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
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.