In this week's episode of Marketing Smarts, I speak with Steven Bushong, SVP of marketing operations at the Disney ABC Television Group.

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Steve is a bit of a renaissance man, having earned a degree in industrial and systems engineering, going on to get an MBA, and winding up as manager for the launch of Disneyland Resort Paris. From that role, Steve then got involved in strategic sourcing and procurement at the The Walt Disney Company, serving as VP of sourcing and procurement from 2001 to 2008.

From Procurement to Marketing Operations 

In 2008 Steve moved into his current role with a mandate to redesign and rebuild the marketing function in the television group to create a more effective and efficient organization. 

In his role, as Steve described it to me, he is responsible for "people, process, technology, and finance." On the people front, that means focusing on staffing—determining what competencies are required for different roles, how to develop people to stretch their competencies, and where staffing levels should be set.

On the process front, Steve is responsible for how things get done in the organization—from planning to execution—and for ensuring that they are getting done as effectively and efficiently as possible.

"Technology" in this case refers overseeing the "physical plant" (computers, software, systems, etc.) used to produce the creative and to manage the creative process, while "finance" refers to creating accountability for the achievement of financial goals within the department.  

Getting More out of Marketing

Steve's background in systems engineering, and his experience with sourcing, procurement, and operations, gave him a unique perspective on how marketing can and should work in today's complex media environment.

"I saw what was going on in the way the marketing was being done," he said, "and I proposed to the executives at that time that I think there's another way of thinking about how they do marketing that might help them drive efficiencies and free up money and time to be more creative."

Oddly enough, the approach he was after relied on changing the role that creative played in the marketing equation.

"For the longest time," Steve explained, "television marketing was creative-led. We wanted to be strategy led."

What that meant in practice was that the organization would first define their business objectives and then develop the strategies necessary to achieve those objectives. In turn, the strategies would "drive the types of creative—not what's in the creative, but the types of creative we're going to need to market out shows—and then that creative would then determine how it would get executed."

Lean but Agile

Such an approach, while ideally allowing creative to thrive, begins with an emphasis on efficiency, measurement, and business results. My question to Steve was this, "How do you maintain efficiency while also encouraging the experimentation and unpredictability upon which creative depends?"

"As you become more and more efficient, more and more lean," he admitted, "you're less and less able to adapt; you're less and less able to experiment and try new things and react or respond to a a bump in the road."

The trick, then, is that although your marketing needs to be "industrialized as much as possible so that it's efficient," he said, we marketers at the same time "have to encourage our actually go out and try new things."

Being able to do that, Steve said, comes down to "making sure you're setting aside monies and funds and time for experimentation."

"It's something that a lot of people don't do," he insisted, "because we're really tightly budgeted [but] you have to force yourself to do it."

The Role of Marketing Leadership

In the end, striking that balance between efficiency and experimentation is the responsibility of effective marketing leaders, according to Steve.

"The role of a leader in just about any organization," he said, "is to absorb some of the pressures, some of  fiscal pressures, that exist and shield the creative team from that so that they can be creative."

"Now," he went on to say, "you can't just let them go hog wild and you take it all on yourself. You have to provide the framework that people are going to be working within. But that's one of the roles of leaders: to absorb that [pressure] and still keep people motivated to deliver the best they possibly can."

If you would like to hear my entire conversation with Steve, you may listen or download the mp3 above. Of course, you can always subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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