Interview with Sander Flaum – Strategic Marketing Expert

Sander Flaum is one of the most brilliant leaders I have had the pleasure to know. Our relationship goes back about 20-years when I first had an opportunity to hire the Robert A. Becker Agency as a partner on one of the pharmaceutical brands I was managing at P&G. He is a published author and on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University. Sander is also CEO of Flaum Partners, a unique consultancy that focuses energy on being a transformational agent in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Sander has been a mentor to me and has been an important influence in my career. But, the thing I cherish the most is his friendship and respect. Sander called me last week to check in and offer encouragement. I thought it was a great opportunity to ask him a few questions about Brand America. I know you will enjoy this interview with one of our country’s remarkable leaders.

  1. Question: You have had an amazingly successful career in the world of advertising and branding. In general, what are some of your top line thoughts on the value of looking at Brand America through the lens of branding? What are a few of the benefits you would expect could be realized from the effort?

    In the main, we do not do a very good job of branding our cities, counties, or states for economic development. If one were asked what does Iowa stand for, one would just shrug. Municipal economic developers need to research how great private branders such as P&G, Amazon, and eBay et al work diligently to continuously brand themselves.

    The benefits of branding are obvious. When I need detergent, I buy Tide. When I think of digital innovation, I think of Silicon Valley in California. When I think of finance, I think of Wall Street in New York and, when I think of biotechnology, I think of the Boston area.

  2. One of the more important things necessary for successful place branding is the ability to achieve consensus among a widely diverse constituency and lead them through a process of change to improve the business climate in their community. You recently authored a book on leadership entitled "Big Shoes How Successful Leaders Grow into New Roles". What are one or two of the lessons discussed in the book that you feel are particularly helpful to economic development leaders?

    We spend a lot of time talking about "where have our leaders gone?" We do not spend any time discussing "where have the followers gone?" You cannot lead unless you have followers, and you cannot have followers unless you have credibility and passion. We do not work diligently enough to embed a sense of community, a sense of importance, and a need for change in our community. So what we get from our followers are, in the main, complaints about how we lead. We need to spend more time focusing on followers.

  3. Question: How important is it that the U.S. act in a manner that is authentic with the Brand America promise? What are the potential pitfalls for non-authentic behavior?

    In the recent past, our Washington leaders have, in fact, not acted to enhance the Brand America promise. The Chamber of Commerce funded by insurers has fought healthcare reform. Most of our congressional members haven’t a clue what’s in the healthcare reform package. The most critical issue the country faces-jobs-is not being directly addressed. It’s about healthcare reform. The recession will continue to deepen unless the government acts vigorously to get people back to work through job creation.

  4. Question: Some experts have suggested the federal government create a Brand Manager role to help ensure a strong Brand America. Conceptually, does this make sense?

    I don’t think another federal bureaucratic agency, Brand America, will help. What I would suggest is that President Obama collect a group of proven CEOs who have thrived on branding and do this as a special committee reporting directly to him. I would suggest A.G. Lafley (P&G), Irene Rosenfeld (Kraft), Andrea Jung (Avon), Fred Hassan (Schering-Plough), and Bob Essner (Wyeth) for starters.

  5. Question: Do you believe Brand America can reestablish itself in today’s globally interdependent economy, or will emerging competitors like Brand China and Brand India be the new market leaders?

    I do believe that Brand America can reinvent itself in today’s extraordinarily global environment. China may own our debt; India may own our outsourcing; but we must remember innovation starts with America…pharmaceuticals, technology, entrepreneurship, it all starts here.

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