A chief marketing officer’s worst nightmare

John Ross, President IPG Emerging Media Lab What scares you? What keeps you up at night, and nags at the back of your consciousness? There are a couple of things that frighten me. Being likened to the comedian Carrot  Top is one of them. The other is finding that I have stopped learning.

Can you imagine it? Waking up one day to discover that your capacity for taking in new knowledge has ended. That everything you are going to learn has already happened and that your brain, now filled to capacity, was blinking the “hard drive full” message across your retinas over and over again. It can happen. I have experienced it.

One of the things that happens when you are the custodian of a large marketing budget is that suddenly everyone wants to meet with you. If you allowed every new vendor to come in a pitch, you could spend your entire day watching Power Point slides. Want to know what waterboarding feels like? Just follow the media director of a major brand around a marketing conference and watch the vendors surround them like flood waters.

In self defense you set up firewalls, controls, layers of security. Your agencies screen new vendors, protect you from the flood and only bring you those rare and few gems that you are likely to be interested in. You feel safe and secure, able to focus on running your marketing plan, driving your business, and managing your time.

But all those firewalls and defensive screens – they are a trap. They isolate you from the marketplace, they insulate you from innovation. You become numb to new ideas, blunt in the face of true market evolution. And while you complain about the fact that your Marcom looks a lot like the same one you ran the year before – and the year before that – you notice that blinking light flashing across your cool agency glasses: Hard drive full. Hard drive full.

Which means that we, as agencies, need to figure out a way to break the new vendor – client stalemate. To address the disconnect, IPG and Mediabrands have launched an initiative called Greenhaus. Its mission is to coral emerging media companies and coach them on how to communicate with advertisers. Then, like an emerging media dating service, we connect them in no-risk, single day events where both sides can learn from each other.

We hope Greenhaus will keep marketers and technology providers innovating. But brands can begin changing the dynamic on their own: Consider an open-to-buy day where your team does nothing but meet with companies you don’t already do business with. Or an annual award you give out to your marketing team for the best new vendor program. What about encouraging your marketing teams to incorporate new media tools into their own lives—this keeps them playing and fresh. You get the picture.

Hard drive defragmented. You have available space.

John Ross is President of the IPG Emerging Media Lab and Executive Vice President of Mediabrands’ Retail 3.0 Practice. Leave a comment for John, or email him here.