Marketing powerhouse Sarah Robb O’Hagan shares tactics for motivating your team and getting your wildest ideas greenlighted
From Nike to Virgin America to Equinox, Sarah Robb O’Hagan has been a marketing game changer for the world’s most iconic brands. Her energetic, no-holds-barred approach has landed her on Fast Company’s “Most Creative People in Business” list as well as Forbes‘ “Most Powerful Women in Sports.” Her book, Extreme YOU: Step Up. Stand Out. Kick Ass. Repeat. is a breath of fresh air in the world of sometimes snooze-worthy books about marketing and business. Her brave and bold approach to storytelling provides insights into not only her successes, but also her insecurities and failures. When an author’s strength and spirit shines through every page, it inspires the reader (us included) to take chances, think different, and kick some major ass. We couldn’t wait to get her take on everything from risk taking to ideating to the latest show she binge-watched.
“It's not my job to motivate individuals to play their role. I think motivation comes from within.”
It’s clear that, in your professional life, you’re a high-energy person who brings big ideas to the table. Have you encountered coworkers or employees who tend to do only what they are asked to do, never going above and beyond or bringing new ideas to the table? How do you motivate employees or coworkers to step up?
SARAH ROBB O'HAGAN: Oh yes of course. Naturally there are all sorts of people you come across in the work force! And the reality is that not everyone actually wants to take on more, or is in a moment in their life or career when they can. There is a big difference between a great utility player who is very happy in their role and delivering exactly what is expected of them, and someone who's actually not pulling their weight for the good of the team. The former is a very valuable teammate whereas the latter is the person that runs the risk of not holding their place on the team. How do you motivate people to step up? Ultimately, my belief is that as a leader, it's up to me to inspire the team to want to achieve an exciting vision—and I tend to go to great lengths to try and do that. To constantly paint the picture of the great place we are going, the great problems we are solving together, and how each person plays such an important role in the process. But it's not my job to motivate individuals to play their role. I think motivation comes from within. And if folks don't have the personal motivation to pull their weight then I don't think there's much a leader can do to solve that for them.
In your book, you mention how Millennials have a fear of making mistakes in the workplace. We’ve noticed that with so much access and reliance on data, there seems to be less risk taking in general in the marketing world. Is this something you’ve noticed as well? How can the people with the wild ideas push their ideas to the top—and encourage higher-ups to take more chances?
SRO: That's an interesting perspective on the heavy reliance on data. Its funny—I have a great friend and mentor who has always said to me: if you torture the numbers long enough, they will tell you whatever you want them to! Point being, I don't think data takes any of the risk out of being a great marketer. A great marketer is someone who has an intuition, who sees opportunities that the consumer will want—and uses data to refine the execution. One of the things that concerns me today is that I think we are starting to create lazy marketers who just throw lots of ideas at the wall digitally to see what sticks. Marketers who rely too heavily on the data instead of learning to develop a deep intuition. If you have wild ideas and you want the higher-ups to take a bet on you,I actually think what is far more compelling than predictive data is a shitload of fire in the belly that proves to me as a decision-maker that you are going to own the consequences of your ideas (good or bad) and fight like hell to make them successful in the market place!
Lately, there are so many articles about fashion companies closing their doors permanently, or switching to an online-only model. What are your thoughts on this “retail apocalypse” and what advice would you give to the fashion industry in these rapidly-changing times?
SRO: There's no question—this is a massive consumer behavior shift that is not going to reverse back any time soon. So my first piece of advice would be to accept this new reality. I worked in the music retail business when Napster first came along, and we spent far too long with our heads in the sand thinking of ways to stop this major shift instead of moving very quickly to evolve our business model into what this new world was going to be. So if you accept the reality that consumers want to transact online for fashion, then I think you ask yourself a big question of whether it’s possible to create a new value proposition for consumers in a brick-and-mortar environment. Something that inspires me right now is that in general, the businesses that are doing well in the real world are those that are in the business of bringing human beings together. Restaurants, theme parks, boutique fitness, gyms, the Dry Bar, etc. So the question is: what does that insight give you as a springboard to create a new value proposition for fashion-oriented consumers. What other needs do these consumers have that you can solve that is relevant to their connection to fashion?
Your background in creating lifestyle brands is legendary. With the wellness trend playing a bigger part in people’s lives, where do you see this trend going? Any broad-picture ideas?
SRO: I think that the wellness trend is not going anywhere soon—that’s for sure! And I am very inspired by the intersection of technology and accountability with fitness and wellness. I think we are going to see more and more meaning brought to our ability to track our lifestyle choices. From tracking and data to knowledge, motivation, and insights.
We know you’re an avid runner, and that some of your best ideas or profound thoughts happen on your morning run. Is there anything else you do in your life to keep your ideas flowing and to stay inspired?
SRO:Yes. I am a HUGE podcast listener and I often do that when I am running which is what gets me inspired and gets my creativity really happening. Other than that I am a people person and I get so inspired by the ideas and thoughts of others. I think one of the most important things we can all do is get away from our day-to-day to hear the perspectives of others. Often talking to someone in a totally different industry about a problem you have can lead to breakthrough ideas you'd never have had on your own.
“Often, talking to someone in a totally different industry about a problem you have can lead to breakthrough ideas you'd never have had on your own.”
Just a few more quickies, please:
Your top three songs to run to:
Last show you binge watched: Big Little Lies
Last book you loved: The Power of Onlyness by Nilofer Merchant
Guilty pleasure: Binge-watching documentaries about the Royal Family!