Marketing Lessons from Three Decades of Know-it-Alls

I once sat for a marketing interview with a CEO.

He had recently gone through three marketing directors.

Three.

The conversation was reminiscent of an old Seinfeld episode — but in a bizzaro-Jerry-world sense.

To recall… The line from Seinfeld is “it’s not you, it’s me.”

It’s got something to do about relationships, and breaking up…

But during this interview, the CEO flat out said “it wasn’t me.” Meaning him. He was talking about himself. You know what I mean. As in, it wasn’t his fault marketing directors came and went.

His entire line should have been, “it was them, not me.”

At least when it came to marketing. All three of his previous marketers.

Three marketing directors. Now interviewing for a fourth.

But it wasn’t him. Of course not.

Instead of Seinfeld, my thoughts turn to Shaggy.

I didn’t get that job.

But after hearing that “it wasn’t me” line, I didn’t want the job.

I already had learned my lesson.

Because years ago, I got one of those marketing director jobs.

A marketing job where the previous marketing director lasted just several months.

And the marketing director before that lasted about a year and a half.

Reporting to the president of the company, I lasted precisely 364 days on that job.

One of the owners of that company told me “I knew when I hired you, you were going to cost me money.” Actually he said that about me and another coworker, but let’s leave the other guy out of it. I was the one was proposing a marketing budget.

The audacity of proposing a marketing budget. A very modest one, at that.

I squeeze every penny and every ounce out of every marketing budget I’ve ever had. There are things I can do (negotiation, DIY, travel, production, etc.) that leave others wondering how I did what I did.

But I digress…

Lesson Learned. Again.

But let’s continue to work backwards.

Because years before that job, I had another one of those marketing director jobs.

This time reporting to a CMO.

Where the previous marketing director lasted just five weeks.

And after nine months on that job, I made the life-choice-career decision to walk.

Respectfully, of course. I had given and worked a full two weeks worth of notice before exiting.

After launching a product and doing everything you’d think a marketer needs to do in order to be successful in a short period of time.

But of course this has added to my label of being a job hopper.

Lesson learned. In fact there were multiple lessons learned in this situation and many others. There always are multiple lessons to be learned.

Here’s the thing.

I own every bit of every single marketing career decision I’ve ever made.

Me, not you.

No previous marketer.

No CEO, CMO or any other company owner or executive.

Me.

I chose to interview where I did.

I chose to accept the jobs that I did.

I knew the risks.

I was blown out. And I also walked.

I chose not to learn from my experiences.

I chose to learn from my experiences.

The progression of marketing lessons learned has taken time.

Years.

But I now know the right interview questions to ask.

I see the yellow and red flags.

I also see the opportunities.

And I make more use of my professional time than I ever have — working toward uncovering marketing opportunities with good companies, with excellent corporate cultures that respect the relationships they have among employers, employees, customers, partners, investors, vendors and their communities.

That’s always been on me to do so. It’s on you, too.

It on us, not them, to seek out exceptional opportunities with exceptional organizations.

No company or work situation will be perfect. Nor will any one CMO or marketer.

But I never claimed to be perfect. And I never sought a workplace Xanadu.

I can make the best out of most any marketing situation.

And I have, more times than I can count or remember.

Let alone been given credit for repairing bad data, broken websites, outdated booths, lousy presentations, few leads — any marketer who has spent a day in the life knows the rest.

Yet I read how marketing — yet again — isn’t doing it’s job.

I wrote this article because of three things:

  1. I find it odd that CMOs and marketing leaders are under the constant microscope because of short tenures. The microscope needs to shift to include the corporate leaders who create a corporate turnstile not conducive with marketing success. My contention is that marketing isn’t a task-oriented money pit for advertising, digital, social, trade show and content production. (See #2 below.) Marketing can and should play a pivotal strategic role in running the business. If certain executives view marketing as a cost-center for useless tasks that have no bearing on solving true business problems, they only have themselves to blame. They should stop blowing out marketers when they don’t know what to do with marketing, how to invest a budget in it and adequately develop the roles people in the department play.
  2. More and more articles abound about how marketing isn’t in the executive boardroom. And how marketing doesn’t contribute to the business. How is marketing not in the boardroom? If the C-Suite can’t understand that marketing is the strategic operational area that can and should bring together the areas of inside and outside sales, product development, product management, technology, customer service, finance, sales enablement, communication and training… then they’re likely to be the same executive leaders who fall into the first category. (ReRead #1.)
  3. With CMO tenures so short, it leads one to believe that a lot of marketing support-staff tenures also will be short. Including some of my career stops.

So I’ve come to a conclusion:

It’s time for those who create corporate environments untenable to marketing success to be measured in a similar fashion to measuring the tenures of CMOs. If CMOs and marketing leaders will only last so long on the job, it’s only fair to measure and the other side of the corporate story.

I’m happy to discuss every stop I’ve made during my marketing career. There’s value there. Lessons learned. Mistakes made. Solutions developed. New efficiencies. More effectiveness. Cost savings. Revenue generated.

I wonder if those who create the untenable situations for marketers would so readily agree to discuss their approaches to business — and marketing.

So it’s time to stop giving those who create toxic work environments for marketing a free pass. They’re creating a nation of marketing job hoppers — but seemingly escape the accountability.

Because in my experience, it’s them, not you, my fellow marketers.

And no costly marketing stack, no overblown high-minded analyst report, vendor-enabled webinar turned sales pitch, mind numbing digital scheme or three-day convention will change a corporate leader oblivious to the leadership role marketing needs to play.

And is penalized when it doesn’t — or isn’t allowed to.

I’ve been reading and listening to business know-it-alls for three decades, yet the CMO tenure stands at just over three years. (Three+ years is a lifetime compared to some of the marketing gigs I’ve had.)

And I’d be a pleasure to see just one CEO or VC have the backbone and know-how to administer an executive test— just to see if anybody at the top is in tune with the activities and outcomes of marketng. (LMK if there are any takers.)

My conclusion: It’s time to reinvent Marketing — at the highest executive levels and in the corporate boardroom.

Tony Compton holds two degrees from Loyola University Chicago: a 1987 B.A. in Communication and a 1995 MBA. He has held a number of marketing and business leadership positions over the past three decades.

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Tony Compton

Tony Compton

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Product Marketer & Sales Enabler | CX, CRM, Payments, FinTech | SaaS | B2B Tech | Crushing Sales Performance | Superior Public Speaker, Storyteller & Presenter