JCL Blog

The Story of Angelo

Last night we went to a great Italian restaurant on our last night in New York City.  Angelo was our waiter and he did a great job.  We got to talking with him and found that he is a first generation immigrant, working while going to community college.  His dream is to work at the United Nations as a translator.  Because of our conversation, I now know that you must have mastered five languages in order to apply.  Angelo already has four, so just one to go.  A full third of our immigrants are Hispanic and despite the fact that I believe we are as open minded about race as any nation – I suspect that anti Hispanic sentiment is a significant barrier to our opening up immigration.  The twist to this story – Angelo is from Ecuador.  

An American Story

Ira Glass did it again, as he has so many times, and created a must listen program about what ails the US auto makers -- particularly GM.  Anyone interested in how labor and management can conspire to create spectacular failure should invest the hour and listen.

The thing that struck me was how the union created an environment that their members did not like and that was clearly not good for the company -- all because they had the power to do so.  

A striking contrast can be found from 80 years ago during the construction of the Empire State Building.  Over 3,400 people built the iconic structure in just 410 days in a heroic but unfortunately futile race against the clock as the country spiraled into what would become the depression.  Anyone with Netflix can rent this amazing story in the PBS series on New York.  DVD number five contains the story of the Empire State Building.

I found myself standing on the top of this most famous of our American buildings this week and even though it was a weekday it was packed full of people who were willing to pay a fair amount to do the same.  It made me proud to be an American and it reassured me that the American dream is alive and well here in New York.  This city at the center of our universe was true to its heritage as the most incredible melting pot on the observation deck deck that day as the English speakers were in a distinct minority.


The Timid Need Not Apply

On the morning of August 7, 1974, the Frenchman Philippe Petit walked across a steel cable he had strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center.  He not only made it to the other side, but spent 45 minutes going back and forth eight times and even jumping up and down and lying down on the cable.  When asked why he did it he said: “When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk.”  Philippe Petit is the perfect profile for someone running a marketing department.  We just do this stuff despite the risks.

Marketing is Not Safe

The volatility in the job markets has caused people to be much more interested in job security.  Gallup just did a poll and 70% of working Americans said that their current job is the ‘ideal job’ for them.  The people in the Gallup poll must not be in marketing.  CMO tenure has been getting better over the past couple of years – but it is still very short at 28.4 months.  How anyone can focus on the big picture with a two year horizon is beyond me.  So it is clear that anyone looking for a safe and secure job need not apply.  Marketing is definitely a fun and vibrant industry but by all measures it is definitely not safe. 

Here are five reasons that Marketing is Not a Safe job:

The Environment is Always Changing: The competition is doing things, other industries are doing things, the tools are changing, customers expectations are changing, and the economy is changing.  There are so many things changing all of the time that it is impossible for anyone to sit still.  To make matters worse, the rate of change is increasing.  So if you thought last year was wild – get ready for next year because it is going to be wilder.

No Clear Measurements: Despite tremendous advances in the tools and tactics for measuring marketing performance, there are no agreed upon standards.  The sales department has revenue and marketing has a mixed bag. And just when it seems like a standard is going to emerge the environment changes.

Exposed to the Blame Game: When things go bad people go looking for someone to blame, with no clear measurements and a constantly changing environment, the marketing department can be as exposed as a Frenchman on a wire.

Public: Scientists can do their experiments in a lab, marketing people do not have that luxury.  By definition marketing activities are public and therefore the wins are exposed to be copied and the losses are spectacular crashes in plain view.

Requires New Ideas: The half life of a successful marketing idea is even shorter than the tenure for CMOs so a constant stream of new ideas are required.

So, if you want to exist in a world where there is no job security, no agreed upon measures of success, where you can get blamed for other people’s screw ups, where you regularly fail and sometimes succeed in public, and you have to come up with new ideas all of the time – marketing is the job for you!

Wait! There is More

If you can bear to read on you already know you are well suited for the marketing business.  Here are three things successful marketing people do to not only survive, but thrive in this environment.

Set Expectations Properly: We have all been in countless meetings where the expectations ascend into the rafters – you know, go viral, a Cadbury moment.  There is no question it would be awesome, but it does not happen very often.  So any plan has to be built around a realistic expectations.  If the plan does not make sense with a the laws of gravity applied then come up with a new plan.  There is a big difference between leaving an opening for serendipity and counting on it. Pros don’t get caught up in the hype and set unattainable expectations.

Talk About One Measurement: Measure everything, but only talk about one measurement.  In the end there should only be one measurement that counts and talking about all of the other (contributing) measurements just sounds like excuse making.  You and your team can use all of those other measurements to learn fast and learn a lot, but in the end the one key measurement is the only thing that matters.  Remember, this one key thing should be the thing that your marketing department’s client (the sales department) is expecting to get.

Fail All of the Time: So much has been written about failing and failing fast that it seems we sometimes forget to do it.  Even previously successful campaigns can fail as the environment changes.  Make sure you know what failure looks like and don’t talk yourself into re-casting a failing campaign as a winning campaign by picking out one good looking number and putting all of your weight on it.  Make sure to set expectations properly and that means describing in advance what a failing campaign looks like and agreeing what will be done.

So Marketing is Awesome

Anyone still reading is already converted.  We should remind ourselves more often that marketing is an awesome business and we are all lucky to be in it.  Philippe Petit truly enjoyed his high wire act.  He was in his element, he had done his homework (he had been planning since 1968), he was a professional, and it was obvious to everyone who witnessed the event.