An unpublished post I wrote on March 16th, 2020.

This morning I was scrolling through a folder of unfinished blog posts. I came across the following story that I wrote on the morning of March 16th, which for much of America was the first day of the lockdown/shelter-at-home/house arrest era. I found the story particularly interesting because it was written at what I would now consider the end of pre-covid normalcy. And it was interesting to look back at my mindset as we entered the great unknown.

The event referenced occurred on Thursday, March 12th, just prior to catching a redeye flight home. Which would be the last time I flew for 6 months. I expect the drop in redeye flights has hurt Visine sales.

The Event

Thursday night I grabbed a bite to eat at a restaurant in Las Vegas. I was by myself, so I sat at the bar and ordered my food and drink. I had a burger and tots, like Napoleon Dynamite.

The guy beside me and I started talking. We were both in Vegas for CONEXPO/CON-AGG, the enormous construction industry trade show. I told him I owned an advertising and idea agency that worked with the trade show. He told me he owned a mine in Texas, between Dallas and Houston. Which means his business mined the earth. And mine mined the mind. (Which I think is what the seagulls were saying in Finding Nemo.)

We discussed then newly emerging and unfolding challenges of COVID-19, and what it meant for our businesses. I told him that it would have very little if any impact on our ability to operate. (Meaning our ability to operate as a business. We still wouldn’t be any good at surgery.)

We transition fluidly between working in our offices in Milwaukee and Columbus, to working from home or wherever our work-travel takes us. As long as we have a computer and an internet connection we are good to go.

Tex, my bar-mate, had a pained expression on his face when I finished my evaluation of our business. Then he replied, ‘Until I can figure out how to run a backhoe, dozer and dump truck remotely I need my people on site.’

This simple barstool conversation in Las Vegas made me extremely thankful for being in the business I am in. I am thankful that when we planned the launch of The Weaponry we put systems and technology in place that would allow for maximum operational flexibility. It also helped that we didn’t include backhoes, dozers or dump trucks into our operating system.

On Sunday I sent a note to the 10 core members of our team telling them that we would transition to remote work as our standard until further notice. I am sure the current situation will pass, and we will get back to standard operating procedures.  But I am not sure how organizations can declare that a remote arrangement is going to last for the next 2, 3, or 4 weeks. The only thing certain right now is the uncertainty of the timeline.

The Impact

Right now we have plenty of work to do. We have 3 or 4 major presentations this week. The work needs to be done, because it is vital to our clients’ long term plans. The release dates may shift. But we are marching on. Because on the other side of the unknown we know we need to keep moving forward with our plans for business and life. We will present our work via Zoom video conference. Which we have used for presentations several times per week since our founding. Because our clients are as far away as California, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

We have also seen some work quickly evaporate thanks to the current climate. We have had a few events canceled. Which means that film and photo shoots tied to those events have been canceled or postponed. Those things may never be rescheduled.

Like so many businesses, we are adjusting to a new normal. For our team, it is almost as simple as a Mr. Rogers wardrobe change when he enters or leaves the set of the show. We put on a sweater, change our footwear and we are ready to work in a new location. I expect we are luckier than most as we head into the new unknown.

Key Takeaway

Things will be abnormal for a while.

(this is where my draft stopped)

New Note:

The flexibility we built into the operation of The Weaponry meant that we didn’t and haven’t missed a beat during the new normal. Other companies around the world have adopted many of the same technologies and approaches we baked in from the beginning. Our comfort with the uncertainty of the future has been key to our ongoing success. Seven months later we still don’t know if we are closer to the beginning or the end. But we are ready for whatever comes next. I hope you are too.

Did you know your lane is ending?

Yesterday I was driving and saw a sign that told me that the lane I was driving in was ending soon. It was a valuable sign. It warned me that I was going to have to make plans for a future that didn’t involve that lane. And soon.

I quickly began making plans to exit my current lane. I had to. It offered no long term prospects. I soon found a perfectly good lane next to the one I was in. I turned on my left blinker, checked for cars, and finding none I merged onto the adjacent lane. And all was good again.

The thing about lanes.

All lanes end eventually. Just ask the leadership team at Blockbuster, or Chuck E Cheese’s. Or Lemmings. The key is knowing when it is time to find a new option.

We don’t always get a clear sign that our lane is coming to an end.  But tastes and technologies change. Jobs end. School ends. And bad habits run out of runway at some point. When they do you are forced to choose something new.     

Lanes offer us a path for now. But not forever. Throughout your life and career, you will have to make choices and changes. You can plan, and make changes proactively. Or you can wait until the lane is gone, you are stopped on the shoulder, and the 18-wheelers won’t move over to let you in.

COVID-19 brought lanes to an end.

The racism lane is coming to an end.

Drugs and alcohol abuse lanes are bumpy and popular. But short.

Key Takeaway

Change is constant. Get used to it. Prepare for it. Get good at it. And you’ll find that new and better lanes are easier to find.

The perfect agency could be like the DMV.

Advertising agencies talk a lot about change. And with good reason. Over the past 19 years I have seen the flavor of the moment hop from Full Service to Media to Interactive to Digital to CRM to Experiential to Social to Mobile to Data to Omnichannel to Dynamic Messaging. I’m probably missing something. Wasn’t there a Nano-Wow moment?

So how does the perfect advertising agency avoid getting caught flat-footed?  In Ken Blanchard’s book, Customer Mania he shares a story that provides a potential blueprint. Ken visited the DMV in San Diego, and to his surprise, the experience was quick, efficient and pleasant. Which prompted Ken to approach the director and ask how he had transformed this typically unpleasant environment into one that offered outstanding customer service.

The director replied, ‘My job is to reorganize the department on a moment to moment basis depending on citizen need.’  To accomplish this he cross trained the staff so that everyone was flexible enough to absorb customer demand at any given moment.

 I love this thinking. Because it puts the client need-of-the-moment in the spotlight.  No one is focused on what they used to do. Or what they would like to do. Rather, they are focused on a very dynamic reality.

With the DMV example in mind the perfect agency must do three things to handle the constant shifts on the marketing landscape.

  1. Train employees to have a wide variety of skills. This means teaching brand-focused team members digital skills. Teaching digitally focused team members CRM skills. And teaching content-focused team members design skills. That way we can swarm to the demand, whether it lasts for the day or the decade.
  2. Morph daily.  Stay flexible, pliable and stretchy. Move people around. Explore new technologies. Encourage team members to work on a wide variety of clients. Experiment. Don’t create ruts.  The stretching stimulates the brain. Which leads to creativity and innovation.  In short, create motion to keep the agency in motion.
  3. Poll your clients.  Ask them what kind of expertise they expect to add to the mix next. Find out what current efforts they expect to swell. This gives you a weather forecast. And if you can get in front of it the wind will fill your sails.

So let’s be like the San Diego DMV. Let’s stay on our toes.  Keep our ears, eyes and minds open.  And let’s be the resource our clients want us to be.