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The Warriors Down Year Has Lessons for Marketers, Communicators

No matter how successful or “invincible” a team, company or superstar marketer seems to be, times change, and life is defined by both peaks and valleys. Just ask the Golden State Warriors. Indeed, Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr’s “teaching” year also has instructive lessons for professional services companies.

Over the last five seasons, the Warriors were considered the premier team in the NBA – making it to five straight Finals and securing three championships. As the wins and rings piled up, it seemed like the dynasty could last forever. But, just as the team was about to upgrade their castle to sparkling digs in San Francisco, the pendulum of life swung in a different direction. Superstars suffered significant injuries. One, still injured, bolted for Brooklyn. Veterans moved on, and gravity set in. As of early December, the Warriors are 4-17, dead last in the Western Conference.

Kerr summed up the situation succinctly in a recent New York Times interview:

“I don’t want our mind-set to just allow failure to sink in,” Kerr said in an interview. “Because we all read stuff, we all hear stuff and we all see stuff. Players have it at their fingertips on their phones, and all the chatter out there is, ‘All right, so the Warriors are going to be in the lottery.’ But we can’t succumb to that. We have to fight and scrap for every win we can get.”

Kerr’s mentality is one that professional services companies would be wise to adopt when faced with similar predicaments. There are “superstar marketers” and true “rainmakers” and sometimes they leave or retire, sometimes they have bad or busy years, and sometimes the magic just doesn’t work like it once did.

Managing transitional or lean years can be difficult, but also part of fostering a new era of success. Here’s a quick playbook for professional services companies:

These are the players you have.

Kerr might pine for the departed Kevin Durant to be back on the team (and healthy), or for Steph Curry’s wrist to miraculously heal overnight. Neither are going to happen. And so, he works with the players he has. Professional services marketers and communicators can see industry superstars – such as the person always quoted on an issue. But, by focusing on and credentialing the talent within, real progress is possible.

Give the kids a chance.

When senior-level employees leave a company, younger talent behind them is often thrust into new roles. Some are more than prepared to take on the challenge, while others are not.

Here’s Kerr on his dynamic from a San Francisco Chronicle article:

“It’s totally different,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, our rookies have basically been the 13th or 14th man. Their whole job has been to watch the veterans in front of them, and our job has been to work with the rookies before or after practice. … But now you’ve got to go war with them, and they’re not ready.”

In slower/leaner times, it is important for companies to nurture their more junior team members and make sure they are put into situations where they can succeed and feel they are contributing.

Try new things.

With bandwidth comes time to tinker. With a demanding rainmaker on “hiatus,” a professional services marketer or communicator can explore options like targeted blogs, podcasts or building strengths in areas that have historically been weaker. With Kerr’s young, raw squad, he and his staff are likely drawing up plays that are untested – and learning about themselves and their players in the process.

Re-focus on the fundamentals.

Some players are natural talents, with skill complemented by practice. Others are just raw talent that need careful molding. When time allows it, teams and companies should evaluate their systems and processes to weed out inefficiencies and find new pathways for success. Almost every team has a “Team Way,” – “Warriors Way,” “Sharks Way,” or “Giants Way.” This is both a mission statement and an operational manual – from the G League to the NBA, Low A baseball to MLB.

Be patient.

If companies can adjust expectations while building for the future, they will be in the best position to succeed for years to come (and get back to their “winning” ways). While the Warriors might come back to form when their top talent returns from injury next year, they might also struggle next year or find that they have a new superstar in the making. No doubt time will change the game. For marketers and communicators drilling dry well after dry well in terms of initiatives and campaigns, struggles will end – provided a strong foundation is in place. The Warriors used to be a perennially dreadful team with seasons totaling only 17 and 19 wins back in the late-90s and early-2000s. It took time, along with a new ownership and focus, to find sustained success.

No one outside the Bay Area feels bad for Warriors fans. The team had a run that few enjoy, and surely some will revel in these new struggles. It’s now far easier, despite a gleaming new arena, to get tickets for home games and – at least for this year – the jerseys, hats and tees are getting less wear. (It’s the 49ers’ time!) Still, real fans of all aspects of the game – the good and the lean years – are showing up and getting loud. The games have to be played, and the team needs its fans.

Similarly, professional services companies can have spectacular runs only to have the forces of fate – time, changes to the law or regulations, personnel departures – alter the near-term output and impact of marketing and communications efforts. This does not mean it is time to stop trying, nor is it an invitation to wait for a superstar or two to organically develop. It’s a time to dial-in, try new things, develop raw talent and focus on long-term growth strategies.

– Joey Telucci

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