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It's Lonely At The Top

By Bob McElwain
Posted Sunday, August 24, 2003

Picture the CEO of a major corporation. Say his office and those of his principal staff occupy the top two floors of the building they own in New York.

When a major decision is to be made, the CEO calls together the key people on his staff most likely to be of help. Then he asks for their views. Will these experienced, talented, and well-paid people provide the information required to move decisively?

It's unlikely. Here's why.

Gathering A Consensus

Suppose the inherent political in-fighting characteristic of this level of enterprise is absent. Suppose each person at the table really wants to get it right. And suppose the CEO is a good listener, a person who seriously wants to make the best move.

To the extent the issue relates to the core business, views will differ. Reconsidering the goals of the advertising department, for example, is nearly bound to bring disagreement, even argument.

Opinions Rule

We can't know it all. Nobody can. To fill in the gaps, we have opinions. And they're handy, when hard info is lacking. The more complex the problem to be solved, the more likely opinion will best define much of the input.

In the end, the CEO must decide. It's a lonely position to be in. First he must separate fact from opinion as possible. And he must consider what he knows of the person who voiced each view. And he must seek to retain the support of these people he depends upon, whatever he decides.

It's unlikely there is anyone close at hand to help even in sorting out his own thinking. Let alone in the evaluation of the information provided. Not a fun position to be in.

You And Your Business

While you probably have not given yourself a title, you are the CEO of your business. And at times, it's a very lonely position. The same position ascribed to the hypothetical CEO above. Loaded with the same elements of uncertainty.

You also have solid information. And you also fill in the blanks with opinion. But if what you have is not sufficient to deal with a specific problem, you'll need to hunt up further information.

Since you don't have a team of qualified people handy, you'll likely turn to the Web and poke about as possible. If your concern is the need for better advertising results, you may see things such as ...

- At $299 per year, Yahoo provides the best ROI on the Web.

- Let http// double your sales in six months

- Banner ads are making a comeback; don't be left out

- Paid submissions at Inktomi are the only way to go

- Ezine advertising gives the best return on the dollar

- Forget advertising; build link swaps

- Sign here. I'll get you N thousand hits a day.

So Choose, Already

How can you do so? Each of the above largely contradicts all others on the list, relative to a "best approach." If you read the supporting arguments, you undoubtedly found some facts to support the view. But opinions included added to the uncertainty of conclusions.

To be in a position in which you are forced to reevaluate any major aspect of your business, is one in which you stand alone. You're fortunate if you know even a single person with whom you can chat about the dilemma. And in the end, you alone must make the decision, execute it, and live with the consequences.

I don't know of a tougher spot to be in. A struggling business can be made or broken by a single decision. And even a successful business may take a heavy hit given a bad one.

Give It Time

Unlike the hypothetical CEO above, you do not need to make any major decision today. This week. Or even by the end of the month. If it's your ad campaign that is floundering, cancel it. Then get on with business. Add fresh content. Seek new products easier to sell. Improve your newsletter. Stay on top of support. And so forth.

And, of course, begin dealing with the problem. But not the whole of it. Nibble at it in little bits and pieces. And let results show you over time what will work best for you.

Break The Problem Into Manageable Parts

For example, focus on what you're read about banners, and lay all other advice about advertising aside. Explore as time permits. If you become convinced it won't work for you, move on to another item. But if you decide this is something you must try, do it.

But only as an experiment. Don't for a moment consider 10,000 CPM at Yahoo, for that's utter foolishness. Begin small, test carefully, and do so over time. Given anything resembling positive results, maybe try a different banner. And monkey with other variables, such as location. All in hopes of better results.

Little Decisions Are Easier To Make

The key is in making small moves and tracking results with care. Each action will succeed or fail. You only need to give it time. Move on to a different element of your plan for improving your overall advertising campaign, only when you're confident of your decision on the latest move made.

Let time help you make the decision. And you can spare it. For the element being considered is sufficiently small that total failure will not have significant impact on your business. Success, however, is one more positive step toward achieving your goal.


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