From the Trenches

Want to Be a Modern Marketing Organization? Think Like an Agency

Mike Sweeney | September 8, 2016

Having worked in and led both a corporation and an agency, I consider myself equipped to advise recent college graduates with an interest in marketing on where they should start. Although some graduates aren’t blessed with dozens of opportunities and therefore may not have a choice, when they do, I almost always suggest that they pick an agency environment.

Why? Two simple reasons. First: In the right agency environment, you quickly learn to be both productive and efficient. Second: In the average agency job right out of college, you are exposed to not only different types of marketing and marketing tactics, but also different types of companies, products, and services. Corporate marketing departments can rarely match that learning experience.

That got me thinking: If I were to head back to corporate marketing, knowing what I know now after dealing with as many as 40-50 corporate marketing departments over the last five years, what would I bring from the agency world to the corporate marketing world?

1. Time tracking

The average corporate marketing department (at least the ones I’ve been exposed to) do not ask their staffers to track their time. A job well done is a job well done, regardless of how long it takes.

If I were to return to corporate marketing, I would turn that thinking on its head. How do I justify whether my marketing manager should get paid $50K, $75K, or $100K? Based on experience and effectiveness alone? Sure, those things matter. Really, though, what I am looking for is someone who does 99th percentile work and does it efficiently. Those are the real superstars.

That type of impact can only be achieved if you actually track the time required to complete certain projects or tasks. Time tracking is second nature to agency types and it should be in a corporate setting, as well.

2. Project teams

There’s a lot of siloing that goes in corporate environments. Digital and traditional — separate. PR and advertising — separate. SEO and content marketing — separate. Why do that when a fully integrated set of marketing programs stands to benefit from a coordinated approach?

If I were to go back, I’d consider standing up project teams like most agencies do. Sure, every project is different. Fine. So customize your project team. You need leaders and you need doers, but most of all you need everyone to be in the know so you don’t miss opportunities to do something better and more efficiently.

The whole should be greater than the sum of its parts — this adage should apply to the agency world and can easily transfer to the corporate marketing department, as well.

3. Clear impact on profitability

In agency land, we use metrics like utilization rate, revenue per billable staffer, and profit margin to explain to individuals their direct and indirect impact on the company’s profitability. Some agencies even tie compensation structures to these types of metrics.

If everything has a measurement for success, it’s pretty easy to explain to an individual how he or she can play a role in improved profitability. Maybe I had the wrong jobs or the wrong mentors in my 20s, but no one ever explained my impact on the bottom line as I was trying to find my place in the world. (Granted, I did work for a couple of unprofitable startups back then, so perhaps profitability wasn’t really “a thing.”)

I don’t see the point in people working hard, yet having no concept of how their actions in a given week, month, or on a particular project actually benefit the company.

4. Better meetings

To some (including the guy writing this post), meetings are the devil. I won’t bore you with tips like always have an agenda, define who owns individual agenda items, use meetings to make decisions, etc., but I will say this: In my experience, corporations and their people are slaves to meetings. Many directors and VPs of marketing I know have no idea why certain meetings sit on their calendars, other than that they have been asked to attend them by someone else. Then the meeting starts, and it is disorganized, runs long, and wanders into unnecessary areas.

Agencies, on the other hand, tend to avoid inefficient, runaway meetings — in large part, thanks to item #1 above: time tracking. Sure, tracking time doesn’t ensure you’ll never have a bad meeting, but it’s a step in the right direction. You’re likely billing the meeting time to a client, so there’s an added level of accountability — an expectation that you’ll actually accomplish something during the time, rather than simply twiddling your thumbs, trying to figure out when you have to be in your next meeting.

Remember: Marketing has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades, but many corporate marketing departments are still stuck in the late 80s. If that’s you, it’s time to go modern — and if you need help with that, I’d love to chat.

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