The times are changing, the season is changing and my own time and season are changing.
So, it feels like an opportunity to take stock of my years in the marketing and communications business, a cumulative inventory of experiences that can be better understood and shared with the objectivity of time and reflection. Or… how about this… been there, done that.
Here are some choice lessons that I’ve learned and relearned… and keep learning.
# 1 in a series – The role of luck.
When Warren Buffet was asked what the most important factor was in determining business success, he picked luck over the many other choices and perhaps more expected answers, such as, self-confidence, education, hard work, upbringing. From the luck of having certain genes and parentage which help pre-determine health, character, home and culture, to the random luck of just being in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time, this factor is often unrecognized and underestimated when thinking forward. It’s worth being aware of and factoring in during such a time of uncertainty.
When I was VP of a B2B ad agency specializing in the healthcare sector in Montreal in the seventies, I led the risky adventure of opening a Toronto office, following in the wake of a numerous pharmaceutical companies escaping political uncertainty in Quebec down the 401 to Toronto. We had the portfolio, reputation and resources covered, but it was an increasingly competitive marketplace and setting-up from scratch in a new environment would be a challenge.
One random lucky draw and one lucky piece of networking seeded the future decade of success. Hard teamwork, business acumen and heart-in-it drive sealed the deals.
The lucky draw was the letter ‘A’. From my Montreal office looking for prospects to fuel our expansion, I decided to go alphabetically down the list of pharma companies headquartered in Toronto. The first call to the first ‘A’ in the directory was to Allen & Hanbury’s (now GlaxoSmithKline) marketing manager who had just fired his agency. Bingo, I’m invited to pitch and am on the plane studying the research I had quickly packed. Several meetings went well and we were awarded our launch account making the venture profitable from day one.
The lucky piece of networking occurred in the same period, thus doubling our take on a roll of the die. My partner had lunch with a friend in the aviation industry who had a friend in marketing at a Canadian aircraft manufacturer, de Haviland Aircraft. When the friend learned we were setting up operations in Toronto where the company was headquartered, he referred us to his de Haviland contact who told a newly appointed marketing coordinator who had just been tasked with advertising. Being new and inexperienced and without an agency to handle a greatly increased ad budget to launch their new flagship DASH8, the young marketing coordinator quickly connected with me in my new Toronto office. Never before or since have I heard the words – “Can you handle a million dollar ad budget and how soon can you commit?”
That night I celebrated my first million-dollar account acquisition and invested in a new suit to meet the new client’s management. It served me well. A little over a year later we helped produce the dramatic launch event of the beautiful DASH8 in a hangar filled with dignitaries which included Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Twice lucky so far in this new venture, Toronto was starting to feel like home.
Luck comes in different flavours and cuts both ways. After a few years, our Toronto operation was the leading earner in our three city (including Manchester UK) ‘empire’. It was ‘easy come’ for almost a decade until it was ‘easy go’. As luck would have it, the president of the very client (‘A’) that launched us to success passed away unexpectedly. I received a call from the new guy before I had a chance to set up a meeting to make him familiar and comfortable with our services and team. It was short, with little explanation; we had done a good job but it was time for change. Gone, no discussion.
Putting the phone down was an enormously heavy task. One, that I’d have to repeat again when de Havilland was bought by Boeing which turned to a larger agency to fulfill its marketing dreams. This time, on the down slope, we experienced a double dose of bad luck, as our performance with both clients had never been an issue.
The silence at the end of a call can be golden, as you bask in self-satisfaction, or dark, as you are swamped by fear of failure, especially dire during these precarious Covid-19 times. Accepting the role of luck, good or bad and using all the other success factors to balance are imperative for survival.
So is a good suit and my ‘million-dollar’ suit still had lots of thread.