Thursday, August 09, 2007

"Trouble is the next best thing to enjoyment; there is no fate in the world so horrible as to have no share in either its joy or sorrows." Longfellow

"Organization is the art of getting men to respond like thoroughbreds. When you cluck to a thoroughbred, he gives you all of the speed and strength of heart and sinew he has in him. When you cluck to a jackass, he kicks." C.R. House

"Price becomes an objection when we fail to articulate value." Norman Goldsmith

Quick review. Yesterday we suggested the what and the why needed serious consideration before thinking about the how. A number of emails give me reason to offer more detail.

Should we agree that it is important we meet next Friday at the clock on the street level of New York's Grand Central at noon sharp how we each get there is an issue subordinate to the mission. Air, rail, car, arriving the day before, the morning of, those are details. Over travel budget, under budget, on budget might, indeed, be important but secondary.

We have agreed upon a standard. It becomes a binary equation. There at noon, or not. 1 or 0. The most important question...have we arrived in the right place at the right time. Are we right about the what.

The great trap of the how is it tends to become a distraction, one that takes our focus further away from the more important - the what and the why. When we make the incorrect call on the what, being brilliant on the why and the how makes little, if any, difference.

One recent example from radio. Blowing up WCBS-FM, switching from a heritage oldies format to Jack. We can agree the what was changing format, dropping oldies and the why, an attempt to capture a younger audience, gaining a more competitive ratings position and, as a result, more revenue. After all, the oldies format was said to be dead or at least at or near end stage. The how included staging a format without talent (a significant reduction in radio's single biggest expense line, labor). No matter how brilliant the execution (including
the immediate improvement in operating margin running rate), without regard to the elegant rationale of the why, it was the what that turned out to be wrong.

In the second year of the format execs were actually blind to alternatives, to any revisiting of the what and so much so they rationalized failure (e.g., "the 35-44 male, midday cume is up 29% over last month, placing us top five in the month"). We witness this behavior at every one share radio station where precious time and resources are invested in defending the what, fronting arcane logic and redoubling the how activity in desperate efforts to get better. The smarter, far more difficult move is investing the intellectual honesty needed to just call the baby ugly. The brutal candor and rigor required to admit failure and fix the problem. It becomes the dangerous business of graduate level dog ate my homework wherein we take temporary leave of our senses (there's probably a New School psych course in here somewhere). We discount those who disagree, those that question the bad taste of the kool-aid and we say "they don't get it." You would be right to say that 12+ ain't important but if you're in New York, Chicago or LA please don't run your mouth about how really smart you are unless you have a three share or better.

Dude, sometimes the emperor really is just a crazy old nekkid fool that everyone has been putting up with for way too long. When you can't break a two share you're losing dawg, you gotta do something.

Thanks to Dan Mason
the what most recently became bringing back oldies and WCBS-FM. He was able to see reality as it was, not as others wished it to be.

Allow me a suggestion. More than one CBS exec became captive to the very seductive suggestion of a how, that a so-called new brand was more important than a franchise of over three decades standing; the preemptive offering of a hot new brand smarter than any reinvention of an established New York property. Classic How v What. Too clever by half. Please, let me opine: it is a better wager, by far, to adjust, tweak, fine tune, reinvent, reimagine (thank you TP!) or otherwise invest in the creative refreshing of an established franchise, an established equity or property than it is to walk away and take a flyer on any new concept. It's all about proprietary intangibles but that's another story and I've already taken too much of a bite out of your day. Let me leave you with a thought. Let's ask P&G the question. Ask them about the number of junior P&G execs, agencies and consultants that have tried to kill Tide. To my knowledge that remains a secret. Betcha P&G could write a book on it.

What > Why > How
What is happening? What is not happening? What can we do to influence the action?

Yesterday's advertised "creating the plan" - tomorrow.