• John Lipuma, CEO, PostAds Group

Top 3 Hollywood Lessons for Change Management: A Guide for Global Marketers

Global marketers have been driven into an era of continuous content production. The demand to feed TV, digital, social media and ecommerce channels has forced marketers into becoming essentially content studios – and as such marketers increasingly emulate movie studio behavior as storytellers and content creators. Which all sounds fine on the surface – but if your legacy workflow platforms were built for low volume, slow-turnaround and long shelf-life content and the new reality is high volume, fast turnaround and short shelf-life content – that’s something to be dealt with! In fact, it has started a revolution – brand marketers are racing to change the way they produce, finish, distribute, repurpose and archive their digital content.

The marketers of Madison Avenue would do well to look to the movie studios of Hollywood for best practices in content production workflow. Movie studios have long occupied the world of high volume global production and have built foundational platforms on which brand marketers can ride into the future. However, the mere existence of infrastructure is only half the battle; the bigger challenge for any organization crossing the bridge from legacy models to next-generation solutions is change management.

To that end, we offer our Top 3 inspirational lessons from Hollywood for successfully managing change within marketing organizations:

1.The best- laid plans often go astray…and that’s okay.

Steven Spielberg & The Making of JAWS

In the summer of 1974 Steven Spielberg was an unknown 27-year old directing his first major film, adapting a best-selling novel for the big screen. Universal Pictures had a large budget and even larger expectations for the film, factors not lost on the young director. Early in production the success of the film hinged on a mechanical shark named ‘Bruce’ – but filming in the waters off Martha’s Vineyard proved problematic for Bruce, who fizzled out for much of the filming as a technological bust. As costs ran over budget and deadlines were missed, the studio executives back in Los Angeles got anxious and put additional pressure on their director to deliver or cut bait on the film altogether. Rather than panic, Spielberg got creative. He came up with alternatives to ‘cue the presence’ of the great white shark while his prop people worked feverishly to revive Bruce: the famous JAWS theme music dramatically announced the shark’s arrival and created fear within audience imaginations; the yellow harpoon barrels chasing the boat and the pulling of a fake shark fin across the water served as additional stand-ins for Bruce until finally, after the film crew had nearly lost hope that the mechanical film star would ever work – Bruce suddenly came to life. The rest of course is cinematic history: JAWS became the first-ever summer blockbuster, Spielberg became a household name and revolutionized Hollywood forever after.

However, had Spielberg faltered in his moment of truth and accepted his best laid plans going astray as a doomed fate – we might not know his name today. For global marketers implementing a change management project, one thing is certain: your best-laid plans in bringing organizational change will be filled with many Bruce-like moments. If you think of the alternative devices Spielberg developed in lieu of Bruce - they actually made the movie a far superior picture than originally planned. Subtract those elements from JAWS and you lose much of the essence of what made the story come alive. And so it will be with your change management project – the bumps in the road encountered during the project if overcome creatively and with positive intention will pay dividends in the end. Keep that in mind when you’re in the midst of frustrating circumstances.

2. Master the narrative.

Patrick Swayze in POINT BREAK.

In the cult classic POINT BREAK, Patrick Swayze plays a charismatic surfer named ‘Bodhi’ who leads a band of bank robbers to fund their adrenalin-fueled thrill-seeking lives. Keanu Reeves plays undercover FBI agent ‘Johnny Utah’ who infiltrates the group and tries to bring them to justice. For lessons in organizational change management, Bodhi displays qualities worth considering. Beyond having the charisma of a natural-born leader, Bodhi’s single greatest attribute is his mastery of narrative – the raison d'etre for the group’s mission. His narrative is the purpose and justification for their criminal ways: “This was never about the money, this was about us against the system. That system that kills the human spirit. We stand for something. We are here to show those guys that are inching their way on the freeways in their metal coffins that the human spirit is still alive.”

As Utah succeeds in disrupting and threatening the long-term viability of the group, Bodhi keeps not only his team and mission together with his mantra-like narrative – he also begins to turn his nemesis Utah onto it as well. In the film’s final scene, with Bodhi trapped on a beach moments from capture, Utah allows Bodhi to choose his own demise by a final ride on a hundred-foot wave. Bodhi’s mastery of narrative prevailed over Utah in the end.

Change management is impossible without first establishing an impenetrable narrative. The word ‘impenetrable’ implies there will be numerous and voracious attempts to destroy and discredit the narrative; in order for change management projects to succeed they must be capable of withstanding the inevitable assaults that will come from those protecting the status quo. Impenetrability starts with logic and emotive. The narrative has to first be logical in order for it to be believed; and second it must appeal emotionally for it to be followed.

When new technologies enabled movie studios to digitize full-length feature films and deliver to theatres digitally, there was massive push back from the entrenched interests wanting to keep the manual delivery of film reels intact. The studio narrative was logical: digital delivery of movies was faster, cheaper and higher quality. It was also emotional: the improved technology would lead to superior in-theatre experiences and further inspire the public to see movies cinematically versus watching at home. The film-based suppliers and shipping companies rightfully feared the paradigm change would end their monopoly on the business; the theatre outlets, while seeing the benefits of the technology, were required to invest in new equipment and part with their iconic movie reel systems in order to play the digital files from the studios. It took years, but movie studios prevailed with an unyielding narrative: the existential threat to both studios and theatres if they failed to embrace the change of digital technology. Like Bodhi, trapped between the past and a once-in-a-generation wave hurtling at him, it was the narrative that won the day.

3. Have vision when the rest of the world wears bifocals.


Remembered as the original ‘buddy movie’ with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, this 1969 Western classic of real-life bank robbing legends Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid is wildly entertaining, well-written, beautifully cinematic, filled with action and romance – and even has insights for change management enthusiasts.

The Paul Newman character Butch Cassidy is the brain of the duo, while the Sundance character played by Redford is the brawn; Newman is the older man with experience, Redford is the younger man with energy. Together they face many challenging situations and throughout the movie their salvation comes down to Cassidy’s strategies for getting out of trouble. At one point he exclaims, “Boy, I have vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals!”

It’s a phrase worth remembering for those leading change management projects. Newman delivers the line not with braggadocio but with self-bemusement – he’s excited by his own ideas, energized and animated with a belief in his heart that his ideas will work. The story teeters on the dual themes of belief and despair – and it’s Cassidy’s faith in his own vision that provides hope for those around him.

Changing behavior and courses of action within a company is a daunting endeavour for those who attempt it; there will be alternating moments of belief and despair. Like Cassidy & Sundance navigating the canyons of Death Valley on horseback, you will encounter naysayers and snipers unseen from all angles, be forced to change directions and strategy as situations arise, get creative in eluding those wishing to do harm – but what will sustain you until the end will be your own self-belief. People don’t wear bifocals because they’re blind – it’s because they need help seeing. Believe in your vision enough so those wearing bifocals eventually see what you see.

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