By Deb McAlister-Holland
Once upon a time, there was a brave knight who rode into battle and (a) slew the dragon (b) rescued the princess and (c) earned fame and fortune, becoming a legend for his many deeds. At least that’s how the story goes.
In real life, deeds of derring-do are rare but it’s possible to accomplish great things by following the example of a modern-day knight in shining armor.
What can a marketer learn from a knight-in-shining armor? Quite a lot, as it turns out. I know this because I happen to have my very own knight-in-shining armor — my son, Geoff McAlister — and I’ve learned quite a bit about my own profession by watching him advance in his.
Here are four practical marketing lessons that I picked up from my son as I’ve watched him travel the world as a professional stuntman performing in movies, videos and live shows.
The first step in becoming a marketing legend is finding a dragon to battle. (You don’t have to kill it — just master it.) What kind of dragon? A problem or pain point that’s costing your company market share, revenue, or competitive advantage. For example, in a large distributed marketing organization, the biggest dragon in the kingdom is often the disconnect between corporate marketing and local sales teams. The second is winning the battle by applying some medieval lessons to the problem.
- Arm yourself with the right weapons. To become a knight, you need to master the tools of the trade (a variety of swords, javelins, spears, a mace, flame throwers, shields, and horsemanship, for example). You also need to know when to use each one, and how to use them effectively and safely. Yes, in the modern world stunt performers rehearse the battles but the fire stunts involve real fire, “breakaway” lances don’t always break, a sword or a mace can do real damage if someone misses a step, and a galloping horse can do an awful lot of damage. In marketing, picking the wrong weapon in the battle for market share results in a different kind of pain. But we still have to master an ever-changing collection of tools, and know when to use each one. I’d feel completely unarmed without a solid distributed marketing platform to manage my digital, print, email, and social media campaigns.
- Recruit a band of loyal knight companions. A knight knows he’s unlikely to achieve his quest without his loyal companions — and those of us who are in a quest for business success can’t do it alone, either. McAlister says that his career requires him to connect with stunt coordinators, other performers, stable hands, trainers, weapons and prop masters, costumers, dancers, actors, casting agents, souvenir vendors, photographers, ticket takers and, of course, his audiences. He has to be scrupulous in following up, keeping in touch, reaching out via phone, email, social media, the web, trade associations and conferences and (whenever possible) through face-to-face meetings. For a marketing professional, the “knight companions” includes a diverse contact list of vendors, freelancers, agencies, sales reps, journalists, analysts, researchers, bloggers, peers and mentors who can be relied on for help, referrals, advice, and new ideas. (If you don’t participate actively in your trade association, the LinkedIn group for your profession, and local networking groups, it will hurt your career and make it harder to do almost any job.)
- Suit up and show up, ready to do battle, no excuses. “I was in the show at the Excalibur Casino Hotel in Las Vegas for several years,” McAlister says. “We usually had two sold-out shows per night and like they say, ‘The show must go on.’ Your audience doesn’t care that your horse stepped on your foot — or that you’re tired or bruised from something that happened during the first show of the night. The ‘meet and greet’ sessions after the shows are critical, too. Whether you’re meeting a superstar who’s brought his kids to the show, a little girl who just wants to pet the horse, or a medieval history buff who wants to critique your hand-to-hand combat techniques, it’s important to listen, engage, and respond appropriately to every single one. They bought their ticket, and they deserve your full attention,” he says. It’s not that different in the business world. The work has to get done — and deadlines don’t wait because we’re tired or cranky. Engaging with customers, suppliers, co-workers, vendors, and all the others you deal with daily is important, too.
- Be gracious when you lose, and even more gracious when you win. McAlister recalls being in a show once where most of the performers got along well, and understood that sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. But he ran into one guy who never seemed to get that he was just one part of an ensemble cast. Everything was personal, and he was hyper-competitive and quick to criticize everyone around him. “He didn’t last long, and no one was sorry to see him go.” In business and marketing, one of the most important actions you can take is to reach out to your contacts when something bad happens. Didn’t get the job or the account? Write a thank-you note anyway. Stay in touch. Things change — and the nicer you are, the more likely your contacts are to reach out to you in the future. Being gracious when you’re selected for a promotion over other team members, or you have to fire a vendor or take an action that could hurt someone makes a huge difference in how they react — and it’s one of the hallmarks of truly successful people.
What’s your code of chivalry, and how does it help you in your everyday business life?