"Call 911, We have an advertising emergency!"

Sometimes I'm amazed when I sit in a meeting and just listen to the language of urgency. You know, those times when it seems as though every tactic, every effort and every plan must be executed at a break-neck speed or all is lost. I remember once working for a small company that was in big trouble. Past mismanagement had led it down a path it from which it may never recover. Outrageous sums were spent securing celebrity endorsements, because that's what the competition was doing. Huge amounts were spent on one single media outlet, supporting one campaign idea, which ultimately didn't work. This led to a frantic attempt to save the brand and the company. Ideas were executed instantaneously with little or no validation and minimal understanding of the consumer. It's not surprise that in less than a year the company shuttered it's doors and our contact moved on to manage another brand for another company. It's also no surprise that she didn't call us when she was looking to hire a new agency since we had established ourselves as the agency you hire when you have very little money and when you are desperate. In her new job she was neither.

I've thought about those efforts often and I think there's a valuable lesson. It has to do with the difference between urgent and important. They often get conflated. Let me explain:

  1. Some efforts are urgent but not important: These are those efforts that you just have to do but will probably have no long term effects on the health of your company or brand. Internal reports, long meetings to "regroup" and dealing with petty squabbles within your teams all fall into this category. 
  2. Others are important but not urgent: This is where our focus should be. It is made up of the four most important activities that make a team, company, agency or non-profit work. 1) Establishing a clear, cogent vision 2) Facilitating that vision by communicating it clearly and building consensus within the team 3) Equipping the team and organization to reach the objectives that support the vision and 4) Hiring people who are smarter than you are.
  3. Some are both urgent and important:  These are incredibly rare. The only opportunity in this category should be unexpected opportunities that will clearly advance the brand's objectives if acted on quickly. I have often said, "There are no advertising emergencies." Maybe I'm being a little hyperbolic, however, the likelihood of success in all endeavors but especially advertising is tied to the quality of the strategy. Everything grows out of that. Great strategies are thoughtful and informed. You can attack the urgent more effectively only when you already have clear objectives defined based on a clear strategic plan.
When faced with a list of things to accomplish I suggest asking yourself which one of these three categories does each item fall into, it might natually prioritize your tasks, make your life a little easier and yield greater impact.

 

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