BrandingIs Upper Management Drinking Bourbon & Smoking Big Cigars?

Is Upper Management Drinking Bourbon & Smoking Big Cigars?

Sometimes it’s the higher-ups that stifle company growth. I know because I’ve been there.

When discussions organically form over a cup of coffee about how and why companies don’t grow or are forced to cease operations… (Blockbuster Video, ToysRUs) there’s a subject that doesn’t get talked about very much. Ownership’s or upper management’s contribution to a declining position in the market and slowing sales. Once you’ve reached that pinnacle of upper management, it’s kind of like sitting in a recliner. It just feels good and some folks can get too comfortable and complacent.

It appears by the number of jobs out there is no lack of desire to hire “entrepreneurial, out-of-the-box” marketers. They pontificate about how they want a marketing professional with an MBA. Well, at least that’s what the job postings say… let me explain.

I recently had the opportunity to interview with middle management at a medium-sized Northwest based company with a long rich history going back well over 100 years. They were seeking to hire a “Marketing Director”. One has to assume that if a $200 million dollar company with upwards of 70 employees was advertising for a Marketing Director, they must have a marketing department. I mean, right? They must have a marketing and advertising budget. Right? They must be ready to grow the company, and make changes to that effect. I mean hey, just sounds logical.


When speaking with them in a meeting, it was almost as if they didn’t want to hear anything about marketing at all… which obviously confused me. When I spoke about how their online footprint was non-existent, and how their web site had a circa 1995 mom & pop feel, they became even more disinterested. Then I was even more confused. I’m used to working with fast-growing, push, push, push organizations, and given the position, was named “Marketing Director” they must be interested in my savvy marketing skills. Not really.

When they finally chose their candidate for the position, I was not their choice. They stated that they were probably doing me a favor because if I had been brought on, I would have been very frustrated at the fact that upper management wasn’t willing to make much in the way of changes.

I thought long and hard about what had transpired and yes, they, in fact, did me a favor. It kind of blew my mind a bit actually. For those of us in marketing know the old adage, for every dollar you spend on marketing you get three dollars back. It’s kind of an oversimplification, but from 20 plus years experience in advertising and marketing, it’s pretty much a fact

I had to really wrap my brain about what had just happened. Here’s a company that for all intents and purposes is being completely stifled and slowed to a screeching halt for growth by upper management. Why? I asked myself. What could it be? Do they not see the value behind marketing, communications, online presence? That can’t be. Are they just completely not interested in growth? I bet their commissioned sales team would beg to differ.

I envisioned a couple of old dudes drinking bourbon and smoking cigars every day for lunch, happy with the status quo while the entire world is passing them by, all while the company is slowly, but surely losing market share to the competition.

This company has virtually zero online presence, (no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube, no LinkedIn) every single keyword search for their services was their own company name, (think about that) and upper management was completely oblivious. Their existing customer base knew exactly who they are and how to reach them. Every other potential decision maker and buyer in the world is completely unaware they even exist.

In many organizations, ownership and upper management can get blinded by their brilliance. I mean hey… we got the company to where it is now, aren’t we brilliant? When management gets this type of attitude, your days are numbered. Gary Vaynerchuk touts the old adage: “Innovate or die!” Innovation comes with everyone chipping in ideas, and by listening to more ideas from outside sources. In my opinion, when upper management doesn’t want to change and doesn’t want to listen, it’s time to retire upper management.

So what happens next? Well, I sincerely hope this company wakes up to smell the roses as they have a long rich history. But typically what happens is one of their competitors will notice they are asleep at the wheel and begin to chip away at their account base. Next thing you know their industry rankings begin to slip, they lose accounts, and then it becomes a slippery slope.

Just ask Blockbuster Video and ToysRUs.

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