Never underestimate the power of spying.
I learned this a few years back when I had been invited to talk and present to the (infamous) Sergio Zyman, head bottle-washer for Coca Cola. I was working at Leo Burnett and just completed a terrific campaign with my Art Director for the launch of the hi-octane soda, Surge! Through a series of nutty commercials based on the idea of teen boys "mucking about" the launch had been extraordinarily successful. Out-gunning Mountain Dew in a mere few months.
And Mr. Zyman requested our presence in Atlanta.
I had heard many stories of how hard he was on his staff, and how he was a very difficult individual to connect with, he was after all the gentleman who almost single-handedly upturned the Mothership Coke brand with a flavor overhaul. So as a part of my prep I did a little research on him. This was pre-google so I had to trudge through our stacked Leo Burnett library for snippets of information.
One fact leapt out at me. Mr. Zyman was an avid, obsessive runner!
So was I!
Come the day of the meeting we entered the Coca Cola boardroom with my LB "heavy breathers" and a group of equally important Coca Cola executypes. Zyman walked in and immediately commanded the attention of all those looking at his scrawny, imposing Mexican self.
"OK who are these people that created this campaign? And what drugs are you on?" He barked.
"Well, my only drug is running ... " I whorishly mentioned.
The room froze as he stood up.
"You run? What is your best 10K time?"
"Actually it is very fast, I ran a 29:55 when I was 26!" (Not one to be shy.)
"Wow. We must run together! Bring your stuff. I want to beat you!"
By now the powerhouses on both sides of the tables were aghast at the chatty buddybuddyiness going on. We talked for a few more minutes while the pins endlessly dropped around the room. Two runners being ... well ... runners. After that I could do no wrong as we went into the business of the day.
The moral here is pretty obvious: Sometimes a little knowledge can help you make inroads in surprising ways.
I never did get to run with him, but I know as he went out for his jog (sorry run) the next day, he remembered me.