Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Stumbling into a Solution.....

One of the most interesting aspects I've learned over the years in working at -- and leading new companies is the following:

"The most unforseen solutions emerge from the most unlikely of places, that we never planned, and we never accounted for. Some of the solutions, many orginally thought of as simply problems, and not until years later - do you realize how beneficial they were to your success."

In my previous working life, (at years later, I had the pleasure of speaking with someone I respect tremendously, and he asked me about what I believed to be the key aspects that differentiated the company from the rest of the, "lookalikes."

My response:
1) Amazingly effective leadership
2) Great Management
3) Genuinely Caring about Employees -- and taking interest in each person on a individual level
4) Getting Rid of non-performing employees in a timely manner (and realizing that this kept the most productive workers motivated - this was a direct result of good management)
5) Allowing the Sales Leaders to have a direct input, and a direct channel, to how products should be developed, packaged, and rolled out.....(sounds basic, but many companies do not do this -- they just SAY they do)

Here were the UNFORSEEN elements that transpired, that had a positive influence, looking back years later:

6) BUST. In late 2000 the DOT COM market bubble burst. Many companies went out of business, advertising budgets directed toward online advertising disappeared, and the industry appeared to stagnate. Fear was in the air.
My previous employer immediately shifted to what MARKETERS DESIRED -- a company based on performance and results. We mitigated and took 100% of the risk off our clients plates.....
The DOT COM bust, allowed us to focus on our core business. It made us better, during a time when our competitors panicked, changed their business models, and retooled their organizations. We hunkered down, and focused on addressing needs, and executed (again with great management and leadership) against the fundamental needs of the marketplace.
The Dot Com bust, and the pain it inflicted to our industry, turned out to be a problem for the web, but our company had the solution.......

7) Location. I thought that this was a HUGE problem. The location of the company was Baltimore MD. I'm a NY/NJ guy, and it perplexed me (even after I opened our NYC office) as to why, and what benefit, having a internet company based in Baltimore was? It turns out it was a HUGE benefit to the success, growth, and achievements of the organization. Being in Maryland allowed our employees NOT to be in the "winds of change." Our people were able to be focused, focused enough NOT, to be involved in the downward spiral of the companies in San Francisco and New York. It New York City, it was hard NOT to go to a happy hour and hear the stories of how, "so and so got laid off, this and this company closed their doors...., etc etc".
This was NOT the conversation in Baltimore. The economy is sufficiently different, in that the amount of dot coms (in Baltimore) were NOT as plentiful as, Silicon Alley, Silicon Valley, or 23rd street in NYC.
There was not as much employee turnover, as compared to other companies operating in major media markets. This is CRITICAL to building, (low turnover) and implementing technology -- and just as important when growing a company.
Turns out being in Baltimore was a unforseen benefit, and probably a BIG reason why the company was able to retain, and focus, hundreds of employees, FOR YEARS.

8) Our early employees (including me) did not have media backgrounds. Virtually non existent amongst the earliest employees was the notion of, "we must hire people with advertising and media experience." Many thought this as a mistake. Many people thought we should focus on new hires that, UNDERSTOOD ADVERTISING. Quite the contrary, it turned out to be critically important, and strategic, to the success of the company....
But why?
Here are a few of the reasons:
* diverse backgrounds bring unique persepectives
* blank canvasses of the brain, allow a NEW EMPLOYEE to learn about your company -- IN CONJUNCTION WITH LEARNING ABOUT A NEW INDUSTRY. A key ingredient, and read it again if you must...but it cannot be "emphasized" (thanks Jeff H.) enough.
* performers and excellent employees from other companies allow for a higher probablity of success in a newer environment
* the company was out to change the network model and blaze a new path. Frequently, people with experience would say, "Media planners won't do that." "Agencies wont commit budgets without a site list..." Turns out the media planners did. Because we were not afraid to change the language -- we did not know any better, we sold it - and it worked. Had there been someone internally, beating us over the head, with all their previous media experience, telling us NOT TO DO IT - we probably would not have.

Lastly, grabbing the proverbial opportunity, when it comes along.

A big campaign. A new product. A big pitch. A new idea.......

Understanding WHEN to dedicate resources to a chance, to a prayer, to a longshot - that can make or break a company. I call this the, "improvisational element" of reading a situation -- and creatively weaving the fabric of the company, and subtly redirected resources, that can change destiny.

Often times it will fail.

But, with good instinct - clear understanding of where the market "can" go, the fundamental problem of every company being, "resource constrained" and "we just can't undertake that now" - virtually NEVER HAPPENS...

Turns out, one of my biggest takeaways is that the:

"Challenges and Problems of Today - many times contain the ingredients that make up the, RECIPE of SOLUTIONS."

It is identifying precisely which challenges of today, are benefits - and having the forsight to understand, and maximize it........

I've outlayed,(from my background) bust, location, and lack of employee experience - as issues many thought were roadblocks to success, (including me).......

Turn out they were directly beneficial and critical to creating value.

Rock on.

(PS. Any bloggers interested in testing Lotame Crowd Control reporting on their blog? Please contact me, as we are rolling out a beta program to Bloggers to give them new access to how their visitors consume their media - and how it can be used by Advertisers to create audiences and target against. If interested, please contact me on email. AM)


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