The Post Office’s Pete Markey on why it’s never too early to start acting like a CMO

The Post Office CMO Pete Markey encourages every marketer, no matter their level, to take control of their career and plot their own development plan if they have ambitions to take on the top role.

Pete Markey

If you’d told me, as a fresh faced graduate working in analytics at British Gas in Staines, that the great people I worked with then would still be important to my career decades later, I’m not sure I would have believed you. But that’s the truth.

From my first grad job, I was moved into the call centre and then the sales team before being spotted by HQ and brought to the big smoke. The rest, as they say is history. Except it isn’t, because the people who threw me in at the deep end back then are still a source of inspiration to me today. In marketing, I’ve found that you often see the same talented faces time and again during your career.

So to those new to the industry with big ambitions, I would say that really special things can happen right at the start of your career. Don’t keep your head down for a couple of years before eventually getting noticed, show tenacity as soon as you can. Look for someone to model yourself on who is not one but two, three or four roles ahead of you. How did they get there?

Often you’ll find it’s largely because they’ve taken ownership of their careers and pushed hard to progress, and you should do the same. Don’t wait to be given a personal development plan, build your own. In my experience, a senior marketer needs to be part scientist, able to harness analytics; part artist, to understand and power the creative process; and part politician, because within your company you are marketing the marketing function. Plot your development plan to ensure it enables you to build skills in these three areas.

I’m also a big believer in external training, so check out diplomas and courses from the Chartered Institute of Marketing and then go to your employer and ask to be signed up, explaining how it will improve your work, not just your CV. The worst thing they can say is no.

To people who, like me, are fortunate enough to oversee some of the new talent coming into our industry, I would encourage you to throw them in at the deep end too. It might sound tough, but people need to be stretched in order to progress. If you’re not giving people the chance to grow, you’re cheating them out of their development and ultimately cheating them out of the future they could have.

If we want more business leaders with marketing skills, we need to give marketing talent leadership skills and that means helping them learn how the business works from day one. Find ways for young talent to spend time in the call centre, on the shop floor and anywhere else that your company makes its money. If they do that, they’ll bring back new ideas for how marketing can go further in supporting those functions and the bottom line.

Personally, I still find excuses to go into other departments and ask more questions and I’m always looking for ways to keep learning. The Marketing Academy Fellowship programme was a great example of that. I’d already completed my MBA and was looking for the next challenge, but I was by no means certain I’d make the cut so it was a huge privilege to be selected.

Once there, I found there were lots more opportunities to learn. Hearing from McKinsey’s experts was as interesting as you’d expect, but the programme also introduced me to some phenomenal professionals at my level and gave us a safe place to debate the future of marketing. It’s all too easy to imagine our opportunities or challenges are unique – often we’re dealing with different demographics or channels – but ultimately we saw similar themes emerge across all our sectors.

As far as I’m concerned, the next big challenge to marketing probably hasn’t been invented yet. That means no matter what level you’re at, as long as you’re constantly learning and striving to stay on top of your game you’re in a good position to deal with whatever comes next.

Pete Markey is CMO at The Post Office and alumni of the Marketing Academy Fellowship 2014.

The Marketing Academy Fellowship is a unique development programme that gives a select group of exceptional marketing leaders the experience and exposure to become CEOs. Designed and delivered in partnership with McKinsey & Company and sponsored by ISBA, Adobe and British Airways, the programme includes masterclasses on board stewardship, mentoring and executive coaching.