Exit Strategy: Stage Left

If there’s one thing I don’t think I’ll ever miss about the last few years, it’s the way hot shots used to talk about their “exit strategies.” There seems to be very little nobility in an “exit strategy.” It’s a kind of short hand for “I’ve got mine, and I’m high-tailing it outta here before they find out they’ve been suckered.” Snickering all the way.

Well, the exit strategy has left the building. Thankfully, we don’t hear it much anymore. The irony is that once their contracts or money ran out, many “exit strategists” had the doors slammed in their faces anyway. They got what they were hoping for -- they were exited. Of course, there is a handful that made off with the pot of gold, but those lucky few -- not surprisingly – have found it difficult, if not impossible, to replicate their first time luck.

They say timing is everything. If that’s so, there must be some equity in time, don’t you think? As a media planner, I will always look toward those individuals and properties that I trust. Even a new property can get on a buy, but if it does, it’s often due to their new VP Marketing or VP Sales – the guy who’s proven himself every day for the last 20 years at another property, and now adds credibility to the new, untried vehicle.



Boy, it has not been easy, though in so many ways it was worth the effort. Though for a while there seemed to be lots of “exit strategists” running around, there were always great people in the biz. Just look at what the pros are doing over at AOL, Yahoo!, Interep, Google, Gator, MSN, Ebay, CBS Marketwatch, CNN, DoubleClick,, Forbes, NY Times, Sabre Virtually There, iVillage,, Atlas and dozens of other properties: “Hey Community, we have a quorum now! We have a threshold level competency that was less present 18 months ago. We finally have an industry that has finally gotten down to business, not BS!”

Though many people summarize Nicolo Machiavelli’s 16th century management guidebook The Prince as “the end justifies the means,” there’s a much larger point to be made if you look deeper. Machiavelli really tries to counsel his young ruler that those regimes with meteoric rises also have meteoric falls. Those princes who slowly build their kingdoms brick by brick, are much more likely to survive and weather the storm, over the long term.

This also applies to our business. We all know whom we can trust to deliver. Whether it’s the property or the person, smart buyers consciously apply a QA trust test to the supplier. They also look at the sales person, the manager the sales person reports to and who that senior sales person is.

In Robert Altman’s very Machiavellian flick The Player, where the studio head honchos worry on a daily basis if their heads will be served up on silver platters and written about in the Hollywood Reporter by COB, the actors start playing the name game faster than you can say Julia Roberts.

For better or worse, people play the name game in this business as well, much like how advertisers play the branding game in advertising. When we have a positive or negative experience with a sales person, or conversely, when a sales person has a negative experience with a buyer, we “brand” our reputation and operating style, whether it is at a cocktail party, chatting over the phone or discussing your connections on a sales call. Birds of a feather flock together.

Though the science of the name game is fatally flawed, when there’s no history between the buyer and the seller, it’s often a fallback point of departure and sometimes breaks the ice. It’s assumed that both will follow up with the person discussed. It can even be fun sometimes, if only to see how many degrees of separation and/or comfort each has with the other during the chat. But what’s really going on underneath the smiley veneer is “whom do you know that I also know who can help me determine if we should do business together?”

Seems to me like our “exit strategists” were fatally flawed, and did not have this respect for relationships, which is necessary to create a “business as usual” environment. They most likely weren’t able to play the name game very well. If they had, perhaps they wouldn’t have bragged so much about getting out.

As the old ad campaign said, “ya gotta be in it to win it.” Those who can play the name game can do so in part because they’ve stuck it out in this business. They haven’t cut and run. That stands for something. And as this business continues to prove itself on a daily basis, it’s an element that will only increase in value over time.

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