April 13, 2010

Bruce Bieber's Tips On Winning Conference Room Wars From Hell.


I read a great WSJ article regarding the U.S. "Tooth to Tail" ratio in the military that had a profound effect on me.

The gist was that while strategy is important, the US won many of its wars because of its attention to logistics, execution and sustainability. Read it. It's well worth it. One may see parallels to it in how to survive modern-day corporate warfare just as emperors, kings and princes were as well instructed in their time from Sun Tzu's The Art of War or Nicolo Machiavelli's The Prince.

The battle plan mapped out here is based on the experience I have in the conference room trenches between agencies that either produce brand-level consumer advertising or consumer-level, brand promotions.

As with governmental/military systems, marketing programs also rely on solid structure and intelligent planning for sound execution. However, we all know that things can and will go wrong on the ground, which one may have to redefine the terms friendly vs. un-friendly fire.


We on the promotion side often get embroiled in untangling and simplifying what was strategically interesting and perhaps on-target from the ad agency but was essentially executionally dysfunctional.

Being the "Last one with the grenade" as I call it, it's always been incumbent upon people like me to make sure the pin got put back in, or that the action-packed promotional grenade went off at the right time, in the right place, excited the right people and of course, was executed flawlessly, well under budget.

One tends to develop a charming eye twitch over time. Not that I speak from experience :--) though I've wondered from time to time how some promotional war veterans can live to fight another day with a fair amount of conference room shrapnel in their belly.

I've learned from them that one must develop a sense for what will and won’t work within an organization, no matter how bloody creative the idea is or how many saluted when it was up the flagpole.


Let's face it, we often hear client marketers grumble that the creatives are guilty of pushing integrated marketing programs down their throats that will make their lives very difficult. On the other side of the table, the creatives feel they are simply responding to the client's demands to provide something break-through, something over the top, something that will blow their customers away.... as long as it doesn't interfere with the new packaging roll out, or line extension, or sometimes most importantly, the VP, Marketing's vacation.

Having produced and directed national promotions for a number of companies in the beverage business among others; brands such as Lone Star Beer and Henry Weinhard's or Pabst Blue Ribbon, the creative concepts I have seen were often brilliant, yet they needed to be back-packed to some degree in order to make it easy for the field force to execute.


The field folk I've had the priviledge to work with were the few, the proud, the GI-Jane's & Joe's infantry who got the beer tents set up the night before the Tailgate party. Or sacrificed their family time to make sure everything went off like a hitch at the Labor Day event. Or perhaps with even more moving parts, besides setting up all the collateral, collecting contest entry forms, putting up banners, laying out the trinkets and trash, coordinating everything with the arena labor folks, the had to smile and welcome the athletes or country singers or movie stars and ask them if the ride in the limo (specifically NOT a town car) met their expectations, while they excort them up to the stage, all the while kissing their ring all the while making a fraction of the celeb's day rate for 20 times more the work in as many days. Or on a hand to hand combat basis, to make sure the big wig company execs and clients got the tickets for the hockey game luxury suite, or else.

In the life and career of promotional directors, this is your average day platoon skirmish, yet if the brand-level message complicates the execution to an unreasonable degree, the split-second timing for things to off without a hitch becomes a never-ending battle.


Here are a few tips to insure your advertising and promotion campaigns will succeed from Tooth to Tail:

1. Keep It Simple Soldier - the simpler the execution, the higher the rate of compliance.

2. Get Their Skin in The Game - Make sure ad Agency representatives are part of the field command. They'll see first-hand how well their creative artillary is working on the field.

3. Allow the sales promotion agency to assist in bringing strategic branding to life early in the creative process. Let us work with you to put the "fun" into functional.


We are well aware that many advertising conglomerates have partner sales promotion agencies but we mostly see ad agencies giving their presence lip service than actually bringing them in. Conglomeration has shown that the battle for turf protection behind the line is sabataging the preparation long before the tanks are fueled up.

I'm confident though that these systemic issues are going to change. Clients are realizing that the brilliant creative strategy presented around the blond teak conference room table and plush chairs must consider the front line troops. If they don't, with pressures always, always, always on the bottom line, there really will be hell to pay if the mission fails.

Therefor the Parris Islandlevel training approach should begin "in" the conference room vs. months and miles away no one can remember who said what to whom and when. Make sure everyone roles up their sleeves and gets their hands little dirty in planning the "day of" roles and responsibilities from thought to finish, before the meeting is over, not on the "day of" at the 11th hour.


Conference wars are and can be hell. Yet, what always comes to mind at these times is my favorite quote from another General, Omar Bradley; "Amateurs see strategy, professionals see logistics."

Bruce Bieber is President of PERPETUAL PROMOTION a leading promotional marketing firm that creates inventive strategic branding and brings it to life via strong tactical execution. He can be reached at bruce@perpetualpromo.biz or directly at 206-691-3883, in Seattle Washington.

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