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Editor’s Note: Here’s a Puzzle: How Can You Maximize Middling Marketing?

1 Aug, 2017 By: Thomas Haire Response


Earlier this month, I read an interesting profile of New York Times’ crossword editor Will Shortz. I’m an avid user of the Times’ crossword app — especially when traveling. Shortz has held his job for 24 years and likely has more fans from differing points across the political spectrum — including former President Bill Clinton — than any other Times employee.

In the story, Shortz is asked about evaluating the many puzzle submissions he receives each week. His response, while specific to his profession, reaches well beyond those limits. Shortz says, “The bad puzzles, we can tell within 10 or 15 seconds. The really good ones — you can tell in a minute or two if it’s great. It’s the ones in the middle that take the most time.”

Reading that wasn’t exactly an “a-ha” moment for me, but it did bring to mind various facets of my job here — interviewing, writing features, copy editing, building educational sessions for events … heck, even writing this column every month for more than 16 years. No one who’s honest about their professional output — or even personal interactions — is going to tell you every single piece of work they do is at A+ level. When it’s great, you know it almost right away. When it’s not up to snuff, you know that pretty quickly, too.

But, as Shortz points out, “the ones in the middle take the most time.” That’s the grind we all live with — whether you’re a magazine editor like me, or the leader of a marketing department or agency. We all know that the strongest story (or the strongest campaign or the strongest event) is special and worth celebrating. And we all know that the weakest story, campaign, or event is something to learn (and pivot) from quickly.

But most of our work lies somewhere in the middle. How do we take that puzzle … that story … that online video campaign that’s a C+ right now and get it to a B+ — or even an A-? That’s what each of us spends much of our time doing — day-by-day, week-by-week, and month-by-month.

Across today’s marketing landscape — with constant change the rule and consumer control the reality — that grind becomes more and more important. The confluence of media, technology, and commerce — what’s driving consumer response, where they are responding, what they are purchasing, how we can measure all of that to understand how the campaign worked (or didn’t) — gives all marketers more information than they’ve ever had, and more options to act upon it. More information is great — but it certainly doesn’t make things easier.

The truth remains the same: your best and worst efforts will be readily apparent, and how you handle the great “middle” that Shortz references is what decides whether or not your business, your product, or your service is a success.


About the Author: Thomas Haire

Thomas Haire

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