Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fire Your "Offensive Coordinators" and You Might As Well Punt Your Brand

Earlier this week, my beloved Kansas City Chiefs fired their offensive coordinator. Head coach, Todd Haley, is now assuming that responsibility.

How many companies during this recession have fired or downsized their offensive coordinators, a.k.a, marketing professionals, and handed those responsibilities off to someone else, perhaps, in another department all together? Too many to count.

Indeed, times are tough. No business is immune. While the move by the Chiefs doesn't seem to be economically-driven, the impact will be the same: When you eliminate specialists, particularly those directly charged with brand communication, you are risking the future of your most valuable asset.

If you recall, in the 90s the old playbook was pitched and NFL head coaches tried tackling general manager responsibilities. And I'm not talking a bunch of second stringers. Future Hall-of-Famers, Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan, took a crack at it.

How did that work out? Not so well. It was too much for one person to handle. Divorce ensued shortly thereafter and teams went back to separate positions.

Why did this approach fail?

I offer a pragmatic but brand-centric reason: While the roles of the GM and head coach parallel in dealing with player personnel, functionally, they are on completely different playing fields. In a nutshell, the GM handles the bottom-line and the head coach handles the sidelines.

And you simply can't do two different things simultaneously well.

Specialization is the foundation of any powerful brand. FOX Newschannel can only be conservative, Las Vegas can only be sin city and Victoria's Secret can only be sexy lingerie. What would happen if FOX News tried to be both conservative and liberal? Vegas tried to sell itself as a family destination? Victoria's Secret marketed business attire? First, those positions are already taken, so it would fail on that level. Subsequently, they would dilute their own specializations, leading to mind share and ultimately market share erosion.

Todd Haley has credentials as an offensive coordinator. He called plays in last year's Super Bowl. But he has a different focus now, that is much different than being an offensive coordinator. It should be on pulling together a team of specialists like the defensive coordinator, offensive line coach and the training staff toward the common goal.

A head coach usually creates and manages the team's brand personality like Bill Walsh and his West Coast Offense, Chuck Noll's Steel Curtain, and Dick Vermeil's Greatest Show on Turf. Ensuring that ever person from the field up to the owner's box is living the brand is a full-time job in and of itself. It's going to be difficult for Haley to stay strategically-focused when he's tactically drawing plays in the dirt.

When you try to focus on two things at once, you end up making compromises to one side or the other but usually both. It takes absolute, undivided attention on one thing to be a specialist, to be a brand.

So, when you punt your marketing professionals, and hand these critical to your bottom-line responsibilities off to say your sales manager or business manager, you are taking the first steps towards killing your brand. You are sending the signal inside your organization that brand is not your priority without even realizing it. Whomever assumes marketing responsibilities, will in turn lose focus in their area of specialization. More dominoes will fall inside your organization that will eventually have an impact outside it.

If brand isn't your main focus, and building it from inside your organization out to customers and prospects, it should be. Nearly $210 million of the The Dallas Cowboys overall value is attributed to brand management. While there are other things that factor into the overall value of an organization, Jerry Jones' new stadium will eventually grow old and depreciate. The NFL revenue-sharing model that is so lucrative for teams could change. Star players will come and go. But your brand is really the only thing you can control. As your most important asset, it needs to be nurtured and grown by specialists, not handed off as an afterthought to bean counters and tactical thinkers in a short-sighted effort to save money now.

While there is great optimism under the new regime at Arrowhead Stadium, and I'm personally excited about it and Haley, it's his first time as a head coach, he inherits a team coming off a 2-14 season, and his starting quarterback is already injured and the season hasn't even kicked off yet. He already had a lot of balls in the air. He just added another big one, and that makes it even more likely he'll commit some costly fumbles this season.

These are my Guts Feelings.

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