I’m a senior marketer at a medium-sized company. We’ve worked with the same ad agency for 18 years – they know us inside out and do terrific work, and I would not think of changing them. But we have a new chief executive from outside who seems to want to put his own stamp on the business and is making noises suggesting he’s keen for a fresh start. How can I talk him out of it? As the new CEO, he’s perfectly entitled to reassess his company’s positioning; he’d be remiss if he didn’t. And being with the same agency for 18 years is enough to confirm any thrusting, go-getting, ladder-climbing CEO that he’s joining a moribund, self-satisfied company that still chooses to believe that the internet is a f lash-inthe-pan. No wonder it’s only medium-sized.
None of this may be true, of course. Being with the same agency for 18 years can be laudable evidence of a company with a long-term consistent strategy, confidently disdaining all the transient temptations of micromarketing. But that’s not how your new CEO will see it. And the more you try to talk him out of reviewing his agency arrangements, the more certain he’ll be that you’re a dodo and the more determined he’ll become to be seen to have made changes.
Instead, look for guidance to ju-jitsu, whereby an opponent’s energy is not directly opposed but is rather turned against him. So tell your new CEO just how pleased you all are to welcome someone with a completely fresh and uncontaminated mind. However seemingly successful, every company needs to submit itself to ruthless selfexamination from time to time and the arrival of a new CEO is the ideal moment to do exactly that. Ask if you can be part of a Forward Planning Task Force. He’s unlikely to say no.
The Task Force’s terms of reference, widely circulated, should make it absolutely clear that what is under scrutiny is not the superficial image of the company as projected in its communications but its absolutely fundamental raison d’être. So any decision solely concerned with communications must clearly wait for the final recommendations from the FPTF.
Citing the importance of thinking outside the box, of thinking the unthinkable, propose audacious options. Consider wrapping up your retail structure altogether and dealing exclusively with the consumer. Propose a subscription model. Suggest opening up in the US. Consider a merger with your biggest competitor. Before very long, your new CEO will be obliged to urge caution – and your corner will have been turned.
Of course, it’s just possible that the FPTF will hit on a seriously radical and utterly brilliant new trajectory for the company. If that’s the case, you may well want to appoint a new advertising agency. I’ve spent my whole career as a marketer working for retail brands that most people wouldn’t see as very exciting. Though it has been fulfilling, I want to do something a bit more ‘rock and roll’ but I’m worried my CV has given me an incompatible personal brand. How can I sort this out? I’m sorry to have to put this so bluntly, but anyone who frames their ambitions in terms of ‘rock and roll’ (inverted commas and not even rock ’n’ roll) is going to find it extremely difficult convincing the 23-year-old entrepreneur owner of a Hoxton start-up that they’re the cool dude his brand’s been waiting for.
Personal brands need realistic positioning just as much as product brands. Divide your Boston Matrix into two scales, Mainstream>Niche and Established>Disruptive, then settle for the Mainstream/ Established quartile. There’ll always be a need for such people and you’ll never feel uncomfortable. There’s an argument raging in our office about where the millennials end and Generation Z begins. I thought 2000 was the cut-off year, but a colleague insists it’s more like 1995. Who is right and why isn’t there a legal authority to make these decisions? Stop arguing. If there’s any value at all in these distinctions, which is debatable, it’s based not on people’s ages but on their characteristics. No legal authority can help you here.