When I plied my trade for a now defunct agency known as Earle Palmer Brown in the early 1990s, I distinctly recall our CEO ending every staff meeting by extolling us to do better. “After all,” she’d say, “I intend to run the very best integrated marketing firm in the city.” Because our billings had plummeted faster than an Iraqi defense since she assumed the firm’s reigns, those words rung hollow to say the least. And, sure enough, the agency imploded and is now a footnote on some long-forgotten list of moribund agencies.
The CEO of Brouillard Communications embraced a somewhat similar strategy when I served (suffered?) under his leadership during the years 1993 and ’94. At his staff meetings, he’d push back on concerned account managers reporting that clients simply refused to pay our bills since they were priced higher than a Tiffany lamp circa 1917. The CEO would grimace, sigh and respond, “Look, we produce the most sophisticated and most beautiful work in our industry. Clients will pay more for it if you just keep reminding them of that fact.” And, his CFO henchwoman would quickly chime in by adding, “Besides, everyone knows CCOs and CMOs all have an extra stash of cash tucked away in their desk drawers. Just tell them we need it for the next campaign.”
That agency sunk below the horizon in the early 21st century.
I reference these two examples of mismanaging expectations because current New York Mets Manager Terry Collins has been making ill-conceived comments as his team continues to immolate after a storybook start of 13-3. First, On Sunday, after the Pittsburgh Pirates drubbed the Amazins’ by a score of 9-1 en route to sweeping a three-game set. And secondly, Collins was understandably upset with his ragtag squad, but chose ridiculous words to motivate them. He said, “(I said) knock it off. You’re big league players, you’re the best of the best. Let’s just go play like it.”
The New York Metropolitans are the best of the best? That’s like saying W. and Obama have been the best back-to-back presidents in U.S. history. Or that Ben Stiller movies are serious pieces of art. C’mon. Both suggestions strain credulity to the breaking point.
That’s why I always choose to manage expectations when I perform on a comedy stage. I begin my set by asking the audience if they enjoyed the previous performers’ acts. After they roar their approval, I say, “Well, get over it, because you’re about to witness a highly mediocre performance. In fact, my motto is “Expect less.” I find it works like a charm since, if I bomb, I’m delivering on my promise and, if miracle of miracles, I should be funny, I exceed expectations.
I’m not saying EPB or Brouillard would have survived with more realistic, transparent executives at the helm, but they might have. As for the Mets, they’re hopeless. And, it’s high time Collins (and leaders from all fields) do a better job of expectations.