Roadkill on the Path to the Future


“Please don’t hire anyone else.” This was the plea of a colleague many years ago when I traveled north from California to Oregon to a production company known as Tyee. Tasked with building a media planning and buying arm, my job was to transform the business into a full-fledged advertising agency. As someone whose ambition was intent on growth, I was, needless to say, taken aback by this comment. The person making the appeal wanted things to be the way they used to be, when the organization, led by a handful of partners, was small and family-like. This individual was opposed to the one thing that we all know is constant: change.

That comment was made over 20 years ago, yet it still haunts me. Why is it that some people embrace change, while others resist it? I suspect there are a number of reasons. Change represents a threat to the status quo; it is disruptive and can be confusing. It can make one feel as though they have lost control. It invites skepticism. It involves risk.

Change alters the narrative that one may have been telling for some time, upending identities. Let me illustrate by example: A colleague once worked at a local PBS affiliate during its annual fundraising drive. He suggested embracing a few direct marketing tactics that had been effective in the for-profit world to promote what was a nonprofit, public broadcasting affiliate. Management resisted, I suspect, because the idea of thinking like a capitalist was off-brand for the organization, its pervasive “altruistic” culture, and their own egos. In other words, thinking like a rational businessperson seemed too unsavory to embrace. But from the perspective of our colleague, they “just didn’t get it.” Out of frustration, he left and started his own agency to take advantage of his knowledge. Today, that trailblazer—Andy Latimer—has built one of the most innovative, successful, and award-winning direct marketing enterprises in the country: Bluewater Media.

Things are in a state of flux, and they will continue to be for as long as we’re hawking brands and products.

Look, I understand resistance to change. We’ve all indulged in it at one time or another. When I was starting out in my working life, I wanted to find a good career that would provide stability, clarity in its expectations, and a surety of rewards and benefits that generations past had come to expect. But there is no more cradle-to-grave employment, pensions are a relic of history if you operate in the private sector, and if ever there was an industry marked by upheaval in recent times, it would be advertising and marketing. “Set it and forget it” might work if you’re broiling a chicken, but it is a credo that’s ill-suited for a business roiling in the sea change of fragmented audiences, evolving media consumption patterns, and social media disruptions.

Why do we resist change like an insolent inner child gripped by fear, especially when we so often embrace its inevitability later on, wondering: Why did that resolution take so long?

That’s the thing about change: It waits for no man or woman. So when it is staring you in the face, it may be appropriate to ask yourself: When are you going to accept it? Today, tomorrow, six months from now? Perhaps in a year or two—or maybe never?

I’ll put it another way: How much self-inflicted pain are you willing to endure before you capitulate or wear yourself out in the process of resistance? Change is all around—and it’s coming to best practices, agencies that are siloed in their core competencies, consumer shopping habits, and, yes, trade associations seeking to reboot their identities, to name but a few examples. Change is ubiquitous; it is everywhere.

Let’s get real. The elephant in the room sitting on those who resist change is this: the fear of failure. What if it doesn’t work out? If you think you are going to avoid some measure of failure in a universe transitioning at the rate of today’s marketing landscape, you’re kidding yourself. There are platforms, tactics, and best practices that will emerge later this year that we don’t even know about today. Things are in a state of flux, and they will continue to be for as long as we’re hawking brands and products. Therefore, it might be wise to embrace what leadership expert John C. Maxwell has advised: “Fail early; fail often; but always fail forward.” Failure is like sandpaper—rough to the touch at first. Yet it is that abrasive nature that can, over time, create a smooth finish.

As direct marketing’s own Tony Robbins once suggested, perhaps it is time to embrace this mantra: “I am no longer willing to drive into the future using my rearview mirror as my tool of navigation.”

We all know what happens when we take our eyes off the road ahead. Therefore, you must ask yourself: Are you on the change “bus,” or driving it? Or are you stranded on the shoulder of a desert highway, wounded, weakened, and searching for a mirage of “the way things used to be”? Will you be running after that bus long after it has disappeared from view? Because make no mistake: Whether it’s voluntary or involuntary, there will be roadkill—and it’s up to you to decide whether you leave your ambition for dead.

Rick Petry is a freelance writer who specializes in direct marketing and is a past chairman of ERA. He can be reached at (503) 740-9065, online at, and on Twitter @thepetrydish.