As I figuratively pressed my nose against the window, I exclaimed to my driver that clearly the Indians were playing at home tonight. I didn’t have an opportunity to see them last year because they weren’t in town and the previous year I flew out the night they were playing. As I grilled my hapless taxi driver, who decidedly was not a baseball fan, about whether the game was sold out and how long of a walk it was, I seriously contemplated attending the game – even if by myself. The clerk at the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel assured me it was only a 10-minute walk to the stadium and weeknight games often afforded plenty of seats. Carpe diem!
So off I went! Quicken Arena, which is home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, sits adjacent to Progressive Field, which opened the 1994 season and is apparently undergoing phase two of a renovation – more food concepts, modernizations, and heritage and branding elements. Apparently, the impressive (read: large) scoreboard is new this year. The gates that lead you to the bleacher section and the left-field and third-base side of the field offer a view, albeit obstructed by iron gates, but I decided I wanted the experience of being at the game. I got the $14 bleacher ticket because I was told that I could stand in the designated areas to watch the game as well as sit in the bleachers. My long-sleeved shirt and the 84-degree temp, which never dipped until after 10pm, motivated me to buy a Cleveland Indians t-shirt with a 1901 imprint. It was perfect weather for a night game. I got to see former Oakland A’s outfielder Coco Crisp in action, he who was unceremoniously traded back to his former team. It just wasn’t the same seeing him in an Indians’ uniform, though I cheered him on loudly with the crowd.
The Indians played the Houston Astros, who put up a three-spot after a Marwin Gonzalez home run early in the game. Designated hitter Carlos Santana hit one out for the Tribe, which was celebrated with a quick burst of fireworks behind the big scoreboard. The Tribe put up a fight and added a third run in the bottom of the ninth, but a weak grounder to first ended the game with a 4-3 loss. Unfortunately, I didn’t go to Heritage Park, in the center field area, which houses the Indians’ Hall of Fame. The most famous Indians player, in my opinion, is Bob Feller, but I’d forgotten other more recent greats including Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, Sandy Alomar, Jr., Mike Hargrove, and Carlos Baerga. Perhaps that means I’ll have to come back and check out the Hall of Fame. As I walked back to the hotel, I patted myself on the back because while I wanted to go, I didn’t want to go by myself. I didn’t have anyone to talk to, to say, hey, you guys have our guy Coco, but I really enjoyed the fact that I went. And saw a game at another MLB stadium.
CMI World 2016: What I learned from Michael Jr.
The next two days kept me inside the Cleveland Convention Center (300 W. Lakeside Avenue) with educational sessions on content marketing. The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) Content Marketing World 2016 hosted more than 4,000 attendees this year, which is a manageable size compared to my parent company’s behemoth Annual Conference, which brings in more than 45,000 attendees and exhibitors. I learned about personas, the funnel, being counter-intuitive, and driving ROI with content. I attended morning keynotes and five sessions each of the two days. I got a Bluetooth speaker for sitting in on a vendor demo. I got another stress ball and two blue rubber men iPhone holders (yes!), even as I had sworn that I was done with exhibit hall freebies.
I enjoyed the Thursday morning keynote by Michael Jr. and the Thursday afternoon closing keynote by Mark Hamill. Full disclosure: I didn’t know who Michael Jr. was – he’s a comedian who has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Comedy Central, and many other coveted venues. Although seemingly an aberration for a keynote speaker for a content marketing audience, he was ideal; his heartfelt underlying theme spoke to our professional work, but more importantly, to our lives. He takes his comedy show to prisons and schools. He met a grandmother who told Michael Jr. that her grandson, whom she accompanied to his show, had been abused by his mother. That experience made him so fearful he always wore a Spiderman outfit as protection. Michael Jr. reached out to him and the little boy warmed up and as they played together he took off his mask. I checked myself at this point so as not to openly cry.
The more Michael Jr. spoke – in between his jokes – the more he commanded respect from me and the rest of the audience. He explained that as a comedian, you operate with a “what” and a “why.” The what is the story or set-up and the why is the punchline, which is something unpredictable from the set-up. He turned that around to be applicable to our profession but also to life in general. Joe Polizzi, founder of CMI, had seen a YouTube of Michael Jr., which inspired him to reach out and ask Michael Jr. to be a keynote speaker this year. Here is the transcript of the video below:
“The key isn’t to know ‘what’. The key is to know ‘why’. Because when you know your ‘why’, you have options on what your ‘what’ can be. For instance, my ‘why’ is to inspire people to walk in purpose. My ‘what’ is stand-up comedy. My ‘what’ is writing books. My ‘what’ can be going out with friends to eat. In fact, another ‘what’ that has moved me towards my ‘why’ is a web series that we have now called Break Time. So every Wednesday at 3 o’clock – you should subscribe to the channel – we do a series called Break Time on YouTube. At 3 o’clock we drop a new episode. One episode in particular – I’m about to show you a clip to – we were in Winston-Salem. Break Time – this is how it works. I travel the country, doing stand-up comedy, probably an hour, hour-and-a-half. And in the middle of my show, I’ll just sit down and start talking to the audience. And funny just happens. Or I’ll just meet somebody who’s really interesting. I met this one guy and he said that he teaches music at a school. All right, you teach music. Can you sing?” He then showed the clip, and the man, E. Daryl Duff, sang a wonderful rendition of Amazing Grace, which Michael Jr. had requested.
Then Michael Jr. requested a version of him singing the same song, but now he has learned that his uncle just got out of jail and he had gotten shot as a kid. He wanted to see a “‘hood” version, so to speak, to see if it exists. “Let me see what you got,” he entreated. So Duff sang an elevated, deeply soulful version of “Amazing Grace,” which resulted in a standing ovation from the audience and a man coming up to give him a hug.
“Here’s the thing,” Michael Jr. told the other audience in the YouTube video. “The first time when I asked him to sing, he knew what he was doing. The second time I asked him to sing, he knew why he was doing it. When you know your ‘why’, your ‘what’ has more impact – because you’re walking in, or toward, your purpose.” Wow, powerful stuff. You can see the YouTube video here.
CMI World 2016: What I learned from Mark Hamill
Okay, well who can top that keynote? Mark Hamill, the closing keynote Thursday late afternoon, tried. Another full disclosure: I never saw any of the Star Wars movies. I never saw the first one when it first came out in 1977 – and it was the most anticipated movie that year. I even remember my friend Joanie Stadtherr excitedly talking about its release. Never saw any of the subsequent series or episodes. Just never got into it at all. Now the love in the audience was palpable. These were Star Wars fans. They may be content marketers by day, but they probably attended the premier wielding light sabers.
But despite my deficiency, I found Hamill entertaining. He wasn’t as profound or funny as Michael Jr., but I came away with a couple of thoughtful gems. Hamill talked about the movie industry and how difficult it is – how the rejections come often and they never stop. Years ago, he said he knew an actress who was incredibly talented, not unlike Meryl Streep. But she couldn’t handle the rejections. And so she left Hollywood, got married, and lived a happy life. “Tenacity is more important than talent,” Hamill revealed. You really have to want to do it, that nothing else will do. And you have to go in with the stark but real possibility that you will either break even or lose money. That advice applies not just to our careers or our professional aspirations, but to life. I also felt it was applicable for me as a writer.
When asked to give us advice, Hamill entreated us to follow our own inspiration: “Find what inspires you. Then re-purpose it through your own prism. Everything old is new again.” He added that he wasn’t implying that we steal ideas or works, but that we should follow our instincts. Finally, when asked if he was happy with his life in retrospect, he responded, “I’m never satisfied, but I aim to be less dissatisfied.” I liked that. Contentedness can lead to complacency, if one allows it to. So stay on your toes and seek greater fulfillment, greater good, greater things to accomplish for the good of humanity and our planet. I came away from the day’s keynotes feeling warm and fuzzy inside. Now when was the last time anyone who has attended a work-related conference can say that?
Architecture and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument
When I left the conference, I took a detour back to my hotel and snapped some photos of Memorial Square and nearby buildings. Downtown Cleveland has some architecturally stunning buildings that make one nostalgic for what it used to look like at the turn of the 20th century and in the 1930s. A woman whose languid voice reminded me of Edie Brickell of the New Bohemians sang with her guitar on a stage set up on the Square.
I stopped to take photos and learned about the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument (3 Public Square, 216.621.3710, open daily 10am to 6pm), which houses a small museum at the base of the memorial. The monument, which comprises a 125-foot column of black Quincy stone atop and the Memorial Room and esplanade at the base, commemorates the American Civil War. Atop the column rises the statue of the Goddess of Freedom, defended by the Shield of Liberty, which “signifies the essence of the Nation for which Cuyahoga County veterans were willing to and did give their lives.” The column has six foliated bronze bands listing the names of 30 battles in which the soldiers fought. Four bronze statues depicting battle scenes grace each side of the esplanade to honor the Navy, Artillery, Infantry and Cavalry.
The interior of the monument was built in 1894 but was recently renovated. Four bronze relief sculptures grace the museum – the Women’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Aid Society, Beginning of the War in Ohio, Emancipation of the Slaves, and End of the War at City Point, Va. Busts of Gen. James Barnett and Architect/ Sculptor Levi T. Scofield, together with six officers, are also displayed in the museum. I appreciated seeing this little piece of Cleveland, Ohio, history, and it made me realize how deeply impacted this region was by the Civil War.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum: ‘Louder than Words’
My last day in Cleveland, I was able to pack in a quick trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, a hop, skip, and a jump away from the convention center. Whereas the special exhibit on my first visit was about the Rolling Stones, the current special exhibit was called “Louder than Words: Rock. Power. Politics.” A great subject that lured me in.
I didn’t have much time, though I re-acquainted myself with some sections of the permanent exhibit and new installations, particularly the outfits of icons such as Beyonce and Taylor Swift, which weren’t there when I came in 2012. I imagine they will have to add more rooms to accommodate future rock and roll bands. At any rate, Cheap Trick was one of the 2016 inductees, which made my missing their concert – hosted by the CMI conference the night before – a regretted decision. Chicago and Steve Miller also were inducted this past April. One of my all-time favorite songs that still brings back vivid memories of summer in 1972 – retrieving guppies from Success Lake, bike rides in the hot afternoons, going to town to buy 45’s at Smith’s Drugstore – is “Saturday In the Park.” So, I had to take a picture of a display of one of my favorite songs.
Will I return to Cleveland ever again? I’m not sure if I’ll be granted permission to return to the conference next year or ever, so I’m glad I got to see the Tribe play in Progressive Field and that I made it to the museum again.