Gary Slack will take the reins as chairman of the Business Marketing Association at the group's annual conference this week in Chicago. Slack, chairman-chief experience officer of Slack Barshinger, Chicago, has just completed his second term as president of the Chicago chapter of the BMA.
In the following interview with BtoB, he discusses his goals as BMA chairman, how the economy has affected marketers and agencies, and what the BMA plans to do to help its members succeed during difficult economic times.
BtoB: How are smart marketers responding to the economic downturn?
Like everybody else in their firms, they're figuring out creative ways to try to do the same, or ideally more, with less. I moderated a marketer panel in May at Google's annual B2B Summit in Mountain View, Calif., and I heard top marketers describe how they're focusing limited resources on fewer initiatives versus keeping all projects and giving them an equal haircut. But I also heard marketers talk about how a recession is a good time to do more if you have more—and some do—and a less noisy time to get attention for major, first-ever, horizontal brand initiatives, as Intel and Intuit, to name a few, are doing.
BtoB: What do agencies need to do to survive and thrive during the recession?
Slack: Not entirely jokingly, I'd say get a copy of the stimulus bill and follow the money. We have two clients who've released funds for projects because they've found a paragraph or two in the bill that they believe will help them survive and thrive. One had it in 48-point type on his computer screen when I visited him recently. Go to alternative energy trade shows, à la Don Draper and his “Mad Men” [AMC TV program], marching off circa 1963 to an aerospace show in California to drum up business. We had a wind energy show in Chicago a month ago that was packed with agencies. If you're not in health care, go get some of that, too.
BtoB: What is the BMA doing to help its members during difficult economic times?
Slack: For starters, we are producing [this week's] national conference, whose “Unlearn” theme is all about helping b-to-b marketers get the job done faster, better and cheaper. We believe this theme is really resonating with b-to-b marketers who know b-to-b marketing is rapidly changing and who need a single conference where they can learn about the full spectrum of change taking place in our field. Beyond the national conference, many BMA chapters have staged excellent local programs over the past six months with the same idea in mind.
BtoB: What are your goals as incoming BMA chairman?
Slack: I have one simple goal: To get corporate marketers even more active in and running BMA at the chapter and national levels. I will work to help make more chapter boards look like Chicago's, which is a who's who of CMOs and senior marketing, agency and media leaders. I will keep increasing the percentage of senior marketers on the national board and in leadership positions. And I will add more national board members who come from chapter markets and have a history with and affinity for BMA. As we have proved in Chicago and with the national conference, if you focus everything you do on engaging senior corporate marketers, it will work and everyone else in the food chain will follow.