Leading a department of innovators

From the better late than never department…


Every marketing department I’ve ever built has done extraordinary, innovative things. While I certainly wouldn’t take credit for some of the ideas and executions that have come out of my departments, I am proud of having identified hungry talent who was engaged in what they were doing and excited to try new things (like the Verizon email hero above).

In my opinion, the secret to generating leading edge, innovative work is to give your team ownership over the work they do and then make them accountable. (Of course, I was ultimately accountable and responsible for the work my team produced.)

I always thought my job was to understand the problems my teams were being asked to solve so I could help define them for the team and create a clear picture of what success would look like.

Then, it was simply a matter of giving them room to try new things with some latitude for failure. I think that last bit is key because if your team is afraid to fail, they’ll never try anything new. When they tried new things, they knew they always had my support (or “air cover” as one of them liked to say).

And while my team forged ahead, I made sure we were working within the parameters of the goals and knocking down any obstacles that stood in their way so they could do their jobs.

This was the way my most recent team handled Verizon digital CRM work.

The Verizon team encouraged us to bring new ideas and push boundaries. With these demands sometimes came a lot of pressure. To me, pressure is another obstacle that needs to be removed. If your team is always afraid or stressed, you’re in danger of sacrificing innovative quality work in exchange for meeting a deadline with mediocre work.

With the help of a supportive account team, I always made sure that if we had a great idea we wanted to pursue, we had the time to pursue it. This was simply a matter of explaining to the client what they will get in return for extending that deadline a day or two.

This was the case for the image above. This appeared in the June 2015 Verizon newsletter email as the hero image (or the first main image that you see).

At the time, this was, to my knowledge, the first use of 3D, or SplitDepth, imagery in an email format. And I think it turned out great. In fact, it made enough of an impression to inspire someone to post about it on Reddit. Even better, most of the comments were complimentary.

The idea was inspired largely by Dana Smitham, the team’s Art Director, and was brought to fruition by Elaine Wong, the designer on the project, and Chris Strom, the writer. Of course, it couldn’t have happened with our Verizon client, Paige Henke, pushing us to explore new ways to improve the Verizon newsletter experience. She always encouraged us to innovate and was constantly pushing to try new things.

Again, I can’t take any credit for the idea you see above. But I’m proud of my role in making it possible for my team to get there.

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