When I enrolled in business school, and even later on when I first entered the marketing workforce, I had grand thoughts of being the next Don Draper, rising up the ranks of the marketing ladder and becoming a rock star CMO. Who doesn’t want to be a rock star, right?
But I entered a very different world of marketing. Instead of sipping cocktails and dreaming up high-concept campaigns, I was tasked with execution-oriented marketing jobs, such as creating the next piece of sales collateral or crafting a nurture email campaign. While it wasn’t bad—you have to start somewhere—it wasn’t the post-grad life of building brands I dreamed of. Sure, the harder I worked, the quicker I rose. Yet at the top, I faced a new set of challenges. Instead of high-profile brainstorming sessions, I dealt with corporate politics, egos, budget constraints and the full gamut of upper management malaise. At times I felt as though my dreams couldn’t be further away.
The reality for me—and no offense to those of you who are striving for marketing degrees or MBAs or just joining the workforce—is that business school didn’t prepare me as well as I had thought (or hoped) for the fierce new world of marketing.
Don’t worry, it’s not the professors’ fault, and it’s not the University’s fault. Modern-day marketing just isn’t as sexy as it’s taught in the classroom or Mad Men glorious as seen on TV. It’s a little ugly and can seem downright dirty when you feel like you spend more time battling in the budget trenches than dreaming up the next Super Bowl ad. Today’s marketing is all about execution, execution, execution.
So far in my career, no one has ever asked for my opinion on the brand logo or the type of font used for our corporate name. This is partly due to the fact that my superiors are too concerned with hitting the revenue numbers in the coming quarter.
That’s right, ladies and gents, it’s not about the curvature of the “e” in your brand’s name; business is about revenue, profitability and shareholder value. Period. Furthermore, it’s driven by the company executives’ “what have you done for me lately” culture.
I thought this urgency would change with a company’s size, but it really doesn’t. Regardless of how big or small, new or old the company is, elements within always push you forward. In startups, for instance, you’re worried about how much marketing you can do before running out of budget. In larger enterprises, you’re worried about how much marketing you can do before you hit the end of the quarter.
Hopefully, I’m not scaring or dissuading anyone from following their business aspirations or marketing dreams. Trust me, that is not my purpose here. If I didn’t truly love what I do, I would not continue along my chosen path. I’m just trying to shed some light on the realities and challenges that business and marketing leaders face.
Business school may not have preached all of the necessities and nuances, or prepared me fully for the down-and-dirty world (the real world) of marketing. This amazing educational foundation, however, did instill in me the knowledge and ability to learn on the job, excel at my work and become a thought leader in the marketing space.
I often think back at my Organizational Behavior class, where I learned about the inner dynamics of groups—how to work with the different personalities on a team and still be productive. I continue to use the skills Professor Stuart Diamond taught me in my negotiating class to ensure I don’t get into a “winner’s curse” scenario by putting out the first offer. And my Problems in Financial Accounting course taught me how to read beyond the numbers to see what’s really going on inside a company.
Then there was the marketing department. Guys like Len Lodish, now Samuel R. Harrell Emeritus Professor, who actually taught me cutting-edge brand marketing so I could walk the talk and learn the secret handshake to get a job in the first place. And Peter Fader—Frances and Pei-Yuan Chia Professor and co-director of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative—who believes marketing should not be viewed as a “soft” discipline. They are breathing new life into an old curriculum by crafting classes that dig deftly into the reality of marketing to train students on the tactical aspects of marketing. For instance, I had the opportunity to guest lecture in Fader’s Marketing 775 last year, during which I taught practical principles of lead generationand customer acquisition to his students, many of whomexperienced some of this in their previous jobs.
These are the classes and the instructors who helped reinforcewhat I love about marketing.
I love that marketing—real marketing—is about amplifying thetruth about the company and products, which is a good thingand allows me to get as close as I can to the customer withoutactually having to sell him something. Marketing right nowis a pretty thrilling place to be—a beautiful blend of creativityand mathematics, a meshing of qualitative and quantitativeapproaches. It is challenging and exciting and caters to the needsof both traditional and modern marketing approaches.
With the next generation of marketing already here, I believethere ought to be a time and place for honest dialogue about thediscipline’s direction.
The time is now, and the place is the Wharton Magazine website, where I’m launching a regular blog series called “The Fighting CMO.” My posts will give you the opportunity to step out of the classroom andinto the boardroom. We will discuss the weighty,daily issues facing today’s marketing executives—the stuff they don’t teach you in school and,essentially, the real-life experiences of someone who has workedhis way up through million- and billion-dollar organizations toreach the level of chief marketing officer. Topics (among others)will include:
• How to win a budget gunfight.
• New rules of lead generation.
• Is social media worth the effort?
• How to choose your next marketing gig.
I look forward to jumping into this discourse within the Wharton community. I am happy to start discussion now. If you already agree or disagree with me, or have a topic to request for “The Fighting CMO,” reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good luck on your journey to be a successful marketing executive in the meantime. And keep fighting!
David T. Scott, WG’98, is the author of The New Rules of Leader Generation, published by AMACOM in 2013. He has over 15 years of experience, serving as a top-tier marketing executive for Fortune 500 companies and VC-backed startups. He possesses years of firsthand experience as head of marketing for ForeSee, PeopleSoft and Intermec, as well as in positions for AT&T Wireless, Boston Consulting Group and General Electric. Learn more about David T. Scott at www.scottonmarketing.com.
Connect with us: Read “The Fighting CMO” on the Wharton Blog Network at http://whr.tn/fighting-cmo.