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Inbound Advice: Collaboration Ain’t Always Pretty, But It's Beautiful!

Posted by Ellie Becker on Sun, Jan 20, 2013 @ 19:01 PM

Anyone who’s read my posts over the years knows I’m a huge fan of jazz – and often use it as a metaphor in discussing business and marketing issues. Playing jazz at a high level is all about successful collaboration. A set I heard last night at the well-known club Jazz Standard in Manhattan made me think about the nature of successful marketing collaboration, including a wonderful one I’m currently involved in.

Please invest a few minutes to read about the jazz experience that sets up the marketing story. You’ll pick up some usable ideas for how to collaborate to make your marketing much better – and learn a bit about America’s Music in the 21st century as a bonus.

The set at Jazz Standard was a ‘big band’ gig led by drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts’. He’s a collaborator of Wynton Marsalis, a composer of original music and is married to horn player and arranger Laura Kahle who created the arrangements – or charts, in jazz parlance – for last night’s performance. The set was spectacular to me for two reasons:

  1. It took place in an extremely intimate setting. The tiny stage is right up close and personal to the audience and was packed with about 15 musicians. We had to move our table so that the first row of players could squeeze into position. We literally felt part of the band. This happens rarely.
  2. Every player was a leader and star in his or her own right and it was the first time they’d all played together. If you’re not familiar with jazz and its top artists, just Google these names from the lineup and you’ll have a clue about the magnitude of that performance:

Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums; Lew Soloff, trumpet; Frank Lacy and Conrad Herwig, trombones; Marcus Strickland, Yosvany Terry, Jacam Manricks, Claire Daly, saxophones; Don Byron, clarinets; Paul Bollenbeck, guitar; Chris Smith, stand up bass; and our good friend David Budway, piano.

There was well-earned ego in evidence to be sure. For example, Frank Lacy’s trombone slide almost clocked Don Byron sitting in front of him. Byron shot a dark look and made an exaggerated effort to get out of Lacy’s way. But ego was put aside in favor of their incredible professional chops and their overarching dedication to creativity and delivering to the audience a performance worthy of the collaborative tradition of their art form. Plus they know and like each other and so there was delightful camaraderie, too.

The delivery was messy and delicious like the Chipotle chicken wings and collared greens I feasted on prior to the show. No pristine bandstand with logo-laden music stands and matching band jackets. Each musician brought individual style, talent and experience to the stage and gave us an unforgettable hour of incredible music, fun, humor and the sense that we were part of something unique in that moment.

Now, as an example of how collaboration is critical to successful marketing today, let me tell you about the greatly rewarding collaboration I’m involved in with Rhonda Hurwitz of HMR Marketing Solutions.Ellie and Rhonda collaborators

She and I have known each other for several years and transitioned in tandem from traditional marketing and PR to inbound marketing.

We both have family background in marketing. We come from different experience. I have been on the agency/consultant side. Rhonda comes from the corporate side and is now a consultant. She hired vendors like me. I sold to and served clients like her. Our combined experience is pretty powerful in putting together strategic plans and implementing them for clients.

We really respect each other. I think she’s incredibly smart and an exceptionally good writer. (“Takes one to know one,” I say with zero humility.) We also trust each other. We see each other as equals and, in certain respects, we see each other as more than equal.

That said, we are messy like that band last night. As we engage in the work of helping our shared clients succeed, it’s not always pretty. We butt heads over ideas. But neither of us is bull-headed. We try to confine our brainstorm interactions to our private conversations, but sometimes they spill over into discussion with other collaborators and even the clients.

We can’t help it. We’re both passionate about reaching our clients’ goals within the realities of running our businesses. So if you’re a client and at some point it seems that we’re not on the same page, take heart. We are. We’re on your page and will risk shaking things up with each other to help you succeed.

Like the jazz guys last night, this takes a certain courage. It’s uncomfortable in the contentious moments, my friends. But because we trust and respect, we synthesize and process. I give ground, Rhonda gives ground. Or when neither of us can give ground, we keep generating more ideas and find something that we both like better than our initial concepts. It’s rewarding to us and it’s really important to the results we get for our clients.

We also plan for continuous improvement like the band did last night. At the end of the last number of their set, someone said – a la Count Basie – “One more time!” And then they did another take on the ending of the tune. After that, they did it one more time again.

When we asked one of the musicians about it later, he said, “We haven’t played together before. And since you guys were having such a good time, we figured you wouldn't mind if we tried to make it better for the next set!

The video at the top of the post is Jeff “Tain” Watts with the Danish Radio Big Band, with which he collaborates. You’ll get a flavor of last night’s music.

The image of the two little superheroes is Rhonda’s collaborative contribution to this post. She received it in an email from eloqua.com and thinks it’s hysterical! I agree. Especially since she made it funnier by tagging it!! Not sure who to credit for the image. If it’s yours please give me the appropriate attribution or let me know the cost of licensing it for this post.

Would you share your collaboration success stories in the comments? Thanks!

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Topics: Inbound Marketing, Ellie Becker, E.R. Becker Company, Jazz, Inbound Advice, Collaboration, Jeff Tain Watts

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