Now Is the Time

I know there’s a Chinese character for “crisis” that means both “problem” and “opportunity.” (I’ve been to the same management seminars you have.) I also know that clichés become clichés because they are true.

So let’s all agree that the current crisis is an opportunity. To prove we’re as good as we say we are. To put our creativity to the test and get shoppers back into stores and people flying on airplanes and sleeping in hotels again. Sales and spirits both need an instant lift. For all the wrong reasons, we’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prove we can do both.

But somewhere in the back of my mind I remember that the word “crisis” has its origins in the Greek word “krisis,” which means choice. And how well we meet the challenge of a soft economy turned suddenly into a fear economy will depend on how we choose to respond.

I’m sure we all met with every client after Sept. 11 to advise what, if any, changes should be made in ad content, tone and schedule. We must now urgently address the problem of plummeting sales—share our clients’ pain even as we devise fast relief in the form of solid advice, new insights and workable ideas with the power to get businesses growing again.

We could choose to duck back into comfortable habits such as serving clients instead of leading them or creating ads instead of crafting fully orchestrated marketing plans. How much better to use the crisis as a catalyst to elevate our game.

Now is the time to dig deeper. To ask our keenest minds to drill down through the layers of fear and caution, and not stop until we find a few keys to restoring confidence and consumer demand in a world that’s changed.

Now is the time to aim higher. To do some of the work of consultants, which our clients can no longer afford. Now is the time to translate our vast knowledge of our clients’ businesses into business-building ideas.

Now is the time to tear down remaining barriers or biases that keep us from putting into practice what we’ve been preaching about integrated marketing and payment for results. Now is the time to prove that generating sales today and building durable brands for tomorrow are not separate jobs. Carefully conceived and well-executed plans can do both.

Given the current mood, now is the time to prove as never before that advertising that sells can also celebrate humanity and mutual affirmation. And that humor, the great sales tool of the ages, does not have to be coarse. It just has to be funny.

Lifting sales and lifting spirits. Soon. That’s our assignment. And not rising to the occasion plays into the hands of those who would weaken our economy.

In the same part of my addled brain where I found “krisis,” I stumbled across an ad run years ago by Wheelabrator-Frye. It was headlined “The buck starts here,” and the copy read, in part:

“Until a product or service is sold, nothing happens. No wages are paid. No taxes are paid. A household can’t function. Neither can a government. A person can’t buy a can of soup; a fire engine can’t move. The clock stops. So do you.”

For us, the buck starts here. And now.