A Publication of WTVP

Thirty-five years ago, any company that wanted to be considered on the cutting edge of technology equipped its staff with the IBM Selectric III typewriter. Those typewriters were very in-demand pieces of equipment. They made the office more efficient because they enabled more work to be done in less time.

While the IBMs were a leap over manual typewriters, all they did was speed up tasks that had been performed for over a century. The same could be said of much of the technology that came along in the following 20 years.

In the last 10 years or so, evolution has given way to revolution. Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and dozens of similar sites have caused fundamental changes in everything from the way people communicate to how they shop. Companies everywhere are scrambling to keep up.

This change scares a lot of executives. Some of the largest changes have been made in the realm of sales and marketing. The “fire-and-forget” kind no longer works. Today’s marketing demands creativity to stand out from the thousands of messages people are bombarded with every day.

Outside the Comfort Zone
To the average CEO or CMO who came through business school, creativity can be somewhat of a foreign concept. Most of those people are left-brain types. They are not used to operating in an arena in which creativity is demanded. Their dominant personality traits are that they are logical, sequential, rational, analytical and objective—traits which often lead to the creation of boringly beige, ineffective marketing.

The idea of doing something when possible outcomes cannot always be predicted can make them very nervous. So when confronted with something like social media that demands creativity and intuitive thinking, their brains lock. The simplest thing for them to do is either reject or ignore the ideas. The idea of a truly “out there” campaign—no matter how effective it might be—scares them.

They need to put that fear aside, though. Josh Linker, founder and chairman of ePrize, a provider of interactive promotions, argues that a creative company can develop a strong competitive advantage over its competitors. 

Linker should know. The entrepreneur is also a jazz musician. He explained that any jazz musician that sticks strictly to the score is soon asked to leave. “This fluid, improvisation art form is all about taking risks and trying new things,” he wrote on his blog. “Going out on a limb can be scary, but it is where the magic happens. Extending yourself outside your comfort zone is where the best rewards will be discovered.” That means giving employees more leeway to try things that might not show immediate results.

The problem for many executives is they run their businesses from the top down. The modern corporate structure is essentially based on a military model. Think about it—there’s the CEO, or commanding general. Underneath him or her are the division leaders. Do you think that designation was an accident? There are senior officers and junior officers, enlisted men and non-commissioned officers. The titles are different, but the roles are the same.

Not an atmosphere that lends itself to nurturing creative impulses. What those companies like is for an ad agency to come in and say: We are spending $10 million on this television commercial, doing 15 million direct mail pieces and placing ads in 15 national publications. The campaign will look like the campaigns of all their competitors. Cut and dried, and there’s the rub. The CEO and CMO approve it, and off it goes. The problem: It is formulaic, the result of that nearly-always fatal directive, “That’s the way we have always done it.”

Fighting for Survival
For a very good example of what happens when an industry ignores all this until it is too late, look at the news media. It has not kept up with the way information is spread and absorbed. As a result, it is fighting for survival.

The problem is, people are cutting out the middleman. Why wait to watch something on the 10:00 News when you can go to YouTube and find it right away? Why watch a news anchor flail while waiting for an official announcement when tweets about the event are flowing at a rate of hundreds a minute?

There is no way that any traditional news site is going to beat someone who has a smartphone with a camera app on the scene. Remember the U.S. Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River a couple of years ago? There were pictures of the plane floating in the icy waters on the Internet within about 60 seconds of it coming down.

It is time that the news media found a new path if it hopes to stay relevant. The same holds true for any company that is not changing. To paraphrase that old aphorism about sharks, companies have to swim in this current or die. iBi

Jeff Cole owns and operates JJC Communications LLC. He is an expert on traditional public relations, marketing and social media. Prior to going into public relations, Cole spent 25 years as a working reporter. Visit for more information.