Hard Trends Beat Hard Times

There's an iconic mid-90s New Yorker cartoon that has two parents standing over the crib of their sleeping infant. Arm around his wife, the father says, "Of course he looks peaceful. He's only ever lived in a bull market." This is not to gloss over any of the short term impact of this crash/recession/mosh-pit-of-doom we're going through: there will be pain-a-plenty to go around. Budgets will shrink, businesses will reorganize, weaker ones will fall away. We will indeed see the spring, but in the mean time there's work to be done and perspective to be had.

Don't Study Earthquakes, Look Instead at the Faultlines: As my good friend Charlie Thomas often reminds me, hard trends matter more than cycles. The current credit crisis and the resultant pullback on ad budgets is a cycle. But all the hard trends point to continued growth for our digital advertising and marketing world. To illustrate the point, a brief quiz:

  • In 3-5 years will there be more or less money spent in digital marketing and advertising?
  • In that time frame will the share of spending in digital grow relative to analog media?
  • Will the relative complexity and depth of digital advertising and marketing continue to demand professional knowledge and insight?
  • Will digital issues occupy more or less of the time and attention of marketers, agency leaders and media company executives in 3-5 years?

Most informed observers would answer "more" "yes," "yes" and "more" to these questions; so would I, and probably so would you. These are hard trends. If we keep this future in mind, our long term decisions will be about how we create value in that world. Our short term decisions are about staying afloat and building the capabilities and relationships that will help us realize future success.

Take Share: In good times you take profit, in bad times you build share. But this doesn't apply just to share of market or share of wallet. I'm talking here about increasing your personal share of voice with key customers. It may sound oxymoronic to think about getting more and better time with customers when the dollar tide is at ebb, but it's actually when they will appreciate your vision, ideas and leadership the most. Most of those who just fed from the budget trough during the good times will have vanished. Use the time when there's little money to have a "what if?" meeting or just a lunch to learn more about their business and challenges.

Transform: What a great time to reinvent yourself and your approach to the business. Budget's not flowing? Imagine strategies that would help you redirect or even create budgets where they don't exist. Forget about what's expected from an "ad seller" and instead get closer than anyone else to the business problems, the industry and the pipeline . Become more a part of their business than your own. Learn about PR, promotion and co-op dollars. If the familiar watering holes are dry, finding new sources isn't just a good idea, it's about survival.

Lead: "Adversity doesn't build character; it reveals it." If your character contains the capacity for leadership, this is your moment. Leadership at the organizational and relationship levels is sorely lacking today. If you consistently work to (1) achieve clarity, (2) make clear business choices, (3) build consensus and (4) focus on long term business and relationship growth, you are a leader. Be a strong voice for those qualities within your organization, but don't forget to take a leadership role with your accounts as well. You'll end up being a candle in the darkness.

Trust me on this: the important stuff hasn't changed. Your career, your relationships and your body of work are all still waiting to be realized. Do what's right based on hard trends and you'll make it through this cycle just fine.

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