Maybe the best career path to being a college basketball coach is through marketing. Follow me here. If you’re in marketing, you’re at least used to criticism and second guessing. Being the target of blame and derision. Unlike some coaches who shall remain nameless. Like Roy Williams.
You see, Roy popped off the other night after his Tarheels bested Clemson by 10 points at home. Apparently he felt empowered by the win after being publicly second-guessed by fans and the media. And all the pent up anger and hubris deep in his soul spilled out all over the microphone in his post-game press conference. And it was ugly and embarrassing for a coach so respected and accomplished. It was, as my mother used to say, unbecoming.
In marketing, as in coaching, only a certain percentage of your ideas work. And like basketball, marketing has forces (known and unknown) that can easily derail even the best, most meticulously vetted plans. In basketball, they say, “That’s why you play the game.” In marketing, they say, “If anyone had all the answers they’d be the only one employed and everyone else would be flipping burgers.”
Here are a few marketing tips Roy might be able to use (for future reference):
- It’s nothing personal. When people criticize and suggest, most often it’s a result of either their own frustration or a sincere desire to help. Maybe they don’t have your experience or perspective. But it doesn’t hurt to listen and be respectful.
- When you’re backed into a corner, use the walls. If you feel like someone is coming after you with their criticism, think about why that might be. And be bolstered by the fact that they care enough to be passionate. Try to find some common ground with them so you can use the experience to learn.
- When you’re on the winning end, spread the credit around. The same people who might be critical when something doesn’t work don’t always sing your praises when you succeed. But don’t forget them. If they contribute, recognize them. And even if they don’t, make the assumption that they care and thank them for that.
- Before you retort, know what you’re responding to. Does the negative comment seem general? Try to narrow it down. In marketing, “That approach was all wrong!” could mean several things? Was it truly “all wrong”? Or was it the target? The timing? The creative? Or it could have been a myriad of other factors. “Let’s be constructive. And you can help me by being specific.” You might not like the answer to that, but knowing what your detractor meant in the first place can’t hurt.
- Don’t be afraid to agree. Often people expect you to be defensive in an effort to negatively engage you. Want to diffuse that quickly? Tell them they’re right. If it’s too inflammatory, you can rephrase their comments and recast them in a more constructive light.
“Your decision caused us to lose!”
“You’re right. That decision, right or wrong, comes down to me. And I take responsibility for that. But every experience is a learning one. And I certainly will learn from this one.”
We’ve all been frustrated when outcomes weren’t what we thought they would be. And we’ve all become defensive when pressed and lashed out. But whether we’re marketers defending our research or a basketball coach answering criticism of his handling of defensive schemes, how we respond says a lot about whether that career choice was a wise one. Maybe Roy could use an internship at an ad agency with a demanding client with a tiny budget and huge expectations. News conferences would seem like a piece of cake then.