It has been a sucky week to be a CEO. First, JPMorgan’s CEO has to mention a $2 billion loss at the same investor meeting where they determine his pay package. Steve Ballmer gets the dubious honor of “Worst CEO” by Forbes (because he has consistently thrown the baby out with the bathwater), Yahoo’s CEO got “allowed to resign” for falsifying his resume, and – my favorite – the CEO of Time Warner, when asked about getting Internet content on a TV, didn’t know what Apple’s AirPlay was, and said of the Apple TV, “the little thing, the hockey puck, really doesn’t do anything to help enable you to get Internet material on your TV.”
Now, I don’t expect the whole world to know about AirPlay or Apple TV – if you’re a Mac fan, you’re probably familiar with it – if not, it’s Apple’s tool to allow you to stream video you find on your iPhone, iTouch or iPad and stream it to your Apple TV – a sweet little peripheral that allows you to connect to iTunes to rent or buy movies, stream content off your computer or – oh yeah – stream content off your i-Device. From the Internet. To the TV.
The CEO’s comment is devilishly stupid for a variety of reasons – but the one lesson we can take from it is even your CEO may not know or understand the online ramifications of their business, to their business. The JPMorgan guy? He was hedging against hedges – he knew the risk, and it blew up on him. Ballmer seems to know his stuff, but has been changing strategies and product streams like I quit smoking (often and with enthusiasm) with the same results (failure). And the Yahoo guy? The Interweb has a lot of information on it – you’d think that they guys who ostensibly made PayPal what it is and got the job at Yahoo would know that, in 2012, you’re going to get caught for resume fraud. All in all, people who know what they’re doing but making dubious choices except for the Yahoo guy – we give him a straight up fail. Time Warner’s CEO falls on the other side of the inactivity spectrum – he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and thusly doesn’t plan for it accordingly. He should know about AirPlay – especially when it’s in response to a question about getting Internet content on your TV – which could completely blow up the cable industry paradigm. He was, apparently, completely ignorant of at least one of the several tools out there that stream from device to TV (and based on his comments, probably all of them). But the reality is, there are a lot of CEOs in charge of companies that are both massively and subtly affected by the Internet, who don’t understand the impact of the Interwebs on their business. It’s our job as marketers to educate them so they can make CEO-y decisions.
CEOs don’t have marketing departments because they want to. We’re arrogant, we ignore dress codes, and often show up with hangovers. CEOs have them because they spearhead revenue generation for the company. It’s that simple. All too often though, I hear from friends that their CEO has made a request of the marketing department that’s simply unreasonable. Most of the time, simply impossible. Alas, these requests are fueled by ignorance of the Internet – of how it works, of what it takes to garner visibility and the customers that come with them, and even how the company currently does business on the Net. The real problem arises when we allow the CEOs to make requests borne out of ignorance and perpetuated by yes men. “We should be #1 on Google” says the CEO, and the Marketing chief says “yessir” and tries to figure out how to make that happen. Another one – “I want more business from the Internet”. It’s an easy thing to say, but a little more complicated to make happen. The CEO is the nexus of all things in the company – operations, marketing, sales – but if he doesn’t know how it should happen, it’s difficult to expect marketing or sales to make it happen.
Educate your CEOs – especially if online is already a big piece of your business. They need to know about their business, and they need to know online is still not going away. Believe it or not – in this day and age, there are still people who have decided that the Internet isn’t worth their (or their company’s) time. Educate – especially if it’s a hassle. Educating someone is inversely painful to the amount they know. If you’re doing business online, and they don’t “get it”, it’s damn sure time they did. They don’t need to carry a smartphone and they can still have their secretaries print off their emails, but they need to know that B2B and B2C customers are using online to find their business – be it a web site, a phone, or placing an order. If the CEO of a plumbing company doesn’t get how a customer can find him from a tablet – that’s a problem for the company. How is he supposed to run the company without knowing how customers are finding his business? How is he supposed to operationalize a fleet of plumbers when their on-demand status can change – like the Internet – in the span of a second? At the end of the day, it’s up to all of us to make sure our bosses understand what we do. Sometimes it’s not easy – if they don’t understand something, they tend to leave the person in charge of that something alone, but it’s simply not healthy for the company.
But whatever you do, don’t send them out to answer questions like Time Warner’s CEO. That’s just embarrassing.