Interview With American Marketing Association CEO Russ Klein

08/13/2014

Russ Klein _ AMA CEOThere's a new dude in town.

Well in the world of the American Marketing AssociationRuss Klein recently accepted the role of CEO for AMA and with that he now leads North America's largest professional marketing association.  Of course, AMA dropped a media release which details Russ' credentials (impressive!).

I was curious about the man-behind-the-logo. I felt I had a bit of a vested interest since my AMA affliation has a deep and long history from chapter president, to serving as facilitator of interactive and social media workshops and managing AMA's first virtual communities. One might even say, AMA set me on the road to social media when I chaired its first conferene on blogs in 2004 into 2005.  

Russ graciously agreed to a Diva Marketing interview. In the following conversation he offers: 

  • his view on the future of marketing in a disruptive world,
  • a peak into his vision for AMA,
  • the importance of volunteers and his plans to ensure continuous engagement .. and more.

Toby/Marketing: It sounds almost trite to say that marketing is in a state of disruptive chaos and change. Russ, having been in the center of creating marketing plans for some of the largest consumer brands, you can appreciate that our tool boxes are overflowing with new tactics and strategies.

How does a brand, any brand, ensure that its marketing is relevant and adds value for the customer?

Russ Klein/AMA: That’s not an interview question, that’s a theme for a book! Well certainly relevance and value are two watchwords that are the right ones to guide any marketers actions.

It’s not about what’s possible, despite all of the amazing technological advances we all see. It’s still about what is relevant. The main thing many marketers lose sight of is that merely being different is not necessarily relevant to consumers.

  • Creating differences that matter in the lives of consumers is what’s relevant.

I think the more mysterious question lies with the question of value. I am an ardent believer of Rifkin’s theory of near zero marginal costs that he asserts is imminent as a result of the internet of things and the remaining connectivity potential that is in our future. When you have a knowledge-based enterprise like the AMA competing in a world of open sourced innovation, a sharing economy, and lateral economies of scale, there are tremendous downward pressures on the costs of information.

MIT has posted its entire 1800 course curriculum online for free. So the AMA is not only challenged with delivering relevant thought and service leadership to its constituents, our products and services must be peerless to command some level of sustainable pricing power. This is why I am so excited to take on the challenges facing the AMA. This is the ultimate strategic gauntlet for any CEO to navigate.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Totally agree Russ it is a ‘big’ and not easy question. Perhaps we should put that book on our to do list!

However, the American Marketing Association is more than just another brand. One might say the AMA is the North Star for marketers. What do you feel is AMA’s North Star?

Russ Klein/AMA: Great question. My belief is that the academic gravitas and scholarly distinction…is to the AMA, what Mickey Mouse…is to Disney.

More specifically, by Mickey Mouse, I mean film animation. If you remove animated film credentials and the institutional/cultural effects associated with them, Disney is just another film company…no Disneyland, no Disneyworld, no transcendent lifelong emotional attachment with its consumers. If you remove the AMA Journals thought leadership and the esteemed academic status of being published in them, the AMA is just another conference company or speakers bureau.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Moving into the future how will the organzation ensure its does not lose its foucs in a vast sea of chaos?

Hugh North Star
Russ Klein/AMA
:

  •  Chaos is opportunity for those that can stay poised and focused.

I view it simply as a matter of strategy, because strategy is all about choice. That’s something I’ve never been uncomfortable with. It goes back to what’s relevant, not what’s possible. It’s my job to help the organization identify opportunities and set priorities that can advance the AMA enterprise, and discard those that don’t.

The AMA culture must be one that values decisiveness and managerial courage to take stands in a civil and respectful way. If we stay focused on how we figure into the lives of our constituents, our stakeholders, and our users we will stay relevant and compelling.

The AMA is about improving the way marketing is practiced around the world. In so doing, we will be a vital catalyst spurring improved commerce and prosperity in communities and everywhere.

Toby/Diva Marketing: In your opinion Russ, what is the most critical aspect of marketing that is ‘broken’ which AMA can help ‘fix?”

Russ Klein/AMA: Two things. There is profound lack of 1) Training and development of talent and 2) Managerial courage.

First, CEO’s and CMO’s can’t expect talent to come to them with all the tools and skill-sets necessary to become a world-class marketer. Even if they have those assets when they arrive, the need for lifelong ongoing training and development plans never ceases.

As a CMO I felt a personal obligation to create learning cultures where curiosity and teachable moments were valued. I always felt if I wasn’t spending at least 25% of my day improving the professional capabilities of my people, I was failing. My observation and experience is that this isn’t happening nearly enough.

Second, business in general and marketing in particular is simply not black and white. As much as I believe in disciplined marketing science, there is also marketing art.

Managers are almost always presented with a spectrum of management decisions that range from “no-risk” to “high-risk” with corresponding rewards. Too many corporate cultures, including the marketing cultures inside them, are built around fear of failure and fear of appearing wrong. Or there’s the “go along to get along” mentality which is responsible for more mediocrity than I care to admit I’ve seen.

  • My advice to every marketer, young and old, is to re-examine your capacity for the courage of your convictions. You can’t inspire greatness or excellence without periodic principled “stands” for what you believe to be the right thing to do.

Toby/Diva Marketing: With your background as CMO for major consumer brands, as well as, award winning agency work you bring a prestigious CV to the party. However, nonprofit associations have some different and unique challenges. What most excites you about the opportunity to lead the AMA?

Russ Klein/AMA: I believe the one thing I bring is a ferocious passion to compete. While nobody would ever want to characterize the AMA as a bloodthirsty competitor, I do believe we are nonetheless competing with other formidable knowledge-based enterprises.

The need to identify and leverage competitive advantage is just as relevant in a not-for-profit arena as it is in the for-profit world. I suppose the most obvious difference is the amount of resources available to the AMA to advance its vision versus other better heeled for-profit and scaled up companies. Conversely, those companies seldom can call upon thousands of volunteers and advocates for whom their volunteerism is both a source of personal satisfaction and a calling to be of service to others. I believe the opportunity to hold up a shared vision as a source of inspiration can power the AMA when dollars can’t.

Toby/Diva Marketing: We like to think of AMA as The premier association in terms of marketing sciences thought leadership. Recently it appears the perception is AMA has lost ground to marketing content house like MECLABS, MarketingProfs, eConsultancy, SmartInsights, and of course, to marketing bloggers. What are your thoughts?

Russ Klein/AMA: On one hand I welcome the increased attention that many other enterprises are bringing to the practice of marketing science. Conversely, no one can deliver the academic thought and service leadership, the chapter level engagement, and the volunteerism that distinguishes the AMA. The so-called competitors out there should serve to motivate us to sharpen our competitive advantages in a way that, if we were uncontested, we probably never would.

The esteem with which marketing practitioners, academics, and students are viewed should be on the same level as those who choose medicine or science as their pursuit. The AMA is uniquely positioned to elevate marketing science in this way because of its academic credentials.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Do you believe that the AMA should reclaim some of that 'thought leadership position' and if so how?

Russ Klein/AMA: I would never say that we couldn’t improve our thought leadership position. Knowledge is a fluid and perishable product. If I didn’t think our best ideas for thought leadership are ahead of us I couldn’t say our best days are ahead of us; and they most definitely are!

Toby/Diva Marketing: Although not professional associations, CEB and MECLABS have recently made acquisitions (Iconoculture and Marketing Sherpa respectively). It’s a different path to follow, but what are your thoughts about the possibilities of strategic acquisitions to grow the AMA and supplement areas where AMA does not have a strong reputation or extensive experience?

Russ Klein/AMA: My fundamental belief is that a healthy business model needs to identify organic growth first. If there are adjacent growth opportunities that can enable or accelerate the AMA vision through acquisition or strategic alliances I imagine we’d want to take a hard look at them.

Toby/Diva Marketing: AMA has traditionally served many different types of marketers: students, academics, practitioners, and researchers. What are your views on how that should be managed in the future? Do you think AMA should continue to try to serve everyone or focus more on one or more groups?

Russ Klein/AMA: I have always been an ardent champion of sharp, vivid focus on core users of a brand.

In the case of the AMA our core users just happen to cut horizontally across like-minded practitioners, academics, and students all of whom are engaged in the pursuit of original and best practices in marketing science. That said, there are still important ways of closing the aperture to create more focus for which we have ideas that remain part of our confidential strategic planning process.

Ama-logo 8_14
Toby/Diva Marketing
: Since AMA members make up part of Diva Marketing’s community and I am an AMA past president of the Atlanta Chapter, let’s talk a bit about the heart and soul of AMA ... its volunteers. What will be the role of professional chapters in the future?

How will the relationship between HC and Chapters evolve - or not?

Russ Klein/AMA: Also a great question. If the academic prowess of the AMA is its strategic advantage, then the thousands of volunteers are the unsung heroes that are responsible for converting that AMA advantage into an AMA experience. Understanding that it is the volunteers who are responsible for delivering the first formative AMA experience to new members is a critical recognition for the so-called headquarters of the AMA. There is just no substitute for “being there” and starting with me, I plan to become a familiar face to as many of our chapters as possible.

  • Politicians and Rock N’ Roll bands both know that the secret to build true loyalty and engagement is by being in the markets; stumping or playing music to their constituents.

I am a big believer in local knowledge and that collecting it in person is the best way to learn about the unique minds and moods of the membership and volunteers.

It might be a good idea to change the “headquarters” language to “support center” which better describes the service leadership we are responsible for providing. Simple ideas like that send culture messages to the organization…but we have to be able to walk the talk. I’m sure we are, but we can always be more present at the chapter or event level.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Professional associations struggle with membership attrition and AMA has its challenges in this area. What are your thoughts on how to engage AMA members, and as important, how to keep them engaged with the association?

 Russ Klein/AMA: Engagement is the operative word. Our goal must always be to convert a user’s connection with the AMA, no matter how it begins, into an engaged relationship wherein the AMA is providing the thought and service leadership that can help that individual experience to advance their personal objectives; be that research, publishing, knowledge acquisition, professional training and development, career networking and camaraderie, problem solving, or identifying marketing strategies and best practices for growth. If we’re creating value in these ways, membership growth and attrition will take care of themselves.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Dennis Dunlap, immediate past AMA CEO, began an international expansion which involved China. What are your thoughts/plans about growing the association’s footprint both on a global and national basis?

Russ Klein/AMA: We are not about planting flags unless we can get the commensurate returns from a scaled up presence. The opportunity to grow membership and engagement inside the U.S. alone is more than enough to satisfy our needs for growth; so it will require a judicious balance and allocation of resources on our part.

With that in mind the AMA will continue to examine thoughtful expansion outside North America where it makes sense. There’s no question, that not unlike American exports of film and music entertainment, American marketing is viewed as a global standard for which the appetite is large.

Toby/Diva Marketing: What are some of the lessons you bring with you from your time in the fast food industry that will help support your success in this exciting new role?

Russ Klein/AMA: The fast food industry is the most competitive industry in the world, simply because so many companies are competing for the largest consumer dollar in the world; the food dollar.

I’ve already shared my belief that I will bring a very energetic sense of competitiveness to the AMA. Beyond that, the other element the fast food industry has taught me is that the restaurant manager trumps the brand manager every time.

  • Likewise, it will still be our chapter-level execution in delivering a world-class professional experience that will define the AMA, not what my team located in Chicago dreams up and posts online.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Since, of course, Diva Marketing is ‘social media’, which means people-talking-to-people, we’d love to get to know a little about the person behind the AMA logo.  

7 Fun Fact About Russ!

1. Briefcase or backpack…backpack
2. Tablet or laptop…laptop
3. PC or Mac…Mac
4. Favorite word…grateful
5. One of your ‘bucket list’ to dos…build a tree house on my ranch in Colorado and have a family reunion there.
6. Favorite social network…Facebook personal/LinkedIn professional
7. Must have when traveling…running shoes

Toby/Diva Marketing: It’s a Diva Marketing tradition to toss the virtual mic to you and give you an opportunity wrap the interview. Is anything you’d like to say to our community about marketing, digital/social media, AMA or ????? It’s your turn Russ!

Russ Klein/AMA: There’s no better time in business history to be a marketer. Get involved with the AMA and I guarantee you will get back many times over what you devote to it. Together, we’re going to light the path to improve marketing originality and best practices and make it the best profession you’ll ever love!

Positively, Russ

Pink boaToss of a pink boa to AMA colleauges who offered interview question ideas. Sybil Stershic, AMA Board Chair and current AMA training/event instructor, president of Quality Services Marketing; Debra Semans, current AMA training instructor and national AMA board member, Dana Van DenHuvel current AMA training instructor, president of Marketing Savant

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Comments

Great interview, Toby!

We at AMA Atlanta are very excited to have someone with the great energy and ideas that Russ Klein has take the helm of AMA.

Posted by: Liz Ward on Aug 13, 2014 1:44:02 PM

Thanks for your kind words Liz. Looks like AMA is on the verge of exciting times.

Posted by: Toby on Aug 13, 2014 7:39:05 PM

Great interview and a great way to learn what Russ has in mind for AMA. I look forward to his leadership. Thanks, Toby, for also reaching out to me and our fellow AMA volunteers as you prepared for this interview.

Posted by: Sybil Stershic on Aug 14, 2014 12:24:59 PM

This is a great interview! Thanks for conducting it. I'm very excited about the future of AMA.

Posted by: Tiffany Brown on Aug 14, 2014 2:46:50 PM

As a former president of NYAMA, Professional Chapters Council member and President of the AMA's Market Research Council I am delighted to learn how Russ envisions the future of the AMA and his spotlight on the significance and contribution of chapter volunteers. He encourages optimism for the direction of the AMA under his leadership. Thank you Toby, for introducing us to Russ and his perspective.

Posted by: Joan Treistman on Aug 14, 2014 8:17:24 PM

This is a fantastic interview. It seems like AMA is on the verge of excitement.

Posted by: chicago workout on Aug 30, 2014 4:21:27 AM

Thanks for the interview with Russ Klein- a consummate professional who has always been a great guy to work with.

Posted by: Nila Whitfield on Oct 10, 2014 4:14:25 AM

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