Mystery disappearances and long-term relationships: The marketing paradox

south carolina cover

north carolina construction news coverTomorrow, I’ll be heading to North Carolina, in part to interview candidates for the publisher of North Carolina Construction News and South Carolina Construction News.  Previous publisher Bob Kruhm retired in December, after attempting an orderly transition. He recommended some candidates, one of whom “stuck” for South Carolina. I used to recruit a several candidates, and we selected a finalist to assume responsibilities for North Carolina. With two publishers in place to replace the departing publisher, I thought we were in good order — if one left, we could assign responsibilities to the other.

Things don’t always work out as planned. The new South Carolina publisher called to explain that he has a conflict situation with his current full-time employer (he had intended to work with us on a part-time basis).  The North Carolina publisher, meanwhile, disappeared. Literally. One day, he communicated with us normally; the next day, silence. No returned calls, no resignation, nothing. Just a disappearance. (The situation here isn’t obviously anywhere near as serious as the missing Malaysian flight, but the parallel is the search for clues and discovering just a few tell-tale signs that explain his decision to leave was conscious, not because of some entirely external crisis.)

We have some legacy sales from our previous publisher, and I’m reasonably familiar now with the market, so hopefully we’ll discover the “right one” in the visit there in the next two days. It isn’t a perfect picture. There aren’t many fixed costs here, and so we won’t be in crisis one way or another, but sometimes I wonder if I could have handled the change from exceptional stability to stunning instability any better.

In the bigger picture, we can look around ourselves and see the mixture of long-term stability, change, surprise, and sometimes chaos.  In the perfect (marketing) world, we have clear benchmarks, measurable tools, and systems we know will work reliably and consistently to achieve the desired results. For example, ideally we have a systematic marketing/sales funnel — and we can tweak variations within the funnel to achieve the desired results. (Sales decline, we step up the advertising, and achieve results according to predetermined expectations.)  At the highest level, we can test and adapt variables within a stable framework and tweak and improve our results — with enough spare cash for fly in the sky initiatives. In this regard, I envy Google, with the cash and resources — and incredible data — to pull off some stuff that mere mortals like me can only dream about.

On the other hand, I’m heading to North Carolina tomorrow because we have a business there, in part because of a series of business blunders, some surprising luck, and then the discovery of a long-term relationship with a publisher who held the fort through some really difficult times. Systems, spontaneity, and opportunity — sometimes the various forces coexist even though they appear to be contradictory.

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