Michael Lewis, managing director, Different Dynamics
Michael Lewis, managing director, Different Dynamics
A view from Michael Lewis

Think BR: Marketers should work smarter, not harder

What are the skills needed to be a successful marketing leader, asks Michael Lewis, managing director, Different Dynamics.

Many of you may have read Stephen Covey’s well known business self-help book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People which, among other good advice, offers a simple time management tool that helps to categorise tasks according to their urgency and importance. 

The only trouble with this though, is that in marketing and media circles every task seems to end up being both urgent and important.

For senior marketers and agency heads alike, this presents a serious issue. Teams have to work flat out for silly hours, juggling like mad to achieve everything - and while they may get things done, it’s unlikely that they’ll all be done well.

In today’s competitive world, this isn’t good enough - it’s bad for business and bad for staff wellbeing. 

However, businesses don’t have to make radical changes in order to make a difference. Making small adjustments in the right places, especially at the early stages of a project or working relationship, can create significant improvements over time - in the same way that a one millimetre change to a golf swing can turn a bunker shot into a birdie.

By helping marketing leaders to incorporate some of the thinking below into the way they, and their people, think and work every day, we have seen organisations transform themselves into businesses that really do work smarter, not harder.

Democratise leadership

With the marketing industry in a state of continual evolution, senior marketers will be managing specialist activities which they have no experience of - and they need to come to peace with this fact. 

Rather than trying to be master of everything they need to learn how to have the courage and bravery to empower their staff to take leadership of these areas. 

However, effective delegation of leadership needs to be done responsibly by giving SMART objectives (Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed), getting people’s ideas on how they are going to tackle their tasks and agreeing the way forward so that everyone knows what’s expected - with regular task reviews in place to make sure everyone is happy.

Lead in the moment

Performance management should be a daily habit, and yet so many marketing leaders operate a ‘Leave alone - zap’ style - saying nothing when things are going well and then zapping staff when they’re going badly. 

But at this stage it may be too late. It’s important to think about how staff are doing every day, reinforcing good work as it happens, but confronting sticky situations quickly. 

Plan meetings

Meetings need to be planned and focused. Whoever has called the meeting needs to ensure everyone understands its purpose and start with the end in mind. 

This should be a given, but far too many meetings take much too long or don’t actually achieve what they’re supposed to. 

Manage your client/agency

Few in marketing work in isolation. Clients need agencies and agencies need clients - and yet not many marketing leaders think about how they should be guiding their partners. 

On both sides of the fence, to get the most out of working together it’s important to look beyond the nitty gritty of what people know and do, and learn how to bring emotional intelligence into play. 

Being open and authentic brings partners onside and makes it possible to create a more cohesive team with everyone buying into the leader’s vision. 

There are marketing leaders who are great at bringing heart into all their interactions with their own staff - but what is interesting is that few seem to recognise the value it can bring to making external relationships more effective. 

Reward staff

Everyone likes to feel valued, so giving people a pat on the back or a bonus can make a difference in getting the most out of them. 

However, different people respond to different things. By using emotional intelligence to understand each individual’s motivational values it is possible to identify the most meaningful incentive to inspire the best from them - and this could be greater responsibility, learning new skills, holiday or even being allowed to give back to society. 

Ask stupid questions

From the CEO downwards, agency staff are great at rolling up their sleeves and tackling the challenge they’ve been set in a client brief. 

However, many agencies make assumptions about what clients mean and rush on headlong to get the job done, leading to disappointment all round when they don’t give the client what they want. 

Agencies need to have a culture of planning for every brief they take, pausing to ensure that they fully understand the brief and thinking through any internal barriers that could impact on the task. 

As part of this, they mustn’t shy away from picking up the phone to the client to clarify what is expected and to query what they’ve been asked to do if it’s unrealistic. 

This is common sense but agencies are often scared to question clients for fear of losing face or an opportunity. 

Clients also need to understand this and offer open dialogue that ensures everyone is clear about what is expected.

Be resilient

Resilient leaders learn to know their own strengths and weaknesses, think about personal wellbeing and learn how to manage the impact of the stress their staff are under, but also their own. 

There are a number of leadership techniques that can be used by those at the top to become more mindful and self-aware of their own needs and those of others. 

Employing these can have a big impact on helping them to function better in high performance environments - and ultimately make the work environment a better place for everyone.

Michael Lewis, MD, Different Dynamics