The Secret Marketer on the importance of marketing minutiae


I spent much of last week catching up on admin after a week out of the office. Contrary to popular belief, marketing directors do not spend their entire life at advertising shoots or at lunch with the agency, but are often drowning in day-to-day marketing minutiae.

Among the drudgery are monthly marketing spend reconciliations, purchase orders, latest forecasts, market data charting and team HR matters. Being a marketing director is not as glam as people might think; in fact I had much more fun when I was a brand manager.

I am happy to delegate most things admin to my team, but I do like to keep a close watch on marketing spend. This includes signing off every invoice that hits my budget. I have been told many a time by senior colleagues, best-practice textbooks and esteemed business coaches that at my age and seniority I should really let go of such depths of detail. But when it comes to my marketing budget I am having none of it.

I am ultimately accountable for what we spend and I have long since learned that relying on soundbyte spending updates from exuberant brand managers is not a very reliable form of budget tracking.

“I had much more fun when I was a brand manager”

“My brand manager assured me we were on budget” is never a great line when being challenged about a lavish overspending spree by the finance director at board meetings.

And neither is surrounding the brand managers with admin-proud accounts clerks and flash purchase order systems.

Such lieutenants certainly provide some form of resistance and structure but in my experience they are very good at reporting what brand managers tell them.

For anybody reading this who is thinking that I am some old stickler who could usefully get a life, it is important to remember that I too was once a brand manager and I took great pride in telling people whatever I thought they wanted to hear about my spending habits.

I have the utmost love, affection and admiration for marketers. We are usually creative, exceptionally good at presenting and have an innatebility to think on our feet. Put another way, we can sell you anything.

Tell a brand manager that they have overspent and they will most likely reposition the situation as one of phasing, assuring you that they have agreed a retro credit note adjustment back from the agency next month and that all will wash out exactly to plan by the year end.

Taking into account those very special qualities, I shall continue to keep a close watch on the till.

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