An Open Letter to Marketing Managers

We work with a lot of marketing directors and VPs. They are great, driving the big picture brand initiatives. But by far, most of our time is spent in the marketing trenches with the unsung heroes of our profession. Marketing managers deserve a shout-out. So this letter is that.

Dear Marketing Managers,

Thank you. You’re the people who have to get the work done, wading through the minutia that makes most folk’s eyes glaze over. You’re always expected to do more. And you’re expected to do it with less. Your work is in the service of your brand or product and in the face of obstacles that are beyond your control. You face issues that are not of your making, yet you are frequently expected to pull off miracles.

And yet, you manage. Those of us on the agency side appreciate the Sisyphean tasks you take on.

We admire your seemingly superhuman ability to digest direction from the many masters you serve, pile it onto an ever-growing list of initiatives, projects, and campaigns, all while doing your damnedest to turn into a cohesive, on-brand whole that your agency partners can understand. A lot of you pull that off with good humor that I couldn’t even fake.

And, in the spirit of giving back, I would like to offer you some encouragement, and thoughts from a few years of watching your peers push boulders up never-ending hills. All framed around the very powerful word: no.

“No” can save your career

In the world of marketing agencies, we have a saying: Give the client what they want for long enough, and eventually they’ll fire you. Marketing managers are in a similar place. Often you are only as good as your last miracle. And eventually there will be a missed opportunity. Or worse, one that becomes permanently etched in the collective consciousness of your brand. That’s when your countless successes are instantly forgotten.

Some would call this cynical. Maybe. But you know it’s true. I feel you nodding along.

A well-timed “no,” cloaked in more diplomatic language, can demonstrate that you’re paying attention, get the big picture, and–particularly if disaster is lurking behind corner–you’re invested in seeing the organization succeed.

Say “no” but don’t “be negative”

Nobody likes working with a naysayer. Just like the fact that there’s a balance between aspiration and delusion, there is an even more delicate balance between being a voice of reason and wet blanket. Saying no needs to be framed delicately. If you’re the type that doesn’t suffer fools well, be sure to check your body language and other reflexes that betray your true opinions: The heavy sighs, eye rolls, or folded arms. I speak from personal experience here. Frame your concerns as questions and possibilities rather than a line in the sand. Leave room for discussion.

When the company culture doesn’t take “no” for an answer

I understand that in some corporate cultures, pointing out even the most obvious pitfalls is akin to high treason., and saying no is the first step toward an exit interview. In those environments there are still opportunities to steer efforts into a more productive direction. The first is to present alternatives without pointing out flaws with the current idea being discussed.  The second borrows from the world of improv comedy: “Yes, and”. You take the existing idea and run with it. You play along with as much enthusiasm as you can muster until the flaws become obvious and the idea unravels on its own.

Will these techniques always work? I’m tempted to say no. But I don’t want to appear negative.

You’re not alone.

The daily grind of your workload may seem thankless. Without you the wheels of the entire industry would grind to a halt. I want to go on the record that we appreciate everything you do. So thank you.