I’ve been reading about “show runners” lately, and I thought, “hey, why not “brand runners?””
I’m not saying “let’s invent a new position.” I’m saying, let’s ask marketing people to think about themselves in a new way.
So what is a show runner?
Scott Collins of the LA Times offers this definition. He calls showrunners “hypenates:”
a curious hybrid of starry-eyed artists and tough-as-nails operational managers. They’re not just writers; they’re not just producers. They hire and fire writers and crew members, develop story lines, write scripts, cast actors, mind budgets and run interference with studio and network bosses. It’s one of the most unusual and demanding, right-brain/left-brain job descriptions in the entertainment world….[S]how runners make – and often create – the shows, and now more than ever, shows are the only things that matter.
Also, see this illuminating clip from a documentary called Showrunners here.
I think a “brand runner” might look something like this. Managing a brand is a task of fearsome complexity, keeping track of all the traditional brand meanings, auditioning all the new ones, speaking to many segments not just a couple, identifying and tracking all the coming trends (both the blue oceans and the black swans), making the brand bold and clear even as it becomes in places delicate and obscure, reaching out to a variety of meaning-makers and organizing and articulating their work, changing the brand architecture strategically, tuning the brand message in real time. Brand running could a lot like show running.
Most of all, the brand runner metaphor suggests that we would work with the brand in a constant but highly variable process. Lots of big thinking. Lots of fine tuning. “Running a brand” seems somehow closer to the present truth than “managing” it. The metaphor assumes that creativity is the first order of business. Out goes the “business as usual” notion that brand management suggests. Brand running would be less about business and more about creativity, and a constant, collaborative creativity at that.
At the Brand and Brand Relationship conference this week, we ended with a panel discussion lead by Susan Fournier and including Aaron Ahuvia, Eric Arnould, Anders Bengtsson, Markus Giesler, and Jonathan Schroeder and yours truly. It’s wrong of me to speak for them….so I will. I believe you could feel a certain pressure of speech or ideation in the room. There were ideas waxing, threatening to overtake our trusted orthodoxies. Or maybe not. I love that moment when you can feel things “melting into air.” And I think they were.
In any case, (new job description or no) perhaps we could think about the brand as something being constantly pitched, green lit, put into production, crafted as an idea and a reality, with scenes, episodes and seasons, hammered out with producers, writers and actors with whom it is being thought and rethought, as it keeps melting into air and precipitating back into the life of the consumer.
For more metaphoric materials, see the Wikipedia entry for showrunners here.