Off-Mic with Masterful Marketers: How Lee Odden Does Great Work

April 25, 2017 Scott Duehlmeier

This is the third post in our “Off-Mic with Masterful Marketers” series. We sat down with some of the most inspiring, influential speakers from marketing events around the world to discuss productivity, making work meaningful, and managing teams to do great work. The previous post featured advice on creating and proving value with Ian Cleary.


“Those who set high standards and are driven to excellence set the bar higher than any manager, client, or customer would.” - Lee Odden

The right leadership style can make a big difference in a team’s morale and productivity. A good leader strikes a balance between giving direction and allowing the team to innovate. It takes a special talent to structure and coordinate the team’s efforts for maximum impact.

When a CEO is also an industry thought leader, that’s another set of duties to balance. Thought leader CEOs have to promote their personal brand, present at industry conferences, network with clients and prospects, and still find time to continue the great work that established their thought leadership.


See our SlideShare, "Helping Your Team Manage & Track Time," for advice on how leaders can inspire better time management.


Basically, it’s like riding a unicycle across a tightrope while juggling flaming torches and playing ringmaster for the entire three-ring circus down below.

It’s not a job for everyone, but it can be incredibly rewarding. Just ask Lee Odden, the CEO of TopRank Marketing. Lee is a sought-after global public speaker, author of Optimize, and fearless leader of a full-service marketing agency currently enjoying explosive growth.  

Lee recently spoke at Social Media Marketing World and will be appearing at multiple marketing conferences throughout the year, evangelizing the next phase of influencer marketing. We sat down with him to talk about inspiring, leading, and managing a team to do great work.

What do you love most about marketing?

I’ve worked in marketing longer than any other industry during my career and what I find most satisfying about marketing is the problem solving opportunity that comes from observation and analysis, hypothesis, testing, evaluation, and improvement.

Basically, the act of continuously optimizing performance and getting direct feedback on both the progress and impact from your efforts.

The abundance of data in marketing provides near-unlimited opportunities to innovate, create, and dominate in any area of focus. But only if you set a high standard and work to meet that standard personally and amongst those you work with.

Speaking of people, the digital marketing space has some of the smartest and most innovative people I’ve ever met—it’s a great industry to be in.

You’ve done great work in your career, but really, what does “great work” mean today?

I think great work is a combination of things. Great work should serve a purpose and have an impact to advance the organization in some way. Quality, effectiveness, and efficiency all contribute to work that’s great.

But, there’s another dimension that I think is critical for defining great work and that is based on the assessment we do of ourselves.

Those who set high standards and are driven to excellence set the bar higher than any manager, client, or customer would. Great work in this context is the accomplishment of quality, consistency, and effectiveness that satisfy personal goals for excellence.

Ultimately, great work stands out as thoughtful and purposeful, creative, data informed, effective, efficient, measurable, and satisfying for those who do it.

What are the biggest obstacles keeping marketers from doing their best work?

Marketing is a team sport that relies on people, process, and technology to succeed. When any of those three are not performing optimally, it creates an obstacle to great work—whether you’re in marketing or finance.

There are other obstacles too, like undocumented goals, chasing shiny object marketing tactics, information overload, and the overwhelming number of martech solutions available.

Marketing practitioners create their own obstacles ranging from low standards to lack of skill to inability to collaborate or innovate.

What is one important lesson you’ve learned running a successful agency like TopRank Marketing?

Overly democratic management environments are not effective and neither are purely top-down management structures.

An environment focused on team participation in decision making and open communications that also includes leadership directing the goals, purpose, and culture of the organization is far more effective for all.

A balanced environment provides goals and purpose as well as the opportunity to contribute at all levels with feedback about how effective those contributions are.

With a fast growing agency, how do you balance increasing demands with resources?

We’re known for optimizing the performance of marketing programs and some of those lessons are being applied to managing our rapid growth by optimizing the organization, operations, and structure.

For example, an Agile marketing environment and a “pod” structure gives our teams flexibility to concentrate their focus on specific programs and tasks as well as a consistent book of clients.

Our managers reconcile workloads with expected demand and that fuels everything from task allocation to sourcing of contractors and freelancers and recruiting of new, full-time employees.

How do you make the work of marketers around you more meaningful?

Setting a high standard for our work is very important to me personally but also as a way to differentiate the work we do at TopRank Marketing for our clients and ourselves. A standard of quality helps deliver the “wow” that inspires clients to grow their programs with us and to refer us to others.

Communicating those standards as well as the “why" we are doing whatever task we’re working on gives that work meaning.

I support initiatives in our company that are directed by our management to involve the team in the full customer lifecycle, from supporting pre-proposal discussions to optimizing our processes to being proactive about renewals and growing programs.

Giving feedback and encouraging others to be more specific and results-oriented in the feedback they give to others about projects also helps make work more meaningful.

In the work you do as a marketer and thought leader how do you prioritize your time and energy?

Balancing the operational and leadership obligations at our agency with thought leadership responsibilities is a bit of a balancing act. With over 300,000 in my networks and speaking events all over the United States and Europe, it takes a focused effort to stay effective.

Competing against professional speakers and industry “brandividuals” while also performing the work as CEO requires an active prioritization effort.

I could not fulfill these obligations without a top-notch management team, including my business partner Susan Misukanis, our VP Jolina Pettice, and our director of HR and Operations, Amie Krone.

Overall, my time and energy are prioritized according to the focus areas for our business which is a combination of growth, retention, and acquisition. My activities need to map to one or more of each of those areas and if not, it has a lower priority. 

Great Work Is Good Business

Lee has developed a balance between top-down leadership and collaboration that empowers his team to do their best work.

When he’s on the road, he has a trusted management team to keep the agency productive and effective. Most importantly, Lee can synthesize his thought leadership activity with his business goals. There’s no wasted effort; everything he does in his professional life helps to promote the agency.

Thanks again to Lee for his inspiring advice. Our next Off-Mic with Masterful Marketers post will feature the Facebook Queen herself, Mari Smith.

Mari has built an amazing social media training and consulting empire. She is listed as one of Forbes’ Top Social Media Power Influencers, with millions of followers across social platforms. Mari shares her thoughts on how she manages her time, team, and effort to be her best self and do great work.

Subscribe to the Talking Work blog to catch Mari’s post and more work and productivity advice from our team and beyond.


Check out our on-demand webinar called "Agency Life: 4 Tips For Producing Great Creative Work Efficiently" for more tips from Lee Odden and Heather Hurst.

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