Wearing Two Hats: Ten Things I Learned as Marketing Director

An Agency President Goes to Bat for His Biggest Client

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In early 2009, after facing a challenging year and making the decision to let go of its marketing director, our largest and long-term client of 23 years, Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co., asked if I would personally step in as interim marketing director, and help lead its company's business -- through the marketing function -- into the 21st century.

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While agencies no doubt offer an invaluable outside perspective, I quickly found out that I had plenty to learn about the day-to-day of being a client-side marketing director. Of the many insights I've gleaned from wearing both hats -- things that all of us, regardless of agency or client-side, should consider -- there are 10 that stand out most:

1. The marketing director is often not the last word. Few have complete autonomy to make major decisions without checking with someone first, whether it's a management team or the chairman of the company.

2. Many internal battles are fought on the agency's behalf. Just as agencies don't bore our clients with the nitty-gritty of what we go through to get work to them, the marketing director doesn't share all the battles he has to fight to get buy-in on his side. But believe me, good clients fight for our ideas.

3. Our schedule is not their schedule. Just because we want an answer today, doesn't mean we're going to get it. When we wait days for responses, it also doesn't mean the client isn't interested, it may simply mean they had something more pressing to deal with.

4. More than anyone, clients have passion for their brands. Agencies often talk about having passion for clients' brands. But could you stay passionate about a brand you have to think about 24/7? That's what marketing directors do -- they live and breathe the brand, and love it.

5. Communications are only a small part of what a marketing director works on. This is one of the most important lessons I've learned. What a marketing director is tasked with goes far beyond expectations. But what I can tell you is that our work is the most fun thing they work on!

6. The best agencies make the marketing director's life easier, not harder. Yes, you need to know what's going on, but don't spend as much time asking questions as answering questions. And any "simple solution" agencies tend to bring to the table often is much harder to execute than expected on the client side. Risk management, legal, IT, turf wars, and more can add to internal complications. Instead, learn how to bring smart solutions and ideas while keeping their internal challenges in mind.

7. Bring ideas that build business. Want to make your agency invaluable? Bring solutions to questions that haven't been asked. Be a trusted advisor, consultant and resource that the client simply can't replicate. In most cases, our breadth of knowledge, resources, insight and inputs can truly complement the client's in-house resources. But make sure our ideas are measurable -- in today's economy, results have to be the focus.

8. Keep the marketing director informed throughout the planning process. Don't wait until major campaigns are completely developed and perfectly designed. Keep the marketing director involved all along the way. Especially in this economy, that means quicker-to-market, more cost-efficient solutions and a marketing director who is bought into the solution from day one.

9. Things change. Agencies have to be nimble. The agency's job is to bring new thinking and new ideas to the table. In today's economy and going forward, we need to anticipate changes and continue to move faster than clients can to prove our worth again and again.

10. We are part of a team. Don't tell the marketing director the agency can turn everything around, because you have no idea what "everything" is. We can help, but what we influence is also influenced by other marketing and operational initiatives over which we have no control or input. The good old rule of thumb is still valid: under-promise and over-deliver.

As I write these insights, it dawns on me how simple so many of them are. But many agencies rarely actually take these into consideration. Be thoughtful, be proactive and be an advocate for what's exciting, what's new and, most of all, what produces results.

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Bruce Murdy is president of Rawle Murdy, Charleston, S.C.

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