Sunday, January 3, 2010

Marketers: Failure is Merely a Dress Rehearsal for Success

I have worked for a lot of entrepreneurs and am working for two right now that I have enormous respect for. Often they see something in me – perhaps how badly I want it and how hard I will work to make it happen. I’d like to think they see smart and creative.

Many PR people and consultants can’t work for entrepreneurs because they don’t like having to quantify what they do. They follow formulas not ideas. And they don’t do the work themselves but hand it off to junior people who bill less. Bad idea. Most junior people are lousy strategists - they don't have the background for it. They need you more than you wish they did.

I worked for a company once that ate its young. Senior people always knew better than everyone else. They let you do all the work while they made nice with clients, went out to lunch a lot and expected you to wait around until office hours were over for them to review your work and pass it on to the client as theirs.

Whatever you told them, whatever you suggested, whatever you wrote, it was never as good as what they could do. The good news was if you made them money they left you alone. For awhile.

So what happened? They stopped leaving us alone. All of the people who were really talented left because they put in reporting systems and structures that took the entrepreneurial spirit right out of the company. Oh they went out and found new people and they are still doing fine. But they never got past their comfort zone. That’s the difference between an entrepreneur and a middle manager who got lucky. Don’t ever forget that.

I was just watching Larry Bock, a bio-tech entrepreneur and inspiration behind the USA Science & Engineering Festival give a commencement address to Berkeley. The address is from 2007. But what he says is so smart and so inspiring all of you should watch it. He talks about five things that Berkeley students should remember as they go out into the world. One of them is the headline of this post.

So after I watched the video, I thought about what he said and what I’ve learned working with entrepreneurs. For what it's worth here are my five characteristics of what makes a great entrepreneur. All five are also what makes a great marketer. Not just someone who makes a lot of money but someone who also makes a great boss and a great leader. Take from it what you need.

1. They look for people not projects. People are what make a venture work – smart, driven, creative people who want it to succeed. Without that, you have a shell.

2. They don’t tell you what to do but listen to what you say and let you do it. True entrepreneurs know they can’t do it all by themselves. They acknowledge that people they hire know what they’re doing – and they hire them to do it. So they give them lots of rope and let them figure it out. They are the encouraging voice behind you.

3. They combine chutzpah with humility. Bock said this and I agree. There are plenty of people who start believing in their own mystique. Look at celebrities. They start to make it – then surround themselves with yes people who say it’s OK to fly sushi into the desert because they have a craving for it. Who treat them like they are better than everyone else.

We’ve created a culture of celebrity love in this country – especially through reality TV – that is truly scary. The basic message is simple. We are all people – we break, we fix things, we love, we get mad and we live and die. In the grand scheme of things – we are all pretty similar. So keep that humility - it will make you a better person and a much better entrepreneur and marketer.

4. They understand the value of PR but measure it in dollars not hits or clips. Entrepreneurs want value from the people who work for them. They don’t measure it in amorphous buzz words.

Sorry folks but today there are tools that let your clients figure out exactly what they are getting from you. The smart ones are using analytics – most likely Google because it’s free. How many people are going to their website because of the coverage they’re getting? What’s driving their sales figures? Is it your work? They will measure and they will make you measure too.

5. They work their asses off and expect everyone else will too. The difference is that they do it right alongside the people they’ve hired.

I am clueless to why the YouTube direct link doesn't work. But if you go to the site and search Larry Bock - his Berkeley address is the first listing you get.

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