Career Leading
August 10, 2017
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How Spinning a Flag Helped Me Grow as a Marketer

For five years, I was a member of a world-class drum corps. (No, I am not a drummer.) Drum corps, in the simplest sense, could be described as professional marching band. It’s a team of nearly 200 brass and percussion musicians and color guard performers who rehearse and tour the country for an intense three months over the summer. As a member of the color guard, I danced and spun equipment such as flags, sabres and rifles (but not the kind that slice or shoot).

With a competitive season that lasts from Memorial Day to mid-August, it’s a grueling schedule that has the group traveling across the country in a fleet of coach busses, sleeping in local high schools, rehearsing outside all day and performing in stadiums, big and small, every night.

(Here’s a short clip from a recent TV series that might help paint the picture.)

 

“Wow, that sounds crazy. But what could that possibly have to do with marketing?”

More than you might think. As the team is grinding through the often-grueling days, you learn a lot about yourself and others. Remember—I did this for five whole summers… by choice… and no, I wasn’t paid (I actually paid money to participate). So it couldn’t have been that treacherous, right?

Here are the 4 lessons I learned through that incomparable experience, that not only helped fuel me through those scorching summer days, but have also helped me perform and grow in the marketing world.

1. Work your butt off.

Long days of rehearsal and minute-by-minute schedules leave little room for free time—and any that does arise is often dedicated to small-group or individual practice time. Basically, you’re never not working. But you quickly learn that it’s a necessary and fulfilling pursuit, ensuring that you are constantly improving and won’t let down your teammates (and believe me, when you’re living in ultra-close-quarters on a bus with those teammates, you really don’t want to let them down).

This intense work ethic is also a key to success in the marketing world. It’s all about the grind. Continually thinking, dreaming, learning, strategizing, prototyping and exploring. It’s an immersive pursuit—and one not suited to those without a killer work ethic. But it’s those long hours and intense efforts that culminate in the most fulfilling end result.

2. Negativity is contagious… and pointless.

Picture this: You’re in the heart of Texas in the middle of July, running across a football field, over and over and over again. Basically, you’re hot, tired, sore and wondering when lunchtime will ever get here. Now… keep your mouth shut. Everyone on the field with you is powering through this challenge, digging deep and trying to stay positive. The moment you begin voicing your discomfort, it suddenly reminds everyone of the reality they’re all trying to see the bright side of… and team morale goes out the proverbial window.

The same is true in marketing. We’ve already discussed how this biz is hard work, but it’s reality so why not make the most of it? Just like on that football field, the moment you let slip that comment about how you’re “so ready to get out of here,” the energy is drained from the room. So even when times get tough and the hours get long, try to stay positive. It will help you and your team muscle through—and heck, you might even have fun while you’re at it.

3. 100% accountability.

As a performer, you’re an essential piece of the ensemble, so it’s imperative to do your job. When every person is performing at their peak, the creative vision that your team’s show is portraying can be experienced to the full effect. However, it only takes one mistake to tarnish a big moment and take away from the show as a whole.

In marketing, like most professions, accountability is major. Your team is counting on you to contribute in a meaningful way and deliver on what was promised. Meeting expectations is essential to not only moving a project forward, but also keeping the team feeling positive and ensuring the work creates maximum impact.

4. Full-out, every time.

Drum corps is an extremely physical activity. So after an hour-plus of running repetitions of the same portion of choreography, it can be tempting to half-heartedly go through the motions. The problem is that eventually, that lower effort level will become your default, making it more difficult—and more risky—to bust out the full-effort choreography during a performance. It’s best to practice how you’d want to perform, executing the full extent of the choreography—right down to your facial expressions—every time, whether you’re performing for a crowd of 10,000 or 1.

This principle rings true in marketing, as well. No matter the scale or parameters of your challenge, you should always push yourself to deliver your peak performance. Not only will this result in a happier audience (whether it’s a client or your executive board), but it will also make you a better marketer. Going full-out all the time builds strong habits and reveals ways for you to continue pushing yourself and your work in the future.

While performing in a drum corps and working in marketing may seem to have little in common, the core lessons around mental toughness and discipline ring true in almost any business scenario. Do you have similar experiences from your personal passions that you’ve been able to apply to your work? Let me know! Comment below or reach out to me on LinkedIn.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about drum corps, you can visit DCI.org.

Angela Jones is a Creative Director at Seed Strategy and Associate Editor for Seed’s The Fire Theft Project: Conversations on Creativity. She specializes in inspiring creative thinking and engaging readers with concise copy that captures the essence of ideas.

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