My Job Qualifications Include Driving a Hearse

I know, the headline above is the very definition of click bait. It grabs your attention, drives curiosity about the details of the story and yet, it has very little to do with what this article is about.

I’ve been a marketer in one form or another for well over 10 years, but my reputation doesn’t exactly precede me; I am not well-known in certain circles and my ‘expertise’ is most certainly questionable. This poses a problem for someone like myself who has a lot to say about marketing theory and practice but no professional writing experience to speak of.

Technically this is more of an essay that belongs on a blog than an actual informative article, however, if you are going to put any stock into what I say, you probably want to know some qualifications. I come from the belief that scenarios and stories convey information much more effectively than just listing off facts and statistics. So, in an effort to provide full transparency, I give you a brief history of some of my more memorable work experiences, what I have learned and how I apply it today. Assuming this goes well, I will be writing much more on my marketing adventures, including why agile methodology is a poor PM style for marketing, how the triple constraint applies to daily life decisions and how marketing strategy is like writing a screenplay.

My Job Qualifications really do involve Driving a Hearse

Back in the late nineteen ninety-somethings I worked for a funeral home as a funeral counselor/office admin/funeral coordinator/removal person (more on this in another post) while figuring out my professional future. I did actually drive a hearse on occasion, along with a few other job duties, but I also met with families to plan and arrange funeral services.

I bring this up because it puts the most challenging of business meetings into a certain perspective. Imagine a scenario where a person has died unexpectedly, they have two adult children who hate the sight of each other and haven’t spoken in years, much less been in the same room together. Now imagine these two people are highly distraught, emotional, and hostile. They are confused about what to do next and are looking to you for guidance, and all the while operating under the assumption you are going to take them for every penny they have or worse, will inherit. Now let’s take all of this and have a meeting in a small conference room behind closed doors, the objective of which is to come out of the room with arrangements set and paid for, everyone at an amicable agreement and hopefully no longer seeing you as the villainous salesperson. I promise you, I have never since, had a business meeting even remotely as challenging, stressful or terrifying, and hopefully neither will you.

Where there is Smoke, there is Overtime

For a couple of years I worked for a large newspaper in San Bernardino County with a pretty large circulation. The fun part of working in the news biz, is that anytime I happen to have a day off, if I saw a large brush fire in the distance I would just drive in to the office. Brush fires and elections were always days spent working, so it got to the point I wouldn’t even wait for a call from the boss. Deadlines in the news business are almost always immediate, especially if you work online. Which leads me to a few significant lessons learned from the newspaper business. The first lesson; deadlines, if you don’t have a clear deadline a project can flounder and never really get completed. Create one for yourself, if no one has clearly defined it and communicate it out so people know when to expect the completion. The worst thing that can happen is that someone will define a deadline for you at the last minute and it almost always will not give you enough time.

The second lesson; Change is 95% slow as molasses and 5% speed of light. When I joined the newspaper online team in January of 2006, we all knew that the print medium of newspapers was on its way out, eventually. We figured there was still plenty of time to adjust to the digital age, as change wasn’t moving very fast, so we took our time to develop the online news publication and monetize it. Then summer of 2008 came. The change that came was incredibly fast, hit on three fronts and decimated the industry within 6 months. Part b of the second lesson is; keep an eye toward the future with the present as a frame of reference. If you haven’t picked it up, I highly suggest reading, Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson. It’s a great tale about keeping an eye out for change and making adjustments to prepare for it, otherwise you will find yourself in a bad spot, much like the newspaper industry did nearly 10 years ago.

Start at the End

In 2002 I took a trip with my little sister to UCSD so she could attend freshman orientation and while I was waiting for her I ended up in the university bookstore. I picked up a book on script-writing and decided that I would give it a go. I completed one and only one script and it was complete rubbish, some sci-fi thing that was full of scenes I realized later were all scenes from movies I watched when I was younger, not one single original idea in the whole lot. And while that script was junk, it was not a complete waste. I inadvertently learned a valuable lesson in project management long before I ever attempted the PMP exam; start at the end. One of the fundamental rules in crafting a story for the screen, is knowing (or having a strong idea) how your story will end before you write the first word. The purpose is to keep things on track, no matter how off-the-rails events in your story unfold, you will always be able to find your way back in the third act. This is true of project management as well, before you start your project, you have to know what the end result is. If you are a project manager in some capacity, you know that the story can get muddled, especially if you have several stakeholders and contributors to contend with. In strategy meetings I always ask the stakeholders for the specific results they are being held accountable to. Then we work backwards from those measurements, to devise a strategy that is going to achieve those results.

Feel the Burn

If you’re keeping track, these stories are not necessarily in chronological order. I am sorting them by relevance of what I learned then, that have the most impact now. Which leads me to the last and maybe most marketing relevant story. While I was an undergrad I worked for a fitness chain as a personal trainer. Surprisingly enough, there was a pretty profound (at least for me) lesson about marketing strategy to be learned. Granted, I was technically running my own business, obtaining and managing clients, marketing my services, etc. There were two types of trainers then, and if you are a member of a gym, you know the ones I am talking about. The ones that see you doing a certain exercise incorrectly and come up to you with a certain arrogance, point out what you’re doing wrong and then offer to show you how inadequate your workout is for a nominal fee. I tried another approach, actually paying attention to my clients, pushing them towards goals that they set themselves and letting my reputation do the marketing for me. Instead of being the guy that was always trying to close, I would be the guy that you could come to for advice, without the hard sell attached. And that is what I believe marketing should be about, pave the road that leads back to your business.

People crave information and if you have something to market to people, they want to know everything there is to know about it. They don’t need an email or a web banner to tell them something is great, they will learn and decide for themselves if it is great. And if they aren’t sure, they will go to Yelp or Reddit to see if other people are saying it is great. So give them the information, create the channels and communities for them to discuss your products and be a part of the conversation.

Are you still reading this? Great, thank you! I am intending for this to be the most me-centric post of the bunch, continuing on I will provide insights as to what has worked for me in various marketing initiatives or what the latest trends are and what seems useful. I encourage your thoughts and recommendations on topics and how to make future postings something that are worth your time. Please share with your friends and colleagues if you feel so inclined. Thank you again.