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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Freedom To Fail

Recently, I was speaking with a young woman who grew up in a small, western European country. She told me that she loved being in the United States and was hoping that she could spend the rest of her life here. When I asked her why, her answer was illuminating.

She said, “In my country if you fail at a business, you have a target on your back for the rest of your life. When I was a child, a man in my village started a restaurant. He tried hard but it failed. Now, nearly 20 years later, people still whisper behind his back that he is a failure. In your country, many successful people have failed at several things before they break through and make it as entrepreneurs. If you fail in Baltimore-Washington, you can go to Chicago. If you fail again there, you can move to Seattle. Or, you can stay put and keep trying. America gives business people 2nd, 3rd, and 4th chances. I think that this is key for a society to move forward.”

I was floored by the prescience of this young woman. She realizes that almost all successful entrepreneurs have a willingness to fail. In essence, they fail their way to success until they get it right.

A few weeks after speaking with the young lady, I talked to a mature man who is a serial entrepreneur. When I asked him how he thrived where so many others did not, he laughed and said, “Don, I am different from most people. I am not afraid to fail. All my life, I have failed and I continue to do so. I got it right a few times but that is all I have needed. To me, failure is part of success IF YOU LEARN FROM IT.”

Entrepreneurial guru and best selling author Randy Gage (author of Risky Is The New Safe) put it beautifully--“The opposite of success is not failure but mediocrity.”

So, while America has its share of problems, we are still free to fail. And that, along with an innate entrepreneurial spirit among many of us plus passionate immigrants, bodes well for our future.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Best Practices Trap

About 20 years ago, the term “best practices” began to creep in to the American business lexicon.  I first experienced it when working at an agency that handled a large brand with a super agency as a lead player handling creative and network TV and a dozen or so smaller ones existing media for this multi-unit retailer. We were all summoned to headquarters where each of us was asked to present “best practices.” Essentially, they were asking for the tactics that worked best on a local market basis in our selected Designated Market Areas (DMA’s).

When I got to the big session, I greeted a number of acquaintances and a few old friends. Also present were a few media representatives from the mega-shop that handled the national business. When it was my turn to present, I pulled out all the stops and got a rousing ovation from the crowd and a nice compliment from the lead client. In the back of the room, I was surprised to see an angry looking man--the senior media officer of the mega-shop.

The two young media supervisors who worked for Mr. Big approached me. One said, “We need a copy of your presentation.” With a big smile, I said, “That is the intellectual property (a relatively new term then) of my agency and perhaps the client as well. You will have to ask the client for it.” Both had the proverbial deer in the headlights look. “You don’t understand, Don. Our boss said he wants it.” Oozing charm, I said that I was powerless and I could not release it without client permission.

I am not trashing the mega-shop. They handled billions in billing over the years, and their media and creative product was first rate. Being so big, however, they could not or would not put in the labor intensity required to work out customized promotions in smaller local markets. They could buy inexpensively but they never made market trips or spent much time at all looking for promotions and extensions.

That day I learned a lesson which has stayed with me. Whenever I am asked about “best practices” I always try to make a good account of myself and the organization that I am representing. At the same time, I always am silent about the absolute best tactics that delivered the gangbuster results. The client knows about them but why share them with people unable or unwilling to do the due diligence to come up with similar tactics/promotions? Also, if you best ideas are going to be stolen, why do they need you for long term?

In preparing this post, I floated the idea of best practices out to a few of the Media Realism panel members. One responded that she had read that, “best practices should really be NEXT practices” as the media work was changing so rapidly. She could not remember where it came from but I think I found it. Mike Myatt in the 8/15/12 issue of FORBES appears to be the person who first used the term “next practices”.

I realize that this post flies in the face of the approach taken by tech leaders such as Chris Andersen, former editor of WIRED magazine. In his 2009 book, FREE: THE FUTURE OF A RADICAL PRICE, he suggested that initially products and services should often be given to customers free. Okay, I understand that. I do not think that you should give things to your defacto COMPETITORS for free.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com or leave a comment on the blog.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Conventional Wisdom Impedes Progress

Every industry in the world has sacred cows or what we usually describe as conventional beliefs. We often cling to them even though the world has changed and they often are no longer valid. One futurist whom I respect says many were never valid in the first place.

When we look at things we tend to carry baggage with us. Sometimes a great deal of baggage. The disruptors in many categories tend to be people from another industry who are not weighed down with conventional wisdom and perhaps see things more clearly.

For example, I love bookstores of all kinds. A relaxing hour to me is to browse through a bookshop in any large city. Sometimes used bookshops are even better as I find out of print gems that I have wanted for years. 

Jeff Bezos worked on Wall Street. He did not toil at Borders or Barnes & Noble. So, he thought that selling books and music online was worth a shot. He bet the ranch on it and it morphed in to a phenomenon that has changed the way most of us shop. People in the book industry did not take Amazon seriously until it was too late.

There is a young media strategist who writes to me frequently. Sometimes he has an idea and bounces it off me. Other times, he sends me the draft of a proposal that he is working on for a client. And, once in a while, he writes to inform me that he thinks that my latest blog post is way off base.

Last year, he sent me an early draft of a media plan that had his boss had rejected out of hand. Essentially, he wanted to pull out of a college football package that his client had purchased for many years. To sum up, he said that attentiveness levels had dropped and presented some information that showed channel hopping was rampant during commercial breaks on Saturday afternoons when several games were on simultaneously. He suggested that the package not be renewed and that the money be redeployed in a fistful of digital options.

His boss regaled him with the time honored commentary that there was a magic to an advertiser being in a sports property and that while the premium for such involvement was often steep, it was ALWAYS worth it. The young gentlemen stuck to his guns and was a pariah within his shop for a few weeks.

Then, the client, citing business difficulties, did not renew the football deal. My young friend was given half the money he usually had for football and reinvested it in some digital alternatives. Business perked up and he was soon back in the good graces of his management team.

Now, there are many factors that might have caused the client rebound. My point is that the conventional wisdom that the pricey sports package was essential to good allocation of the client’s funds was an accepted practice but it may no longer have been relevant in 2015.

So, examples like this strike me as wake-up call for media people and management at ad agencies. Keep in mind the thing that all disruption tends to have--it is pro-consumer. Decades ago, Wal-Mart offered everyday low pricing and one stop shopping, Amazon took it to your door, mobile apps seem to be changing everything.

Market destruction is a tough game. It will not recede. Remember, with creative destruction comes creativity. Strive to be part of it no matter what business you are in.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com