Dear CMO:

It’s that time of year, when pundits of all shapes, readerships and sizes put their prognostications out for all to see. We won’t spend too much time on last year’s resolutions for fear of dwelling on the past. Next question, please.

If a quick glance at Drudge tells us anything, it’s not a happy world outside. We’re all in for a very hard ride. This isn’t a year for Wall Street, big business or ‘growth because everyone’s growing,’ as we’ve seen in years past. This year will take street smarts, hard planning, and lots of work.

So in the spirit of giving, here’s Nine Rules for 2009, according to Note to CMO.  Your results, as with your opinions, will likely vary.

1.    Self-identification: I credit my slightly wiser and older brother for pushing me in the direction of what he called the “three legged stool” approach to one’s working life. As a professional musician who has never, in 30 years, ever explained tonight’s special, he described how he stays sharp: he performs, he coaches and he composes. How you apply this to your life is up to you, but let’s agree that I am no longer a [title] at [employer] and neither are you. In 2009, we’re all starting to look around with keener eyes. You’re consulting, launching a start-up, pressing olive oil AND writing a book. Fill in the blanks for yourself. 

2.    Local means social: I know the guy I buy my beef from. I’ve met his family, spent time at his ranch, petted his dogs and personally interviewed his herd. I’ve heard him talk about land use, been lectured on the benefits of weeds and understood how proud he is of the predators that stalk his livelihood. We’re now growing our own oranges, grapefruit and avocados, as well as raising a few other parts of the food chain. This works for us because we live in paradise, but the idea holds true no matter where you live or work. Local means social. We know the people we choose to do business with, are very clear on why we work with them, and support them as much as we can.

3.    Virtual means faster: we will continue to learn that shifting alliances and partnerships are powerful, flexible and omnivorous in times of upheaval and change. Like the frog and the scorpion, these partnership only work when we’ve got a clear understanding of the options we have, lest you fall victim to being single sourced in the middle of the stream. It’s good to be an omnivore after the meteor hits.

4.    Less trust, more self-sufficiency: do we want others handing our money, doing our service work or controlling our incomes? Or do we do it ourselves at this point? Do you put that $20,000 bonus in the bank or do you buy land, or domains, or something else?

5.    Intellectual property: this is the year that you file a few provisional patents. This is the year you put a few good ideas down on paper as insurance in a time that needs a Plan B. Filing IP tends to clarify your thinking when it comes to product and business model development. Sure, it’s “easier” to launch a web-based business. I know guys who do this. The website you have in mind will cost you half a million dollars and take a year to pull together. Do you want to raise money from venture capitalists to do this? Or would you like to read the above point again? Physical products work just as well.

6.    No tech works as well as high tech: here’s a question that 100% of everyone in Silicon Valley would answer incorrectly: which is a bigger industry – routers or baby products? You can always push capital expenses off to another quarter, or another year, or just make do with what you’ve got in the back room for now. But you’re having a baby when you’re having a baby. There’s a certain social clarity when it comes to high tech; there’s no need to explain what you do or why you do it. But revenue is revenue and gross profit is gross profit, and in a world where Burt’s Bees got acquired for $100 million, you too can make money doing something that needs little technical explanation. (By the way, baby products are a larger industry than routers. The margins are higher, as is the growth rate).

7.    Green is dead – long live Environmentalism: Global warming seems not to be happening, according to a growing and more vocal majority, and yet smart environmentalism is flourishing. Green doesn’t mean green anymore. What we mean when we say “green” is “smart”: highly efficient, sustainable, flexible, and with few deal-breaking drawbacks. The hucksters are shilling their wares on television and telling us the sky is falling, but they’re not telling us that their solutions will require power lines cutting through our backyards. They’re telling us about a wonderful future with neighborhood nuclear reactors buried underground but not about the cost or the lethal byproducts. They’re even telling us we can get away from fossil fuels (note: we can’t. I know, it’s not what you want to hear, but grow up. We can’t). So let’s say that in 2009, we’ll drop the hype and start down the path of pragmatic, realistic, ‘here and now’ solutions for a busy planet. Energy use equals prosperity. We won’t use less of it. So let’s be smart about it.

8.    Low and to the Left will beat the pants off of High and to the Right: how are Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks 5th Avenue, Best Buy, Circuit City and even Target doing these days? How is Walmart doing? Right. Low and to the Left, catering products and services to those who are looking, actively, to save money and get bargains is big business. And aside for absolute luxury brands that can’t compromise on price points for fear of deflating their carefully constructed branding arguments, competing on price is only wrong if you aren’t in shape to do it.

9.    The Right Kind of Heroes: lastly, a cultural note – 2009 should be the year that Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels are successfully optioned by a major studio. Hopefully, we’ll see the role well-cast and on the big screen by 2010. This should happen because we, the movie going public, need to see a post-heroic hero. Many people feel wronged. We don’t trust institutions, from politicians of either party to business leaders to the press. We want justice done but don’t trust the system to do it. We want Jack Reacher to do what needs to be done, regardless of the law. The Bond franchise is quickly moving down this path with branding cast oddly similar to the Batman franchise. Daniel Craig’s 007 has more in common with Christian Bale’s tortured Bruce Wayne than he does with Sean Connery. Roger Moore wouldn’t even recognize the character. I think we want this right now.

So here’s to 2009, in all its rawness and fury. This won’t be a pretty year, but we don’t have time to despair. We’ll be too busy making things happen.