Pulling No Punches

June 2, 2015

BMA Advisory Board's new chair sees great opportunities ahead for business marketers

By Ken Beaulieu

Great leaders, like champion boxers, are known to be tough, dexterous, scrappy, and disciplined. Those traits aptly describe Howard Sherman, president and CEO of the global agency Doremus and an undefeated amateur USA Masters boxer. But business and boxing are also about dealing with pressure, staying clam, and being resilient. It's this powerful combination of behaviors that Sherman says he must exemplify in his job every day.

"Every leader has moments when they're under a lot of pressure," Sherman says. "It's about staying calm and thinking through how you're going to manage those moments, as opposed to reacting to them. It's absolutely critical in leadership because, like in boxing, when you start reacting, the next thing you know you're lying on the ground."

Sherman, who recently succeeded Stephen Liguori as chairman of the BMA Advisory Board, discusses his new role, what he has learned from Liguori, his focus on "next practices," and how he creates enduring client/agency partnerships.

Q. What is your vision as chairman of the BMA Advisory Board? What do you see as the board's role in advancing the ANA and B-to-B marketing?

A. 2014 was an inflection point for the BMA, through the combining of forces with the ANA. So the vision is truly about executing on the promise of the combined strength of the two organizations. The ANA's mission is to drive leadership and marketing excellence. Over the years, the BMA's mission has been to be a source of information and best practices in B-to-B marketing. We now have the opportunity to leverage the assets and strengths of the ANA and the BMA and bring our vision forward — on steroids. Our ability to enrich content, to tap into best practices across a broader array of companies and company experiences, will help B-to-B marketers become the best they can be. Also, the BMA has talked for many years about developing a continuous learning program. That's high on my agenda. It's important for B-to-B marketers to not only have a greater understanding of best practices, but next practices. Being part of a professional organization like the ANA gives us the capability and resources to do things at a scale, and at a level, like never before. We need to seize that opportunity to serve our stakeholders in more beneficial ways.

Q. What valuable lessons have you learned from Stephen Liguori that will serve you well as chairman?

A. I am a huge fan of Steve's. He's a big picture professional. He looks at a situation and sees opportunity from the vantage point of 10,000 feet. And when he sees that opportunity, he has this incredible ability to work through whatever barriers may present themselves in order to capitalize on that opportunity. He's always had the best interests of the BMA at heart. Last year, Steve and I were very much in lockstep in our decision-making. In many ways, we're similar in how we see opportunities from a strategic point of view. At the same time, I think the mandate of the advisory board changes because the BMA and ANA are now a joined force. The board needs to define its role and execute against the mandates that are most important to us, in terms of servicing B-to-B marketers.

Q. Why do you believe B-to-B marketers need to have a "next practices" mindset?

A. The acceleration of change in today's marketing environment, and the breadth of ways we can move our businesses forward, require marketers to be nimble and brave. You need to have a willingness to experiment, to change your mindset. In the past, you did an assessment of a situation, developed and implemented a strategy for a brand, and then you were a caretaker of that strategy. When it was on the rails, you let it continue, and when it moved off the rails, you would course-correct it. Now that change is happening at a much faster pace. You have to be willing to strategically develop strategies against a much more ambiguous set of reference points. And then you have to find those things that are working well and really pour resources against them, whether they're financial resources, human resources, or energy resources. At the same time, you have to move on from things that aren't working well, as opposed to trying to fix them. Because there is so much emerging opportunity, you can't be content and comfortable with what you were doing last year. If you're doing what you did last year, you're probably not moving forward. When I think about next practices, it's as much a mindset as it is a discipline. It's about thinking ahead, taking appropriate risk with new channels, and finding new ways of engaging customers and prospects. You need to focus on those things that are working, and abandon those things that are not, while understanding that in 12 months, there may be entirely new ways of doing things. You need to adapt. We live in a world where if you're not courageous, you get left behind.

Q. Improving client/agency relationships remains a big industry challenge. As president and CEO of a global agency, how have you created a true spirit of partnership with your clients?

A. Our strongest relationships are with clients who understand that we care about their business as much as they do. Which is why we focus as much on the business side of the brand as we do on the marketing of the brand. A true partnership is based on trust, on a willingness to take risks together, within reason, and share in successes together. I think the practice of marketing, certainly on the B-to-B side, has never been more complex and more challenging. You need thinkers and people you can trust to work through the tough spots. And you have to have a common agenda.


"Pulling No Punches." Ken Beaulieu. BMA Buzz. 6/2/15.