Some anniversaries are worth forgetting. Like how it’s now been 15 months since we shuttered our PR agency’s office and went virtual, as though we were all sucked into a game of Tron. Hooray..?
But for other anniversaries, you’ve got to party like it’s 1999. Or, more accurately, 2011. Ten years ago today, the first book I co-wrote with longtime friend Gael Fashingbauer Cooper hit store shelves. Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the ‘70s and ‘80s, is a pop-culture encyclopedia that let us focus on a lot of the things from our childhoods we missed, but still remembered.
The day of the launch was a culmination of two years of work, beginning with our proposal and marketing plan, then finding an agent, landing a deal with Penguin Perigee (now part of Penguin Random House), starting and feeding a regular blog, interviewing the people behind iconic toys, food, TV shows and apparel, sourcing images and products for a photo shoot, then writing and editing the thing. We each took about 100 topics and wrote first and second drafts, then passed them over to the other person for editing.
In the end, we covered more than 200 items, from After School Specials to ZOOM. It was a lot of work, but was a phenomenal ride, both because of our collaboration and the subject matter. How do you have a bad day when you’re writing about the Six Million Dollar Man, Love’s Baby Soft, Sea-Monkeys, Quisp cereal or the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle? Spoiler alert: you don’t.
Pop culture has always been a tremendous part of my life. (Don’t tell my mom and dad, but I once skipped serving at Saturday-evening mass so I could stay home to watch “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park” on TV.) And writing and promoting “Pudding Pops” has been a high point. I remember it all, in vivid detail: when we signed the deal, when we got our advanced reader copies and when the first box of honest-and-for-true books arrived on my doorstep. Or when we zipped to New York the week after the book launched to appear on the TODAY show. That was a bucket-list moment, for sure. You know that pinch-me-is-this-real? feeling you get walking down the steps at Rockefeller Center heading into hair and make-up, while the cast of the Glee Project is rehearsing their version of Katy Perry’s “Firework” in the stairwell? Or was that just us?
On the surreal scale, nothing beat when we met hosts Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford before our segment, and Kathie Lee shook our hands and apologized for using hand sanitizer. “I was just petting a lemur,” she explained, as if that was a reason we’d relate to. “You’re trying to remember the ‘70s and ‘80s?” she deadpanned. “I’m trying to forget them.”
Gael and I were indeed trying to remember the ‘70s and ‘80s. And now, 10 years later, we’re trying to remember writing about the ‘70s and ‘80s. But those memories come easily and colorfully, in ‘70s autumn gold and avocado hues. In the end, we did close to 90 interviews or features, including the Washington Post, Salon and NPR, while also meeting so many people at book signings who were just as passionate about those bygone decades as we are. And we got to do it together, along with our spouses, kids and co-workers.
In fact, this journey down memory lane has inspired me to launch a new blog series, called Pop Culture Incorporated, which takes a look at the intersection of pop culture and corporate culture. What can we learn from Ted Lasso’s management style? How can businesses apply profit-boosting advice from South Park’s Underpants Gnomes? Despite (or maybe because of) her many flaws, is Leslie Knope from Parks & Rec actually one of the best co-workers in TV history?
“Life moves pretty fast,” opined ‘80s philosopher Ferris Bueller. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” There’s a huge cache of useful business wisdom to be mined from pop culture, if we follow Ferris’s advice and take the time to look around. Hopefully, we’ll uncover some applicable, actionable and entertaining ideas along the way.