Marcus Fischer | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Marcus Fischer

Background:  

Marcus Fischer is CEO of Carmichael Lynch, a Minneapolis–based advertising agency that handles creative, production, brand planning, public relations, social media services and media buying and planning. Recent clients include Subaru, U.S. Bank, Jack Link's, GNC and Conoco.

The Mistake:

The biggest mistake I made happened at the beginning of my career, which I started in brand planning. I was working for a big client, and we had this piece of consumer insight. Everything about it was right, and in my bones, I knew it. Everyone we talked to said it was right; it was one of those pieces I felt really good about.

Even everyone we talked to within the client organization said, "We get it, we get it, we get it." But then, after we presented to the executive board, they said, "You know, it's a good insight, and you're right—but I can't sell it to the board. It doesn’t help drive business right now."

It kind of crushed me. It was such a lesson to me that even nowadays we talk about the difference between building a brand and making a quarter. That single event is one I reflect on a lot.

You first have to understand your clients’ businesses and how they make money.

The Lesson:

You first have to understand your clients’ businesses and how they make money, and then come the consumers. The key is knowing all sides of the business versus just one side.

When I came up using one discipline, that discipline always led. Part of my growth has been learning that being right in one capacity is different than being right in all of them.

At the very beginning, when you start talking to clients, don't assume you know what their goals and desires are. The first question I ask [a client] is, "Tell me what your key performance indicators are."

Some KPIs may be about building the brand: intent, opinions, social sentiment and so on. And some KPIs may focus on how to make the company’s quarter, and those will be financially driven or ratio driven. It's not an either-or.

When you can build a brand for the long-term and also make quarterly numbers, it allows you to think about using marketing as a cause-driven impact in the community. And that's kind of the gold standard of where people want to be.

Follow Carmichael Lynch on Twitter at @CarmichaelLynch.

Photo courtesy Marcus Fischer