Lessons in Collaboration for Marketing Teams from Ocean’s 11

Finding inspiration for achieving goals in a Hollywood blockbuster

Over the years, I’ve watched and rewatched Ocean’s Eleven – the 2001 version, not the 1960 version – and always find something new I like about it. Most recently, I’ve discovered it as an inspiration for how we approach and solve marketing challenges for brands.

I’ve always liked the plot line, the dialogue, Rusty’s Ford Falcon, cameos of contemporary and legendary celebrities, and the fabulous wardrobes worn by Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle) and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt). The last time I watched Ocean’s Eleven, though, I picked up on something that went way beyond a good story with lots of faces that I recognize.

Ocean’s Eleven is a great lesson in strategic brilliance and flawless collaboration in marketing. Granted, it’s a movie with a script, but follow the story and you’ll see a tutorial in strategic planning and collaboration. You’ll see four core elements that ensure success in marketing as well as in robbing casinos: Unifying Goal, Clearly Defined Roles, Simple Strategy and Detailed Tactical Plan, and True Collaboration.

A Unifying Goal

It began with Danny Ocean’s (George Clooney) vision and clearly defined objective that unified the team. The objective: Rob three Las Vegas casinos simultaneously. In marketing, we begin with clear, measurable objectives such as “regain at least 20 percent of lapsed customers” or “gain preference among leading crop consultants from category leader to our brand.”

The fact that Danny has a vendetta against Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) and the goal of winning back his ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts), were not mission critical. And if anything, the personal agenda added complexities to the mission, and put it at risk. As we’ve seen in business, when marketers or agencies put their hidden agendas – promotions, awards, jealousy of colleagues, etc. – ahead of the objective, the outcomes of marketing efforts are at risk.

Clearly Defined Roles

Without a doubt, Danny Ocean is the leader because it was his vision, and he had ideas on how to deliver on them. In the marketing world, Danny is the client.

Rusty Ryan – even with the funky disco shirts – is the Agency Account Lead. He was able to translate Danny’s vision into a feasible strategy and, working with Danny, assembled the team of specialized experts (albeit a quirky bunch) to orchestrate an integrated plan to achieve the goal. Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) is the CFO, Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison) is the IT guy, and Basher Tarr is the Digital Strategist.

Virgil and Turk Malloy (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan) are the Media Strategists finding ways to disrupt the marketplace and engage the marks.  Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) is the young Creative, bursting with raw talent but needing a guiding hand from time-to-time to keep the work on-strategy and relevant. Frank Catton (Bernie Mac), the veteran creative. Yen (Shaobo Qin) is the digital producer. And Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner)… he is the Chairman of the Board, the seasoned, respected sage who, once he’s in the zone, can still bring it.

Everyone has a role, internalizes it and ultimately delivers on it.  And like in Ocean’s Eleven, when marketing teams – client and agency – understand and effectively function within their roles and collaborate, plans are executed more efficiently, customers are engaged and moved to action, and goals achieved.

Simple Strategy and Detailed Tactical Plan

In Ocean’s Eleven, the strategy is simple: use disruption and distraction to penetrate the casino’s operations, security and vaults.

In marketing, we sometimes overcomplicate strategies or go “stratactical,” blending tactics with strategies. Good marketing strategies can be as simple as “tap into veterinarians’ empathy with patients to gain trial usage” or “leverage customer trust in sales reps to gain consideration of new product line.”

The Tactical Plan in Ocean’s Eleven is not so simple. It has a lot of highly integrated, co-dependent moving parts. Kind of like an integrated communication plan where the website is the hub of the plan but requires the customer personas, creative platform and key messages to guide development, along with online and offline advertising and direct initiatives to help drive traffic.

True Collaboration

Because they have a unifying goal, the right talent with clearly defined roles and a simple strategy, the Ocean’s Eleven team are highly functioning collaborators. The guys, under Danny and Rusty’s leadership, formulate and rehearse a nearly flawless plan. They build on each other’s strengths and ideas. The best marketing and communications plans are built very much the same way.

That’s not to say that Ocean’s guys always agree with each other. They bicker and make a few mistakes that alter the plan. But because they share a common goal, have ownership in the plan, and trust and respect each other, they are able fulfill the strategy and achieve the goal – even with a few mistakes and setbacks. Ocean’s Eleven effectively disrupted and distracted Terry Benedict, penetrated his casinos’ organizations and robbed three casinos simultaneously. And like all good Hollywood endings, Danny gets his wife back.

In marketing, we don’t have the benefit of Hollywood scriptwriters and Hollywood endings. But from Ocean’s Eleven we can learn about the importance and value of shared vision and true collaboration in formulating and implementing strategic marketing plans.

Diane Martin is R+K President/CEO and probably watching Ocean’s Eleven right now.


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