Stop whining, defend your role to get ahead

July 15, 2006


Are all marketers whiners?

Sitting at a conference featuring five high-powered marketing professionals, I thought of Seth Godin’s book, “All Marketers Are Liars”. Godin says great marketers don’t focus on product attributes and features, they create powerful stories that motivate us to buy $225 pairs of Pumas rather than $15 “no name” shoes.

Did Godin get it wrong? Why are marketers whining so much?

Why is it when marketers get together, we complain about the challenges of demonstrating ROI for marketing investments, the short tenure of CMOs and the ceiling that keeps marketers from rising to the helm of the company?

Marketers should be telling stories about their contributions to corporate success not complaining about their collective lot in corporate life.

At the recent University of Chicago Graduate School of Business Management Conference, marketing professor Pradeep Chintagunta fielded an all-star panel of top marketers including: Interbrand Corp.’s Chief Strategy Officer Gary Singer; Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Marketing Communications Senior Vice President Julie Roehm; PepsiCo Inc.’s Marketing Vice President Ann Mukherjee; and the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business Executive Director of Marketing Chris Iannuccilli--a leading ad industry veteran.

Panelists were provocative and outspoken when it came to the power of the Internet and consumer-controlled media to build brands but defensive about the role and tenure of top marketers. The case was the same at the recent CMO Summit held by global executive search firm Spencer Stuart and at the national conference of the Business Marketing Association.

Marketers are experts when we talk about our craft, but whiners when we talk about getting ahead in our corporations.
Take Wal-Mart’s Roehm: She’s super savvy when speaking about the power of new media vs. traditional advertising. “The marketers (who) are succeeding are the ones (who) are delving into the other opportunities to express your brand,” says Roehm.
“We can get too wrapped up in the same old medium. We get enamored with the sexiness of Hollywood and its presence by being on television,” adds Roehm.

Roehm’s right, and she conquered her inner need to make 30-second movies in Los Angeles. That bodes well for Wal-Mart’s market share and stock price.

Why don’t more marketers utilize consumer-controlled Web-based media instead of TV commercials? Again, Roehm is highly articulate.

“Consumers today are taking a lot of alternative mediums into their life. The consumer has control. The idea of television is one where the consumer isn’t in control. I think it is a crutch that advertisers typically lean on, where you are in control and you can push.”

Roehm’s point: If you can let go and engage with consumer-controlled media and understand your customer and how your brand connects, you can gain a real advantage.

The U of C’s Iannuccilli--who built Olympic ad programs for Budweiser before becoming the business school’s executive director of marketing--is equally authoritative on the impact of Web-based media. Blogs are affecting the MBA admissions process.

Says Iannuccilli, “Thirty minutes after an MBA candidate is interviewed, the candidate might post the interview questions to the Internet where others can read them.”

When it comes to knowing our trade, we’re eloquent. It’s when we digress about our progress in tackling the “C” suite that we suffer.

Complains Interbrand’s Singer, “Marketing and branding are held to a higher level of scrutiny than almost everything else that goes on in the corporation.”

Singer points to a French company in the energy business making a billion-dollar investment in wind turbine equipment. “The entire recommendation was captured in 20 binders of data,” says Singer. “It rested on one assumption: What’s the French government’s subsidy of wind turbine power going to be in the next ten years?”

“Trying to predict what the French government is going to do next month is a virtual impossibility, yet this billion-dollar decision rested on some poor schnook’s recommendation of what the government is going to do over ten years. Why is that more disciplined than the kinds of things we marketers do every day,” laments Singer.

Maybe it was the reference to the turbines. I could hear them whine like jet engines.

So why are marketers wise about new media and whiny about their role in the organization and their potential to become CEOs?
“We are certainly high maintenance,” says Roehm, who thinks the nature of the organization determines the opportunity for marketers to prosper. The former DaimlerChrysler marketing exec says many companies are manufacturing- and finance-driven so marketing has to really make the case.

PepsiCo’s Mukherjee agrees. “I think it goes back to what is the heart of the company,” she says. “At Kraft, you were told the CEO is going to come from the marketing function.”

Mukherjee thinks you can make it to the top even in a company where marketing doesn’t rule the roost. It’s a question of effort. “If you choose to go to an organization that celebrates marketing, the tide’s going to be a lot easier if you want to become CEO. If you choose to go against the tide, that shouldn’t stop you.”

For insight I turned to Hershey Foods Corp. CEO Rick Lenny, a veteran marketer who now resides in the top job at the Pennsylvania-based chocolate maker.

Speaking at the Spencer Stuart CMO conference Lenny said, “The biggest contributor to the gulf that you see is CEOs treating marketing as a collection of activities as opposed to an end-to-end view of how marketing helps the company win.”

Lenny’s right. If marketers are going to make it to the top of the corporation, they need to stop complaining and apply their skills to telling leadership stories that explain how marketing is contributing to the company’s success.

Whining just won’t cut it.

Michael Krauss is a partner with Marion Consulting Partners based in Highland Park, Ill., and can be reached at or


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