Just Cut the Top Off the Car!

Have you ever taken on a marketing project you just couldn't get your hands around because nobody was clear on the objective or even what questions to ask?

You can tell when its happening.

You get that sickening feeling. You start asking questions and the boss finally says, "JUST DO IT!!"

The problem is, you think you understand what he wants, but the way he wants to go about is filled with holes that could lead to your demise.

You know it can't work.

What's worse, you know the lack of planning and process dooms it to failure and you're the one who will be blamed for the failure.

Here's a case in point.

Abut 15 years ago when I was the head marketer for a healthcare concern, the boss wanted to see what could be done to drive patient business to our pain centers in California.

So on the advice of one of the physician partners we developed this small 10" ad for the LA Times. The Head office had ordered an 800 number to respond to the calls coming in from the one time ad.

The physician had warned us that the demand for this service was heavy and it was profitable to the organization.

In anticipation of this heavy load, I researched the availability of an inbound service and prepared the database for recording the calls and comments. Otherwise all phone calls would have to be handled by an already overloaded clerical and nursing staff. This process took about three days to locate the service and plan it with the appropriate script and lead flow process.

By this time, my boss was getting impatient to run this print advertisement that everyone had already signed off on. The front office had set up the 800 service that was scheduled to be installed the next day.

But I was concerned that the 800 number would not be ready to field the calls and the inbound service overflow technicalities were not yet resolved.

At that point, my boss pulled me aside and told me the story (I think it was related to Lee Iacocca) when Iacocca asked his engineers to develop a convertible.

After 6 months of planning to reenforce the structure, Iacocca asked the engineers to show him the car. They asked for another 6 months. The engineering for the particular model required a total redesign.

After another 6 months the car was still not ready.

In anger, Iacocca yelled, "See that sedan over there? Cut the top off the (curse word) car and bring it back to me."

About 30 minutes later the nervous engineers brought it back. Iacocca got in and drove it around the building.

He got out and said. "I like it. Make that car."

So my boss told me to just cut the top off the (curse word) car!

We ran the ad.

The next day when the advertisement ran I got a call from the LA Times saying they were getting a number of calls from irate callers saying the 800 number was out of service. Then I started having to answer dozens of calls to spread the load.

As I anticipated, the 800 number was installed three days after they said it would be ready.

By the second day of responses, the calls started coming out of other cities in California , then from nearby states, then Europe, South America and a number from Japan. We got calls from both patients and their doctors from all over the world.

Then we overwhelmed the office people and nurses with calls that succeeded in totally disrupting the clinics' business.

We just cut the top of the (curse word) car!

The bottom line... I was blamed for running an advertisement that was too large. We never ran the advertisement again.

My take: successful small or large programs are never simple in this business. Process is critical to success. So welcome the people on your team that can help you stay out of trouble and succeed.

As for you loose canons out there. Please stay out of our way so we can do our jobs. Keep your ideas flowing, but never, ever attempt to do it all yourself or ask us to short change the project you want so much to succeed.

Posted on November 7, 2009 and filed under General.