Media Marketplace: Slaying the Beast

Media Marketplace:Slaying the Beast-Jay SuhrThis is the fourth big economic downturn I've experienced in my career. The S&L crisis, the 1987 stock market crash, the 2000 dot-com bust and today's lingering subprime crisis all offer hard lessons on how to do more than just cope - instead, how to creatively shift thinking to meet the economic challenges.

Whether it's because this is the retrospective, future-gazing time of the year or because of today's economy, I am breaking from the "expert panel" format to provide a singular POV. In part, it's because I've been through these times before - with multinational agencies and clients as well as with smaller agencies and clients. In simplistic terms, success comes from embracing the realities while holding on to your courage.

Buy: Empathy
The customer doesn't come first, people do. Above all, make sure everything you do is in the context of the very real concerns and fears families are facing. Your goals of raising awareness, shifting perception and growing share are overridden by greater needs. Instead, be an advocate for people. Post photographs of customers in your offices. Start every day reminding yourself of the individuals on the receiving end of the work you do. Rethink your value propositions. Provide above-and-beyond service. Deliver information to help people make smart choices. Be respectful. Be sensitive. Inspire if it makes sense. If you can, make people laugh. (We need it.)

Buy: Balance
Tough times bring out the worst in too many marketing people. Self-preservation instincts kick in. Clients and agencies see infighting for budgets, staff, even the existence of their programs. It gets ugly. Lead your organization to rise above the fray. Be objective in evaluating your most essential programs. Be brave enough to put secondary programs on hiatus, giving teams time to recalibrate or reinvent them for the future. Collaborate, both internally and with your partners.

Buy: Programs that strengthen your core
As marketers and agencies, we have a keen sense of what really pulls for our brands. These are the core, hard-working programs that are ignored in times of prosperity but do the heavy lifting year after year. The people behind these efforts already know how to do more with less. As a necessity, they've gotten buy-in from frontline staff, they know what works, and they have the numbers to prove it. Rather than just maintain budgets, make those programs stronger. Expand them. Integrate them across channels.

Buy: Smart innovation
The next great thing is probably being developed in someone's skunk works right now. Resist the urge to slash innovation budgets; you'll pay later by being behind competitors who kept R&D well-funded. (Business Week noted that both iTunes and the iPod were developed during the last recession.) However, place your bets wisely. Force your teams to collaborate and advocate for the most promising concepts. Fund those efforts first. Keep the others on simmer.

Sell: Legacy for legacy's sake
When the economy slows, lots of companies retreat into defensive positions and surround themselves with the safety of the way things have always been done. Legacy can take the form of programs - from conventional advertising campaigns to "hard-working" direct marketing, promotions and any variant of corporate "marcom." It may be a legacy client-agency relationship, an antiquated approach to budgeting, or a silo-based organization deep in redundancy and thin in more effective integration. In contrast to valuable core programs, these legacy programs are from a time gone by. Once effective, they have not adapted over time. However, their budgets and management fiefdoms have proved highly resilient. Their reign is unchallenged. Maybe it's time to say, "Enough." Maybe it's time to apply those budgets, teams and energy in a better way. Put them on the table for full review and debate. Recreate the beast, or slay it.

Jay Suhr is senior vice president, director of creative services and account planning at T3. (
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