The Marketing Bureau

Specialist Marketing & Communications Resourecs



Marketers Find It Lonely In The Boardroom

Many marketers dream of helping to launch a break-out brand or getting in on the ground floor with the next Richard Branson. However, for many who have made it to the top of the greasy pole, the reality is far from rosy. U.K. Marketing Magazine’s Nicola Clark examines this growth limiting reality.


The fact remains that some companies are failing to respect the broader business role of marketing, making things tough at the top for Britain's leading chief marketing officers.

While there is no doubt that businesses have become more marketing-literate, some marketers are coming up against a brick wall when they attempt to drive a marketing-led agenda in companies that have not invested in the discipline in the past or are seeking to drive down discretionary spend in the recession.

'It is a big ask for one marketer to come in and reinvigorate the business if it doesn't get marketing in the first place,' says Amanda Mackenzie, group marketing director at insurance firm Aviva. 'You can't make significant changes without leadership from the top.'

Marketers need to be clear about what the board expects of them and how they will be empowered to deliver. However, some marketers complain that companies are using the recession to get free consultancy. One senior marketer who is looking for a job says: 'You get recruitment firms saying that the role is undefined as the company wants the new chief marketing officer to shape it. But sometimes you feel there is no mandate for the position.'

Even with a clear mandate for marketing leadership, Moira Benigson, managing director of executive search company The MBS Group, feels the level of commitment tends to evolve over time. 'Companies start off marketing-driven, but then become more process-driven, making it challenging for marketing directors to drive change,' she says.

David Patton, chief executive of Grey London and the marketer behind the Sony 'Balls' and 'Paint' ads, believes it is the chief marketing officer's responsibility to seek to bridge the gap between marketing specialists and board members. He says that the key is for marketers to maximise their all-round business experience and demonstrate this broad knowledge as much as possible.

However, many senior marketers are concerned that younger members of their profession coming up through the ranks are becoming more specialised. Some think this will lead to the next generation of marketers coming unstuck when they try to branch out into other sectors because they will lack the broad strategic overview required to drive marketing forward in companies that, traditionally, have not focused on this area.

Meanwhile, smaller companies argue that today's brand managers are being taught 'marketing by numbers' in established firms and are thus too focused on processes to develop a wider vision for a fledgling brand.

Historically, many marketers seeking to make their mark have moved to smaller companies. However, marketing consultant Andrew Marsden warns they could find themselves missing the lavish budgets and supportive infrastructure of a big company. 'You think you are going to do a big marketing role, when in fact you may end up wallowing in sales promotion,' he adds.

A chief marketing officer role may be tempting, particularly if it is for a business with international reach. However, this should not be allowed to obscure the fact that, for some companies, creating the position represents almost the sum total of its commitment to the discipline.

Moreover, in the current climate, even those marketers who previously jumped ship to smaller marketing-led organisations are finding the lure of blue-chip FMCG employers too hard to resist.

Former Innocent marketing director Gareth Helm appears to be a case in point. He left his role at healthy snacking brand Bear last month, after a matter of weeks. Although Helm told Marketing he was brought in to Bear only to oversee branding in the run-up to its launch, the offer of the top UK petcare marketing position at Mars must surely have had some bearing on his decision to move on.

Sense of security

Benigson believes the FMCG sector remains the 'finishing school' for top marketers. While these professionals are in serious demand in other sectors, they are now thinking twice before jumping the fence, even if it holds the prospect of career advancement. 'Everything is taking much longer as people are so much more cautious, particularly in England,' she says. 'People are just paralysed with fear.'Although the recession has slowed the annual merry-go-round of marketing directors departing for pastures new, the average tenure of a chief marketing officer remains relatively low when compared with other business disciplines.

For many marketers seeking to boost their career and salary, making the leap to another company or sector is often the only way available to realise their goals. However, those who move into start-ups, or organisations that are less focused on marketing, to secure a more senior role, should be prepared to face cultural differences and business challenges which can leave them feeling isolated and frustrated.

According to Mhari McEwan, co-founder of specialist training consultancy Brand Learning, traditional FMCG marketers often get a nasty shock when they jump ship. 'A lot of chief executives don't have a good understanding of the role of marketing, and this part of the business is still often known as the colouring department,' she says.

Many of these marketers, who are accustomed to their activity being treated as central to company strategy, can feel like an external marketing consultant, rather than an integral part of the business.

Certainly there is a huge difference in the importance and role of marketing across business sectors and industries. 

Historically, FMCG companies have put the highest priority on rigorous marketing training, and are keen to recognise the importance of the contribution made by this discipline to their businesses. The classically trained FMCG marketers from Unilever and Procter & Gamble have been nurtured in an environment where they are not only respected, but also often have their own profit-and-loss accounts.

Marsden warns that many former FMCG marketers in senior roles at non-FMCG companies are acutely affected by the cultural difference. First and fore-most, people in these roles are expected to work strategic-ally. This can be a wrench for someone whose previous experience has included working on the nuts and bolts of NPD. 'Outside the FMCG arena you are promoting and selling products that someone else developed,' he says.

Patton argues it is crucial for companies to recognise that there is more to marketing than creativity alone. However, he believes it is down to marketers to earn the respect of the broader business by delivering tangible benefits.

Jeffrey Hayzlett, chief marketing officer and vice-president of marketing at Kodak, says isolation has never been an issue in his role because marketing is at the core of the business. 'The key is for marketers not to get sidetracked by different technology platforms. It is about being focused on the bigger picture,' he adds.

Critics might argue that a senior marketer who cannot win over an internal audience is not very good at their job. However, the culture in many companies makes this a testing task. Thus the cliche about loneliness at the top still rings true for many chief marketing officers.

Case Study: Lancaster University

Anthony Marsella, Chief Marketing Officer, Lancaster University

The issue of introducing a marketing-led approach is becoming more urgent for the higher education sector as state funding continues to fall.

Anthony Marsella - a former chief marketing officer at Samsung - is the first high-profile marketer to enter the arena after taking on the newly created equivalent role at Lancaster University earlier this year.

Three months in, Marsella has no regrets. 'It's a radical new challenge to bring marketing into a traditionally academic background, but by being pioneers, we will be at the forefront of the market,' he says.

According to Marsella, as long as there is a willingness at the top, patience and perseverance are all that is required to push marketing up the agenda in any given organisation. 'I enjoy the challenge of bringing a brand forward, but the key is you need a board that is supportive,' he adds. 'It is clear some companies are good at talking the talk but that is where it ends.'

Marsella advocates finding common ground with colleagues who may not understand the language of marketing. There may even be resistance to the term market-ing in itself. 'You need to operate within any given organisation and have the ability and will to drive through change,' he concludes. 

It may seem easier to stay within your specialist sector but for Marsella the rewards of embracing change make it worth the risk.

Case study:  Aviva

Amanda Mackenzie Group Marketing Director, Aviva
While advertising trade bodies, such as the Institute of Practitioners in Advert­ising, have continued to advocate ‘spen­d­­ing through the recession', many mark­et­ers have watched their budgets being steadily eroded during the downturn.

When marketing is not seen as fund­amental to a business, it is difficult to argue in favour of sustained spend. One excep­tion to this trend is the insurance brand Aviva, which rolled out a multi-million-pound rebranding campaign just as the full force of the recession began to be felt.

According to the company's group marketing director, Amanda Macken­zie, its continued investment in mark­eting was driven by chief executive Andrew Moss and his belief in the imp­ortance of the ‘One Aviva' message.

‘Belief in marketing has to come from the top and for companies that, historically, haven't focused on market­ing, it is a massive cultural shift,' says Mackenzie. ‘Fundamentally, if the business doesn't get marketing, it's difficult to blame one marketing director for that collective failure.'

Mackenzie believes the key tac­tic for marketers is to present the discipline in a way that the boardroom will under­stand. This implies that some market­ers may have to change their style and develop a greater understanding of the account­ing world to succeed. ‘Market­ers are trained to broadcast, when in fact listening is key,' she adds.

At Aviva, Mackenzie's team has acc­ess to a marketing leadership program­me to enable them to develop their skills. However, she says that senior market­ers should not try to become experts in all aspects of the profession.

Moreover, she warns them to avoid getting lost in the details, as opposed to focusing on the broader role of market­ing in driving forward business object­ives. ‘A successful marketing director needs to have an overarching view of the market and set the customer at the centre of that framework,' she adds.

So would Mackenzie advise market­ers to seek experience of working for comp­anies that have lacked a foc­us on marketing? ‘If you go to a comp­any that isn't marketing-led, there is certainly an opportunity for you to be a pioneer,' she says. However, she caut­ions that the downside is that the busi­ness will say no more than it says yes. 

While there are many mark­eters who have come unstuck by mov­ing to organ­isations where their discipline was not regarded with any enthusiasm, some have risen to the challenge.
Mackenzie advocates getting out among colleagues ‘Obama style' and campaigning for change. ‘It is potentially very lonely as there may not be very many like-minded people, but the opportunity is there to lobby and pers­uade,' she adds. However, for those who want to see their labours bear fruit faster, this can be a challenge too far.

Nicola Clark


Nicola is Features Editor of Marketing Magazine in the UK. She was formerly media editor. She joined Marketing in 2005 from Emap, where she was features reporter on Media & Marketing Europe, a pan-European monthly based in London. Her first journalism job was as a financial journalist at Standard & Poors. She has a history degree from Bristol University.


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