The Hubris of Career Planning

Back when blogging was still something that people did, there was a lot of talk on planning blogs about the benefits of creative generalists versus specialists. Since then, it seems like there’s been an increased tension between generalism and wanting to peg people into very specific roles. Though that might just be a reflection of my having moved from a small agency where people wear a lot of different hats to a bigger one where every tiny detail of workflow is broken down and assigned to a specific person.

Whatever the case may be, it’s naturally led me to overthink my career path. Should I push for specialization into something like digital strategy or should I just keep things as open as possible?

Robert Pozen, some guy that I’ve never heard of before, but who Fast Company thought enough of to write an article about, has some good practical advice on the matter:

“The moves he made showcase what he calls “step-by-step optionality,” a career-planning philosophy that emphasizes developing skills that meet the marketplace. Instead of asking “where do I want to be in 20 years?”–which he calls an “act of hubris” for its assumption of controlling a career, Pozen advocates a measured, probabilistic approach, establishing long-, medium-, and short-term goals.”

It’s similar to a conversation that I had the other night with one of our GPDs about his career path. He’s just received an MBA from UVA to hang alongside his Master’s from VCU Adcenter from years back. Whereas I’ve been thinking about where to steer myself, his whole thing is about increasing possibilities. I’m not sure if staying broad is the right way to think about it, but he’s opened the door wide for whatever may come his way while keeping things focused enough that his different skills can all work together no matter which way things go.

Maybe it’s obvious, but sometimes it’s nice to take a step back to look at the big picture.

Real Time Marketing is the Worst

Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, began his keynote at the University of Michigan commencement ceremony with something that seemed appropriate for marketing, or at least what people who talk about advertising seem to think it’ll turn into.

“You can’t plan a script. The beauty of improvisation is you’re experiencing it in the moment. If you try to plan what the next line is supposed to be, you’re just going to be disappointed when the other people on stage with you don’t do or say what you want them to do and you’ll stand there frozen.”

We all know that improv is the future of advertising. Or at least people think that it’s the future. Or at least I did when I wrote a post about marketing turning into jazz a few years ago.

Whose Line is it Anyways-British Version

But those were simpler times. Back before marketing folks figured out that posting innane things on Facebook once a day was a good way to tell their C-Suite that they were doing the Internet, just like the man on the TV said to do.

“Look at all that engagement!” they tell their colleagues while pointing at pages of badly written, uninteresting, incredibly useless noise.

Some Examples:

If your teacher’s a Pepper, treat them with a Pepper.
Pepper in Pepper is perfection.
Start with a Pepper and finish with a Pepper.
Life: That thing you do in between Peppers.

So, Internet crisis averted. Let’s make more TV spots!

But, then the power went out at the Super Bowl and Oreo tweeted an instagram hashtag that spawned a few thousand marketing blog posts.

Real Time Marketing was here.

“Finally!” exclaimed the press and douchebag marketing bloggers, “The Future has come!”

Not to disregard the Oreo thing, because it was pretty cool. But I’m not convinced that sort of thing will scale well. It will definitely try to scale. Like some awful toenail fungus.

But there’s a chance that the only long term effect of their success will involve every brand under the sun pointing at things and yelling like an overly sugared two-year old.

I have a two year old. He points out every stop sign and school bus that we see when we’re out for a drive. But timeliness doesn’t necessarily equal relevance. Right?

Put a bunch of important people with MBAs in a room with a 24-year old social media guy and call it a Command Center if you’d like, but that’s not going to ensure business moving, or even good, ideas. What we’re going to wind up with is very loud social streams full of brands shouting and pointing and jumping up and down while trying to be clever. That doesn’t sound very futuristic to me. It sounds like spam. No one likes spam. Except for my parents in the 80s. But that was a weird time for everyone.

This is all why I tried to avoid any SXSW panels put on by agencies or marketing people. The whole business seems like it’s trying to find new ways to hassle people or trick people more effeciently rather than do a better job with the tools we already have or finding better ways of communicating with people.

We find ads to be annoying, but my son’s generation is growing up without advertising. He doesn’t even know what it is. Which could mean that they’re not going to have the same tolerance of it and are unlikely to allow it into their lives as readily as we do. There’s good odds that what marketing people make now will be considered spam in a decade or two. Big data or small data or whatever data. Some businesses that want an approach to their marketing that does not involve excessive improvisation or social media posting may want to consider the benefits of something like off page SEO to get their websites off the ground and skyrocketing through the Google rankings.

All of this is going to require deeper solutions than hashtags, real time photoshopping and inviting people to “tell us your story.” Using digital media well is going to require a notoriously dumb industry to finally have some respect for the people they are trying to market to. Which is why I love the digital space and the technology that screens out ads people don’t want to see. It’s going to make the world better by forcing marketing to be better for everyone involved.