Forward… Ever Forward!

Forward… Ever Forward!

Never Say No to New

70 is just a number. But in terms of mortality, it’s a decent number. I’d rather be younger, but I’m happy to be here. And at 6:25 this evening (2-27) I will be, in fact, 70.

At a family birthday party last weekend, my son Matt asked me what inspired my move from multi-image slideshows into video production as the primary medium for “audio-visual communications”.

We were waiting in the car for his bus back to NYC. Just as I was about to start spewing whatever popped into my head, his bus rolled up. As we said our goodbyes, I remember that I had written something about that move way back when. It was for the magazine “Multi-Images”, which was published by AMI, the Association for Multi-Image, the trade group for those in the multiple slide projector show business.

I found the article, scanned it, and sent the PDF to him the next day. It was written five years after I left my first business to start a second business on my own, bringing some staffers from the first business with me. Date of publication was 1987 or so. What I wrote was basically honest, although I simplified the motivations for starting over somewhat. Anyway, the PDF is below, and if you’re up for a magazine article sized read, you’re welcome to indulge and comment.

Voyage to Video by Brien Lee on Scribd

David Harnish: Loss of a Multimedia Giant

David Harnish: Loss of a Multimedia Giant

David Harnish, longtime manager of Walgreens’ Meetings and Media Department, has passed.

It is devastating for his wife Nancy, brother Paul, and his Walgreens co-workers of his expansive career at Wilmot Rd.

My fellow employees at Brien Lee Creative Solutions / VideoStory know how devastating this is for creative types throughout the Chicago and Milwaukee markets.

I last saw David at his retirement party in 2016. It was an amazing gathering of his fellow employees and bosses, closest suppliers, and by videotape, a procession of current and prior Walgreens CEOs.

I first met David when he and his then department head came up to Milwaukee when I was working at Visuals Plus. I had hosted a show and tell in Chicago of the then magic video box, the TVL. The TVL Director, as it was called, was a precursor to today’s big-time video graphics boards. It allowed for limited computer video editing, special effects, smooth speaker support, and timed audio-visuals shows comprised of images and a soundtrack, much like the enhanced slide shows that had preceded it.

The owner of Visuals Plus was attracted to the boss, naturally, but I figured out who the power player really was– David. He knew about technology; he seemed to understand meetings. After the boss duo had grabbed an elevator, I said to David, “I know who’s really running the show.” He smiled.

Over the course of the next few months, we hit it off, and what started as a new way to create slides became an opportunity to create a couple of “modules” for their upcoming managers meeting. Here’s the thing– David didn’t tell anyone he had contracted for this. Up until that time, he had used “rental modules” produced in multimedia widescreen slides to start and end his meetings. No one, not even the President of the company, was aware of what he was doing.

The two three-screen videos we produced were an opening Americana piece, showing how Walgreens was a coast-to-coast part of American lives, and an original rock song which featured a wide range of Walgreens people mouthing the words to the song, some in humorous situations.

They had a major impact. For one thing, they codified Walgreens’ corporate image. For another, they made the audience feel good about themselves and their role in the company.

That started a nearly 25 year partnership that bi-annually answered the question, “How do we top that?”

Every time a meeting was announced we met at the Greek Restaurant in Gurnee, Illinois to come up with a creative direction, usually based on a theme (for instance, “The Magic of Balance”) that the execs had dreamed up.

And everytime, there was technological and creative growth.

The other part of David’s impact on me personally came after Visuals Plus closed its doors suddenly in 1994. When 1995 arrived, I was working for TVL as a Marketing Director. It was a home office job, and by this time others at Visuals Plus had started their own companies. But I felt the rug had been pulled out from under me, and didn’t take any creative job offers that had come my way. In fact, I convinced TVL to rent an inexpensive office in Milwaukee so I could do Demos.

Then I got a call from David. “I have a meeting coming up.” We jointly decided it would be advantageous to bring the gang together once again. I started a new business, which David named “Brien Lee Creative Solutions” and we picked up where we left off, now fully into video meetings. Our best work was yet to come, including a mixed media stage show celebrating Walgreens’ 100th Anniversary. (I love anniversary shows).

David was always the guy Walgreens came to for communications advances. We partnered on many of these, like interactive DVD’s, starting up the in-house video network, e-learning systems, video compression for the network, non-linear video editing and more.

I was especially proud when David’s boss, Jim Schultz, invited my small company to attend David’s 25th anniversary party at Walgreens. It had incredible meaning for my staff and I.

In 2011, David was asked to do a timelapse video of the buildout of a new Duane Reade store at the Trump Building near Wall Street in New York. This was so successful, it lead to two more “time lapse stories” for store new stores in San Francisco and the “Net Zero Energy” store in Evanston, Illinois.

This brought us to 2014.

Those who knew him know what a talented, sweet guy he was. I know he worried about everything, partially because of his drive to be more creative, a better boss, a better husband and friend, and the best “Keeper of the Flame” Walgreens will ever see. The only words I could think of when I learned of his passing was “HE WAS A GIANT.” My condolences to Nancy, Paul, and all his friends and cohorts– we all are better for have knowing David.

I am attaching below two things: David’s 50th Birthday video, and a write-up I did in 2007 recalling most of the work we had done together until that point. Both bring back memories of David driving through empty ballrooms in his golf-cart. You’ll find both below.


Is Video an Opportunity for Seniors?

Is Video an Opportunity for Seniors?

The Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College has some not (to me) surprising news: more “seniors” are apt to start businesses than their younger counterparts.

I’ve started a bunch of businesses in my life: at 22, 33, and 46. Counting my latest production work and consulting, add to that list a start at age 65.

Why would seniors– many hitting retirement age– decide to go out on their own? There are a lot of obvious reasons.

  1. They’re out of work. Young people (mostly) don’t hire old people. And young people, thanks to forced retirements, “rightsizing”, downsizing, and good old fashion layoffs / firings, are indeed today’s management– except for the billionaire CEO / COO.
  2. They’re bored. Whether financially comfortable or not, they’re not intellectually challenged. Especially now that Lost if off the air.
  3. They want to explore another talent, and the discipline of “work” will kick their butts into exploring it seriously.
  4. They need the cash, but not too much of it. Combine social security with a part time or full time income and low overhead, and you have a low cost, low tax situation.
  5. They want to try working all by their lonesome.

There are benefits to working on your own, and there are definite downsides, too.

It’s Never Too Late for Seniors


  1. Set your own schedule (this can be a disadvantage too). I know a lot of people who work against the grain, working from 2am to 6am, or a half day, or three super-days. He internet makes this more possible.
  2. The internet. You can sell, promote, communicate, and make friends and clients on the internet (but you’ll still have to press the flesh occasionally.
  3. Low overhead. Play your cards right, and you can work at home, or in cheap real estate. If you make money, working at home is a legitimate deduction. It also saves on gas, phones, office machinery, and everything from rent to electrical bills. And you can use your own coffee and food.
  4. No distractions. If you are really committed, you can get more done in an hour than an office worker can get done in five. 
  5. Quick path to profitability. The above factors can add up to quick profitability. Low overhead and a good grasp of technology means you can create products from scratch, do most of the work yourself, and charge as little or as much as you want. Pricing is a big issue today. If you’re customers are corporate types, it’s going to get tough to get them to buy anything that requires a purchase authorization. On the ther hand, they know value when they see it. If your customers are consumers, all they care about is a perceived bargain, and your services or products will need to be value-priced. A $10,000 corporate video or website might only garner a grand or two from the less sophisticated buyer. But low overhead puts that money in your pocket, not in the pockets of suppliers.


  1. You can set your own hours. If you are undisciplined, this can be a problem. I remember in high school, we took a class on study habits. The one thing it took from it was “Take frequent study breaks.” I did.
  1. Distractions. Like the internet. Fantasy Football and YouTube beckon. You have to use the web to your advantage, not as a time waster. And if you’re living with someone, that other person may become a distraction of their plate isn;t full. And of course, you’re “unemployed status” makes you available for road trips, errands, and visits (which I love.) Just schedule them correctly and say no when you have to. Convince yourself that working for yourself is still work.
  1. A little success can lead to hubris. Spending all your income; forgetting to market the same way you did when you started; taking risks that can not be rewarded. Don’t let the pink cloud become a black hole.

But the fact is, it can be done. 

To succeed you need laser focus, commitment, and a very positive attitude. Your product and it’s market– not your business– must be your mission. You must believe– and become– the best at what you do. Anyone can do this– including Seniors.

More on that next time.

The Corporate Storyteller

The Corporate Storyteller

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a series of articles detailing a number of trends in corporate communications.

One trend they sighted was the increased reliance on something called “Corporate Storytellers”. These are folks who work with companies to unearth their past, often after years of conglomeration, buyouts, downsizing, and more. The story emphasizes the use of live narratives, even original songs, to help reinstate a sense of heritage, purpose and belonging.


Another trend they focused on some time back was the “Tribute” video—a life story on video or slides of an accomplished person, living or deceased, who has impacted a company, a group, or even a family.

Well, we all know trends come and go, and we also know (those of us that have been around a bit) that trends are cyclical. One thing that seems to be a steady interest?  People to want to rediscover their roots.

That’s a healthy thing—at home, and especially in business. And telling the true stories of companies and their people is a great way to rekindle a company’s purpose and passion.

People Want to Belong

People want to belong. People want to believe. People want to work for the common good. Ignore these needs, and you have people that will substitute these needs with personal agendas, or even worse, counter-corporate agendas. They have to fill the vacuum!

We believe there is no more powerful tool than the well crafted, well documented, well produced, honest and entertaining…. VideoStory.

That’s the name of my production company. Why? We succeed most when we tell the stories of our clients in ways that make that material motivating, accessible, believable, and purposeful. People want to believe in people. They need heroes, role models and road signs. You can provide them that with the right kinds of stories.

Case Histories

We helped a mushrooming corporation bring its various acquisitions worldwide together in a common belief system, when we pointed out that the company’s growth could be liked to the growth of a tree. Why a tree? The company started in wooden products, developed forests, moved into paper, and moved beyond paper into products that provided many of the same functions. The company still owned and nurtured forests. A foreman in a Washington State location took us (and our cameras) on a tour, and we were able to build in logical departures that helped bring together the diverse divisions, their people, and even their local communities into an understanding of the company’s heritage and values, and the part they could play in its future.

One of the Country’s leading Marine engine manufacturers celebrated a major anniversary. Having gone from being owned and operated by the engineer that developed the company’s engines, to a division of a major international corporation, there was a disconnect between the company’s family heritage and perceived issues about the nature of corporate owners. The story of the founder, his genius, his quirks, his marketing techniques, the struggles to grow, the need for funding and the acquisition, and the public’s ongoing devotion to the product and company helped that anniversary become a true celebration—of the company’s past, it’s future, and the dedication of the current owners.

And many times, we’ve had the opportunity to show that the philosophies of the founder of a large drug store chain have been the framework for the company’s ongoing success over the course of 100 years, through new merchandising trends, health care changes, and even in the wake of amazing growth. We’ve produced documentaries, original songs, and video communications both silly and sublime to help keep the ship on course.

Learning From The Past

We learn from the lessons of the past. But those lessons must be recorded, codified, visualized, and made entertaining AND meaningful. And they must be told with consistency.

That’s why we produce VideoStories. We know of no better way to convey the essence of a company, its foundations, its new directions, and the role its people play than through VideoStories distributed on DVD, CD-ROM, tape, TV, the Web, or within PowerPoint presentations. Send them in an email. Send them a DVD. Tell your dealers or your employees the story, so they get onboard and sale with their captain.

As you consider your future in video storytelling, and as you read our book, remember that it’s the people that count the most. It’s attitude, dedication, teamwork and just rewards. If a company can tell this story, I hope you get to tell it.

New Video Addition: Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company

New Video Addition: Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company

You don’t have to have giant budgets or big crews when the story and existing resources are good. This video was produced on a modest budget, but did wonders for the company’s image and sales. A chocolate company sourcing its beans from The Republic of Ghana in Western Africa had such a story.

Omanhene cocoa products are custom-designed for the specialty coffee industry and are available on a wholesale basis to the trade.  We service coffee roasters, cafés, coffee supply distributorships, restaurants, stores and offices.

About the video, owner Steve Wallace said, “I give Brien and his firm my highest recommendation without reservation. They executed a short video 3-5 minutes on time, on budget and with great narrative effect on a short time frame. Great experience in the field which works to the client’s advantage. Understands that video must work for the client — not just for their own creative portfolio. A pleasure to work with — high integrity.”

The video for Omanhene Cocoa can be found here.