Is Your Marketing Bigger than a Summer Blockbuster?

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Each year, the film industry invests billions of dollars in marketing large-scale studio movies. The goal? To generate maximum profit.

One way movie studios maximize profit is by using a “tent-pole strategy.” To understand what this means imagine a teepee style tent held upright by poles. Without the poles propping up the tent, it would collapse. Tent-pole movies provide a similar kind of support for movie studios.

A tent-pole movie is typically a big-budget movie whose earnings are anticipated to offset less profitable movie releases. Although more time and effort is spent on tent-pole movies compared to lower-budget releases, studios expect to make the money back – and then some. You only need to consider the big-budget Marvel franchise of movies like The Avengers and Iron Man or animated greats like Frozen to realize the power of tent-pole movies.

Applying Movie Studio Strategy to Your Small Business
Interested in leveraging a tent-pole strategy to grow your business? The good news is you don’t need a hammer-wielding superhero or a snow queen singing, “Let it go!” in your arsenal to do it. In fact, we’ve successfully used a tent-pole strategy at TurningPoint – growing by over 700% since our inception in 2007.

Movie Shoot

Read on to learn what we did to apply a common movie studio strategy to grow and succeed, despite some unexpected changes in the economy.

Identify Your Tent-Pole
TurningPoint was founded as a recruiting firm, and that business line continues to be the primary driver of our revenue and branding. Recruiting is our tent-pole. It may surprise you to know that during the depths of the recession – from 2009 to 2011 – recruiting still accounted for 75% of our total revenues. Despite overall declines in hiring, we focused on our core service even as we began to introduce ancillary services to complement our recruiting services.

What is the tent-pole in your business? Movie studios identify tent-pole movies based on predictable parameters such as the success of similar films, talent, release dates and audience. For instance, you will notice that most tent-pole films tend to have broad appeal – targeting a general audience of men, women, boys and girls, and containing universal and culturally relevant themes.

Video, movie, cinema concept. Retro camera, reels, clapperboard

Think about the predictable parameters in your business. If you’re not sure, a good place to start is by considering the needs of your target market. Then identify the business line that has the highest opportunity for success based on past results. That’s your tent-pole. Apply a fierce focus on improving your tent-pole, so it provides optimal value to your customers and maximum profit for your business.

Explore Your Low-Budget Supports
Surrounding the release of a tent-pole movie you will usually see a handful of lower-budget flicks – like a horror film or romantic comedy. While studios invest in these films, there isn’t an expectation that these movies will offer a significant return on investment.

Occasionally, one of these low-budget films will turn a surprising profit and be dubbed a “breakout hit.” At that point, the movie studio may decide to invest additional dollars into growing the movie franchise – creating a new profitable business line.

Small businesses can leverage the same approach to grow. Here are some examples of how we explored low-budget supports:

• Career Coaching: We added career coaching in response to senior-level candidates who increasingly requested personalized support in their job search. Initially, Ken personally coached clients, but as the need for coaching increased we added a part-time coach – a move that grew the business line to a point where it represented 20% of our revenue. Today, career coaching continues to be a profitable business line though we now outsource the function to external coaches.

Coaching is like The Matrix movies – it was successful in getting us on the map and exposed us to new audiences, which in turn, has allowed us to do bigger things in the future.

• Resume and LinkedIn Profile Writing: Between 2010 and 2014, we offered in-house assistance to support senior executives in developing a strong resume and LinkedIn profile. The price point was low, which enabled us to quickly attract potential clients, but the execution of the service was time-consuming. The revenues from the business line never topped three percent of total sales. It ended up being an unprofitable business line. We eventually converted that paid service to a free, self-service offering called Resume Toolbox.

This experiment was our Jupiter Rising – we got the attention of important people, but the inputs were greater than the outputs.

• StartingPoint Careers: During the recession, we fielded calls from senior-level professionals seeking help, not in their careers, but for their adult children who were graduating from college and unable to find work. That was the inspiration for StartingPoint Careers – a series of workshops providing career support for emerging professionals. Ultimately, we realized this business line was a “feel good” offering that demonstrated our good will among senior executives, but it was a loss leader – costing us more to market and deliver than it produced in revenue.

This was our Apple TV – an interesting and unique concept with a niche market of buyers, but ultimately too difficult to generate any significant revenues.

• Sales Leadership Alliance (SLA): In 2010 we rebranded our business to focus solely on recruiting for sales and marketing positions. As a mechanism to build a strong presence in the field, we created the Sales Leadership Alliance – a professional networking group that attracts top senior sales and marketing leaders in Southern California. Membership was initially offered at no charge, but we eventually moved to a fee-based model, which has made SLA a full-fledged, profitable business line. It is the single most impactful business development and marketing activity for our firm, not only introducing us to several new clients each year, but also directly contributing 10% of revenues in 2014.

This is our Pixar. We experimented with a completely new way to develop business – investing a small amount of money up-front to eventually build a self-sustaining, revenue-generating business line.

To Infinity and Beyond!Young pretty woman opening her shirt like a superhero. Super gir
Although we didn’t start TurningPoint with a tent-pole strategy in mind, it certainly has become a strategy that has proven to get results. As we move forward, we will continue to experiment with new concepts, while holding true to our tent-pole – recruiting. In fact, later this year, we will launch our inaugural SoCal Sales & Marketing Summit – an all-day conference for professionals interested in understanding how buyers and sellers interact, and how to make that connection profitable for everyone.

Now that you know more about how a tent-pole strategy supports of the goals of big movie studios and one small business, we’re curious about how you’ll apply it to your business. Share what you’re doing in the comments and let us know your progress!

About the Authors

Ken Schmitt is the President and Founder of TurningPoint Executive Search and the Sales Leadership Alliance. Specializing in placing sales, marketing and operations professionals across the country, Ken’s 16 years of recruiting experience have equipped him with the knowledge to serve as a thought partner to his clients for all recruiting, hiring and human capital-related initiatives. Ken sits on the board of Junior Achievement, the American Marketing Association, the San Diego HR Roundtable and is an Advisory Board Member for San Diego Sports Innovators (SDSI).

Vicky Willenberg has served as the Social Media Manager for TurningPoint since 2011. In 2014, she was elevated to Digital Marketing Manager, broadening her participation across all things digital for the firm. A former teacher with a Masters in Education, Vicky is an active and published blogger at The Pursuit of Normal and a marketing professional. She has her finger on the pulse of the latest trends in the recruiting, hiring and leadership sectors.

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