What Richard Laurence Baron Taught Me About Marketing … and Life

Dec 2011

LAwIf you’re not a member of the Houston marketing community, the name Richard Laurence Baron probably doesn’t ring a bell.

If you are, then you’d probably agree that if the role of Elder Statesman can be said to exist among us, Richard would have to have been it.

A brilliant copywriter and marketer—actually he preferred the term “ad guy”— through and through, Richard became a friend, a mentor, a willing source of help and advice to all he met, novices and veterans alike. He volunteered tirelessly with local organizations and took a deep, hands-on interest in the rapidly changing world of the marketer.

You’ll notice I speak of Richard in the past tense. On December 29, 2011, my dear friend and mentor died peacefully at home while, of all things, talking on the phone.

Yes, Richard was a communicator to his very last breath.

I met Richard—or “RLB” as he signed his emails—just a couple of years ago. He reached out to me on LinkedIn with a message that went something like “Hey, young whippersnapper, I just came across your profile, and it looks like you and I have a lot in common. Let’s get together for lunch and talk shop.”

We did meet for lunch, and I became an instant member of the RLB Fan Club.Richard was a giant of a man, both in stature (he probably stood about 6’7″) and in spirit.

Talking to RLB was like getting a shot of oxygen: his indefatigably positive outlook and passionate curiosity about the world around him was contagious.He was a fantastic sounding board for ideas and always a wonderful source of advice … not always asked for, but unfailingly appreciated.

I could go on and on about Richard’s awesomeness, but the purpose of this post issharing the lessons I learned from him. A complete list could fill several books, but these are the first few that come to mind.

1. Be yourself boldly. Richard had a passion for (in no particular order) Hawaiian shirts, road trips, fine art, good beers, and pretty much anything that aroused his curiosity. He shared his passions freely and they became an integral part of his persona, both on his superb blog Signalwriter and in personal interactions.RLB was who he was and made no apologies for any of it … much to the delight of those who knew him.

2. You can’t go wrong with humility. On the flip side, Richard was a deeply humble man (though his wife might disagree) who would much rather enchant you with a good story than impress you with his accomplishments. RLB laughed at himself often and without restraint. His distinguished career was strewn with awards and accolades … but to Richard these seemed to be nothing more than a few among many colorful tiles that helped make up the Technicolor mosaic of his life.

LAW23. Be a hub of conversation. While I never saw Richard perform as a speaker, I did attend several panel discussions on which he served as moderator. He was brilliant at it. He guided the conversation subtly, allowing the panelists to shine each in his or her own way, interjecting his own questions or comments only when the conversation began to lag. And in doing so, he unintentionally stole the show every time.

4. Change happens—get on board or get left behind. With a long and distinguished career in traditional advertising behind him, Richard could have easily rested on his laurels and coasted into retirement (whatever that would have looked like) as a respected print copywriter. But he didn’t. When the tide began to turn towards interactive marketing, RLB embraced the challenge with his trademark passion and curiosity. He became an effective and sought-after Web writer, schooling himself on the finer points of SEO, usability, and content strategy as he went along. And he was never afraid to ask a “dumb” question.

If you’re still with me, I apologize for the length of this post, but when one writes a tribute to a guy like Richard, one could fill a thousand pages and still not do him justice.

I’m still trying to deal with the fact that 2012, and all years that follow, will be a year without Richard—without his booming laughs, his bear hugs, his rapier-sharp wit and his brilliant insights. But that sadness pales in comparison to the joy and gratitude I feel when I say “He was my friend.”

Thanks for everything, Richard.

Note: A Celebration of Life will be held for Richard on Saturday, January 7, from 1 to 5 pm at The Pavillion on Gessner, 2500 North Gessner, Houston, Texas 77080. In lieu of flowers, his family asks that you make a donation to your favorite charity.

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