Startup marketing

Parks and Recreation Unwittingly Offers Startup Marketing Advice

A few days ago, I sat down with my daughter to watch a random episode of Parks and Recreation. It’s one of our favorite shows; our two favorite characters are Ron Swanson and Andy Dwyer. In this episode, Andy has taken a new job as the Pawnee “shoe shiner” in City Hall. Towards the end of the episode, he looks at the camera and deadpans a meme-making line: “I feel right at home as a shoe-shiner. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I know I’m doing it really, really well.” In that moment, he’s dispensing solid startup marketing advice, whether he realizes it or not.

Andy knows nothing about shoe shining, but he’s a nice guy, people like him, and he gives it a try. While this seems fine, and things go OK for a while, he truly has no idea what he’s doing, and in the end, he moves on to a new job.

Now, imagine if the show’s writers decided to make Andy the head of marketing for a startup instead of a shoe shine proprietor. “It’s time that we start marketing. Andy thinks marketing is interesting and he has some fun ideas – and he’s in a band – so we’ve asked him to be our CMO.”

They would show him trying a few marketing programs, perhaps even having some initial success in marketing his startup.

In the end, he wouldn’t have the experience needed to build a successful strategy and he would find himself in over his head. And, comedy ensues.

Startup marketing is tricky

 All-too-often someone with little to no experience is placed in charge. In this fictional example, Andy becomes the well-intentioned victim, doomed to fail.

If you think about it, you’ve seen this scenario play out many times and placing someone in charge without the right experience rarely works. The result:

  • failed marketing programs
  • overspending
  • quickly assembled teams that are often downsized when funding runs its course

There’s another option, one that will save grief and money.

We call it CMO in a box. It’s a startup marketing program that sets up companies with:

  • the marketing foundation they need at their unique stage of business
  • access to marketing veterans without bringing them on as full-time staff
  • delivery on real goals tied to a solid strategy
  • help scaling the businesses and marketing program with the goal of managing it either internally or externally – depending what is best for that business

With CMO in a Box, our goal as an agency is not to develop and manage a marketing program long term. Our goal is to help grow a worthwhile startup so that one day we are not needed. We aim to provide what’s needed before a company is ready for a big, and expensive, internal staff.

What’s interesting is this model is sort of the anti-agency model. When I first brought it up with my colleagues I feared that my concept might become my Jerry McGuire manifesto moment. You know, that moment where everyone in the company says, “wow, we are so glad you said that, you’re so right, we should do that.” And then, at the same time, they are drawing up your severance package.

Nope, not at Stoltz. They saw my point, thought it made sense and helped to launch it. They believe in it. And this is just another reason that Stoltz the right place for me. But more importantly, why it’s right for the companies that want a different sort of agency. An agency that’s willing to look beyond traditional and make a difference with the clients we call partners.

Jumping back to Andy and his Shoe Shine business. If our model were applied (we’ll call it “Shoe Shine Proprietor in a Box”), our agency (perhaps we call it “Stoltz Shoe Shine Group”) would have come in and found a way to bridge the gap between the previous proprietor and a new path. We would have worked hard to help build the shoe-shine business in city hall. We would have looked to marry that success with a new proprietor that shares the long-term vision and will grow its success.

And the best part of all, Ron, Jerry, Leslie, Tom, Donna, Ann Perkins and Jerry would have shoes so shiny they’d see their own reflections in them.