You Built the Company. But to Keep Growing, Pick a Hat.
by: Scott Burkhead
This reminder usually applies to leaders of smaller companies experiencing rapid growth. Typically, the company originally employed a few full-time staffers and everyone assumed multiple responsibilities. Since entrepreneurs usually have an innate sense of promotion it made sense for the owner to handle marketing.
And the type of organization doesn’t matter that much – or if your title is General Manager, Managing Partner, Owner, Director or CEO. Like the commanding officer of a ship, if success or failure is in your hands it doesn’t matter, you’re always the captain.
Here you are, with more employees, customers, opportunities, and headaches (interesting how many of us work our tails off so we can have headaches like these). And no matter how good you are at multi-tasking if the choice is between meeting with a customer, solving a labor crisis, or thinking about smarter marketing programs, marketing will likely become a low priority.
This is not about multi-tasking. It is about specialization and resource allocation. It is also about highest and best purpose for the leader of the organization.
Where are you most useful?
At some point, and maybe you’re there, you have to decide which job you want. Continuing to make all the decisions including areas you’ve handled by necessity, but deserve their own full time advocate will eventually choke the organization. The question that might make the difference between success and failure is what is your highest and best purpose? Is it strategically managing the company through its next growth cycle or developing the branding and marketing strategy? Too often, the problem is solved by adding tactical specialists to oversee the urgent – like media management, ad and website production – in the meantime, the important issues like branding and positioning suffer.
It’s hard to see this as much of a problem when business is booming. But, if a brand doesn’t continue to nourish itself, it loses power. Remember, half the Fortune 500 companies that were shining thirty years ago are now gone.
By most measures, Steve Jobs was a brilliant marketer. But when it was time to announce to the world what Apple was all about he reached out to equals in a different silo that turned his strategy into a mind- expanding vision the customer could understand. In this instance it was not the Apple CMO, but the Chiat Day agency that supplied the strategy and created the “1984” Super Bowl masterpiece. The one-minute spot got both boos and cheers at the time but was talked about by millions of people worldwide and sealed the Apple brand as something we needed to be a part of.
Tell me a story I’ll remember
By necessity leaders need to understand all the big pieces of their business. City Managers need to understand how their city is a better choice for employers and employees, for people to visit, and to live. People running hotels have to have the vision to take the organization to the next level. But understanding isn’t strategic storytelling. And the core story of your organization, the brand positioning, retold in multiple ways to different audiences, is a full-time job for a trained professional. We seem to have come through the ‘all we need are clicks’ stage and even heavyweights like P&G and GE are moving back to engaging and connecting with customers instead of only getting their attention.
With start-up organizations like Chatham Park and BeeWell, it made sense to hire an agency to lead early branding and marketing development and later bring on senior marketing management. This allowed the client to transition most of the activity usually handled by the CMO to the agency and company leadership to focus on building the organization. Later, they were ready to make a commitment to an experienced marketing officer.
Some leaders have more fun than others
There are organizations where the CEO also leads the attitude-forward marketing. Virgin Airlines, for example. Sir Richard Branson would probably make a big mistake if he stopped driving the strategic brand vision of his company. And there are managers like Branson to be found running the brand insights for cities and counties and tourist destinations all over the world. Talent is a marvelous and tricky thing. So is circumstance. Put the two together and brilliant combinations of leadership emerge. Experience does tell us that usually young and mature organizations alike benefit from finding the best talent available for the two roles that can turbocharge the brand.