Takeaways from Peoria’s former mayor and iconic businessman…

I worked for Jim Maloof so long ago that I hesitate to name the dates. Let’s just say that I was his first marketing manager. I was under 30 and had been working for the Observer newspaper. Jim offered me twice what the Observer was paying me… I, of course, said, “Yes!” (I still wasn’t making 2013-level minimum wage.) I was young and smart enough, but basically I was in the right place at the right time. The next three years were like a “masters program” in advertising—learning from an expert.

He was a great guy. I loved working for him (and for Michael, too.) Of course, it helps if you can harmonize on “Danny Boy” at the drop of a hat. Here are the “Jim Principles”—some of the things I still think of when I reflect on working for Jim.

Always Trying New Ideas
Jim was always thinking. And he was always imagining the ways that he could borrow, adapt or transform the marketing ideas that other companies were using for his business, Jim Maloof/Realtor. I think that every time he saw a new idea—in any industry—he asked himself, “How can I use that for my business?”

We did the “Vial of Life” program—a program Jim sent me to Indianapolis to find out about, which involved putting vials with critical medical information about the residents of a house into the freezers, so that in the case of a fire, the information was safe. We tied yellow ribbons around all the trees on all the homes for sale in Peoria when we were waiting for hostages to be released.

Takeaway: Jim didn’t analyze it—he just did it. If it didn’t work as well as he thought it would, he moved on and we tried something else.

The Personal Touch
There is nothing more powerful than calling someone by name, unless it is asking about their spouse or children and calling them by name. Jim was the king of remembering names. When Jim ran for office, I can remember discussing his chances with others in my office at CILCO. I said, “Jim will win, because he can walk into a Steak ‘n Shake and call half the people in there by first name, and then ask how their wife and kids are… by name!” He might be wrong about the wife and kids’ names 30 percent of the time, but people loved him for trying.

And, of course, the notes. He had special notecards made up. Every morning when he started working (which was really early) the first thing he did was go through the newspaper and clip out articles of people he knew. Then he slipped them into the card and made a quick note. How many people over the years received a congratulatory note from Jim? It had to be tens of thousands.

Takeaway: If you remember me, I’ll probably remember you too—when I’m ready to buy!

Making Strong Men Cry and Women Weep
Jim understood the power in the common emotions that are the touchstones for us all. He never just wanted to “say something corporate” when it came to the 4th of July, Christmas or other holidays or events. He wanted to touch the readers’ hearts—because Jim knew that when everything else is equal, the heartstrings are tied directly to the purse strings.

When it came to writing copy, I always thought of it as “making strong men cry and women weep.” I knew if I was tearing up while I was writing, that it was probably good.

Takeaway: Lead with your heart and others will follow.

If You’ve Got to Make It Up, Make It a Good One
Each time Jim introduced me, he’d tell the person or group two things:

Takeaway: If you don’t know, can’t remember or aren’t sure, always err on the side of the biggest, best possible lie you can invent. No one will mind if you make them look like a champ.

Givers Get
I know this is BNI’s slogan, but I hope Jeff Ensinger [BNI’s regional executive director] will forgive me for using it. Jim knew everyone, and when it came to St. Jude he “put the touch” on everyone—to donate, participate or become involved in significant ways. And the rest of the year it was payback time. When it came to their charity, they’d call up Jim and ask for “quid pro quo,” and Jim always delivered.

Takeaway: The world turns on favors. You can achieve great things if you are willing to help others in turn.

Do Something Different
We were the first to show the insides of the houses that we listed, often in the Observer’s ads. We did the first “Homes Magazine” for Maloof’s listings. Before I worked for Jim, he (and perhaps Sally Givens Cloyd of Ross Advertising?) came up with “Oops… Sold”—Jim trademarked it, and Jim Maloof/Realtor continues to use it to this day.

Takeaway: When it looks like a great idea, do it first. If it is different, that means it will stand out and people will remember it. Do it now.

More from Jim…

  • Read Jim Maloof’s Take 10 feature from the Mar/Apr issue of art & society magazine
  • Read an excerpt from Jim’s interview in the very first iBi, published in August 1989.

Conversely, If Something Is Great, Just Keep Doing It
If you remember the billboards that Jim ran, you are dating yourself. But before I worked for Jim, he came up with a series of billboards that had funny plays on words: Bud listed with Jim Maloof/Realtor. Bud’s wiser.

These billboards so captured the imagination of the average person that people stopped Jim on the street, cornered him while he was getting his hair cut and mailed him notes, all to give him their ideas for new billboards. When the economic downturn of the early 1980s happened, Jim stopped running the billboards. But when Mathey-Strong Outdoor surveyed customers, they still thought they were seeing the billboards.

Takeaway: Great ideas don’t die—if they take root in the minds of consumers.

The brilliance is knowing what to do and when to do it. When to keep it the same and when to change it up. Jim had that brilliance. His instincts were (please forgive the pun) “right on the nose,” because he led with his heart. His marketing reflected that heart. And people responded to it. iBi