Is the bad economy creating Cowardly Marketers?

I do think the bad economy (yes, its bad and not some scare tactic by Obama) and the fear of loosing their jobs that are causing some marketers to hide their heads in the sand and allow grossly under performing campaigns and programs continue to run.

Until recently I had rarely encountered a marketer who actually admitted they were “afraid” to tell management of problems or poor performance in a marketing campaign. In most of my experiences companies wanted to know so they could fix it or not repeat it. As long as they learned from it they can and should improve it. It seems now that I encounter this fear of even knowing they have problem almost 50% of the time. At a time when we should be trying new things or wringing every dollar possible from our campaigns too many cowardly marketers don’t even want to know how poorly they are doing .

I recently did a pilot of my tool for a couple of companies that showed significant problems with their search programs. While they loved the insight and the identification of a lot of problems – two of the companies decided not to continue the pilots since they were afraid that it would showcase “too many opportunities.” I always thought it was silly when companies referred to “Challenges” and “Problems” as “opportunities” just to make themselves feel better. But to not want to know you have problems or let management know at this frequency is pretty amazing.

In one of these cases, we pulled in all of their PPC keywords and found that over 27,000 words had a negative Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)- meaning the media cost was more than the revenue generated. Not always a bad thing, but the amount of the loss in this case was just over $155,000. The company was in total disbelief that they had that many under performing keywords. Just looking at a few of the words we found significantly opportunity for changes that would improve the campaigns. Ironically, this loss for a single month was 3x their annual SEO budget which was doing nearly 50x the returns of the paid program

In another case, we found nearly 300 keywords with over $100 in organic revenue that were not in their paid program. We also found that 16 of their top 20 most expensive words were not in any sort of SEO monitoring or optimization program. If your willing to pay a premium for keywords in PPC they should also be as important to the SEO team.

While I can understand the concern letting it continue only makes it worse. I had my first “don’t tell management” experience many years ago when working in a similar “fear-based” management culture. My first job out of the Marine Corps was for a Not-For-Profit company doing medical records review for the federal government. They were part of the government but privatization sounded to the government agency good so they merged 10+ offices into one the year before I started working there. This meant there was a lot of office furniture that belonged to the government and no one knew what to do with it so they put it in storage and forgot about it but were paying nearly $15k a month in storage fees. Apparently everyone in corporate accounting thought this was medical records storage (even though there was a separate line item for records storage) and not old furniture storage. The silly part is any excess government property it can be turned into the re-utilization center at no cost. We were lucky that we had one not afar away on the Marine Corps base and even better one of my Marine buddies worked in that division.

Being the go-getter, I got the appropriate forms from my buddy, wrote database application for the inventory management so that we could quickly process the paperwork. I called a local moving company to get a quote to load and deliver the furniture to Orange County from Los Angles. Total cost out the door was about $16k given we would need to do 4 semi truck loads and half-dozen temps to load them. My budget request was “denied” due to not having the money budgeted. Ironic we could not spend $16k to save $180,000 in annual storage costs for furniture and equipment we would never use. Even worse, the local management team told me to “forget about this” because if senior management had heard that they did not dispose of the furniture and were burning that much money to store it it would be hard to explain. In the end, a financial audit found it and these incompetent managers were fired over hiding this from management.

I hope this trend does not continue and maybe when the economy gets better it is easy to piss away a lot of money but when times are tough we should encouraging our teams to dig deep into the data and find nuggets of savings and performance improvement.