Remember at the end of the movie The Sandlot when Benny hops the fence to save Small’s signed Babe Ruth baseball from “The Beast?” The legend was that no one who ever went over the fence was ever seen again. The kids’ fear of “The Beast” resulted in a lot of crazy schemes by the kids to get the ball back.

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the Association of National Advertisers Marketing to Masters conference in Phoenix. The big draw for this conference is that it affords you the opportunity to learn from some of the “Biggest Dogs” in the marketing business, and this year did not disappoint.  Corporate leaders like Beth Comstock, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of General Electric, and Joseph Tripodi, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer of Coca-Cola, describe their experiences with digital media and how they’ve been able to utilize it to their advantage.

Yet I was struck by how many other “Big Dogs,” traditional marketing powerhouses, seemed to be peeking over the fence at the digital media “beast,” not sure how to get their ball back.

Conversations with many conference attendees explained the reason for this divide.  It comes down to leadership.

The digital media specialists at the conference reported the same scenario over and over.  At some point in the past few years someone at their company said, “We need a Facebook page” without really understanding what it meant. Fast-forward a few weeks and they have a 24-year-old digital specialist whose job it is to manage their company’s digital marketing.  And no one knows what to do next.

One of the main reasons this happens is a lot of today’s corporate leaders cut their teeth before digital media really existed. It’s simply not ingrained in their DNA like it is in a 24-year-old recent graduate.

These same leaders also aren’t investing in the planning needed for successful digital media strategy. Like any good strategy you have to start out with a few basic questions: What do you hope to achieve? Who do you want to reach? What are you going to say? How are you going to achieve this?

Worse yet, the leaders at the top are also not developing the management team that possesses the necessary knowledge for an effective strategy.  Nor are they providing the resources needed for a digital strategy. The result is a young employee who has a general idea of how to jump the fence, but no idea of how to confront the beast. And sometimes the result is painful for both the employee and the company.

The successful companies are getting leadership for their digital strategy from the top.  They are the new players, like and Facebook, where the leadership has the DNA.  They are also a handful of the old guard where the CEO has prioritized, staffed and resourced the strategy effectively, like GE and Walmart.

It wasn’t until Babe Ruth gave Benny the leadership he needed in a dream that they were able to save the ball and befriend the big dog.

It’s never too late.  Many of our clients are beginning the journey, in particular by using our on-line community and influencers from our Vibrant Nation offering, in their efforts to build an effective digital marketing presence.  It’s a good way to start to acquire the DNA and the vision needed to befriend the digital media beast, and make it start working for you.

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