by George Huff
Enough with the justs.
You know what I mean—the kinds of questions we CEOs love to ask our marketing leaders.
“Can you just put together this blog post?”
“Can you just tell me what emails we sent last quarter?”
“Can you just spin up another demand gen campaign this month?”
In every instance, the word just is doing a lot of heavy lifting. Just implies that this request should be easy for you to fulfill—which suggests that the work you do (like publishing blogs, cataloguing assets, even running campaigns) is easy. Then, since the ask is so easy, it goes without saying that you should just take care of it right away. And you’d better believe there’s a lot of hierarchical power dynamics at play here—because when was the last time you asked your boss to just do something?
That’s why these just questions are annoying at best, insulting at worst, and almost always disruptive. But all CEOs ask them, and I’ll be the first to admit that we aren’t going to break the habit anytime soon. We rarely have the context or the visibility to understand how our simple request—just one little blog post!—can bring our marketing team’s workflow to a screeching halt as they shift priorities, reallocate resources, and update schedules.
CEOs aren’t marketing specialists. We don’t know all the nitty-gritty steps that go into executing a strategic marketing plan. And in some cases, CEOs may not even know that a strategic marketing plan exists.
After ten years of obsessing about operational efficiency and thousands of conversations with marketing leaders, I’ve come to believe that’s when just questions happen most frequently and cause the most disruption: in the absence of a visible, up-to-date plan.
Let’s be real. Planning is probably the least sexy part of marketing. It’s what happens between strategy and execution—between the high-level “here’s what we’re going to accomplish this year/quarter/month” and the actual production of assets, content, and campaigns. Planning isn’t as impressive as strategy or as visible as execution.
But without a well-documented, easily accessible, and highly visible plan, it’s impossible to connect the dots between the big-picture strategy and the daily output. And not just for CEOs—for sales leaders and product leaders and even marketers themselves. When your teams don’t have a clear sense of how their daily work fits into the bigger picture, it’s too easy for brand messages to get mixed, customer experience to become disjointed, and changes of any kind to become a massive distraction.
That’s why simply having a plan isn’t enough. You have to cultivate a practice of planning. Because plans change—as the year 2020 taught us over and over again, you don’t set a plan on the first day of Q1 and never make any adjustments. New priorities will come up and real-world circumstances will require a response. Your team has to be ready to change your marketing plan on the fly.
Bottom line: you have to be good at planning to be great at marketing.
So, while you may never get a CEO to stop asking you to just do something, responding becomes a lot easier with impeccable planning in place. Need to locate an asset from last year? It’s in the plan. Gotta find room in the editorial calendar for a last-minute addition? You already know how to shift your plan.
And if your CEO has visibility into your marketing plan—if they have peace of mind that your team is busy executing on the marketing strategy they already approved—maybe they’ll be less likely to throw a wrench in the works in the first place.
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