Michael Baer's Stratecution Stories

"Strategy is overrated. We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things". – Herb Kelleher

Monthly Archives: November 2011

“Marketing Moxie” guest column in TalentZoo

Check out my article in TalentZoo on the evolving demands of Agency-Client relationships. It’s called “Enhance Your Agency-Client Relationships for The New Normal”. Would love to hear your examples, comments and rants below – please share!



Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall.

Integrity. I believe it’s an under-rated virtue. And it seems to be in shorter and shorter supply these days. People at all levels in business seem to be self-involved, busy watching their own backs, playing politics to a fault. On one side, people who bend with the tide; on the other, dogmatics who monomaniacally resist change. Those selfishly chasing their own gain, vs. those indifferent and just “phoning it in”. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “the person of integrity lives in a fragile balance between every one of these all-too-human traits.”

The advertising and marketing business is all about people – we’re dealing with each other every moment. The “golden rule” should apply to leadership and business just as it does in society. And yet, we seem not to be doing right by each other. It’s a shame that, in a business with so many external pressures, where so much can go wrong (and often does), where you’re on the firing line day in and day out, we so often are undone by “friendly fire”.

Look in the mirror. How do you rate on integrity? Michael Feuer, co-founder of OfficeMax, says, “treat your team as grown-ups and partners in whatever you’re doing.” How do you measure up? Take the “Integrity Self-Exam”.

  1. Do you spend more time in self-promotion vs. promotion of your team?
    More and more it seems that those who get ahead do it by self-promotion and self-aggrandizement. Nevertheless, it’s always more important to drive growth and acclaim for those around you. After all, this is a team sport – and there aren’t any real superstars that can prove they do a disproportionate amount of the work or drive a disproportionate amount of the success. By focusing on self, you lose the trust and respect of others. By focusing on others, you gain from their success. And they will work harder for you. And you will sleep better at night.
  2. Are you taking credit for things more often than giving credit to others?
    Similarly, you must avoid being seen seeking out credit – let credit accrue to you due to your team’s successes, instead. As you rise in ranks, it should be less and less important to put your name on things and get the kudos and credit your team’s work drives. It’s more important that your team gets credit – everyone will know you helped steer the ship.But there are organizations that are built around power, fear and insecurity. These types of organizations can drive leaders to seek credit and ownership, to the detriment to the team. But make no mistake – this doesn’t end well. In-fighting, power hoarding and unhappiness through the ranks will be a result.
  3. Do you ask your team to do more than you would do yourself?
    There are plenty of leaders who think that, once they’ve achieved a title, they no longer have to do the things they used to do. They’re “above” all that. Well, that’s rubbish. If you ever believe you are above anythingin this business, you are sadly mistaken. I have written conference reports, collated documents, driven to FedEx, carried presentation materials at every level I’ve ever achieved. And that’s just the way it should be.Showing you’re always ready and happy to get your hands dirty does several good things. First of all, it shows your team you are one of them, you’re with them and you will do whatever it takes. It drives solidarity and respect. Second of all, it helps get work done – as there will be times that you need all hands on deck. And third of all, it keeps you from getting a swelled head or a big ego. A very, very important thing.
  4. Do you (and your team) talk behind others’ backs, instead of going to them and discussing things directly?
    Talking behind people’s backs, be they other team members, partners in other departments, Clients or whatever, solidifies problems and issues, vs. actually helping to address them. While confrontation should be avoided, it’s important to try to address issues directly with people – both to keep things from festering, and to allow people to tell their sides of things. Lots of “big issues” are really just misunderstandings that can be easily dealt with through communication.
  5. When problems occur, do you seek blame vs. taking responsibility?
    I’m not going to say that it’s easy to resist the impulse to find all those “other” people responsible when things go wrong. And there’s no question that, when there are mistakes, you will be able to find lots of people who touched them. But you need to stop the blame game immediately. For a real team leader takes responsibility for things on his or her own shoulders. And, first, puts the emphasis and energy on working things out moving forward, instead of looking back and pointing fingers. Once everything is sorted and back on track, then you should review what went wrong and why. And develop plans and processes on how to avoid these mistakes in the future.
  6. Will you pursue a course or profit from a decision that provides you gain, but others are harmed?
    It’s easy to be lured into bad decisions by easy gains. But whether it’s a promotion or raise, or simply some credit for a personal idea, it’s never worth the repercussions. Because hurting your team, or a member on it, will live with you a long while. And if it’s obvious to you, it’s probably obvious to a lot of other people, too.Focusing on decisions that help your team will help you in the long term, much more than personal short term gains that damage you in the eyes of teams and colleagues.
  7. Do you regularly succumb to the easy route, or will you push on to achieve harder, but more significant goals?
    Sure, everyone needs some quick wins every now and then. But put your focus and emphasis on the big goals – and fight like hell to achieve them. Folks on your team may sometimes be lured by taking the easy path, and may misconstrue your push for more, better, farther as wasteful or foolhardy. But in the end, the satisfaction of having done something very well will win the day.
  8. Do you give your word eagerly, but deliver on it sparingly?
    It’s easy to promise something. But more important is coming through on that promise. It’s much worse to make a promise and not deliver, than to have not promised it at all. Your team will respect your honesty much more than a glad-handed commitment that isn’t really committed to.
  9. Do you always cave to decisions made by your Client or management, vs. questioning them (respectfully, of course)?
    Integrity is, by essence, about standing up for your beliefs. So your team wants to see that you have a point of view and are willing to state it. You won’t shy from questioning decisions. And you’re not just an order-taker. They’ll respect you – even if you don’t get your way, or the decision is made anyway.

So what’s your score? I wish I could say that 4 or 5 “No” answers are enough to pass. But on this test, you’ve got to score 100%.  What do you think? I’d love to hear your “Integrity” stories – please share them with a comment!


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Say thanks to everyone you care about. And then go out and shop ’til you drop.

Be a Yes-Person

Everyone hates a Yes-man. A flunkie, a stooge, a sycophant.  But there’s another type of “yes-person” that’s good. In fact, I believe there are two types of people – Yes-people and No-people. And, especially in business, you want to surround yourself with the “yeses” and avoid the “nos”.

A No-person isn’t just someone who doesn’t say yes. They’re afraid of new ideas and find ways to ridicule them and undermine them. They come up with reason after reason for not doing things – “we tried that already”, “it will never work”, “the client won’t buy it”. They’re threatened by the success and confidence of others. So they sap energy and undermine other peoples’ efforts.

On the other hand, Yes-people are full of energy and excitement – and enthusiastically open to new ideas. They are supportive and help build on them. And they listen, collaborate and help succeed. Teams full of Yes-people win – good luck if you’ve got a team full of No-people. Speaking about team success, a member of the British Royal Marines said, “It’s not about skills. It’s about attitude and the effect on the team. One wrong team player can sap all the energy from the group.”

So how do you be a Yes-person?

Do stuff. Say yes to doing things, trying things, helping with things. Read about new ideas and stay current. Keep up to date on culture, entertainment, science, politics. And get out there and be present – physically and mentally. This keeps your yes-muscle exercised.

Exchange “no, but…” with “yes, and…” Be open to ideas you haven’t had before or wouldn’t normally agree with – and phrase your comments and builds in a way that is additive and overcomes potential issues, vs. tossing out roadblocks and hand-grenades. Don’t let negative thoughts kill the seedlings of ideas before they’re allowed to germinate a bit. And if you have prior experience or knowledge that identifies watch-outs, use it as a way to avoid mistakes and difficulties.

Be the dumbest person in the room. One potential issue leading to “no-ism” is some people’s need to be the smartest. Instead, you should happily surround yourself with smarter people, and feel confident in your role as helping to facilitate other people’s greatness and success. And never worry about ownership or proprietariness of ideas – a Yes-person just wants good things to happen, regardless of credit.

Be solution-focused. Don’t spend much energy or time focused on what is WRONG. Instead, get people directed on what needs to happen to make it right. Too much time, especially in groups, is spent on grousing and carping about the problem and the blame. Energize and infuse your teams with optimism about what is possible.

Be a “first responder” for those needing help. Another exercise for your “yes-muscle” is helping others. Have an open door to people looking for help or advice, regardless of whether they are directly on your team. Join groups, cross-functional teams, and skunk-works projects that are developing innovations or providing organizational recommendations. Be viewed as someone who is involved and wants to participate.

Be a “Radiator”. Another simple segmentation of people is there are “Radiators” and “Drains”. You can imagine what a Drain does. So always be a Radiator – radiate energy, enthusiasm, and possibility. And smile, dammit!

Avoid the seduction of the No. It’s easy to fall into the “no” trap. To build on the carping and the pessimism. But don’t take the bait. Steer clear of the negativity, brush off the comments, and stay focused on building yeses.

So the next time you’re on a team project, focus on being a Yes-person – and do your best to contain the No-people. Better yet, avoid them altogether, if you can.

Love to hear stories about your No-people!

Give a Damn!

As I’ve stated before, people are the most important part of any successful advertising and marketing group. No matter how great that team’s process, technology, history or pedigree, it comes down to the people doing the work that makes the difference. I’ve talked before about the responsibility of management to empower and make others better  – and, additionally, there have been some great articles recently about the dangers of micromanaging, and the idea of leaders acting as the “customer” or “client” to direct reports. But what about the direct reports? What is their responsibility?

I’ve said this before, as well – their job is to give a damn. To go beyond the “get it done’ mentality, to go beyond simply “phoning it in”. So what are the key components of this and how can someone push themselves to avoid being a Rhett Butler, you ask?

1) Ask questions
The right questions are as, if not important more, important than the right answers. Naturally, everything we do should be answering or solving for something. So being a good questioner is critical to problem-solving and developing solutions. But asking questions does more than help figure out what problem you’re trying to solve. It demonstrates engagement – you are involved, committed and driving for clarity and success.

Asking questions takes you beyond assumptions and givens. Just because something is stated, doesn’t mean it’s so. Even a brief that’s handed down to you demands to be questioned – are there aspects of it that haven’t been thought through, is there something that doesn’t make sense, should an additional consideration be added? Questioning means thinking.

2) Be an “action” hero
Fight inertia – “an object in motion tends to stay in motion, an object at rest…” You know the rest. So keep active. Be constantly curious, be an engine for ideas, keep making connections.  Keep reading, forwarding and sharing interesting material. Just being “present” and active in the world is a big step.

It’s also been proven that an active mind and body keeps your brain young. Active thinking and doing improves brain function – so why wouldn’t you?

3) Aim for the stars
Have high expectations – for yourself and your team’s work. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well – if you’re point of view is “get it done and move on”, then you should be doing something else. Get out of the “checklist” mind-frame.

Sure, there will be projects and tasks that won’t reach the stars, that simply are “give it your best hour” projects. But don’t mistake these for a reason to settle or be laissez-faire. You should be as passionate and driven to deliver executional excellence and top quality, no matter the context (see my previous post).

4) Have fun
It’s a fact that advertising and marketing are getting more and more complex, business is more pressurized, Clients seem to be getting more demanding, the business more competitive. But there has never been a better time for our business – the opportunity, the excitement, the innovation and the new. Have some fun, dammit! Remember, it’s not brain surgery.

These are some key ways to continue to show you give a damn. What are some ways your team demonstrates it?

You Are the Weakest Link

I had an experience earlier this year that re-inforced how important executional excellence is – and how easy it is for the weakest link in your chain to break… and leave you looking bad.

I was at the New York Auto Show for my Porsche client when a Client Product Manager asked for my help. He told me he was holding a breakfast the following morning at the show for Porsche Club members and asked if I could put together a presentation to take them through our latest campaign, called “Engineered for Magic, Everyday”. He said it would be very casual – he was serving basic coffee and pastry only, he was presenting something very casual himself, and he said the audience was a low-impact group of friends of the brand. Because I had my lap-top with me, it was relatively easy for me to put together. And because I’m  a nice guy :), I said yes.  I got all the materials together by the end of that day and loaded them on his presentation lap top. I got up early, got to the show for the breakfast, and did my presentation.

Aside from a brief hiccup where the Quicktime didn’t play, which required about 90 seconds of intensive trouble-shooting, it all seemed to go very well. I felt like my presentation was engaging and informative. The guests seemed interested. A number of people came up to me afterwards to tell me how much they enjoyed it, and to ask more questions. And I got a lot out of it, as well, as I was able to ask and gain insights about their experiences with the brand, while also encouraging them to contribute to the User Generated portion of the campaign. And the Client was happy, as well. Mission accomplished, right?

Not so fast. About a week later, I was forwarded a copy of an email that had been sent to the COO by a disgruntled guest of the breakfast. He complained that the breakfast was not up to Porsche quality and wasted his time – the breakfast was poor, and the presentation included an un-professional quality flub. Wow. Not only did I feel like I under-delivered, but the COO probably felt so, too.

What could I have done differently? I could have gotten up earlier and done a run-through. Clicked through it and made sure it all looked perfect, ran well, went smoothly. Just because it was a “casual” presentation didn’t mean it was one where professionalism and quality don’t matter. My bad. Or in the words of Rick Perry, “oops”.

This just goes to show you that, despite having the best intentions, taking the time to help out, developing something smart, and delivering your work with passion, you will always be undone by uninspired execution. By failing to go the extra lengths to deliver excellence. By a good idea, poorly executed. By the weakest link.

Up With People!

No matter what your business is, from making ads to making widgets, there’s one aspect in driving excellence that’s more important than anything else.  It’s not your technology or systems, not the quality of your product, not specific expertise you have. And it’s not having audacious goals, having a bold mission-statement, or a brilliant vision. It’s your focus on developing your internal talent that makes the biggest difference.

The number one role of leaders should be growing and developing new leaders. Period.  As Tom Peters says, it’s “people first, second, third, fourth”. Do you provide inspiration, education, opportunity and support for your employees? Which is why, in a recent Mercer What’s Working global survey of nearly 30,000 people in 17 countries, “being treated with respect” ranked as more important to employees than even salary or benefits.

Jim Collins says that good leadership is empowering employees to do what they’re good at in the service of something bigger than themselves. Do your employees feel they are a part of something? And do they see a role for themselves, beyond the specific output they are creating. Collins also says “the best leaders don’t worry about motivating people, they are careful to not de-motivate them.”  So how do you not de-motivate your most important resource?

Say the following mantra: “my job is making others better”
This means that a leader should worry not at all about getting credit for doing specific things; that he or she succeeds or fails on those on the team getting credit for doing them. This can be tricky for a confident and experienced leader with a healthy ego. Why? Because they have gotten to where they are by getting credit for things.  But a leader needs to let go of ownership and proprietariness and the need for having their name attached to accomplishments. It’s enough to know they led the team and individuals to success.

Engage with your team
Your team needs to know your are connected, in the loop, and not above-it-all. This is why listening is as important as speaking (maybe more important) – they need to feel heard, understood and respected. An approach I endorse comes from early Hewlett-Packard philosophy, but I got from Tom Peters, is the idea of MBWA – “management by wandering around”. Get out of your office and walk the halls amongst your team. It helps you, and it helps them.

Respect and empower
“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what you want to do and let them surprise you with their results,” General Patton

Lots of leaders still lead via an out-dated command and control style that de-motivates and disrespects their employees. Your team doesn’t need you to do their work or tell them how to do it. And they want to know that you care about their thoughts and ideas. Thus, the most important thing you can demonstrate is that you don’t know everything – and want to know what they think.  In fact, “what do you think?” may be the most empowering and motivating thing you can say to your team. With the second most being “how can I help?”

Show appreciation
“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated”, William James

This may be obvious, but it’s the most often forgotten part of the equation. People are the most important part of any business – “lead people, not projects” is the best bit of management advice I’ve ever gotten. However, since it all comes down to delivering projects, accomplishing tasks, getting work done, we tend to forget that it’s our people who do it all. Take the time to acknowledge that, and it won’t be forgotten. According to Herb Kelleher, treating his employees like customers is the #1 secret to his success.

Generally Speaking, Specificity is Good

“Engagement” is the current darling of our marketing and advertising world. Everything is focused on creating it. The AAAA and the ANA have endorsed it. Agencies build plans around creating it. And an entire new discipline called “Engagement Planning” has developed to wax poetic about it.

Why has this occurred? Well, as Martin Weigel, head of planning at Weiden & Kennedy in Amsterdam says in a great post that throws a Great Lake’s worth of cold water on the thoughtless adoption of the term “engagement”, advertising is, by nature, intoxicated by the new. And, although “engaging” people isn’t new, calling it a goal is. In addition, the rapid adoption of digital communications has given rise to a) consumer control over what they encounter and when they encounter it; b) many opportunities for interactivity with customers; and c) the ability to track, measure and optimize against these efforts. In this context, it’s natural to want to drive a reaction… and to want to define your success by your ability to achieve it.

But what in the world is engagement? Despite the fact that everyone is crowing about it, there’s no real clarity as to what it is – no definition, no real measurement, and no real answer as to how it helps. Asking for a plan for “engagement” is like saying you want a dinner with food.

While naturally there is great benefit that can come with engaging with your consumer, engagement is a weak and insufficient word. It doesn’t mean anything on its own. The types of engagement you ought to drive needs to depend on the category, brand, and situation you are in. That’s why you have to make it specific. So, ask yourself the following questions:

What type of engagement do you specifically want?
As Martin Weigel points out, engagement can be anything from site visits, to reading pages and viewing videos, to bookmarking, liking, +1-ing, subscribing, following, or commenting on content, to recommending, sharing or forwarding a link, to opening e-mails and clicking a link, to completing a lead form or survey, just to name a few options. What behavior or behaviors do you specifically want to elicit? Which actions are most linked with the
business problem you are trying to solve? What experiences will drive consumers further towards purchase or re-purchase?

For example, when developing the Porsche microsite for our Cayenne re-launch a couple years ago, we knew we had one key problem to overcome: people didn’t believe that the Cayenne was equipped with the luxury SUV amenities they demanded from that caliber of car. So we designed our plan in order to prove it to people – and allowed them to “engage” in experiences that brought it to life. They could engage with rich banners that demonstrated the well-appointed cabin and interior, they could click through to a video of the safety features, they  could download specs about the interior room and luggage space.  We knew that discovering this information would generate greater consideration. In fact, we quantified it – we tracked the number of people doing these actions and then searching for a dealer near them, checking inventory, or signing up for a test drive. While we can’t make a case for causality, this activity correlated with the best launch in Porsche’s history.

What real world success measure do you expect this engagement to lead to or be a proxy for?
It’s important to go beyond simply saying we want people engaging in our messaging because it’s a good thing.  Why is it good – in other words, what will it achieve? Many people simply believe that “more engagement = more sales and more loyalty”. That may not necessarily be the case, so spend the time making sure you are clear with how the agreed-upon engagement you develop leads to more commercial success.

For example, in the Porsche example above, we had solid data and understanding that told us what was getting in the way of prospects shopping for the Cayenne. So we developed a plan to “engage” them in a way to un-block that obstacle. And then we measured how much shopping behavior (looking for a dealer, inventory, etc.) our plan elicited. We didn’t just say we wanted more clicks, more time-on-site, more pass-along – we defined what would lead to more sales.

“Engagement”, like any objective, is meaningful and helpful only when it is specific. So take the time, the discipline and rigor to identify why you want it, what you specifically want consumers to engage with, why, and what outcome you want to drive. Without it, you’ll be simply wasting time – your’s and your consumer’s.

Bullets vs. Cannonballs

Everyone knows that a home run has much more impact than a single. And everyone digs the long ball. So lots of people, and many brand marketers, put their focus on hitting a big blast. They find a big idea, put their effort into perfecting it, and take one big swing for the fences. Everyone talks about those gigantic hits and about how important it is to be “all in” behind that one big at-bat.

But as in baseball, many, if not most, of those home run swings end up as strike outs. And if you’ve put all your effort on that at-bat, then you’ve got a failure on your hands. And you have to start at ground zero once again.

Which is why I’ve always believed that it’s important getting LOTS of at bats, getting on base, and setting up yourself to score some runs, instead of waiting and focusing on a single home run swing. Call me a marketing “Moneyball” advocate.

There’s a concept I read the other day (the source was copyblogger.com, but it’s originally an idea from Jim Collins in “Great by Choice”) that postulated that smart and successful companies know how to fire off some bullets before putting tons of resources and effort into one big cannonball launch. That way they can see where they land and figure out how to hit what they’re aiming at, before shooting off the heavy artillery. Once they’ve got that learning, THEN they load the cannons and swing for the fences.

I love this idea. In this way, if your bullets don’t hit, you a) haven’t risked too much; and b) use the misses as learning to develop better aim (or a better swing, depending on which metaphor you’re using).  And, having some positive experience and learning before the big swings adds to your confidence and conviction. And your hit rate.

I say, shoot lots of bullets. Both before you launch the cannonballs. And even during, and after you shoot them off. This suggests not only putting out some low cost demonstrations of your idea to get some learning before you launch the big Super Bowl ad, the sexy campaign website, or the high-cost mail piece. But maybe before you even MAKE those high cost items. What do you think?

Politicians are not Stratecutors

It’s political season. And I am constantly struck by how old-fashioned it all seems. While we’re seeing mainly the Republican candidates in full view, this out-dated-ness isn’t restricted to one party. Being a candidate seems to demand adhering to an archaic persona – as Frank Bruni said in the NY Times this past Sunday, “the disconnect between how big our problems are and how just plain stuck the people who are supposed to address them defies belief”. This seems obvious by the fact that the leading candidate for the Republican nomination is still “none of the above”.  Who are these people trying to appeal to?

I thought it was interesting to point out that political candidates defy every rule I’ve been talking about and every tenet of Stratecution.

  1. Learning is forbidden.
    They are all “knowers” – they have the answers already and resist learning at  all costs. It’s even unacceptable to talk about learning – having experienced something or heard something that helped them evolve their thinking is a non-starter. And they feel the need to appear  so unwavering, that, to them, to “waffle” or “flip-flop” is the ultimate  insult. Why do people believe that actually evolving your point of view, based  on experience, thinking and learning, is bad? How could being completely and  irrevocably dug in on a position be a good thing?
  2. It’s all high-level, vague generalities.
    They all refer to broad themes like “the  free market”, or “small government”. How about some specifics? How about real  applications of these broad ideas that might actually help us? No, that would  require taking a stand, and working through layers of detail. Not something  that seems to pay off. But that’s where the actual magic will be.
  3. They over-simplify the world.
    They never acknowledge the complex world we live in – and the difficulty in  applying pat, off-the-shelf answers. It’s going to take a lot of stratecution, no matter the approach. And they never talk about the fact that real-world  experience and results may cause a continued evolution of the in-going  approach.
  4. They talk about silver-bullets.
    Each candidate seems to focus on one or two big things that they want to do. But the truth is, it will probably take a lot of little things to get things moving again. What are some of those little things they might have in mind?
  5. None of them have EVER made a mistake.
    It’s always someone else’s fault. And the irony is that a) people relate to honesty; and b) I bet some of their biggest successes come out of the learning they developed from mistakes. But you’ll never hear about that.
  6. They are always CERTAIN about things.
    You will never hear a politician say “I’m not sure” or “I need to learn more about that”. But isn’t that generally the case – I believe this, my experience suggests this, but I  don’t “know” as  yet?

I’m not saying this is the only issue with politicians (especially the current crew). But isn’t it time we had more than just pat answers, posturing and promises? I say, bring on the Stratecutor candidate!

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