Whether a startup or established company, if you cannot fall back on the process, repeat it over and over, and deliver that consistency at scale, then you have the equivalent of a house built on sand.
Over the Fourth of July holiday, I took my family to California for a mix of Disney and baseball. Being a diehard Cardinals fan, it was a chance to see the first meeting between St. Louis and its one-time franchise superstar, Albert Pujols, now with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. While the kids indulged in Candy Crush as we flew across the country, I took to reading Tony La Russa's firsthand account of the 2011 season. La Russa, the future Hall of Fame manager, won three MLB titles over his 30-plus-year coaching career, the last of which was an improbable run in 2011 with the Cardinals from 10.5 games out to the World Series.
The book shares anecdotes from the season as well as insights La Russa accumulated over his time in baseball that shaped his view of the sport, and his job as manager and day-to-day leader of a franchise worth hundreds of millions in an industry worth billions. One section that stuck with me was his discussion of performing in key spots under pressure. A lot is made about "being clutch." Those individuals who seemingly come up big when things are most critical and outcomes hang in the balance.
La Russa contends that the way you succeed in these situations is not by focusing on the outcome, but rather falling back on your process. It's process, he contends, that enables players to follow a proven path, even in an unpredictable situation with an undefined outcome hanging in the balance.
One of the inherent challenges in working in digital, especially with emerging companies and disciplines, is that the process is a seemingly constant work-in-progress. Process is a necessity rarely afforded the commitment required to achieve success. My wife, an educator with a specialization in behaviors, constantly teaches me about learned behaviors and the necessity for consistent repetition in order to achieve the desired change.
For a process in this business to work, it needs to achieve three levels of commitment.
Level 1: Having a Process
There may be no more famous last words than, "We'll figure it out." There is no shortage of very, very bright individuals who fell victim to the hubris that comes with sorting things on the fly. As much as I like the "seat of your pants" approach, it simply does not scale, nor is it repeatable. Tweaks and modifications based on learnings are always essential, but if everything is custom, your ability to grow and deliver better each time is severely limited.
Level 2: Repeating the Process
Every time you do something there's an opportunity to learn. That doesn't mean every time you do something and learn from it you should change. One of the constant challenges researchers have is the curse of small sample size. At some point, the data simply cannot support the weight of the work because there's just too little foundation to base findings upon. The same is true with process. For a process to be solid you have to be able to repeat it, over and over again. Even testing and learning have to be built into the process, so when modifications are implemented they can be measured just like their predecessors.
Level 3: Scaling the Process
Having a process that works is one thing. Having a process that works regardless of who's applying it is an entirely different thing. For companies to succeed, they have to develop a system that can be repeated by anyone trained on the process. If your process has not evolved to the point where some formal training can be administered against it, then your process is not ready. Of the three levels this is the hardest. Everyone has their preferred way to do things but the hard truth of a process is that there is only one way. It was built to be maximized by following a singular approach, anything else and it starts to break down.
In the end, if you have a repeatable process that scales then you have something valuable for your organization. Whether a startup or established company, if you cannot fall back on the process, repeat it over and over, and deliver that consistency at scale, then you have the equivalent of a house built on shifting sands. A repeatable process at scale is what gets you into the big leagues and keeps you vying for the kinds of accolades La Russa chronicles throughout his book.
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Chris Copeland is chief executive officer of GroupM Next, the forward-looking media innovation unit of GroupM. Chris is responsible for curating and communicating insight-focused media solutions across established and emerging platforms. Leveraging his multi-year experience with emerging media companies, Chris is tasked with stewarding GroupM Next in partnership with agency leadership from GroupM's four media marketing and marketing service agencies (Maxus, MEC, MediaCom, and Mindshare). The focus is participating with those companies leading changes that most impact consumer media consumption, brand favorability, and purchase behavior.
Guiding the Predictive Insights, Technology, Research, and Communications teams at GroupM Next, Chris is responsible for overseeing the amplification of insights into opportunities that directly benefit the business of GroupM agencies and their clients. GroupM is the world's largest media investment management group and the media holding arm of WPP. Together, GroupM agencies represent almost $30 billion in overall North American billings (RECMA).
Chris helped guide the development of GroupM Next, which was established to deliver the best thinking and new insights from within the GroupM community. The unit also focuses on technology innovation connecting all media channels, but especially, online, social, mobile, and addressable.
Chris was selected to lead GroupM Next after nine years of leading the search marketing practice within GroupM. Among his accomplishments are the development and integration of the global search marketing offering for GroupM agencies, GroupM Search, which managed $1.3 billion in search billings globally and grew to more than 1,000 search marketing strategists serving 40 countries. In 2009, Chris created the research division of GroupM Search and developed research studies that deepened the understanding of consumer behavior across search and social media for leading brands and garnered global traction - most notably: The Influenced: Social Media, Search, and the Interplay of Consideration and Consumption; The Virtuous Circle: The Role of Social Media in the Purchase Pathway;and From Intent to In-Store: Search's Role in the New Retail Shopper Profile.
Chris entered the digital industry in 1996 when he joined search marketing agency WGI (later acquired by Tempus Group). He has been with the WPP and GroupM family of companies since 2000 when, recognizing search as an emerging media channel with incredible potential for brands, WPP acquired Tempus Group and CIA, and ultimately rebranded the search marketing agency as Outrider. As senior partner and managing director of Outrider, Chris delivered on GroupM's vision for the channel, leading the organization to 500 percent growth with global presence over five years, and establishing award-winning search marketing strategies that have become industry-wide best practices. In 2002, Chris successfully implemented the integration of search into the cross-channel media planning process at MEC, creating the first search marketing practice to sit within a media communications and planning company. In 2007, he guided the business expansion of search marketing practices into all GroupM agencies. In 2009, Chris was named CEO of GroupM Search, where he was responsible for driving global search strategy for the organization, while fostering the innovative application of search as an integrated channel. In his role, Chris also provided digital strategy counsel for clients, including AT&T, Dell, Audi, Volkswagen, and more.
Chris is an active member on advisory boards at the 4A's, Google, Yahoo, MSN, and I-COM. He is a frequent speaker in global forums discussing the digital marketplace and how the space is evolving, and serves as a regular resource to national and industry press. Chris contributes editorial commentary regularly to Advertising Age, ClickZ, MediaPost, and MediaBizBloggers.com. In fall 2013, Chris was honored as an inductee into the ClickZ Digital Hall of Fame.
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