I’ve just come out of a fabulous role as marketing director or chief marketing officer (CMO), caring for, building and creating a bunch of amazing brands. On my journey I’ve had to wonder if what I do is enough. Surely I should want to be the CEO rather than the CMO either where I am or in my next place?
Then I was asked to write this piece, considering an article that Reg Lascaris recently wrote about the plight of brand managers. Apparently their tenure is getting shorter in the United States and they are looking to stretch their role reach for added relevance and respect and a chance for a seat at the CEO’s table.
Great timing. I’ve been wondering about the same stuff for years and especially in the last few months. I’ve vacillated between being über-proud of being a marketer and then feeling like I should surely want to be a CEO next. I mean, isn’t that what you want to be when you grow up? A bit like becoming a parent…
As a mama to my sons, and kinda mama to the people I’ve been lucky enough to mentor over the years, I’ve always stuck by the maxim “do what you love and love what you do”. And boy do I love what I do and what I’ve done. Taking care of brands, growing them, watching people fall in love with them, deeply knowing who they are and what’s best for them, seeing them stumble and knowing who they could do best with in the world is a rewarding job. A lot like parenting, don’t you think?
At a lunch with a certain legendary executive creative director, now resident in Australia, we talked about the mirrored challenge of the agency and the client, where each blames the other when communications fail, when the brand idea falls between two stools, when there is insufficient experience on both sides, and more. I fought for ‘the client’. He fought for ‘the agency’. Until we came upon an epiphany that made us realise the problem has everything to do with the baby, not the bathwater.
Brand parenting is the idea. And the tossing of the brand baby either to client or agency is exactly how to be a bad parent. And consequently, how to look like a plonker as the marketing director/CMO/brand person in your organisation (and to your agencies, who will diss you behind your back, or even on Twitter).
Your role as the marketing director/CMO is to be the co-parent and the advocate for your brand. To do that, you need to speak ‘brand’, ‘agency’, ‘marketing’, ‘comms’, ‘media’, as well as ‘business’ (that includes ‘finance’, ‘boardroom’, ‘strategy’, ‘commercial’, ‘production’, ‘distribution’, and so on). Not being able to represent your child at parent-teacher meetings (read: your brand in the boardroom) means you’ll be doing it a complete disservice.
Stay with me here. The principal and teachers (CEO, FD, MD, Ops Dir) are never going to learn to speak your language – they will never know or care about your child as well and as much as you do. They have too many other things/children to see to. You must learn their language. And they will respect you. Take a little time get to know the brand-child, the family and the dynamics. And you will feel amazing, rewarded, regarded, fulfilled and professional.
Your brand has a commercial purpose above all else and your job is to make people buy it. All the other sexy stuff (ads, public relations, design, social media and packaging) is the stuff you do to get people to spend money so your company makes money. Until you can talk like that, your CEO/FD/Ops Dir will see you as an expense. And you will feel like the stepchild at the table. Assuming you even have a seat.
We (as marketing directors/CMOs/brand people) have ourselves to blame for diminishing our roles and finding ourselves without a place at the boardroom table. What we do is a profession. We study for it (these days) – you can even be chartered as a marketer when you have enough real world experience. You can magnificently, respectfully, rewardingly and creatively co-parent your brands with your agencies so that others aspire to be you when they grow up.
I believe that my invisible signature is on everything I do – either collaboratively or solo. It’s on every billboard that my team (including all agencies) produces, every tweet the brand issues, every media release, each and every word of copy on a mailer. It is even found in the customer experience that reflects the brand promise, the research that sings the customers’ voice, the innovation drive that ensures a future for the brand and the messaging that keeps employees informed and involved.
My brands reflect me (and my agencies) just as my children reflect me (leave the agencies out of this bit!). It’s that meaningful, that important and that rewarding. Until we as marketing professionals show our interest in all of this business stuff, and demonstrate an ability to hold commercial conversations, the world we work in will assume we only care about and understand things like Pantones, page impressions, logos and billboard sizes. Oh, and colour-coordinating balloons at parties. They will make these assumptions about you unless you show them you are more than that.
Just because I have chosen, at this stage of my work life journey, not to pursue an MD or CEO role, doesn’t mean that intellectually I can’t do it. My son had a sports teacher once who invited a great soccer player to teach the kids for a session. In his beautifully Afrikaans-accented English he told the kids in answer to his own question about why the dude was so good at soccer: ‘Cos that’s whaddee do’. If we as marketing professionals (at any level) don’t value ‘whadd he/we do’ then we’ll find that nobody else will either. And we won’t create our own magnificent marketing career journey where we have spectacular, rewarding, grown-up relationships with our agencies, our CEOs, our peers and our brands.
And we’ll leave after shorter and shorter tenures (as Reg observes). And there will always be a dearth of experienced, passionate marketing talent. And agencies will always say their clients suck. And smart, intelligent, talented commercial marketers will be lost to the brands that need them so much. And we’ll still be having this conversation when my great-grandchildren are visiting me on my exotic island. And that sucks!
Repeat after me: “When I grow up I want to be a flippen brilliant, respected, talented, well-rounded, astute, commercial marketer that CEOs and agencies are dying to work with.” n
Heidi Brauer is a chartered marketer, an indie marketing person for hire, a MA(SA) board member and the former marketing director for kulula, BA and SLOW Lounge.
Follow her on Twitter @heidibee
This story was first published in the September 2012 issue of The Media.