Is It Safe? (2014)

Quote: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

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One of my favorite movies is Marathon Man. There is a famous scene where Lawrence Olivier poses a simple question to Dustin Hoffman, “Is it safe?” You probably know the rest of that scene. Here it is for the brave-hearted Is It Safe?  A few years ago, I asked this question relative to how the marketing and advertising community is preparing for the horizon. Below, I have noted updated thoughts worth sharing. No dental instruments were involved in extracting these views:

  • Toward The Middle – The race toward digital competency is close to the finish line and the field of horses is now all bunched up. We have moved past resource capability and structural provocative and past tactical experimenting – much like the marketing/advertising industry did 25 years with Direct Marketing. Only this time, digital has forged a new permanence halo for all communication channels to follow…brand openness and dialogue with customers. Now all communication is accountable for similar minimal deliverables and it signals that digital has come full circle. And that full circle means that most agencies now possess a more similar set of capabilities and desire a similar role – a seat at the table contributing in a “lead” idea role.


  • Transformational Players – Over the last number of years many of our assignments have been for what I would term “transformational players”. Sounds like an impossible search assignment right? Not really. What these searches represent is an expectation of change and new possibilities, principally tied to establishing new capability, a new leadership approach or new business creation. And they are usually entwined with an expectation for revenue lift. Most importantly, we have come to recognize what transformational player capability really means: Marketing and agency staff are not hired to maintain– they are hired to cause change and stimulate growth. The trick is whether or not they can activate and galvanize the organization in pursuit of those changes – positively and collaboratively, while still stretching the team’s view of what is possible. Our practice has actually evolved to the point where identifying & vetting for these transformational players is a key differentiator for us.


  • Behavior - This seems to be another transition worth noting again. Behavior is where marketing and advertising is headed. It is where CMO’s must convince CEO’s they bring the most value. And they must do this to regain their slipping seat at the executive table. It is what agencies must become most valuable in – understanding, influencing and measuring to regain their value, lost and spread out to a myriad of other resources including marketing strategy firms, design firms and management consultants. Rory Sutherland’s view, now a few years old, is worth reading on this behavioral issue.


  • Organic Growth - The growing propensity to work with customers on a scope of work/project basis, especially for agencies, is causing great pressure on garnering organic growth from on-going client bases. This is a new expectation and skill set for many account and customer relationship staffers. It is not one that many are equipped to do or are especially anxious to sign-up for as a critical piece of their role. Companies (especially agencies) are faced with two critical adjustments. #1 – Train customer facing staff (who generally view their role as relationship management, strategic leadership, project management and work quality leadership) to become skilled at business development. Not sales – business development. Train them to continuously review a client’s business and create solutions for their problems. Train them to reframe a client’s view of their problems. Train them to expand their relationships within a client. Train them to activate the company’s full resources and eliminate internal obstacles. Train them to keep a client’s view of their company fresh and ever-expanding. The days of client managers, even at mid-level, who think “it’s not my job” are over. #2 – Executive leadership needs to get involved with clients at a granular level. I didn’t say give-up C-Suite interface. I am suggesting that relationship building and business understanding needs to click down a couple more levels. This is where so much of the scope of work decision making is happening and where agency executive interest and activity pays off.

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