November 10, 2008
Blog Entry

SherpaBlog: So Long and Thanks for All the Case Studies

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By Anne Holland, Founder

I woke with a start at four in the morning in a hotel room in Scottsdale, Arizona, where I was conducting research at a marketing trade show in October 1999.

Back then, as now, marketing, PR and advertising professionals were nearly deafened by a deluge of media "serving" them. Magazines, events, newsletters, etc., etc. But, as a 20-year veteran, I felt that huge amount of content hadn't been terribly useful in the everyday business of running a real-world marketing department.

Did others share my view? Was there a burning need for a new kind of practical information service for marketers?

That August, I'd left my CMO job, cashed in my 401k, and begged a press pass from an old pal in the business media, to set out on a lengthy research tour across America, asking marketers from hundreds of companies to describe their unmet information needs.

Then, at 4 a.m. that morning, it came to me, all at once in a flash. I fumbled in the dark for a pen and paper and began scribbling, too excited to even turn the light on. As dawn began to fill my hotel room with light, the plan for MarketingSherpa became visible before my eyes. That piece of paper was pinned to my office wall for years, until the ink began to fade too badly for legibility, and I tucked it away.

Inspired by ideas from marketers (I'd particularly like to thank the guys at Dell for their insistence on "lots of Case Studies"), MarketingSherpa sprung from and depends on the needs and assistance of the entire marketing community. Without you, we'd be nothing.

Today, on my very last morning as a formal company employee, I'd like to take a moment to thank some of the many people who helped make Sherpa a reality. This was always a group effort. They include:

o Alan Brody of iBreakfast, who invited me to pitch for angel investors, and David James of Bethesda List, who stepped up out of the audience that day to write a check.

o Kim MacPherson, Andy Bourland, Tom Phillips, Cliff Kurtzman, Ralph Wilson, Bruce Hadley, and yes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for providing inspiration in the earliest days.

o Craig Sherman, formerly of, who ran across a trade show floor to hug me in the darkest days of 2001, saying: "Thank goodness Sherpa hasn't gone under like everyone else has!" That display of reader emotion when the economy was tanking made all the difference in the world.

o Monique Harris, Andrew Latzman, Anthony Muller, Andrew Mackie and Marcia Yudkin, who helped develop MarketingSherpa product lines, including Summits, Benchmark Guides, Instructional Handbooks and Case Studies.

o The editors of The Economist's Intelligence Unit and Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge site, who gave Sherpa our first big-name press mentions.

o Customer Service team leaders Donna Pfledderer and Sharon Hamner, who kept Sherpa's standards to "L.L .Bean quality" so customers really understood how much we valued them.

o Sherpa's editorial team, including past members Jennifer Nastu, Mark Brownlow, Alexis Gutzman, Diana Huff, and Tad Clarke, who made our nearly crushing 10-times-a-week exclusive story deadlines possible.

o Stefan Tornquist, who built our research department into a thing of glory while maintaining a heavy speaking schedule.

o Holly Hicks in Oregon and Zlatko Papic in Serbia who worked extreme hours, far outside of 9-5 in their local time zones, to prove virtual staffers can be as fully present as people in the cube next door.

o Sherpa's in-house marketers, especially employee #2 Aimee Kessler Evans and Carol Meinhart, who said on her job application that she liked “spreadsheeting more than chocolate.”

o Everyone who's ever tackled the unending problem of making Sherpa's massive content-heavy website more usable, including Matrix Group International, Dan Miller, Christian Vanek and Hope Hopkins.

o Ron Perry, who banged on my office door every night at 7 p.m. to remind me that there is a life outside of MarketingSherpa and to tell me to go home already.

No matter how hard everyone at Sherpa works, nothing would have been possible without the ceaseless and ongoing contributions of hundreds of thousands of marketers around the world.

From the first handful of readers who forwarded their newsletters to friends, driving up Sherpa's opt-in list to more than 100,000 in just a year; to every Sherpa Summit speaker, 100% volunteers talking about their real-life experiences; to the thousands of marketers, each of whom has spent an hour or more being grilled by Sherpa's Case Study reporters; and to the tens of thousands of you who participate in Sherpa's research surveys every year, so that we could bring you updated benchmark data: you are the reason I got up every morning full of drive and desire to serve.

After nearly a decade in the making, MarketingSherpa finally matches almost every aspect of the vision I scribbled down in the dawn hours of that Scottsdale morning. The blueprint's been executed to plan. Now it's time for me, as Founder, to take a nice long break.

If you look for me, I'll be in my garden.

In the meantime, the Sherpa team will continue bringing you the practical information you desire and deserve. They've got lots of improvements and expansions planned for 2009 and beyond – all inspired by customer feedback and directions, naturally! You can send in your ideas and input to them at Service(at)MarketingSherpa(dot)com. Yes, a real human team answers that email, not a robot.

One final note: In a MarketingSherpa Members teleconference two weeks ago, one of you asked me half-jokingly, I'm sure, “Anne, got any stock tips?” My answer to that question is to look for companies that are built directly according to customer desires – especially those that routinely survey you and then actually implement suggestions. Also, keep an eye out for brands that maintain a steady level of brand advertising (not just more easily measureable direct response and sales offers) in the media over the coming years.

Companies that bakein customer focus and keep paying for brand advertising, even in tough times, will emerge from this storm way ahead of the competition.

I know. I've been there.

Thanks again and best wishes.

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