How To Avoid Burnout & Thrive In Marketing with Wendy O’Donovan Phillips & Kage Spatz

Marketing Strategy Series by

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Wendy O’Donovan Phillips Marketing Expert

It comes down to putting people first. Dig deeper than analytics. Deeper than target audience. Even deeper than target persona.

As a part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with my fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business or career. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Wendy O’Donovan Phillips.

Wendy O’Donovan Phillips is CEO of Big Buzz, an agency delivering strategy and consultation to drive focused marketing efforts for executives and teams nationwide. Wendy is the author of two books available on Amazon, and she has been published in many healthcare journals.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned from that?

Focus is hard. We all think we are focused. But are we really? When I first started my firm, my team and I would diligently follow our processes to hone our own focus, our clients’ focus and the laser focus of the marketing efforts. Yet I had so many ideas! On any given day, while my team was busy staying the course we had so carefully plotted, I’d arrive back from some client session or professional development event and announce, “I have an idea!” Certainly, the creative process in marketing needs bright ideas, but even more important is that those ideas are properly channeled. Today, we have a brilliant project manager who does just that: collects ideas, vets them against the strategy and goals, and schedules them for execution if they make the cut.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

About 5 years into running Big Buzz, we had strong cash flow but weak profitability. The key to solving this issue was with our people. I had grown a very affable team; there was not nearly enough healthy tension. Saying yes to the client creates customer loyalty. Yet saying no to the client builds profits for them and us, allowing everyone to properly focus. The same agency team member who serves the client cannot manage the client’s time and budget. They love the client too much and will inevitably waste precious time and money acquiescing to the client’s whims. Mutual success comes with focusing the client on only the marketing that matters most at any given time. To create that focus, the “yes” person and the “no” person must be two separate people.

I had also surrounded myself with people who were smarter than me, yet I was still doing much of the work myself — and not in the obvious sense. I had delegated social media marketing, web development, project management — the areas of marketing that have never been my forte. Yet I was still the only one selling for the firm. Only when I expanded our account management team to include 3 people other than myself did we scale to over $1 million in revenues. Just because I love it and can do it doesn’t mean I should be the only person who does it.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

Focus. Here are 3 things you can do now in the spirit of focus:

  1. Use a Strategic Planning Model to streamline goals and workflow, to unify your team and to design the systems and processes that will help you achieve your grandest goals.
  2. Run your lead source report for the last 8 months to clearly see the top 3 lead sources that have served your organization best in the new economy. Invest additional time and budget only in these 3 areas for the next 3 months to finish 2020 strong.
  3. Have everyone on the team list each of their responsibilities in a 4-part matrix: Love/Great At, Like/Good At, Dislike/Good At, and Dislike/Not Good At. Discuss results as a team to decide how to automate or delegate everything appearing on the fourth area of each person’s matrix.

Great advice. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are?

I’m grateful to my mom. When I was fresh out of college, I called home and said, “I have decided to be an entrepreneur!” I bet what my parents heard was, “Thanks for the college education! Now I’m going to be broke.” Her response was, “We support your decision. And it may be wise for you to get your certification in something that will always be needed, like teaching or nursing, just as a fallback plan.”

It was the first of many times in my career I experienced the power of “yes, and…” It’s lovely to hold space for people’s visions while also encouraging them to be realistic. Today, we use this approach with clients all the time. I did get my teacher’s certificate, too. I renewed it for years after starting Big Buzz before my husband said, “I’m pretty sure your business is a success, and you don’t need that certification anymore.”

Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. Where do you see the future of marketing headed?

Google and Facebook have disrupted marketing because they have amassed deep data on each of their billions of users for 15 years. We regularly share this data by virtue of our own searching and posting activities. For example, Facebook knows my daughter and I read books every night before bed. It knows my husband is half Chinese. It knows I am the daughter of an avid sailor. It knows all of these things because I told Facebook those things in posts I’ve made over the years. Still, the practice of using that level of data to influence target audiences to act fails to honor the person. We are not users, we are people. The future of marketing will honor not algorithms but individuals.

What 5 things do you wish someone told you before you started?

I’m going to share with you 5 passages from my favorite quote of all time. Each of these come from Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please!:

  • Your career won’t take care of you. It won’t call you back or introduce you to its parents. Your career will openly flirt with other people while you are around.
  • Your career will blow you off if you call it too much.
  • Your career is f*ing other people and everyone knows it but you. Your career will never marry you.
  • Now, before I extend this metaphor, let me make a distinction between career and creativity. Creativity is connected to your passion, that light inside you that drives you. That joy that comes when you do something you love. That small voice that tells you, ‘I like this. Do it again. You’re good at it. Keep going…’”
  • Ambivalence is key. You have to care about your work but not about the result.

What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

The documentary I watched this year that was the most eye-opening for me was The Social Dilemma. Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski of Chasing Ice and Chasing Coral fame is known for his provocative if hyperbolic depictions of what on earth is really happening. My firm sells search and social marketing, so the film had me reexamine how to ethically do so. It comes down to putting people first. Dig deeper than analytics. Deeper than the target audience. Even deeper than the target persona. What about my work in communications that will positively change people’s lives? That needs to be the core question of all marketers’ efforts.

One more question: If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I’d remove from the world the stigma that alcoholism carries. As a board member for AllHealth Network, which has provided mental health and substance use counseling to people across Denver since 1955, I can tell you for sure:

  • Alcoholism is a disease. You can’t control it or cure it, and you didn’t cause it.
  • Alcoholism doesn’t discriminate. People of all backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, creeds, and races are affected.
  • Alcoholism doesn’t look like alcoholism. The stigma tells us it’s not really a problem unless there’s a loss of a house, a job, a relationship or freedom due to drinking, and society normalizes overdrinking in myriad ways.

There is a solution. If you are struggling with overdrinking, visit for support. If you are concerned about someone else’s overdrinking, visit for support. You are not alone.

Thank you so much for sharing these fantastic insights!

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