I’d love to sit somewhere dark, drinking something dark with Jeffrey Hayzlett. Not only because the man has the rare American wit of a time lost and it would fit aesthetically with his Caiman cowboy boots, but because even real bravado usually hides something. And in Hayzlett’s case, I’m sure it’s bespeckled with important lessons.

One of those lessons – extrapolate it how you will – involves the raising of pheasants. In a previous life, Hayzlett fell in love with the birds – the sight of them, the taste of them and the hunting of them. His passion was so consuming he decided to open a pheasant farm in South Dakota. He bought thousands of them and intended to let them roam wild and free, hunt them, allow others to hunt them and sell their meat. He built the fences, the runs to house them. And then the rains came. And what do pheasants do in a violent storm? Raise their heads skyward and fully open their mouths to catch as much water as possible… and drown. The risk, of course, in raising them in captivity rather than in the wild as Hayzlett did, is that the male pheasant is inelegantly and unrelentingly prone to getting it on and, when all of the unfortunate female pheasants are well-hidden, they peck each other to death. This experience helped Hayzlett in his journey to global chief marketing officer (CMO) of Eastman Kodak:

“It’s a lot like the marketing world, yes, it is. It’s a lot like the marketing world, lots of fornication and lots of fighting.”

Clearly pride can be blinding and, as with Kodak, Hayzlett should’ve done his research on pheasants and their melancholic predispositions – initially at least. Sitting on a plane en route to Rochester, the town that Kodak’s founder George Eastman practically built, Hayzlett had just received the nod for the big job, he turned to the 27-year-old woman sitting beside him and asked her what she did, knowing politeness would require her to return the question. She spoke at length, but Hayzlett can’t remember and unabashedly admits he didn’t listen. When his turn came, the excitement rushing to his face, he told her, “I’m the global chief marketing officer for Eastman Kodak.” Her response? “What do they do?” That’s when he knew he had a lot of work to do.

Hayzlett studied government and international affairs before going on to work as a lobbyist for insurance companies, seatbelts, Lutherans. He also worked for Democrat Tom Daschle, doing, in his words, “everything from campaign work to emptying the garbage bin”.

He then worked for the American Diabetes Association as executive director – incongruous for a man running, by his own admission, on 12 Diet Mountain Dews a day.

“I was involved in putting on bike-a-thons and fundraisers, and educational programs, and worked a lot in South Dakota, because most American Indians, Indigenous Indians, have diabetes. So, I worked very heavily in the reservations, which is a big thing for me. And then I was getting fired.

“I was going to get fired, which is normal, when you have grown up against your board; I thought I knew more than they did, and they had the vote. So, they came to me and said, ‘Would you like to resign or get fired?’ I said, ‘Well, I’d like to resign.’ And that night I started – it was Christmas Eve day in 1985, and I went and took everything I had, maxed out credit cards and bought an IBM PC junior, and I was 25 years old, and I started my really first company, and that was the Hayzlett companies, which became Hayzlett and Associates. I had no clients on Christmas Eve day. I got my first client in January, the second or third day of January, which was a medical school. And then I just started doing public relations, and that led me to buy a property company, which led me to do this, and led me to do other things. And then eventually, led me all the way through to Kodak. And I had a small consulting company when I went to join Kodak.

Sean Greaney: You don’t strike me as a guy who has got a lot of regrets. What was the biggest mistake, apart from the pheasant farm?

Jeffrey Hayzlett: I haven’t made it yet. I’m going to make more mistakes – are you kidding me? That’s what you should be doing. I’ll have lots of successes and lots of failures. I don’t mind. I think that’s what you should be doing. You’re going to try something, it works, it doesn’t, get over it, move on. No one dies and move on. I’m not doing brain surgery, and I’m never going to do that because I’m not talented enough to do it, and I’m not going to do anything that’s going to get anybody killed.

Have I made a lot of mistakes? I’ve made a tonne of them, some big ones, some whoppers and some of them very public. My biggest one that I was the most embarrassed about was way back early in my career with a medical school. We put out a press release, and we put the wrong name of everything in the press release, and it went out and I was so embarrassed about that. That was probably the biggest embarrassment publicly, just because I felt so bad. Some of the videos that I did at Kodak – and the way in which I did them – I stretched it, pushed it too hard, and those caused moments of anxiety and a lot of vomiting, so to speak – literally, where I was sick over the weekend thinking I was going to lose my job, because it was the third day, fourth day, third week into my job, and I was already getting into trouble. But I learned that’s what I was supposed to be doing, and once I got comfortable with that, then I didn’t have an issue with it. Then I didn’t care. So, you talk about your conditions of satisfaction, and that was my condition of satisfaction. So, as long as the boss was OK with it, that was what I was there to do. So, I was OK.

SG: Do you think the American culture around business failure or mistakes, or at least making mistakes at work, is why Americans are more likely to try something new, as opposed to Australians who are often quite fearful of the mistake; they would rather do a moderate job but not fail?

JH: I think that’s part of it. I think there is a great tenacity among Americans to just go for it, and it’ll be OK, much more so. Then we can pick up the pieces, and – if it is a huge failure – we can still pick up the pieces and be successful. Look at all the people that I think have just literally gone down the toilet and done so many bad things, yet, they’re still alive: Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, from a celebrity standpoint. And even some that aren’t. Look at some politicians like [Eliot] Spitzer [the Democratic Governor of New York involved in a prostitution scandal], and he now has his own prime time television show, and I go, ‘Gee, he can make mistakes, and look what he has done.’ I think that is a big part of it. We are a little bit more brash and just out there, and you look at Australians, who I think are a lot like us. I think the two cultures are more aligned than any other two cultures anywhere in the world, more so than the UK and the US, more so than Canada, quite frankly. I think Australians are more like Americans, and Americans are more like Australians, except you’re a lot nicer and just a wee bit more reserved. But you’re willing to take the air out of a person when he gets too big and much more irreverent than I think other cultures are, but you are still very polite. And once we get that pushed out of your culture, it will be a lot tougher. But I think Australians are out there, very edgy. So, I think that they do have that, but I don’t think you stick with it as much. You know what I mean? If you try something, you start getting some bad things, you pull it real quick, and I think we’re a little bit more tuned to let it keep going.

SG: Do you think that’s a function of culture or the scale available?

JH: It could be the scale. You only have 21 million people in a country basically the size of the United States. So, typically it’s a bit more out there and everybody gets to see it. So, I think that could be part of it. There is more intensity of the eyes here than those in the States: 21 million people [in the US], that’s a good night on television.

SG: We might be slightly behind the US on this, but a huge debate here right now is: do B2B and social media fit? You’ll see titans of their own industry claim it doesn’t, yet the same people will be 30 posts deep in a thread on LinkedIn.

JH: I disagree. I think B2B and B2C, there is no difference, absolutely none. In fact, I think it’s stronger for B2B than B2C.

SG: Big statement.

JH: I mean I’ve been running a B2B business, and most of the people who follow me, tens and thousands of people [are interested in me from a B2B point of view]. I have more followers than some of the brands that were showed today [at Schmart Marketing, Melbourne] in the examples… I was the 2009/10 B2B marketer of the year [as named by US magazine BtoB].

Without a question it works, it works effectively. It’s how I got to be a best seller, through the use of social media. It works, it sells, people buy products and they buy services, and they get active, and I use LinkedIn very effectively, I use Twitter very effectively that way. Facebook is a different approach for B2B. I look at this way: LinkedIn is the street, Twitter is your front porch and Facebook is your living room, and that’s really the way in which you look at it. So, you just have to know there are certain levels that you do. LinkedIn, you don’t kill people with tweets, you moderate what you say and how many times because it’s a business forum, and it’s not Twitter, which is a bit more throwing it out there and sharing. And Facebook is much more intimate. That’s the way you typically look at it. That’s how we do it, but I think you make a big mistake if you ignore B2B on social media, huge mistake.

SG: How many times have you had to explain that to a B2B client?

JH: Most B2B clients, they ask the question, but they just don’t know how to do it, and once you show them how, they’re convinced of it pretty quickly. Remember, it’s about building a community. It’s about building roots out there into more and more touch points with your customer. How better to do that than with people who want to participate? And here’s what I always say about most things: one-third of the people get it right away, one-third eventually get it and one-third will never get it, and that’s the way it works. So, eventually, most of your customers, most of the contacts, most of the way in which you do it will be that way. It just takes time.

SG: Do you think it’s an issue of fear? Because the argument is always: how are we going to make a sale through that?

JH: It’s just a matter of watching and opening your eyes up. I’ve proved that. I’ve proved it certainly with consumer products, but I’ve proved it through B2B products. I’m selling a book*. That’s not a consumer book. That’s a business book. That’s aimed at small business owners and aimed at marketers and major corporations. And how did I sell that? I presold tens of thousands of my books, be it through Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn, before my publishing day. Not through advertising, because my publisher sure as hell didn’t do any advertising until after I made the Wall Street Journal best seller list, then they bought ads – thank you very much. So, I think the fear is they just don’t know how. And so once you show them how, then they get over that pretty quickly.

SG: I imagine a lot of the companies you consult as well have an issue with a culture of ‘never make a mistake’. What kind of things can people put in place to reverse that? Do you need new staff?

JH: Sometimes you need to put tiger teams in. I’m a real advocate of putting autonomous teams that go across all silos, that can go across everything, just go get it done. And when all these guys tell you, you can’t do it, you go do it anyway. So, you have to do a little bit of that, and break the models a bit. Again, put some tension on the system. Putting tensions on the system, it will start responding pretty quickly. So, I think it’s helpful for that: a ‘no pain, no gain’ kind of thing. I’m a real advocate for that. And that’s something I’ve seen more and more in the last five years.

One of the things I learned at Kodak was how important that tension is. Let me give you an example: it’s tough to be a change agent in a major company; it’s tough to be a change agent in any company because there are these certain ways they do things. Even when I had the authority to go and make a change, let’s say with a new agency as an example. I made that decision. That was my decision, clearly my decision, as the CMO, as an executive, one of the top five executive officers in the company. When I made that change, no one would necessarily question it. But it’s like running the gauntlet. Even when I had the change, and I said, “I’m going to do this”, it would be like being captured by the Shoshone Indians in 1824 as a trapper, hauled back to the tribe, into the village, put down in the village, they line up two lines of people from everyone in the village, from little children to old women and men, they would give them sticks and stones and knives and clubs, and they would tell you that if you can survive running down the middle of this line, then you get to be a vendor! And that’s after I’ve already said it’s OK, because then everybody wants to come in and weigh in and say they have got the right to say ‘no’, and they don’t! So, it was always about driving the change, it was really getting around conditions of satisfaction and getting everybody brought into those before I went out and did a lot of the activity. So, we spent a lot of time doing that, so we could remind them that, “Didn’t you say this is what we could do? And this is what we’re going to do.”

SG: Walk softly and carry a tape recorder in that case.

JH: Yeah, remind them of the promises they made. It’s like when the CFO (chief financial officer) would come to me and tell me, “We need to cut 15 percent of the budget before the end of the year in order to make up,” and I say, “Wait a second, no problem, I can do that.” And remember how surprised he was when I said, “Yes, let’s do it. Let’s sit down and figure out the revenue we’re going to take out too.” He said, “What do you mean? We need the revenue.” I said, “Well, when I put the plan together, the expenditure was predicated to drive the revenue. If I don’t have the expenditure, I’m not signing up to drive the revenue, so if you’re going to take away my dependency, the thing that’s going to drive that, then I need to take out the revenue. I’m OK with that if that’s what you want to do. Well, let’s sit down and look at both sides of that,” and usually they would back off. But you have to have that, you have to show that it’s tied to it and show how you’re doing it.

A lot of times I would come forward and bring extra money back saying, “We’re not going to spend it here, but I’m going to redeploy it over here.” By the time I left Kodak, my CFO, who was a real advocate in the company, Frank Scoresby – great guy, he’s now the CFO at Tyco Industries, which is still a big jump because Tyco is a major, major corporation, 10 times bigger than Kodak, billions and billions of dollars – and he would say, “Jeff has taught me, when we advertise, sales go up, and when we don’t advertise, sales go down.” So, I thought that was a major breakthrough. Frequently, I would go to Frank, and say, “Frank, let me show you this. Let me show you how when I advertise and do this in this area, watch our margins go up, and I would systematically show them.” And then when I pulled the campaigns, I said, “Watch the revenue go down. Watch the margins go down. Watch our activity fall off.” And I would continually show him how we could do that, turn it on, turn it off, and to the point where he would actively say, “Let’s go find more money for Jeff to spend in advertising.” And it was like that’s what you want to hear as a chief marketing officer, but we had to demonstrate that we could do it, and we did. And when we did, we had some growth in the hundreds of percent, and we raised margins and products and did some really great things.

Sean Greaney
BY Sean Greaney ON 16 September 2011
Managing editor, Marketing magazine & Marketingmag.com.au