Commentary

The Good Intentions Of Titles

One of my favorite pat guiding mantras is: decide what to be and go be it. Or, in the same family, "be the change you seek," emulate success, and the like. These ideas have varied origins, from statements by historic figures, to those found in greater context as passages in self-help or psychology books. But many of us adapt them as professional outlook. There seems almost an irrepressible urge on our part to fix on clean, aspirational milestones, even applying grandiose names or titles for whatever it is we pursue.

It occurred to me recently that our industry has a particular tendency to lump a lot of stuff into an aspirational name or title, often without really committing to the tough work that needs to be done to make the aspiration a reality. In companies, agencies and associations across the media land, we've got: emerging media labs, cross-media strategists, new media councils, innovation labs, digital evangelists, vice presidents of social media -- and even more naming and titling that just seems sloppy considering what we know and say about channels and platforms. That is: as marketers, we should begin only with our regard for the consumer, gathering all insights, and then, starting from as channel-agnostic a position as possible, develop strategies from there. Digital may or may not lead. What greater digital maturity has enabled is a more blended and cross-media-tuned approach to engage the consumer of today.

One of the reasons I view the persistent wacky organizational planning and titling of our industry as a problem is that we are in the leading position to set the pace on this. To a certain extent, brands and client-side companies are looking to us to create the structures for the strongest possible integrated marketing and media, where digital is involved, on which they can model their own practices. The way we name and position our agencies and offerings really matters to the evolution.

Coincidentally, the first article I read when I woke up this morning was "Old Media Decides Digital Still Needs a Chief," a piece by Michael Learmouth, which serves up perfect examples of this seemingly tireless digital-superhero-titling trend. Time Inc., Gannett, Clear Channel and Wenner Media are all giving the "Chief Digital Officer" title of yesteryear a new whirl. I happen to teach a course on building digitally equipped agencies and divisions. When talking to aspirational executives, I make it clear that there are numerous valid ways to go --  but none with one particular medium on steroids.  Yet this article reminds us we still have a penchant for the kind of titling that may actually hinder progress.

If you've ever taken a good look at the company context around a "digital strategist," "vice president of digital," "senior vice president of innovation," or any number of associated divisions or special forces, you'll usually find a lack of operational grounding. Disconnects in enterprise or agency workflow; missing capabilities; lack of buy-in; legacy siloed habits: all these are realities often swept under the carpet by executives not slowing down enough to do the work and get it right.  When anointed and elevated in this non-integrated way, such a role may ultimately live within its own silo, however large that silo might be. While this titling may derive from a certain level of commitment or digital joy, I'd argue that it's a good intention from which not much sustainable good can come.
2 comments about "The Good Intentions Of Titles".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Richard Monihan, November 22, 2010 at 2:47 p.m.

    One big problem of titles is something wholly personal - once a VP, you are expected to ALWAYS be a VP. That is, going to a "lesser" position will often disqualify you because "you've got your stripe". Sometimes it won't even matter if you the VP for a tiny organization and it's just a title to open doors.

    Titles are really just temporal ego boosts. It may make someone feel good to "move up" in title, but the real issue is what are the responsibilities and goals of that position? If they aren't well defined and the person handed the title isn't up to the task, then a title is just a bunch of words printed on a piece of slim cardboard.

    I've seen people "hold out" to get a "title" when going for positions. I understand the psychology behind this, but I don't understand if there is any value in doing this from the standpoint of an individual OR a company. If a company has to use a title to define structure, or keep egos in check, then there are much bigger problems within the organization.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 22, 2010 at 3:40 p.m.

    How does that saying go about good intentions? Titles and power do not necessarily a good company make. See newspapers ad infinitum.

Next story loading loading..