This year I switched my role from CSO to CMO, for various reasons, the chief of which was a slightly messianic love of the company I work at. As a brand strategist by trade I figured I'd be fairly well equipped to step into the job.
Turns out marketing roles are harder than strategists think, and it's lucky for all involved that I am blessed with a high performance team who can teach me one end of a spreadsheet from the other among many other things.
In five months I've already learned a few things from them I thought worth sharing, in the hope it improves relations between marketing folk and their strategists – whether they work side-by-side or as client and agency.
1. Your focal length keeps changing
In a strategy role, you are duty-bound to keep your colleagues and clients focussed on the long-term goal. It can be intensely frustrating to watch decisions make the vehicle swerve violently off course while you are clearly pointing at a goal in the distance. Can't they see you pointing?
So, as it turns out, people pointing from outside the vehicle is not especially helpful if you are travelling at speed. As German Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder is often misquoted as saying, "no strategy survives first contact with the enemy".
Similarly your beautiful PowerPoint deck with quotes from once-famous German Field Marshals, diagrams, and high-minded Long Term Missions is inspirational and thought-provoking at the outset but unless your strategist is by your side, navigating and responding to the bumps in the road, they won't be much help.
I also encourage marketers to open up their anxieties, pressures and challenges to their strategists and invite them to help them out more, you might find new allies, waiting for the call.
As German Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder is often misquoted as saying, "no strategy survives first contact with the enemy".
I once heard Jeff Dodds, former CMO of Virgin Media speak at an IPA conference, praising his colleagues in BBH for just that, and as evidence he told us that he invited his head of planning at BBH to his "front of dog meeting" at which his team discussed the imminent risks, competitor challenges, service pinpoints for the week ahead, in the hope that "the smartest person at my agency will share those worries with us".
This seems to me the template for assuring the future of the smartest, and the most committed on both sides of the client/strategist relationship.
If personal attendance is not an option there are ways to make your strategy helpful for all decision making.
I've found that some of the useful strategic guidance I have now is the stuff that helps me make decisions quickly. Pithy, behaviourally-directional phrases and sayings that can be summoned in a meeting or corridor panic to make a choice. Reminders that select out the better choices and keep you largely wriggling on track.
And lists. Suddenly I'm all in favour of lists.
2. Everyone knows better about everything
Marketing is beguilingly easy to understand, without really seeing the complexity of decisions made, and it is often the most enjoyable subject of any given agenda. Every single person involved in a marketing company thinks you haven’t really thought it through. Especially the strategists. There are some who will call it the "fluffy bit", and others that are so energised by it they will offer hours’ worth of free advice.
Marketing is beguilingly easy to understand, without really seeing the complexity of decisions made, and it is often the most enjoyable subject of any given agenda.
In the light of the fact that it’s often the one senior role likely to be held by a woman, it's worth pointing out to strategists that if you have a slightly angry female client/colleague in marketing, who gets a bit defensive when you laboriously point out why the whole brand has been flawed for the past three years, with input from everyone from Edison to someone whose book you just skimmed the first chapter of, and a particularly gobby member of the sales/finance/HR team... It's not them. It's you.
Imagine receiving your PowerPoint deck and ask yourself this, "Will the person hearing this think that I, like many others, consider them to be a halfwit? Are all my slides strictly necessary, or might some of them be labouring a point? Is there any new and useful evidence in this argument? Does it seem as though I am on their side?"
3. There is nothing like having a budget to give you a sleepless night
People in strategy roles think they are commercial because they can read and see commercial models. However, having responsibility for an actual budget, with hungry mouths to feed across partners and colleagues, and people with good ideas and causes that you will have to say "no" to, is not the same as analysing the gains/loss trends.
And the problem with that budget being a marketing budget is that without immediate sales it is essentially seen as Overhead.
People in strategy roles think they are commercial because they can read and see commercial models.
Everyone will nod their head and intone after us that it is an investment in the long term future of the business, but really, it's money being spent and not money being made, now.
And if you love the company you work in, that can cause you personal as well as professional anxiety. Which has snapped into focus, for me, the need for agency folk to get provable short as well as long-term payback for marketing activity, where they can, and in the absence of it, a clear model that can show where the value is being generated.
We talk about this all the time, and it has become a Grand Scheme. Maybe it just needs to be seen as a decent way of preserving your main clients' wellbeing to prompt greater effort for the strategist holding the tools and data.
4. Marketers have more fun
By which I don't just mean the parties and the lunches, although a job which requires you to spend lots of time with the smart, funny people in our industry has its compensations. It comes back to the prompt for doing it in the first place.
Seeing a difference in how people feel about your company, whether they be colleagues with renewed ambition, or prospective customers and talent appearing more interested or appreciative, it's more of a buzz when you are in charge.
It has made me realise why it matters that agency strategists fall in love with their clients' brands, and show an active interest beyond the brief. If you're committed to the cause, there's more glory in it.
It's why working for a political party one is opposed to, or for a product you have strong reservations about is such a drain on motivation, even in the most professional of bosoms. There can be no glory in winning in those circumstances.
Strategists are blessed and cursed with a lack of responsibility. Embodying Stanley Pollitt's vision of the "conscience of the account team" puts you all too often under a halo on the clients shoulder: right, and no doubt necessary, but not much liked for being there, or having much fun.
I encourage all strategists to find ways to really join the marketing team, if not in person then in intent. It's the best way to see what you can really do with all those brains and models of yours.