1. Are your marketing efforts focused on the right results?
  2. Are you clear about what you want customers to do?
  3. Are you clear about the rich story you want customers to understand?
  4. Are your marketing efforts integrated over the entire lifecycle of a customer’s relationship with your company?
  5. Are you focused on internal marketing within the company?
  6. Does management allow its marketing professionals to succeed?
  7. Does your marketing department “get it done?”

Today we’re going to focus on Question 6, “Does management allow its marketing professionals to succeed?”

Once upon a time, an automobile designer finished a beautiful, innovative design for a new sports car. Each co-worker who came by his office to see his fire-engine red model gasped at their first look; they had never seen a car so beautiful, with lines as sleek and style as captivating.

He called the CEO’s assistant, to set his appointment for the design’s final executive approval. The meeting was set for later that afternoon. As he set the model down on the CEO’s conference table, the CEO rose from his chair, removed his reading glasses, and came closer for a good look.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. This could change the entire company. You’ve done an amazing job. But I want you to make the hubcaps yellow.”

“Yellow hubcaps?” asked the startled designer.

“Yes, you heard me, make the hubcaps yellow.”

“But it will ruin the design.”

“Give me a break,” said the CEO. “I’m letting you have most of your design. The hubcaps are just a small piece of the entire car, less than 5% of your entire design. I’m letting you have 95% of what you wanted. You’re getting most of what you recommended, so stop complaining.”

Does your company make its marketing department put yellow hubcaps on sports cars?

Does your company give its marketing team room to succeed?

Are your marketing people so micro-managed that they can’t complete their projects effectively?

Many executives respond to these kinds of questions by saying their marketing team isn’t strong enough to function independently. That may be true, but that’s not the subject of this newsletter. Let’s assume, for our purposes today, that your marketing team is qualified to do the job, and then focus our discussion on whether your company gives its marketing team room to succeed.

The “Yellow Hubcap Syndrome”

In which micro-management compromises otherwise-solid marketing efforts. It is only one of the ways companies get in the way of their marketing departments. Here are a few more:

The “Let Me Put This On Your
To-do List Offense”

A marketing director once showed me his list of active projects, which contained more than a hundred items. “Why so many?” I asked. “Well, there are the ten or twelve projects that I think are really important, and then there are all of the rest that have been assigned to me by senior management, the board of directors, and other departments.”

IT and accounting departments are usually pretty successful at push-back, saying, “No, we can’t do that for you. We’ll put it in the queue, but don’t expect any progress until Q4.” Marketing departments usually can’t get away with that. The result? True priorities are moved aside to make room for some EVP’s pet idea.

The worst of these to-do-list invaders have the following genealogies:

  • “Our competitors are doing it, so we better.”
    • The worst reason to make a marketing decision is because your competitors are doing it.
  • “Well, at my last company, we did this.”
    • Senior execs and board members are often guilty of this, assuming that their past performance is a strong indicator of action in the present.
  • “I was talking to someone at a party over the weekend, he gave me this great idea for us.”
    • Ugh.
  • “I met somebody on an airplane.”
    • Ditto ugh.

The “Halt! Who Goes There! Defense”

A marketing executive once mused that if he had back all of the time he spent on projects that were killed before implementation, he could have learned Chinese, become a virtuoso violinist and coached all of his kids’ sports teams.

Look at a marketing department today, scrambling to meet deadlines, preparing for executive presentations, creating budgets and plans… then go back three months later. What you will find is that many of today’s most critical priorities were sent to an early grave.

Some projects lose budget, while others lose executive support. Other projects were humming along nicely until somebody from the C-suite noticed what was going on and decided it wasn’t a good idea. In all cases, a quick “off with his head” wave can take months of effort and toss it in the trash. Not to mention the opportunity cost of other projects that could have received attention if this dead-end had not been pursued.

The “Make Something Out Of
Nothing Quandary”

Items are added to the marketing department’s to-do list. Projects are killed mid-stream, but good sales results are still expected. Headcount and budgets are cut, leaving fewer people and fewer dollars to get the work done. Hey, that’s life. Make do.

A builder wouldn’t think of stocking a construction project with too few two-by-fours. So why do companies think they can staff their marketing departments with too few resources?

Now, maybe your marketing department has plenty of resources, but still can’t get the job done. What’s up? In addition to the points raised above in this issue, have a look at the previous issues in this series. What you’ll see is that good thinking can help your marketing team prioritize better. The only thing more valuable than a solid to-do list is an even better to-don’t list.

The “You Have No Power, But It’s Your Fault Anyway Pickle”

A CEO once asked me to evaluate his marketing team. He was convinced they were incompetent. “They never get anything done. They never have any good ideas.”

I looked into things. Yes, the marketing team didn’t have a lot of talent. But that wasn’t their main obstacle. They actually had a lot of good ideas, but they were unable to act on most of them because they didn’t have the authority to do so without approval from upstairs. Also, they were victims of the “Yellow Hubcap Syndrome,” the “Let Me Put This On Your To-do List Offense” and the “Make Something Out Of Nothing Quandary.”

Sure, this CEO might want to upgrade his marketing team. But most of the blame in this situation lay outside of the marketing department, in other parts of the CEO’s sphere of influence. It’s easy to point fingers at others, much harder to point them into the mirror.

The “You Should Have Known
That Mind-Read”

Is your marketing department privy to the company’s latest strategic thinking and direction? Has anybody shared the latest vision with them?

It’s surprising how often marketing decisions are made in the dark, without the benefit of the company’s broader thinking. This is less likely to happen in smaller companies, where size makes good communication more likely. This is most likely to happen in larger, capital-intensive organizations, such as real estate companies, or in technical, manufacturing-oriented companies.

The “He’ll Pick Things Up
Quickly Option”

Companies would never hire an IT executive who didn’t have good experience with computers. They wouldn’t hire accountants that weren’t properly trained. But, for some reason, it’s assumed that anyone can quickly learn marketing concepts, just by being in the job.

Marketing is the accidental profession. Take someone from sales, amend “& marketing” to the title on his business card and, voila!, he can do marketing! Take a talented graphic artist, stick her in the marketing department, and expect her to absorb the skills she needs through some mysterious corporate osmosis.

Guess what? There are actually skills and methodologies at play when great marketing happens. There is more to marketing than pretty pictures, contrary to much popular opinion.

Evaluate your marketing department with great scrutiny. But, as you do this, be on the lookout for forces within your company, but outside of marketing, that conspire to hurt your marketing efforts.


  • Larry Kaufman
    Jan 26, 2010 - 10:26 am

    With all due regard for interference from the C-suite, I suggest that sometimes the CEO’s question is taken by lower-downs as instruction. Why aren’t the wheels yellow is interpreted as Make the wheels yellow. I’ve lived it in media selection, creative strategy, and the list goes on.

    And sometimes the guy at the cocktail party DOES have a good idea!

  • Steve Yastrow
    Jan 29, 2010 - 17:20 pm

    Hi Larry,

    Yes, sometimes (often) the guy at the cocktail party has a great idea, but sometimes his idea sucks! The question isn’t whether it happens all the time, but the correlation between not having it happen and great marketing.

    Great C-suiters are clear about what is direction and what is just thought-provoking.

    (Shabbat shalom)

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