From the Trenches

Marketing & College Football: Look Elsewhere for Instant Gratification

Mike Sweeney | October 1, 2010

For those of you that do not know me, I am a part of a few different “communities” that drive a great deal of pleasure in my life.  Unfortunately, a couple of these communities also drive a bit of pain to go along with the pleasure, namely the marketing community and the Notre Dame football fan community.

Notre Dame is 1-3 in 2010 under first-year coach Brian Kelly, after going 6-6 in 2009 under previous head coach Charlie Weis.  Brian Kelly is responsible for turning multiple college football programs around, and was hired by Notre Dame to do the same.  Sure, there are plenty of highly-recruited, ultra-talented college football players that Kelly inherited at Notre Dame, but those players had become accustomed to a losing culture.  In short, the program was broken before Kelly took over.

We live in a world where a 26-year old can become one of the wealthiest individuals in the universe based on just a few years of work on a social networking site.  It’s a world in which a college basketball coach – earning millions of dollars annually himself – can decide that a 14-year old point guard is worthy of a scholarship offer worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  In short, this world is obsessed with youth and success, particularly rapid success.

For some, that means 1-3 is not good enough.  It doesn’t matter to some folks that coaches regarded as the best in the business, like Jim Tressel or Bob Stoops, went 7-6 and 7-5 respectively in their first year with their current programs.  Winning needs to happen immediately, and the timeframe associated with immediately is getting shorter and shorter.  One message board post over on ND Nation actually read, “If ND loses this game (this weekend’s game vs. Boston College), Kelly should resign on the spot.”  Let me get this right – somewhere between 300-400 minutes of football into a new head coaching job, and we’ve seen enough to judge whether this is going to work or not?

We see the same thing in the marketing community, albeit in much, much lower profile positions that rarely pay individuals in the millions annually.  Whether you are a CMO, a search engine marketing specialist, an outsourced marketing firm or something else, you are expected to cure marketing ills, and do so quickly.  The purpose of this post is not to cry about these speed-to-success expectations, but rather to articulate why creating a marketing “turnaround” cannot happen overnight.  Not unlike Coach Kelly, marketing leaders need time to do the following:

  • Get to know the organization.
  • Get the right people in place.
  • Change existing attitudes and culture if necessary.
  • Set expectations for the function and for individuals.
  • Figure out how to measure results as they relate to those expectations.
  • Experiment a bit.
  • Make mistakes.
  • Learn on the job. (Yes, no matter how grizzled a veteran you are, we all learn on the job every day.)
  • Track success and failure and reassess everything above.
  • Go after it again.
  • Rinse and repeat this entire list.

There’s no fighting the fact that marketing has become all about “the numbers” – generally speaking, that is a positive development for the business community.   That being said, if it were so easy to create marketing programs and formulas that spit out outputs like leads, customers and press clips at a 100% predictable rate, companies could bring in the robots to handle marketing.

Or organizations can do the smart thing.  Go ahead and place a high value on the outputs, but stop devaluing the process that is required to achieve those outputs, a process that does not happen overnight.  Or even over a 5-game period.

By all means, embrace the science of marketing.  If you forget about the art portion of marketing, though, just expect mediocrity.

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