This article was written by Greg Paull, Co-founder & Principal, R3.

Let’s talk about health.

Not the “health” that has fed our insatiable appetite for doomscrolling over the past six months, but the health of marketing.

The “Fear of Finding Out” or FOFO is a term used in the medical community to describe the psychological barrier that stops people from seeking medical advice for worrying health conditions. The complete opposite of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), FOFO is also a common symptom in the finance industry. A Barclays study showed that more than a third (37%) of Millennials had FOFO about their finances and did not like to check their bank accounts.

Marketers have been suffering FOFO for a long time.

The attitude so far has been a mix of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”, “Look at our metrics” and “If a tree fell in the forest – and we didn’t see it – did it really fall?”

The issues have been as diverse as organizational structures, agency ecosystem, media spend, ad fraud and digital measurement.

This is not to say that marketers don’t care about these issues. They do. They very much do.  But people who suffer from FOFO tend to encourage others to seek medical advice but have deep reservations when it comes to seeking treatment themselves.

What causes FOFO in marketers?

What drives FOFO is two-fold. Firstly, dealing with a sense of responsibility. The economy has made it clear that we cannot go back and change the past. Sure, marketers could have made different decisions, but it wouldn’t necessarily have been the right decisions for the reality in which we are living. 2019 feels like a really long time ago. But that was then, and this is now. The best recourse is to act for the future. To completely paraphrase Dickens, “It is the worst of times, it is the best of times.”

Secondly, marketers suffer from FOFO because they do not have a clear and reasonable path forward. Once you find out that your organizational structure, agency model, media spend, or digital strategy is not in great shape, what do you do? Can you even afford to investigate further? Marketers don’t have the equivalent of health insurance to lean on. The money comes from somewhere, and with budgets already crunched, what’s the point of starting a process which you can’t follow?

What are marketers really afraid of?

FOFO That Your Marketing Team or Agency Model is Bloated

Marketers are realizing that work can be produced with less resource. It might feel like a struggle at first – restructuring teams and streamlining decision-making is not something that happens overnight – but marketing leaders are getting innovative. Some are also finding that certain agency partners can deliver far more than expected.

P&G has embraced FOFO in the last two years by breaking their model – by changing their corporate structure and changing agency relationships in place for 50+ years through Fixed and Flow, Inhousing and pushing holding companies to work together.

FOFO That You’re Putting Money in the Wrong Places

Transparency will outlast any trend. Savings, no matter how minimal, count these days, and finding leaky pipes and fixing them might mean having that little bit extra to increase engagement and drive revenue. Recent boycotts and freeze of spend on social media will give marketers a chance to go back to zero and have a benchmark for comparison.

Unilever has embraced FOFO recently by being a leading voice on Brand Safety and Diversity and pushing their global marketing communities to be better at appropriate content.

FOFO That You’re Planning for What’s Now, Not What’s Next

The playing field has flattened in the sense that no one has the advantage of knowing what the future holds. The people who work with us and for us, as well as the people who buy the products and services that keep business running, are all experiencing significant change. Yes, we need contingency to keep things moving but we also need to be agile and creative for what might be around the corner.

L’Oreal has embraced FOFO by radically changing their talent pool, forcing every marketer and potential candidate to sit a digital ‘test’, hiring 3,000 new digital talents and pivoting to e-Commerce and online engagement better than anyone else.

Good advice in all shapes and forms

The good news for marketers is that there’s is a diversity in treatments and remedies. Sometimes a complete rehaul is necessary as it might be the fastest and most cost-efficient way for marketers to get their house in order. But there are other fixes that might not be as obvious.

Here are three things to do if your marketing team is showing signs of FOFO. Think of them like stages in a recovery program.

1/ Confront Your FOFO

The first step is to be open about the risks to your marketing continuity. If you find yourself repeatedly asking questions like “Why are we experiencing these issues again?” “Why hasn’t there been positive change?”, it’s time to schedule a check-up with a professional. Find an expert who has qualified experience and shows a genuine desire to help and keep an open mind.

Bring in talent from your Finance and Internal Audit teams as active stakeholders to help you hold marketing accountable. Recognize that there is no C-Suite job waiting for any marketer unless they can prove the value of their investment.

Look in the Mirror.
Look for Best Practice.

2/ Create a Culture of Confidence

Great leaders remove the blame and provide confidence that the wrong course can be corrected. Having a process where all stakeholders – internal and external – can share their views and provide feedback benefits everyone. Client agency relationship evaluations are not just about identifying pain points, they help build better cultures within teams.

Celebrate success.
Recognize failure.
Pay your agencies on results.
Ask your agencies how you can improve

3/ Think Short & Long-Term

Every marketing stakeholder needs a clear path for action that is mapped within a broader strategy. Giving people a “how” is as important as communicating the “why.” When receiving diagnosis from experts and consultants on the health of your marketing teams and processes, always make sure that they empower you with immediate action. Taking small steps is just one way to work on your FOFO.