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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.

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