What the Mob Can Teach You About Marketing

Why Marketers Should Hire Consiglieres

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Tom Martin
Tom Martin
I'm a big fan of the mob. Seriously. You have to respect an organization that can literally get away with murder. OK, so I'm sort of kidding. But in a way I'm not. Here is an organization that has been around in the United States since the early 1900s, operates at a level of secrecy that would make Steve Jobs proud and was allowing its workers to telecommute way before that became in vogue. But as impressive as that is, the part of their setup that has always been something I found intriguing was the consigliere.

In the mafia, and not totally unlike corporate America today, you just don't question the boss unless you'd like to experience the latest in concrete footwear. And while this creates a necessary command and control structure, loyalty and efficiency, it can create blinders. And if you look around in today's companies and agencies for that matter, you see this same dynamic -- even more so since the economy went south.

But here again, the mafia is smarter than the rest of us. Understanding that no one man can have all the answers, they created the consigliere, a person in the organization who can, and is expected to, challenge the boss. He is the one the boss turns to for advice, counsel and insight based on which the boss will ultimately make his decision.

Now think of the consigliere role in the agency/client context. Sounds like a pretty good gig, doesn't it? Nice relationship to have with your client, wouldn't you agree? But look around at your clients and the clients of other agencies. Read the trades and blogs and ask yourself: Are you really your client's consigliere? Do you see any clients that truly have a consigliere? Honestly, I don't see a lot of these types of relationships these days. Sure, plenty of agency folks will say they have that, but if you read the client survey research, it tells a very different story. So this morning I asked myself, "Why is this?" Here is what I came up with.

Clients: Sure, you say you want a consigliere-type person/relationship. But do you really? Because that is not a cheap investment. Smart people cost big bucks. Smart people have to have the luxury of investing huge amounts of time consuming vast amounts of information and then making sense of it. And a true consigliere has to be able to put it all into context and present it to you when and in the form that it truly helps you make smarter decisions. Pretty tough hire, wouldn't you agree? But most of all, he has to have absolute confidence that he can say, "The emperor has no clothes," and you won't kick him to the curb over "strategic or creative differences."

Agencies: I'm not sure we always deserve this role. We've slacked off. We don't invest nearly enough in our people and resources to ensure we are actually ahead of our clients and in a position to look around the corner and see what's coming. We have a serious talent gap in our senior-management ranks, and we've (by and large) forfeited sound strategy in favor of cheap production tricks and cute one-liners that will line our shelves with awards but not necessarily our clients' shelves with dollar bills.

So what's a boy to do?

Clients: If you're serious, go find a consigliere. My rants aside, they're out there. I know and compete against more than a few. But skip the RFP. Instead spend a few hours on the internet and read great blogs, articles and agency white papers. Then call or email the authors. Interview a few of those smart folks you found and see if they're interested in getting together for coffee. Then see if you trust them. If you do, hire them. I'm guessing most agencies will gladly sell their services to you.

Agencies: Be worthy of being found by the clients above. And when they call you, live up to their expectations.

Tom Martin is president of Zehnder Communications, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La. He can be reached at [email protected] Or follow him at @TomMartin.
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