JCL Blog

How to Kill Marketing

CEOs have an amazing ability to kill the creativity of their marketing departments.  It is not their fault really.  The quarterly pressure of Wall Street can drive even good people into defensive and short term thinking.  Add to this the fact that most stocks are currently overvalued and the CEOs don’t even know why (no one does).  See my How Much To Pay the Guy Driving post for a colorful metaphor for our current market conditions.

So we created a system that makes CEOs short term thinkers and CEOs have created systems to impair their marketing departments.

Here are some tactics I have witnessed.


  1. Price over Effectiveness:  Measuring marketing effectiveness is critical but hard to do.  Measuring spending is all too easy to do.  Spending impacts this quarter and effective campaigns impact next quarter.  So CEOs value price measurements over effectiveness measurements and this quarter looks better and next quarter looks – well next quarter is so far into the future.  In its worst incarnation this tactic measures marketing by relative changes in spending.  Success is doing what was done last year but for less money.  Effectiveness isn’t even in the formula!
  2. Punish Idea Failure: The fire-able offenses should be failing to try new things and failing to kill bad ideas.  All too often however people get fired from marketing positions because the idea they tried failed.  Which not only discourages new ideas but encourages clinging to bad ideas and working the numbers over and over until they look good.  (see my post on the Excel Pig).
  3. Underfund Radical Ideas: This sounds like the same thing again, but it is considerably different.  All CEOs know that they need good talent.  They also know that if too many new ideas are turned down during planning the most creative people will leave.  So the lukewarm track of approving the project but funding it at a level that makes success highly improbable.  It is hard to fail fast when fast is too expensive.


Here I am mostly talking about the big publicly traded companies but we have all seen the sector that is supposed to be the most innovative, venture capital, do these same things.  And in Hollywood,  Harry Potter 7 is another outcome of our starving the creative people of oxygen.

Since sending the CEO to rehab is probably out of the questions, here are some suggested tactics to counteract the CEO’s tendencies.


  1. Get some ground rules in place:  The best time to do this is before taking the job.  It is impossible to set fundamental ground rules if you are on the ropes and part of marketing is being on the ropes form time to time.
  2. Throw a bone to this quarter and get the cash next quarter:  Believe it or not, there are quarters when the CEO is on the ropes and badly needs the numbers to work out.  Push a campaign to next quarter, cut some stuff that is not to painful to restart, contributed to a quarterly win.  Along the way make sure you get buy in for the thing you really want next quarter.
  3. Build a Feeder or Farm System:  All of the major league teams have farm teams because they are cheap and a good way to test players before it really counts.  Build your own marketing farm team in a small subsidiary, partner, or even an obscure division of the company.  This will give you real life testing instead of focus groups and much lower cost of experimentation both in terms of reputation when things fail and outright budget.
  4. Game out the Competition:  Good CEOs spend their time thinking of the company in the context of the industry – frame new ideas in that context – not a marketing department or other internal motivations (so and so product group wants this).  A good game theory diagram showing your last move, the competition’s response, your next move, and the anticipated response by the competition.  This is great stuff for the CEO to talk about with the board.


Remember, some CEOs are actually good people trying to get the job done.  Keep that in mind and use these tactics to make your marketing department immeasurably valuable.