Alfred Ajani caused a stir in the media when he handed out his CV at rush hour in Waterloo station, garnering much more attention and a higher response rate than when he had sat diligently emailing applications. Recruitment company Asoria, which hired him as a result, clearly needed someone with the academic calibre that his self-advertised 2:1 from Coventry University provided, however he also told journalists that the employer was impressed with his outside-the-box idea.
It might be a one-off stunt, but it demonstrates the key qualities of young marketers that senior executives tell Marketing Week they’re constantly seeking in their own teams – nous, initiative and a degree of calculated risk-taking, underpinned with solidly acquired knowledge.
“Don’t stick religiously to the job description,” counsels the Post Office’s chief marketing officer, Pete Markey. “Just treading water and doing the obvious is the worst thing to be – a safe pair of hands.”
Young marketers would no doubt agree that while diligence is expected, they don’t want to be seen as timid caretakers. Brimming with fresh ideas and an entrepreneurial verve, their default position is to challenge the status quo.
Picking your battles
That said, Markey is not enthusiastic about young renegade marketers ricocheting around all over the shop: “Some people crash and burn because they think it’s all about being the edgy challenger – Tigger-on-Red-Bull enthusiasm.” He advises against becoming distracted from the task at hand – marketing the product – and getting tied up in vanity projects. “Channel your enthusiasm into a cause – choose what you’re going to stand for. Guided enthusiasm is infectious.”
“I don’t consider myself to be either a risk-taker or a safe pair of hands,” reveals SportPursuit’s marketing director and managing director of international, Bryn Snelson. One of the next generation of marketing leaders, Snelson rose quickly to become UK country manager of dating website eHarmony by the age of 30. The company went from unranked in the UK market to number two in during the time he worked there, from 2010 to 2013.
Snelson understands young marketers’ urge to highlight where they might be able to flex their muscles when it comes to bringing fresh ideas to the table. But he points out that there is an important distinction between identifying a weak link and doing nothing to strengthen the chain.
“Don’t talk – do. As a boss now I absolutely love it when someone who works for me comes into a meeting and says: ‘I realise we’re not doing X very well and I’ve taken the first few steps towards fixing it – what do you think?’ They’ve identified a small part of the business that I don’t have the time to focus on and they’ve taken the initiative to examine it and propose a solution. As bosses, we can only achieve the amount our team can achieve for us.”
If senior marketers want to benefit from the energy that new blood brings, it’s also critical to manage their development. Markey notes that some are bringing great ideas to the table only to fall at the final hurdle: “Dealing with company boards, they’re all subtly different. They have expectations of how things are going to be presented and simple things like this can trip you up. You can’t beat getting this right and it goes back to preparation and learning some of the etiquette.”
While it’s up to younger marketers to check with their more experienced colleagues that everything is as it should be, senior marketers need to be available to provide guidance. “Are younger marketers getting honest feedback from the people they need it from?” asks Markey. “Hearing advice to bring solutions, not problems was liberating for me and moved me forward. It’s about building these marketers up, not sugar-coating it but giving guided feedback that is outcome-directed.”
The young entrepreneurial marketer
Taking the initiative is viewed by senior marketers as a key asset and many younger practitioners are aided by a mindset that could be seen to be more entrepreneurial than corporate-driven. Snelson notes that his mindset has led him to eschew corporate life and choose startups such as SportPursuit. However he recognises that marketers who want to make an impact can bring the entrepreneurial spirit to any organisation.
“What I like about growth companies is that they’re always doing more than they did the year before. That provides an opportunity for people to keep learning. You are young and you want to grow personally so that lends itself to wanting to work in growth areas. But this can also happen within big companies. If you are in a corporate environment, talk about your desire to work in the growth area of the company, the bit that is trying to push into white space – new countries or product types. Tell people what you want to be doing in the first five years of your career. If you tell enough people enough times someone should give you that opportunity.”
Snelson also notes that growth opportunities also mean stretching your vision and learning opportunities beyond the marketing silo. It’s something the Post Office’s Markey agrees with. “A communications executive, for example, isn’t just there to make sure a project gets out of the door on time. A good one asks is the audience defined, is the creative on-brief, what more can be done? They check that the right number of people are available to take the phone calls and make sure everything has connected to the right people. They’re thinking beyond the core of what they’re expected to do.”
Indeed corporates are already recognising the need to tap into entrepreneurial vigour and skill-sets by looking outside their their traditional marketer catchments. In 2013, FMCG behemoths Mondelez International and Mars increased the number of places they offered to business studies graduates on their recruitment scheme, with Mondelez offering nearly half of its sales and marketing places to such candidates – nearly a three-fold increase over four years.
For Snelson the rapid learning curve he experienced at eHarmony has stood him in good stead to take his current company to the next stage.
“I was a strategy consultant not a marketer and I arrived with no experience. I was employee number four in the UK. I started in 2010 and by mid-2012 I was marketing director with a £7m budget covering all channels including TV, outdoor, digital, CRM, media and creative. Overseeing the five-strong internal team I also had five agency relationships. Having a pretty broad job description with a lot under my remit has certainly given me a good foundation.”
This is partly why he has been charged with overseeing SportPursuit’s rapid growth and its first TV campaign set to break mid-January 2015. Currently the website is 1.5 million members strong, but Snelson is going after a further 3.5 million. “It’s rare to find marketers who can do both digital and offline well and it’s not possible to afford two marketing directors in a company this size. I was lucky to get experience of both.”
Young marketers’ five big mistakes
During the Marketing Academy’s Inspire event in May 2014, marketers identified five things that keep them from becoming leaders:
- Underselling marketing
- No curiosity about the rest of the business
- Not bringing diversity to teams and boards
- Not working on personal brand
- Risk averse
But according to senior marketers, addressing each of these issues is what makes a truly exceptional young marketer. Could it be that by raising the next generation of marketers to correct these mistakes early on, we can expect to see them leading a fresh charge to the very top of organisations less than a decade from now?
Marketing Week: What are the traits of a great young marketer?
Pete Markey: The brilliant ones are constantly looking for opportunities to be more broadly involved than just the marketing team. They’re looking for new and better ways to do things while exploring ideas that will influence the business beyond their core remit. At the heart of it is being really curious about the business you’re in. It’s possible to be innovative and entrepreneurial even in a 300-year-old corporate [such as the Post Office].
Sticking your nose in is really powerful and if some questions seem obvious, others still won’t have thought of them. Early in my career my company was doing press ads where the legal disclaimer took up half of the ad space. I asked why legal did it and they said the regulator demanded it. It turned out to be something that didn’t need to happen. Passion and curiosity are really key.
How do younger marketers show their ideas have credibility?
Pete Markey: Your network is very important. You need people around to lean on and bounce ideas off. Then you can test and learn on your ideas before taking them to the senior team. If you have other people who agree with your perspective then you’ll have the basis on which to pose your challenge.
What is the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?
Pete Markey: What I’ve seen younger marketers struggle with is the fact that it’s one thing to challenge problems but another thing to solve them. One boss told me: “You treat my office like a doctor’s surgery. Come to me with the problem but then tell me the solution.”
Marketing Week: What are the building blocks of a marketer with promise?
Bryn Snelson: Learning quickly – getting really immersed in what you’re doing. You’re young, with few distractions and lots of energy. Make it your goal to know more than your boss does. An obsessive need for knowledge gains people’s trust.
Marketing Week: How do young marketers find the balance between getting themselves noticed enough to be given the opportunities without turning managers off?
Bryn Snelson: It’s not about shouting about how great you are but about providing a narrative about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Have in the back of your mind what you’ve been doing over the last month – for me, it’s the responsiveness of a skiwear campaign, for example – and take note of the steps involved. It’s hard in the nitty gritty to maintain that narrative but if you’re able to take an hour to consolidate it, it’s top of mind next time you have a conversation about it. This helps you to be coherent and builds trust with senior marketers.
Marketing Week: What is the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?
Bryn Snelson: It’s not strictly speaking advice but the thing that has meant the most to my growth journey has been the number of people who have said to me: “I believe you can do it and I will give you the responsibility if I can.” If you are able to find people who can say that to you quite openly you know you’re in a good place. If you haven’t had someone say that to you recently you need to ask yourself: are you doing the right things or working for the right person?