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15 things we learned in 15 years – the hard way

By January 21, 2013October 4th, 2023No Comments

To commemorate Outsource Marketing’s 15th Anniversary, last fall we decided it might be fun—and a little cathartic—to think about the things we’ve learned since 1997.

We’ve learned a lot, but narrowed it to the following list, in no particular order:

  1. “Safe” is dangerous. Safe is invisible amid infoglut. Safe fails. Creative must be bold and brave, and make everyone just a little uncomfortable to break through.
  2. Fuzzy math is better. Ninja spreadsheetin’ skills are great, but when it comes to creative, less is more. With talent, if they aren’t adding, they’re subtracting. And when it comes to budget, it’s seldom enough.
  3. Nobody follows small ideas. What pumps you up? “Hey, we want fancy new tri-fold brochures!” or “We want to reinvent the way widgets are sold worldwide!” ‘Nuff said.
  4. You can’t polish a turd. If the brand sucks, fix it first. No matter how good the creative is—it will be compromised. And it will still be a turd.
  5. Say you want a revolution? Be careful what you wish for. Marketing changed little since the turn of the century. Until the Internets. Inbound marketing. Social media. Mobile. Keeping up is now a full-time job.
  6. Your gut is smarter than your brain. Yes, always do your due diligence. But you know that crazy little feeling in your gut called intuition? It knows something your brain hasn’t figured out yet. Listen to it.
  7. Sometimes you have to do what the client wants, so you can eventually do what they need. Be like a Trojan horse – just sneak in awesomeness instead of wrath.
  8. Stock up on the midnight oil. Plans change, the creative process can’t be forced, and excuses are like armpits: everyone has ‘em and they all stink.
  9. Know when to step away from the canvas. You can always make it better. Always. The trick is to know when it’s good enough, and then move on.
  10. Hire slow and fire fast. You can bust your arse to try to make hastily hired talent work, but the wrong person can be a cancer that simply has to be removed. It happens to the best of us. Don’t let it happen to you.
  11. Marketing planning is better than a marketing plan. Plans that end up on a shelf aren’t worth the paper they’re printed upon. Your plan should be alive, not a document you review once a year.
  12. Usability is more important than features. Online project management tools? We’ve tried ‘em all. The expensive, full-featured products were never fully adopted. Adoption of the simpler, easy-to-use software? 100 percent.
  13. Beware of bright shiny boxes. I love social media. You probably know me from Twitter. For most organizations it should be a side dish, not the meat and potatoes of marketing. Do it well, but don’t let it become a distraction.
  14. Engagement matters. Our model has made it possible to develop and deploy best-fit client teams since the beginning. But having specialists is just table stakes. Having experienced, engaged talent all pulling the oars together is pure magic.
  15. You need to love your clients more than they love you. If you don’t love ’em, they won’t get your best work. It’s human nature. Your focus will always be elsewhere, and they won’t get all the great ideas that happen off-the-clock. Those ideas are reserved for the clients you love. Clients should feel loved, and agencies should only work with clients they can fall head over heels for.

Alfred Sheinwold said “Learn all you can from the mistakes of others.  You won’t have time to make them all yourself.” We’ve been paying our dues and trying to learn from our mistakes for over 15 years now. If you can learn from them too, it’s definitely been worth it.


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