A couple of weekends ago, my neighborhood, the St. Joseph neighborhood on the north side of downtown Indy, hosted its annual spring neighborhood cleanup event. My Beautiful Wife and I were assigned the gutters along the curbs on 10th Street. We scraped up piles of detritus: flattened leaves, sticks, broken glass, stuff that drifted off the interstate.
There’s a drain in the brick street that, until I year ago, I didn’t even know existed, so covered was it in schmutz. Filled to the top as it was with dirt, it was also not much of a drain. I decided to see if the grate came off—and was surprised when it did, without a hint of struggle.
Inside lay the best compost ever.
I mean, this was special dirt. This was organic matter that had been compressed for years: jet-black and crumbly, the stuff you’d pay fifty bucks a cubic yard for, sitting right there below the bricks for anyone who wanted it. Instead of throwing it into the dumpster with all the other waste, I alerted the neighborhood authorities, who hauled it away, visions of bulging tomatoes and pansies too big for their pots dancing in their heads.
How does this relate to marketing? Here’s the poop.
In the marketing business, we’re always looking to grow those prize-winning tomatoes, those eye-popping pansies—to create those communications and connections that make people take notice, give them pleasure, and are useful and meaningful to them. We’re proud to show off the ads and media plans and videos and websites we make. We want you to love what we do.
But it’s the quality of the dirt underneath that makes it special. It’s the compression of all sorts of ingredients—research, the insights you prod out of stakeholders, trial and error, as well as the unexpected stuff that drifts off the interstate—that makes the work grow strong.
And you might be surprised at where you eventually find a lode of the richest material. So don’t be afraid to give that sewer grate a tug.
And remember: Rich compost doesn’t happen overnight. You should plan on spending at least as much time in research and thought as in actually executing the work.
You want to be great? You want to make a difference for clients? You want to win the admiration of your peers? Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Do the work. Be the compost.