Big Talkers, Small Doers: Revisiting the Role of Strategy in Outsourced Marketing

Ever shopped agencies? Freelancer designers? Advertising consultants? Or outsourced marketing help by any other name? If you have, you might’ve noticed something confounding: Those who want the biggest paydays are also often the same ones who, when hired, want to tell you exactly where and how to dig—but wouldn’t be caught dead holding a shovel.

I’m talking, of course, about the labor of effective marketing. And labor is the word. Because for marketing to work, you, and by extension your marketing team, also have to work. Very hard. Every day.

No kidding, says you, fearless marketing leader and protagonist of this article. That’s obvious. And yet when it comes to retaining the perfect marketing partner, you’d be amazed at how susceptible a budding, in-transition, or otherwise-vulnerable marketing program is to self-described ‘strategists’—hacks with marketing titles who really just talk a lot, and then send their invoice.

As soon as you know what to look for, you can’t unsee it. A couple clues: When pitching their service, they’ll tend to use terms like “drive strategy,” which is code for, I don’t do any real work, because I’m the smartest guy in the room, and only peons sweat. When prompted for their experience, they’ll quickly relay a client list that’s a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of the most successful companies in your space (and how honored you should feel that they’d even entertain working with the likes of you!). Ask them to monetize their success? They’ll use figures that are just-a-tier above your market cap (e.g., if your revenues are in the hundreds of millions, they’ll tell you about their last billion-dollar marketing victory).

How exactly these guys manage to mold lasting relationships from lip-service, and sleep at night, is foreign to a business like Simpatico. Value, to us, means we can’t stop at creating go-to-market strategies for clients; that’s just the beginning. We’ve got to, got to, got toexecute, and follow through. That means putting in the time. It means dealing as much in tedium as we do in big-picture thinking. It means being accountable—for success and all its glory, and for failure and all its blunder.

The benefits of this ethos are, to us, obvious: It’s only through deep, continuous, day-to-day involvement that we can ever hope to know our clients’ businesses as well as they do, and continuously improve the effectiveness of our partnership.

A Matter of Principal

It occurred to me while reading up on ‘Game of Thrones’ creator George R. R. Martin that many of our counterparts in the outsourced marketing realm have abetted this kind of sloth-and-gluttony definition of strategy. Here’s what I mean:

Strategy, as many of our competitors would have you believe, means having a really good idea and telling others what to do with it. They also peddle the idea that strategy takes the form of dialogue and conjecture—and that if you’re designing, developing or otherwise deploying, well, that’s not strategic. Or, most egregious, they pit thinking and doing against one another, suggesting that solid strategy and effective execution can’t possiblycome in one package.

That, of course, is ridiculous. The cream of the crop in the arts and outsourced marketing are proof of the opposite.

We model our agency after contemporaries whose principals said “‘Til death do us part!” with their businesses. In agency land, that’s guys like Stan Richards—who, at 85 years young, remains as involved in client work as he was when he opened a freelance shop from his garage in Dallas 42 years ago. (The guy still runs production meetings.) In entertainment, it’s gals like Dolly Parton, who went from Smoky Mountain rags to Dollywood riches—not thanks to luck, or talent, or acumen, but because she’s still, now in the sixth decade of her music career, putting in the work to crystalize her branded entertainment empire. You don’t need to like country music to respect the hell out of that.

Let the Market, Not the Monarch, Do the Talking

Richards and Parton are a far cry from the bunch of big-talking, price-inflated marketing consultancies and agencies who would have you believe that their do-nothing method is justified by their embellished resume. But that’s the trick of it all: to persuade you that they, and they alone, are the kings of their domains, and are thus worth their royal approach to problem-solving.

Buyer beware: Give ’em a seat at the table, and you can be sure they’ll use it like a throne. Why wouldn’t they? After all, from the comfort of a throne, whenever something doesn’t work, you can simply yell, Off with their heads!, and keep your seat. And that’s about the extent of what they’ll do: Bark orders, point fingers, send a massive invoice, repeat.

Call us old-fashioned, but we’d rather let our work—and your customers—do the talking.


Also posted on LinkedIn

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