Become A Great Marketing Executive


(A Marketing Manager’s Perspective)

After being approached by The Candidate to write a work-related guest article, my first thought was to do an advice-themed piece for a fictional “younger version of me.” But, after speaking with a number of other marketing managers I know, a pithy, non-committal piece wrapped up as “advice” just seemed …patronising. Among the things you’d probably think (being on-time, attention to detail, multitasker, manages own workload), there were some other, more critical things which kept coming up in terms of “OK, what got us from starting out to being a manager?” I decided to aggregate all of the discussion, along with some very real anecdotal examples, from a marketing manager’s perspective “What do you want to see in your next executive?”

1) They have a career plan

This doesn’t mean come into work in pinstriped power suits (God, no) or issue over the top “I work to get results, not to make friends” style statements which you’d only hear numpties on ‘The Apprentice’ make. As if the only way to demonstrate ambition is being over the top and making everyone hate you. Rather, it means having at least some sense of where you want to end up next - as in immediately next - be that in another role, or how you see you and/or your role develop with your current employer. 

One of the hallmarks of a great executive, something which a decent marketing manager will pay attention to, is to ask for work that will challenge you and training that will develop you (while benefiting the business). They should always be looking to develop you because it means the output of the department is improving. Don’t be afraid to ask the question “how are you/the company going to help me develop?”

2) They have a thick skin (which they don’t always need)

For the simple reason that what we do is manifested visually; people – throughout your entire marketing career – will happily walk up to you and tell you what they think of your work. Show anyone a solid piece of work and they will tell you ten ways they’d do it better. “I don’t like that”, “I think this should be like that“ and other things they say will want to make you either roll our eyes or scream at them. Don’t. Oh yeah, “Bobby in accounts”?  What do you think if I rocked up to your next finance meeting and said I think we’re doing remittance wrong because I think another way would “just be better”? Don’t say that either. Instead, you can counter, minimise or even avoid this is altogether; consider the person in terms of what they respond well to. Use that to find a nice, polite way of getting them to separate their own opinion for structured, thought-through feedback - which is always welcome in our world. More often than not, anyone offering ‘I just think it would be better’ type critiques can either justify their feedback or they crumble under questioning. Asking totally ground-breaking, unfathomable questions like “why?” will show you the difference. It’s marketing basics:  STP (segmentation, targeting, positioning) reduces opinions on their own to the sum total of nothing. And you know your basics, right? Taking your own opinion out of the equation beforehand is the most important bit, by the way. So, for example, is their suggestion about a creative piece of work on-brand? Does what you know about your customers suggest they will respond to a different tone of voice or description? Is it grammatically correct, even? Are you selling a luxury or premium product or service and slapping DISCOUNT all over it? You were hired, and are paid, to think about your target audience and act on that understanding. Don’t let Bobby in accounts (or worse, your MD) waste the company’s money and compromise the work you’ll ultimately have to put your name to.

3) They have a sense of shame

Self-appreciation is important in life - especially in an Executive’s life - but self-awareness is infinitely more important. It’s no different when it comes to you career. Something I’ve heard other Marketing Managers say, which isn’t limited to Executives by any means, is bad habits like “consistently leaving at 5pm when a deadline(s) is hanging over you.” If you’ve had the time and prior warning about your deadlines, the only excuses you can have if you miss them are bad ones. Similarly, taking a 90 minute lunch for Friday Nandos because #squadgoals, or asking your boss to moving a meeting for it, only to miss a key deadline, is not a solid life choice. In fact it’s a sure-fire way to keep other people from seeing beyond your inexperience and naivety. Especially if, say, your annual review is just around the corner and you’d like a pay rise to cover the extra cost of your shiny new car (this actually happens). Don’t be that girl/guy. Excessive workloads and unreasonable superiors aside, would you pay someone to do the above if it was coming out of your own pocket? Hint: Knowing that was a rhetorical question is a measure of self-awareness.

4) They know their worth

This isn’t about salary, per se. This is about the value of your work.

A great exec will know ‘likes’ aren’t important. Shares aren’t important. Open rates aren’t (that) important. Web traffic isn’t important. That is, none of those measurements are in any way, shape or form important in and of themselves. That is, they’re not important in the grand scheme of things. What is important, and what will keep you in a job and make you invaluable to your employer, is making sure the marketing function is at least paying for itself.

When the CFO starts thinking “hmmm, don’t those marketing guys spend a lot?” in leaner times, they usually start wielding the axe. Anyone likely to be your manager today may well have seen their peers being made redundant, or will have perhaps experienced it themselves. For that reason, they will be all too aware of the department’s contribution to the business. What matters most is that your department – and by extension you – throw good time and money after the next. That means your time (paid for by the company) should be prioritised on high-value tasks, like generating valuable, qualified leads - or making the tools and means to convert them. It pays to never lose sight of this.

5) Their attitude accounts for other people’s “bigger picture”

“Seeing the bigger” is such a wheeled-out phrase in our world, but this isn’t what you think. This goes back to having something like a sense of shame – and while it’s a tricky one to sum-up, it’s very important. It all boils down to attitude and affecting other people’s professional valuation of you. But to start, let me just say that nobody, ever, should say you can’t at least ask for a higher salary. They should also never consider giving you more work without expecting some kind of reasonable trade-off. This isn’t about that. But, knowing that other (senior) people around you will sometimes judge you by their own standards - rightly or wrongly - is a fact of life that I wish I had learned a bit sooner than I did (I know, I sound like an old man, but bear with me). For example, they may know all too well that you might be paid more than they were once upon a time, even if that was not so long ago. Those people will think “do they work as hard as I did?” and they’ll probably over-estimate their own input in many respects. Even so, the best you can do is - because you’re an exec - suck it up (just like we all did when we were execs), but just know that’s part of earning your stripes. Also know that it won’t be forever. This view others have of you will also extend to judging your “softer” competencies, like being able (genuinely able) to take fair criticism. It will also extend to whether you put in extra effort or hours because you decided it was necessary and took charge of a project, for example. To others, these traits are small things which say so much more about you than you might even realise.

Whether you hear these views or not, just be aware those mindsets will exist everywhere you go. Now, you may think “well, that’s for them to wrestle with if I earn more than they were once paid” and that is true; it’s an understatement which is not even up for debate. However, in my experience, if you’re an exec looking for something from your employer of your career; progression, a pay rise, more responsibilities, recognition for the work you do training and investment in you professionally – your attitude can either be your worst, or your most valuable asset. The best thing is that you get to decide which.

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