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Consensus Building from the Trenches: Making Your Idea THE Idea

September 21, 2010

“Voice from the Trenches” is written by Alex Moore. Alex is a freelance writer, the Marketing Coordinator at Prellwitz Chilinski Associates, and a Consultant with Reilly Communications.

When it comes to shaping corporate strategy, it’s easy to make your ideas heard, but tough to get the green light to turn them into actual products and policies. Because firms typically rely on long-held marketing approaches and protocols, ideas from those of us on the lower end of the corporate totem pole are often greeted with some version of “if it ain’t broke, why fix it”? Heck, even C-level staff and principals struggle to enact new ideas— certainly with clients and often internally.

Take social media. When I first joined the A/E/C word (just a couple years ago), most firms ignored sites like Twitter. For whatever reason— maybe they weren’t perceived to speak to a decision-making audience, maybe their informal nature conflicted with carefully polished corporate messaging— chances are, if you were a young marketer like me and you pitched a decision-maker on joining Twitter, you were brushed off.

Now these online tools are obviously everywhere, but an interesting divide has arisen. Some firms are decidedly ahead of the curve, with everything from blogging BD leaders to sophisticated social media marketing staff, and others still standing on the sidelines. What’s the difference? Why are some firms tweeting madly while others twiddle their thumbs? Part of it is resources, but a lot of it, I suspect, has to do with how strategies are communicated. The smart marketers are better at advancing their ideas in a way that gets their colleagues and leaders to buy in.

So what’s the secret to building that consensus that turns an idea like setting up a Twitter account into a part of day-to-day life at your company? To me, as an “in-the-trenches” marketing coordinator, getting it boils down to a simple mantra: Make your idea their idea.

Yes, sadly for the part of me that wants to announce “I have a great idea! I think it can change the world!” in a meeting, then enjoy a standing ovation for my proprietary Stroke of Marketing Genius, it doesn’t seem to work that way. Whether it’s launching a blog or redesigning a brochure, I’ve learned the best way to advance new marketing thinking is to swallow any pride of ownership, to advance an idea and a rationale subtly, and to wait.

Sometimes it’s as simple as simply speaking of my idea as THE idea, like a concept pulled out of thin air:

Firm Honcho: “There’s no point in redesigning these brochures. They’ve worked fine for us for years.”
Lowly Marketer: “Well the idea is that a forward-looking design reflects on our sophistication and vitality as a firm.”

Other times, it’s salesmanship 101— using the Honcho’s own words:

F.H. : “Why redesign these brochures?”
L.M. : “Well, you said something earlier that was interesting: That a firm ought to be clear about what it’s offering clients. Maybe these brochures don’t reflect who we are anymore.”

Either way, this more deferential approach, while slow moving, seems to be the one that works. It’s like a seed: Plant it quietly, don’t worry too much about it but water it, let it grow, then let the fruit be shared and enjoyed. It won’t have your name on it— outside of Johnny Appleseed, most seed-planters aren’t famous— but it will get the job one. And at the end of the day results are more satisfying than credit.


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