Get the Circus to Town

Imagine the panic in the circus caravan when the elephant fell off the truck. Imagine the disappointment of local youth if after weeks of anticipation the circus didn’t reach town.

(Yes, in a true story from where I live, a circus elephant actually tumbled from a large vehicle at the bottom of a hill. The paved stretch is called Elephant Curve Road.)

Thankfully, the circus arrived as promised, set up and entertained for several days. Tickets and souvenirs were sold, amazing feats were performed, and everyone went home happy. The circus packed up and went to the next town.

Marketing is great, but if the circus doesn’t make it to town there are no sales – not great.


P.T. Barnum understood this. In 1872, the master showman (and some say huckster) dubbed his traveling circus, menagerie and museum “The Greatest Show on Earth,” an audacious marketing claim.

But Barnum backed his claim with the largest traveling circus in American history, grossing $400,000 in sales in his first year of operation. (That’s about $7 million in today’s dollars.)

There had to be huge marketing and logistical challenges to delivering this unique traveling “product” to an eager public – and Barnum pulled it off.

Would I compare us to a 19th century huckster? Well, yes. As marketers, we’re all in our own way trying to get the circus to town. And no matter what industries and customers we serve, the elephant falls off the truck. Things go wrong. Stuff happens.

It might be strategy, execution, or both. Maybe it’s schedules, higher-ups, vendors, or market forces. It could be almost anything.

Whatever happens, don’t get stuck at the side of the road. Keep moving. Get the elephant back on the truck. (Or leave it behind.) Keep the circus on course until it gets to town; the people — and the sales — are waiting.

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