Thursday, June 5, 2014

What I Learned Working At Coca-Cola

TaB, my eponymous drink
My first Coke drink at Coke, December 2010
Today is the first day of my post-Coke journey. 

For nearly four years, The Coca-Cola Company gave me the opportunity to do the best work of my life. When I left, I wrote most of this post in an email to my colleagues. Rather than write the standard "good bye and good luck" note, I chose instead to list the things Coke taught me during my time in Atlanta. 

This is what I learned. 

1. Moonshots Matter
My most challenging day at Coke was the day I presented the Journey Media Platform to Coke’s senior leadership team for the last time. Because, on that day, I had to face the real possibility that it might not happen at all. From that moment on, I realized moonshot goals matter, because – as the saying goes - even if you miss you land among the stars. 

We set ourselves the moonshot goal to grow our social channels by 50% per year. We grew by 100%. Every year. For three years.

We set ourselves the moonshot goal to grow Journey's audience by 25% in year one. We grew by 30%.

I learned that when you set audacious goals, you get audacious results.

2. Be Brave And Do Things
Every year, we gave our digital business plan a theme. Our first year it was "Make the Basics Brilliant", and we focused on fixing operational weakness and delivering at 110% every time, all the time. 

Our second year – Journey's first year – we chose "Be Brave". We learned that bravery is hard but incredibly rewarding. Whether it's Twitter chats, Google hangouts, killing the press release, The Opener, making the blog platform a product, making a content pivot to video and photos, finding a digital voice for the company, completely changing Journey's editorial focus, and even the Journey Media Platform itself, our most impactful ideas were the ones that made us uncomfortable. 

We also learned that, more than anything else, we have to have a laser focus on getting stuff done. Endless planning is a tyranny, and gets in the way of doing actual work. We learned to plan the bare minimum to get something off the ground, and then just wing it, adjust on the fly, and be agile. 

Herb Kelleher, the legendary CEO of Southwest Airlines, was once asked by an analyst what the strategic plan was for his airline. His response: "We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things." 

And sometimes, you just have to run the red lights.

3. Everything Is Dying; Everything Is Being Born
The print newspaper industry is dying an inexorable death. Print advertising has fallen -66% since 2000. In the United States, the last time print ad revenue was this low was 1950 – when America's population was only 40% of today's level and the economy was only 1/7th as large. 

The collapse of the traditional news industry is a secular trend that will continue to its inevitable climax. But in its place we're seeing an incredible rejuvenation of journalism and storytelling, with citizen activismupstart blogs, incredible innovations in news, and the dominance of social media. We now live in a world where anyone with an internet connection can speak truth to power. This is exciting, and promises to breathe new relevance into our craft. But only if we seize the opportunity.

An Exciting Future
So I've moved to Austin. I'm sure I'll be a little dazed and confused for a while. But Austin is so close, yet so far out. Everyone should visit. There are lots of reasons to come: South by Southwest, Austin City Limits, Barton Springs poolthe bats.

All media technologies eventually die and are replaced by something even better. In 1997, the French navy abandoned the use of Morse Code, the transformative communications innovation of the 19th century. Their last message was:

Calling all. This is our last cry before our eternal silence.


  1. Ashley, Great approach to the farewell address. Appreciate you sharing your insights. I know this will not be your "last cry" and there certainly won't be "eternal silence" ;-) on the Ashley Brown front.

  2. Brilliantly said! Best of luck in your new venture Ashley. Austin is a great town and you help keep it a weird ...

  3. Did I ever tell you about the college professor who came up to me in the blogger lounge at SXSW? He pointed at me and declared "Your face is in my Powerpoint!" It was the screen shot from the Journey page when you invited me to criticize your website on Day One. He had no idea who I was, but he used Coca Cola inviting criticism on your own pages as a an example to teach marketing students about how marketing has changed. Congrats on being at the forefront of that change, Ash. Look forward to keeping in touch.

  4. Good luck with the new adventure! See you in Austin October 15-17. :)


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