When Did Marketing Become a Last Chance Gas Station?
I enjoy road trips. I also enjoy horror movies. Growing up in Chicago, it was a pleasure to read Roger Ebert’s reviews of the latest horror movies in the Chicago Sun-Times, especially when he reviewed movies which featured those notorious “last chance” gas stations. One of Mr. Ebert’s more memorable columns was his review of the 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes. It wasn’t a great movie, but Roger’s review accurately (and for me, humorously) sets the scene in the opening act with his description of the Wrong Gas Station. Remembering this review, I thought about how marketing departments are very similar to last chance gas stations which dot the map, and our desert landscape. Then I considered the expectations placed upon these last chance marketing departments, and the weight on the marketers themselves, toiling long hours behind the figurative gas station cash register. These marketers might as well work, service customers, and live in that company gas station 24/7.
To those marketers who do it all for their company, this one’s for you.
The Setting for The Last Chance Marketing Gas Station
So here we are again. Weeks before a new season for company events, large and small. Both company-owned events and those produced by third parties. It’s time for an event in Vegas, or Phoenix. Maybe Reno or Tahoe, Scottsdale or Tucson. The location doesn’t matter, so take your pick. But for fun, imagine a hot, dry, and mountainous scene with a lonely and crumbling two-lane highway running alongside a dusty gas station. Civilization is a distant memory. A sunburnt and faded road sign reads “Last Gas for 100 Miles.” Out of the heat coming off the cracked pavement approaches your company’s RV. As it slowly comes into focus, you see the company’s giant logo on the side and that it’s filled with your executives, salespeople, account managers, and support staff headed to the next big event. Your IT guy, with sunglasses, is behind the wheel. But before making the final trek across the desert, the RV pulls into your station.
Marketing’s last chance gas station.
A Motorist’s Expectations of The Last Chance Gas Station
When an average, everyday vehicle pulls up to the pumps at the desert’s last chance gas station, its occupants generally have the highest expectations of the establishment, and its employees. Albeit unreasonable, the station is supposed to have it all: fuel, food, clean restrooms, hot and cold beverages, directions, a working telephone, sundries, souvenirs, toiletries, tools, auto parts, towing service, replacement tires, compressed air, and, of course, a mechanic who can perform repairs on any type of vehicle: small, medium, or large; foreign or domestic. Credit cards must also be accepted.
Next: A Company’s Expectations of Marketing’s Last Chance Gas Station
Back to your corporate RV on the way to the big event…
When it pulls into marketing’s station just before the final stretch across the desert, the departmental attendants are expected to possess anything the organization needs and wants for that event, and promptly service and support all requests. Instead of fuel, PowerPoint slides with pretty pictures and cool graphics. Instead of food, collateral. Instead of a mechanic, a marketer who can analyze event data, transport trade show booths, upload and disseminate leads, run reports, and demonstrate ROI. Of course, they must also be world-class experts in social media, SEO/SEM, mobile technology, and website maintenance. For openers.
Characters in Film, Marketers in Action
Those who work at the last chance gas stations in horror movies wear dirty overalls, have a big silver wrench and a greasy rag in their pocket, stare with a creepy look, talk funny and walk slowly. They usually work alone, but may have one or two others with them who lurk in the shadows near the back of the station. Those working in marketing’s last chance gas station strike a familiar chord. Certainly not in the strange, degenerate, horror movie character appearance, but in other comparable ways, such as…
- Expected to be strategic and simultaneously fluent in the across-the-board tools of the trade: creative, technical, logistical, lead-generating, report-running, financially fluent, thought-provoking, collateral creating, problem-solving practitioners who can roll with punches, with whomever, to whichever event, wherever and whenever necessary
- Subjected to the last-minute demands of every department, every “RV full of colleagues” driving up to the pump demanding service, day or night
- Supposed to have, on-hand, the latest collateral, slide decks, videos, case studies, references, customer data and event information at their fingertips — despite the internal library that was designed and implemented to be accessed by all employees
- Mandated to repair whatever’s wrong with everything from trade show booths to automation systems integrated with CRM tools, multiple websites and social media platforms
- Having to do it all, with constricting or nonexistent budgets
In contrast, I’ll share from experience that the marketers with whom I’ve worked hustle, look sharp, are personable and intelligent, and approach complex challenges with enthusiasm, passion, and a team spirit. Unlike the horror movie attendants, I’ve worked with marketers who ensure that the company RV not only makes it safely across the desert, but the occupants prosper upon arrival, that they have plenty left in the tank for the return trip, and even more for the journey to the next event.
But from what I’ve seen from some companies sponsoring and exhibiting at events, their trade show-bound RVs are leaking oil… all the way from Chicago to Vegas.
The Chosen Life of a Marketer
Like many, I passionately enjoy the numerous challenges marketing presents. There’s nothing I enjoy more than jumping out of bed wearing a thousand different hats, strategizing with people all over the world to create and position innovative solutions, and rolling up my sleeves to produce results for customers, colleagues and stakeholders. Especially in preparation for events.
Conversely, I promise you that no marketer has ever signed up to be a 24/7 attendant at the “last chance” gas station. If you have some of these marketers in your employ, think about the significance of their contributions during the next lead up to your big event in the desert southwest.
Then save a seat for them on the RV — after they service the company vehicle.
They deserve it, and will appreciate it more than you know.
Tony Compton holds two degrees from Loyola University Chicago: a 1987 B.A. in Communication and a 1995 MBA. He has held a number of marketing and business leadership positions over the past three decades.