The Art of Prioritization: One Small Choice At A Time

On the quest to find time for brain space at work, I have been ridiculously focused on prioritization. And, practice makes perfect….or at least makes things better. There is no easy way to become great at this overnight, but I am commited to continuously improving my skills.

The attempt this week is visualization.  As a former gymnast, one of the techniques that I would use prior to competing in a meet, literally right before I would be up for my routine, was visualization.  This is a simple step…closing my eyes, and picturing myself completing the perfect routine.  As a teenager, I thought this was a stupid task.  My coaches would insist on it, and half the time, I would close my eyes and start thinking about what I was going to do the next Saturday night.  Now, looking back on this training activity, it was a brilliant way to calm my mind and to focus on the outcome that I wanted to achieve.  Maybe if I would have realized this then, my gymnastics career woudn’t have been so average!  Nevermind on that, most of the average came from my athletic capability…nothing a visualization could change.

So, over the last week or so, I have been visualizing the things that I will dedicate my time and brain space to on my way to work.  A simple five minutes of quiet time in my car (don’t worry, no eyes closed), provides me a window to visualize what I want to accomplish with my day.  I find myself sorting through priorities, thinking about the problems I am trying to solve, and focusing on what I want to accomplish.  So far so good as I feel not only more relaxed as I head into the day, but also more focused on the tasks at hand, and willing to focus my calendar time towards the most important things for the day.

Is it sustainable?  We shall see.  Let’s hope it works better than it did for my gymnastics career.

Marketing Plan Choices: What Do You Recommend?


Do you recommend we invest in additional lead generation or shift our marketing mix towards brand awareness spend?  In just the last week, I heard or participated in this discussion at least 5-6 times within my team as we put together our marketing plans and budgets for 2015.  Although our operationally-focused company has a conceptual belief in building name recognition, our willingness to do things that build awareness, particularly things that cost money, is limited.  One of our company strengths is that we invest in marketing (and other programs) and focus on measuring their success with a laser-like focus.  The good…It brings an attention to execution excellence that is outstanding.  The downside, it often brings a lack of focus on long-term choices which cannot be simply measured.  The implication of this is those long-term choices often get put on the back burner in our plan recommendations.

It takes me back to my days as a P&G junior marketer, and the introduction of marketing mix modeling (MMM).  I don’t know when this process first took hold at P&G, but my first exposure to them was in 2003 when we were trying to effectively plan our multimillion dollar marketing budget and identify the right balance between advertising and trade spend.  At the time, retailer influence was growing dramatically, and the only way to afford the trade spend and price promotions being requested was to cut our television and print spend.  Was this the right plan?  If you looked at the traditional media metrics of reach, frequency, GRPs and TRPs there was no way to spread our message more efficiently than with these marketing choices.  As brand managers had a fundamental belief that investing in this media helped drive the effectiveness of our customer promotions (price promotions, coupons, displays at retail, etc.).  Our sales partners, and our retail buyers didn’t necessarily share this belief.  The beginning of MMM was an attempt to not only guide our decisions, but reinforce to these other important constituents how all of these pieces worked together to drive revenue.

As with anything, the results of this effort were only as good as the information and effort that was put into the tool, as well as how effectively we interpreted the outputs.  I don’t know if we ever reached the goal of driving cross-functional alignment to our marketing choices, but we did learn a lot.  At the core, we learned that all of our marketing choices helped make the others more effective….that in a perfect world we would run in all parts of our marketing mix simultaneously as this created the best revenue results.

Since then, the progress in both the modeling and the marketing analytics industries has been substantial, as has the shift to digital media.  About a year ago, the Council for Research Effectiveness published a whitepaper regarding the state of MMM.  Don’t read this one unless you are ready to geek out.  As I think about the conclusions in this analysis, one particular thing comes to mind:  no modeling, no analytics, no measurement of return-on-investment works without applying our human instinct to interpret the analysis.  We are often stuck believing that the “data will tell us something.” My experience is that although true, the data will tell you something, applying experienced-based reason and intuition is the critical step to turning data into something that drives the business.

This brings us back to the fundamental question for our marketing plan next year…should we invest in additional brand awareness spend (media and content) as a part of our marketing mix?  Smaller companies, like CHG Healthcare, don’t have the budgets to invest in sophisticated models such as those P&G put together, yet we still need to to make decisions regarding our budget and marketing plan choices.  So, my recommendation as we work to put together our recommendations for next year is spend time in the modeling, in the data and analytics, but to more importantly apply your reason and intuition and recommend what you believe to be the best plan to grow our business.

Becoming a Marketer

In way of professional introduction, I am the head of marketing and corporate sales for a Healthcare Staffing company specializing in helping physicians and other healthcare professionals find jobs.  My company, CHG Healthcare, is the leading physician staffing company in the country, and one of Fortune magazine’s top places to work in the United States (3 years running in the top 20 in the country).  I feel luck to work there, and be a part of an organization that helps make a difference in healthcare while also building a great organization for our people.  I am hopeful to retire at CHG, whenever and whatever that looks like…..too far away to think about.  I am sure you will hear a lot more about this on here later.

The path to here took many turns, many of which I will talk about at a later time here, but one of the more interesting turns is my move into marketing.  I went to school originally thinking I was going to be a chemical engineer.  My aunt, and role-model, was a chemical engineer by training and went to work at Procter & Gamble where she ended up as a General Manager leading a division.  As a young-person, I looked up to her so much.  So, I started school with that career path in mind.  As I started school,  I realized that I actual loved where she landed and not necessarily her journey and that there were many ways to get to that landing.  Pretty quickly, I switched to a business major in Finance and Accounting.  My logic was exactly that of an 18 year old.  I liked math, and finance was the closest thing to engineering in the business school. 

One of my first classes in undergraduate business school was a marketing class, and ironically I hated it.  I found the professor, an adjunct who was up teaching at Miami of Ohio on a sabbatical from Procter & Gamble, pretty worthless.  It seemed like it was her way or the highway, and I didn’t agree with much of what she said.  As students asked her questions, it appeared like she was always making things up on the fly (at the time I was convinced this is what all marketers did) versus grounding her teaching based on facts and experiences.  She had no credibility to me.

As I reflect on that now, 19 years later, it was a pivotal moment for me.  First, I decided that there was no way I would ever be in marketing (ha ha!).  Second, I decided that I always wanted to work hard to be humble versus trying to be right or authoritative.  Finally, I decided that my business existence would always be grounded in facts and hard work and not smoke in mirrors.

Quite ironic that this rough introduction to marketing became one of the moments I believe helped me find my way professionally.  It has helped me to establish my philosophy as a marketer.  It helped to create in me an underdog mentality; always out to prove that marketing isn’t smoke in mirrors and that creativity and logic can come together into a set of ideas that when implemented with excellence can help to grow a business.