2022 Greatest Hits: Work Journal Edition

I’ve decided to condense and share with the world (of my 15 or so readers) five lessons from my 2022 work journal, which, to be honest, sometimes seems more like a porthole (or portal) into the mind of a madman than a repository of useful professional knowledge. I think these were a couple rough gems during the past 12 months though.

1. On time management

One hour as the default meeting duration should immediately be terminated at all levels with extreme prejudice. A 15-minute standard seems best. Thirty minutes is the longest permissible duration but should only be employed if absolutely necessary.

This requires the person in charge of the meeting to be well prepared and ready to concisely communicate needs and directives while anticipating likely questions. This practice would save the equivalent of weeks or months of total time over the course of a year depending on an organization’s size. That’s valuable time that people can use to be productive doing actual work instead of attending unfocused meetings.

2. On paid media economies of scale

The primary difference between a $1 million paid digital media campaign that generates $150K-$200K of gross revenue and a $10 million campaign that generates about $1.5MM to $2MM of gross revenue is the amount of time it takes to input an extra ‘0’ into a DSP.

A competent, lean digital media buying team can generate significant revenue and profit only when an agency moves upstream to clients with large enough media budgets to produce economies of scale. A team working on two clients that spend $5 million each will always be more efficient, effective, and profitable than one that works on ten clients that spend $1 million each.

Moving upstream takes the focus and discipline not to waste time pursuing smaller, easier-to-win projects, but this seems to me the best way to achieve longer-term, more sustainable growth and stability for agencies. The added benefits of this method include less burnout and fewer costly mistakes made by overwhelmed media buyers.

3. On work from home policies

Are people more productive in the office than at home? I suppose some probably are. But plenty of others likely aren’t. The question of returning to the office has been divisive, fraught with uncertainty, and costly for a number of companies this year.

On-site attendance practices are, to some degree, a vestige of the Industrial Revolution which transitioned the economy from a task-oriented artisanal one into one of time-oriented mass production. For some jobs, of course, a time orientation remains necessary. But I’m not entirely certain that holds true for most marketing-related roles—many of which frequently extend well into traditional non-work hours—in the current economic environment.

At some point, the forces of WFH vs on-site will begin to exert themselves more visibly on the employment marketplace because it seems likely that the firms whose policies are more attractive to the most talented professionals will gain competitive advantage through finding and retaining people who offer superior human capital.

4. On the media planning and buying industry

I get hourly calls and emails from vendors promising magic beanstalks for audience segmentation, inventory access, attribution, omnichannel tracking, optimization, and god only knows what else. None of these marvels of technology seems to be any more effective overall than getting the fundamentals of a long-term strategy and tactical execution right.

In what I see as among the most significant research projects of the year, Meta published its findings related to effectiveness and made similar conclusions to those that have been long espoused by experts including Les Binet and Peter Field, Mark Ritson, and Byron Sharp.

Chief among those findings was Meta’s confirmation that top-of-funnel brand advertising continues to play a vital role in building long-term ROI and sales. This doesn’t mean that promotional-focused messaging, retargeting existing audiences, and data modeling have no role to play, but executing the basics turns out to be more important that trying to implement obscure keyword bidding strategies, cross channel measurement schemes, and micro-targeting systems. This comes as no surprise to people who have built successful brands over the long term.

5. On fake-it-till-you-make-it culture

Perhaps the sentencing of Elizabeth Holmes, continued failures of Elon Musk, and implosion of SBF and friends will continue to push the anti-intellectual fairy tale world of FITYMI toward its inevitable conclusion of being identified for what it actually is: a ruse.

Popular marketing-related social accounts and celebrity experts (e.g., Marketing Millennials and Gary Vaynerchuk) take every chance they find to shit on the value of education, and a legion of vacuous, non-curious “professional marketer” followers applaud from the sidelines while referring to themselves as rock stars, evangelists, and bosses.

I always enjoy pitching business against these people because honestly they don’t stand much of a chance against someone like me in a room full of smart people who make decisions in successful organizations. One cannot simply fake their way through conversations about complex, specialized concepts in any field, including marketing/advertising. Rather, it takes an actual expert that has acquired knowledge over the course of a career through intellectual curiosity, purposeful thinking, and education in its many forms.

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