There's a Reason They're Called "Campaigns"

Like a lot of first-time entrepreneurs, I foolishly believed (okay, hoped) that my company, Book City Jackets, would experience hockey stick growth just as soon as the right blog or magazine wrote about us. With that in mind, a lot of my PR energy went into developing relationships with blogs and magazines that I thought were cool in the hopes of getting that magic mention that would open the sales floodgate. I was successful in getting exciting coverage but I was wrong about its impact. For sure a NY Magazine or Swiss Miss post yielded a bump in traffic and a smaller bump in sales, but the half-life of those bumps was very, very short and we reverted to our mean pretty quickly.

At the height of my Book City Jackets madness, I took some time off to volunteer for Obama in Ohio and discovered that I had made a fundamental mistake by confusing a series of discreet moments with a coordinated campaign (and, worse, believing the stories of “overnight” success). As I watched the Campaign for Change machinery, it occurred to me that “campaign” is really the best word to describe what political campaigns do, what militaries do, what sports teams do and what good companies do.

Since this post is about a word, I’ll resort to the cliche of defining the word to frame an argument:

Campaign (Definition 2): a connected series of operations designed to bring about a particular result

To my mind, the key part of the definition are the words “connected series”.

I realize now that I failed to connect the series of blog mentions, ad buys and encounters at the Brooklyn Flea. Each of these operations happened nearly independently of each other and, as a result, the message I was trying to communicate never broke through enough people’s consciousness. I imagine that some of my customers inadvertently experienced my various efforts as a coherent campaign — after all, NY Mag’s readership probably has significant overlap with the Brooklyn Flea customer — but, if they did, it was a bit of dumb luck. If I could do it all over again, I’d think more deeply about who my target customer was and how I could communicate my message to them consistently over time and not get distracted by the prospect of some exciting but unconnected PR coup.