How to make yourself indispensable in the boardroom

Believe it or not this is my 200th column as the Secret Marketer. I certainly don’t know where the past four years have gone, nor how I have managed to come up with 200 different experiences to share with you – such is the diversity of being a client marketer.

For this auspicious article, I thought I would comment on the question that I get asked most – how to make marketing relevant in the boardroom.

As I have said previously, this is a constant battle and judging by the number of people who
ask me about it, it clearly is for others too. While the race to get more gender and ethnic diversity into the boardroom is shared by all, the need to get more marketers is a less popular cause.

A strong marketing director brings the voice of the customer to the boardroom. They take a long-term view of the health of the business.

Marketing directors are also the friend of most people around the board table – assisting the HR director to recruit new employees to a respected brand, helping the sales director win more business from a more receptive customer, and helping the chief financial officer become a hero as customers queue up to spend their money with your business. Alas, it doesn’t always feel that way.

That said, I have sat on a number of management boards as the most senior marketer, and generally have held my own. I am still there today, so I must be doing something right. My advice is not rocket science, and I know it has been said many times before.

First, you have to talk the language of the board. Generally, that means you need to talk in numbers not pictures. You need to understand one end of a balance sheet from the other.
You need to understand the objectives of the business, and be quick to draw the direct line
to marketing activity.

You also need to identify your own unique selling point and have something up your sleeve that everyone else needs.

I mentioned the need to empathise with your colleagues, and to help them be successful. You need to make yourself invaluable – owning the internal communications channel helps you manage the messages they want to send out; writing the speeches for the CEO ensures the company strategy is shared with you; and manipulating the PR channel guarantees you get the interest of those board members already thinking about how they can influence their next career.

Finally, you need a thick skin – you are not the most valued person at the board table.

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