Creative writing has always been my secret lover. I’m a closet writer. I’ve kept journals since I was 11 years old, and only paused when I had a child. So I have returned to it like moth to a flame and now it comes more easily, and I’m less in a closet and more open about this secret passion. Writing has a way of bringing an opportunity for a thought process that ends hopefully in a conclusion, and with no formal training it’s always a continual process to understand the art of successful structure versus rambling (which I love to do).
A large part of my work these days seems to come back to this process, because I spend a lot of time discussing and directing marketing strategies for artists, musicians and creative companies and also find myself struggling with my own process in my own business. The creative stream of consciousness is a process of ideas that form abstract order and demand that we address the ever shifting flow of information in which we choose to share our work.
When it comes to building and creating an album, a book, a play, an artist’s name or a company looking to expand its audience and income, it is important that building the story with authenticity and some humility is essential so that we can relate, and those that interact can relate to us, that without it we are just another product or project in a world so full of media madness we go unnoticed. In my world of branding and marketing, it is not just packaging or a logo, but a lifestyle that has to rise above the fast paced chatter and pull its viewer or listener in and demand their attention and bring some self awareness and most importantly an enjoyable experience.
The challenge is to keep up with the speed and flow of media format and trends and work ahead of the game. It’s an ever evolving process which I find not only applies to my work but to my life. Beyond the veneer of pretty packaging, lies the reality of this urban shift and those demographics that hold the key to an ever moving focus and need for growth within our processes.
It occurs, as I review and digest other marketing and agency directives, that staying fresh and being open to the flow can be hard. Companies prefer the ‘safe’ zone, some completely denying this evolving nature, and it seems to block them from their own growth and steer them towards demise. While others embrace it with a passion that brings the ideas to the forefront. Innovation is the key to unlocking those that have fallen into the safety zone.
In order to grow in today’s socioeconomic soil we must continually reinvent and reshift our values and reach beyond our own expectations by learning new things, opening to new ideas and being ready to take action as needed. The ‘great recession’ has been a gift for me to diversify and understand this process, as an ever evolving state and I’m not afraid by tripping up along the way.
This brings me to a memorable meeting earlier this month with a company that I was truly excited to see if I could help. I had reached out to them months before because my gut was telling me I could help them reach beyond their current audience. It took some time to get a meeting and just getting my resume on the GM’s desk was in itself a large task. I finally asked my friends who work within the company’s guarded walls to help me get a meeting, and a few weeks ago I received an email out of the blue, and the date was set. I was looking forward to it.
I felt I had much to say that could be helpful, much to ask and really was anticipating an open conversation about a vision and directive. I was envisioning a company with a vision. I planned, took notes, read reports about this specific industry and the impact from the latest downturn in the economy. I felt very prepared and excited by the opportunity to meet the GM and discuss their marketing.
Things somehow did not go as planned. Really – it was a truly awful meeting. It was actually the first meeting I have ever had where I appeared to just piss someone off within the first 10 minutes of arriving. I’m not perfect and am not always on the top of my game, (although I was feeling good that day and thought I was). I believe I know my stuff and I also know that I know I don’t know it all. I walked in with confidence, looking forward to this, and I felt prepared. I had some thoughts and ideas I wanted to express and what I thought were genuinely good questions, and it appeared the GM was not quite as prepared as I, and did not really appreciate my open approach as a stranger to walk in to ask questions. It also appeared that he had not so much glanced at my background experience on my resume, and was not anticipating a conversation but more a conventional job interview for a Marketing Director. Maybe he was also just having a bad day.
Sometimes it is just not the right fit I know, but I was taken aback by the nature of the meeting and it has been on my mind ever since because it raised the question as to the best way to approach a company or audience that has become isolated in it’s own culture it no longer sees beyond the stone walls that it has surrounded itself with. Hidden in the safety zone. (Safe that is for the time being).
I sensed that he felt my questions were more of an antagonist approach from the get go, particularly when he referred to my question as a “complaint” about the company and it’s goals – and he used the word “complaint” while looking down upon me with the face of someone who had just sucked a lemon. I refer specifically to the moment when I told him I had been a part of his audience several times over the last year (this is a local company with a regional presence), and how much I had enjoyed my time, but noticed everyone there were older than I (over 50) and had he considered reaching out to a wider demographic? His response was underlying annoyance. Did I know what I was talking about? I thought I did when I went in, but apparently I didn’t now and he was letting me know in no uncertain term. It was here I was seeing the car I was driving had left the road and was now veering off towards a precipice and I appeared to be going over that cliff. We moved on.
I continued. Had he considered social media and building the rapport with a wider demographic through outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and open his audience to a younger choice of programming aimed at the 30’s age group? It was clear on research that the company Facebook presence was lacking in outreach. Clearly I had now completely left the ground and had headed over the cliff toward the valley of no return.
At this point there was nothing to lose, this was obviously a complete disaster, so I continued. Had he considered expanding the educational portion of the program by targeting beyond his current focus of high school and university students and create programming for the younger children (Elementary through Middle School) – a large part of our cities community that was vibrant and in need of this type of outlet. Also, had he thought about promoting master classes through YouTube? – another source of revenue with a growing market.
I think he possibly rolled his eyes. I was now a stain on the other side of the table and he had the look that he was way too busy to sit here and listen to me. Alas, I had now fully crashed into the bottom of the canyon and my chances of being helpful where long gone. He stopped me in mid sentence, and told me that putting a few more posts on Facebook was not going to bring in the 30 something crowd, that they made too little money and had no interest in his particular business because they had babies and were just too busy going to music shows.
I might have gasped, but I shifted back into the seat as deep as I could and sat back a little stunned. My inner voice spoke, telling me to just open my ears. So I listened, I listened carefully to his choice of words regarding the job of his Marketing Director, his description of the 50 hour work week and the enormous amount of travel (to a city 90 miles north of here) involved – said with a twinge of annoyance and question as to if I could even manage such a long work week and arduous travel. I didn’t mention that I travel all over the world, and I didn’t mention that a 50 hour work week was the least of my concerns. He then asked me if I had ever worked in media, ever worked with an art director (both of which I’ve got a great deal of experience in) – he held my resume in his hand, but didn’t look at it. I responded respectfully.
At the end of this portion of our meeting, he asked me if I had questions, and I asked about his approach with his employees contributions to the well being of the company. Was he open to staff that could be included in his decision process, and was there room for a Marketing Director with a vision, with ideas who could contribute to the betterment of his company? He answered that he allowed those around him to participate but he made the overall decisions, for example the quality of the paper for the printers, because he said, we are a company of quality and we must reflect this throughout.
It lasted an uncomfortable 30 minutes, and I thanked him kindly for his time. As I peeled myself out of my chair somewhat shaken, and walked to my car, I realized that I cannot open doors if there are none to be found. It was stupid of me to think I could shift the reality of a culture in one short meeting and this business model was not one that was open to others ideas – that they had to be that of the GM himself. I did hope that he might remember the woman who came and asked questions that he was appalled by. Hoping he knows that being stagnant in the marketplace is like the kiss of death to a company that needs to drive a larger audience. But he gave me the strong impression that this was not his goal, that he relied heavily on the donors and grants the company now received to support the company, that he did not rely on the audience beyond.
So OK, I admit, I might need to improve my approach to walking into a business with my so called bright ideas and naivety about a GM’s personality, and where those that have forgotten there is an outside world beyond their own culture, have become delighted with their own bureaucratic nature and sense of importance. While I left rather stunned by the meeting, it actually reinvigorated my thoughts regarding adaptation and change and I walked into the daylight, back into the fresh air.
No matter who or what we do, we must continually reinvent ourselves, we must continue to get better at and must educate ourselves and learn new things and be open. We must also be accountable, not just to board members, donors and sponsors, but to our audience, to our fan base and to our own beliefs in the creative spark that makes us produce the best that we can. To remain authentic and real so that even if we don’t agree to agree, we can have open dialog without fear of reprisal.