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Bruce Marcus


One of the things I cherish about you is that you make me feel less lonely, particularly in the realm of exploring ideas that go beyond how to write a press release. I don't always agree with you,as you know, but that's insignificant, in the light of the fact that your thinking and writing are always light years ahead of the pack.

I must say that I think that the latest post on The Marcus Letter (Why Can't We All Just Get Along?) sums up the root of the problem. It's the culture clash that makes anything resembling leadership difficult, if not impossible.

I have problems with the concept of leadership, and particularly so in this arena. You and I (and, of course, a few others --a Gerry Riskin, Patrick McKenna, David Maister, etc.) can lead in innovate concepts, but at best, we can only exhort our clients or readers to go beyond the boundaries of tradition. There are resident marketing directors with a great deal of cache in their firms (not many, I suspect), but few who can do more than chart a course, and wait for the master to agree with it.

I think the problem I have is with the concept of leadership to begin with. I have my own definition, as I'm sure you do too. To me, a leader is someone with a vision for a successful path for his or her firm. Who has the ability to bring that vision to reality. Who has the ability to inspire others to participate in making that vision a reality. Beyond these three things are myriad offshoots of ideas and practices and personalities and timing and circumstances and the ability to transcend random events.

In the course of my extensive career in professional services marketing, I've come up with a vast array of new ideas. Many of them were, in fact, totally new to the professional services marketing profession. I have an aversion to rehashing old ideas because one is too lazy to be innovative. Sometimes my ideas are rejected, as is the case with all consultants. Sometimes they're watered down by the limits of the client's imagination or understanding. Sometimes they don't work. Sometimes they're accepted enthusiastically, and I have to make them happen..

Within the context of client service, I'm hardly a leader. I lead nothing. I propose, and others must dispose. That's the harsh reality.

I have been honored, such as it is, by being called a thought leader. I'm not by nature particularly modest or humble (surprise!), But I know damn well that my so-called talent for thought leadership comes from a constitutional boredom with doing the same things over and over again, and so I'm constantly looking for different and better ways to do things. (I'm beginning to wonder if thought leadership is this year's new fad.)

In the English edition of PMM, I saw a review of a a new book on how to write a press release. I wrote that book some 50 (yes, 50) years ago. This book seems to be rehashing same old same old ideas, in a media world that's change drastically. So 50 years ago I was innovative. I guarantee you that the press release I wrote for a client yesterday would not have passed the muster in this creaky new book. But I guarantee you, as well, that nobody who has written as many press releases as I have , or has had as many see print as I have. I must know something. I even have a Silver Anvil, which is the Oscar of the Public Relations business (it's like a Pulitzer, in its peculiar class). So much for leadership.

OK, I'm venting. My point is that the concept of leadership is too vague, too overblown, too subjective, too far removed from reality for us to dwell on it. Frankly, nobody has done it better than Peter Drucker, though many have tried. And he rarely talked about leadership so much as he talked of techniques to get a job done. I'm with him. See, for example, the tired old anachronisms of Phil Kotler.

This is a dynamic world, Too many forces assault our daily efforts. While, like a religion, we are wont to make sense of it all, and to learn how to guide us through the morass of random factors over which we rarely have control, I'm not sure we can do it. It's like sitting down to write the great American novel. You write the thing one idea at a time, one word at a time. If it's great, the world will tell you, but only after it's been published. But you'll never know until the world tells you.

I'll stop droning on here, except to reiterate that I think you're a treasure, and a thinker, in a realm in which most practitioners are simply rehashers of what's been done before. Or to quote my favorite philosopher, Yogi Berra, "Ain't nobody here knows how to play this game?"

I think you know how, and even if it brings assaults like this one, keep trying. Maybe, one day, with the help of the likes of you and me, the cultures will learn to stop clashing, and then maybe we can get something done.


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