News 5 Min Read
A Letter From the Head of SteelHouse Marketing
We’re taking a quick break from discussing Connected TV and digital advertising to share something a bit different
Over the holiday break, our head of marketing Ali Haeri sent an email to the team in which he reflected on 2020. It was not only a thoughtful write up that encapsulated our experience throughout the year, it was also (unintentionally) an excellent summary of what it means to be a part of the SteelHouse family.
Honestly, it does a better job at describing our company culture than any “About Us” page or company handbook could manage. We wanted to share it with you all because we think the spirit of the letter captures the trust, accountability, and commitment every SteelHouse team member brings with them to work everyday.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to work at SteelHouse, this should give you a good idea.
Reflections on 2020
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a CMO roundtable where eight of us got on a call and shared war stories from an unprecedented year. We shared recommendations of vendors we trust. We talked about marketing tactics we turned to in lieu of in-person events. We lamented getting our budgets cut and how it forced us to make pretty difficult decisions. Towards the end, we were each asked to answer the following question: What’s the most important thing you learned in 2020?
One marketing chief shared that he had no idea how dependent his marketing operation was on his annual user conference until this year’s last minute futile attempt to go virtual. Another tried buying leads for the first time to mixed success. And one was dealing with a decimated business and was desperately trying any tactic that could generate a lead.
It was finally my turn to share what I learned this year. My answer was simple, and I remember that while I was speaking, the host venture capital firm’s in-house human resources expert who was tuned out for the two hours leading up to this moment stopped eating his lunch, perked up in his chair, and started listening intensively. I told the group that in 2020, I was surprised at the resilience of my coworkers.
I talked about that seminal moment this year where the bottom fell out, the business got hit hard, and everyone took a pay cut. It’s when I finally learned that the people I work with on this team are characteristically similar to me – people who work their way out of problems rather than expending energy complaining about it.
The human resources expert chimed in. He said that there’s a better explanation for why this team responded the way that they did: everybody on this team seems to be intrinsically motivated. He cited a book called Drive by Daniel Pink that uses years of research that shows carrot-and-stick approaches to motivating people at work are ineffective. Instead, there are three components to intrinsic motivation which seem to be at play in our team: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
He asked if we have a lot of autonomy on the team and I said of course. Everyone on this team is an expert at what they do. What could we possibly gain out of micro-managing one another? And have you seen the Slack channel every day?
“Running an errand, back at 1”
This very behavior of the team has been used by Anna in giving best practices to other teams on how teams should work autonomously with accountability.
What about mastery? Is this team curious to get better? Do they use their own free time to learn new things? I think this team is almost diseased with curiosity and self-betterment. Sharon harassed me for weeks to get the design team a Skillshare account. Ben took an After Effects class in his free time, Hooman reverse-engineered Moz’s SEO scoring algorithm, and Tim’s been lapping our competitors’ content marketing with his recent obsession with researching the hell out of our weekly thought leadership topics. Even I’m still in the habit as I constantly find myself in Sketch every couple of days tinkering with our new DSM.
Purpose was the easiest of the three traits to answer. I explained how our culture of measurement isn’t used to suck the life and creativity out of our marketing campaigns, but rather as a way to remind the whole team that what we do has an impact. How many marketing departments can say they were part of a team that built a major revenue driving initiative from nothing in such a short amount of time on a shoestring budget? We didn’t buy our way to that success, we used sheer talent and creativity, and it worked.
Because of this intrinsic motivation that the team has, we handled the crisis earlier this year the way we did. In other words, how else would you expect a band of weirdos – who are best when autonomous, obsessed with getting better, and thirsty to keep showing the business they can’t live without us – to respond in the face of adversity?
Like we all have Zoom exhaustion, I have talking-about-COVID’s-impact-on-the-business exhaustion. It happened, we dug deep, and now we’re thriving. Let’s move on.
In the coming weeks we’ll do a series of kick-offs, both as a team and as a company. I’ll save all of the rally-the-troops content for later. I’d rather talk about something else for a moment.
You know what’s honestly been more gratifying for me to see this year than all of the metrics, new website pages, and content? Seeing your lives go on.
Several of you purchased a home. Marina got engaged. Aisha got a picturesque home office. Mel finally made it to LA (but just as the company went permanently remote). Ben started an insanely entertaining podcast and Helen made me happiest when she recently bought a Nintendo 64. And that’s all the life events as far as I know.
While we certainly have an impact on the business and a lot more hard work ahead of us in 2021, we’re not curing cancer here. Please continue to take care of yourselves and your families. Take advantage of all of the benefits you’re afforded by the company – for your physical health, your mental health, and your general happiness.
Management 101 says not to explicitly tell team members to prioritize their lives and personal happiness before their work for the company like this. But from what I’ve learned about intrinsic motivation and this team, you all already know when to roll up your sleeves and deliver. So all I could ask for is for you all to put yourselves in the best possible position to deal with the day-to-day adversity of life so we all can enjoy each other when we’re on the clock.
I love that I get to work with all of you and that you share your time with me. I’m confident enough to say that this is by far the best team in the company today and the best marketing department the company has ever had, but I’m also honest enough with myself to know how little I’ve had to do with our success this year – it’s all because of you. Thank you for giving me the most gratifying, entertaining, and meaningful year of my career. I can’t wait to do it again.