May 15, 2011


PR 101 Weekly Rant #55 This Is Why Social Media Scares Executives

Jeff Cole     | May 13, 2011

It came to me Wednesday morning why creative marketing scares many senior executives. In fact, the same fear factor holds true for any kind of marketing that is not conventional advertising or public relations.
It is the fear of the uncertainty of creativity. I think to the average CEO or CMO who came through a business school being creative is a foreign concept. Most of those people are left brain types. Their dominant personality traits are that they are logical, sequential, rational, analytical and objective. They are not used to operating in an arena where creativity is demanded. Those traits often lead to the creation of boringly beige ineffective marketing.

The idea of doing something where possible outcomes cannot not always be predicted makes them nervous. So when confronted with something such as social media that demands creativity and intuitive thinking, their brains lock. The simplest thing for them to then do is either reject or ignore the ideas. The idea of a truly out there campaign – no matter how effective it might be – scares them.

I realized this at the Milwaukee-based BizTimesMedia’s 2011 BizTech Conference-Expo. EPrize founder and Chairman Josh Linker was speaking at the conference’s opening breakfast about how to empower employees to be creative. A creative company can develop a strong competitive advantage over its competitors, he argued.

Linker should know. The entrepreneur is also a jazz musician. He explained that any jazz musician that sticks strictly to the score is soon asked to leave. “This fluid, improvisation art form is all about taking risks and trying new things,” Linker wrote in his blog. “Going out on limb can be scary, but it is where the magic happens. Extending yourself outside your comfort zone is where the best rewards will be discovered.”

He goes on to say that “Jazz is also about listening. Listening to your fellow musicians, the audience, and your own creative voice. In business, that means listening to your team, your customers, your competitors, your industry, your suppliers, the latest trends and best practice, and of course, your own creativity. Through focused listening comes adaptation. Allowing the environment and your collaborators to influence the outcome as a group. Seeking inspiration and creativity from others, and adapting in real-time to your own Creative Challenge.”

At the breakfast Linker explained jazz musicians expect creativity from those with whom they perform. The jazz band is a collective creative effort.

The problem for many executives is they run their businesses from the top down. The modern corporate structure is essentially based on a military model. Think about it – there’s the CEO or commanding general. Underneath him are the division leaders. Do you think that designation was an accident? There are senior officers and junior officers, enlisted men and non-commissioned officers. The titles are different, but the roles are the same.

Not an atmosphere that lends itself to nurturing creative impulses. What those companies like is an ad agency coming in and saying we are spending $10 million on this television commercial. We are doing 15 million direct mail pieces and placing ads in 15 national publications. The campaign will look like the campaigns of all their competitors. Cut and dried – and there’s the rub. The CEO and CMO approve it and off it goes. The problem it is formulaic. It is result of that almost always fatal directive “that’s the way we have always done it.”

Many executives live the “fire and forget” marketing campaign. They feel they should not have to be involved in selling their own company. That’s the job of the marketing department and the outside agency.

Think about beer marketing or local auto dealers – all boringly the same.

All good marketing has to be creative. It is like jazz. There are core elements, but each player bends those elements, improves on them, while at the same time staying with the group. It demands that the company executives and employees take any active role in the campaign. It is their company, they should part of the effort to market its products. They need to learn to play with the band. Nine times out of ten, it is really effective. Good marketing works the same way.

There is always element of uncertainty in that. I always tell client not everything we try is going to work. We won’t know what works until we try it. Any marketer who says she does is not telling the truth. You can do all the research possible – from focus groups to surveys – and there is still no predicting the outcome.

As an aside don’t confuse that with measuring return on investment. ROI is measurable. That measurement takes place on what does work.

So if a CEO or CMO is told that the marketing effort is going to more jazz than symphony, they get nervous. It is way outside any envelope in which they operate. Someone needs to take them to a jazz club.