On Marketing: Credit Where Credit is Due?

When you get a haircut, you look at it, judge whether it was done well or not, and pay the barber.

When you order pizza, you receive the pizza, pay for it, eat it and decide whether it was good or not.

When you hire an attorney to help you register your new business legally, you work with him/her, either receive your business registration or not, pay him/her and consider whether it was money well spent or not.

And when you buy a new pair of running shoes, you try them on, pay for them, use them and know soon enough whether or not you chose the correct pair of running shoes for you.

In all of the above cases, and in most instances of spending money on goods or services, it is clear what you are buying and who gets the credit if you are satisfied with the results.

Not so with marketing, as there is no “yes/no moment.” There is only what is next. (continued below)

Usain Bolt always knows how he’s done in a race. But marketers don’t really get to enjoy the clarity of a finish line.

And because of that dynamic, because there is always the next initiative, marketers can often become somewhat neurotic about getting things right every time. It’s partly because they know that they are always being judged, partly because they know their craft, by definition, is always in limbo.

It raises several important (dare I say “existential”?) questions in our minds. I’m going to take a crack at answering a bunch of them here.

How does a marketing pro measure his/her own success, if those who are your boss/client (Let’s refer to this person as a BC for the rest of this column.) can never truly be satisfied with your work?

There are numerous ways, but the most important may be to set clear goals in advance of each initiative, and then communicate those goals to your BC. The BC will most likely push those goals up a bit (or a lot!), but that’s good news, too, because you will both be clear on what success looks like.

That is a BC-focused answer to the question. But there also has to be a you-focused answer, because you must stay motivated, no matter what the quantitative results are for any initiative. Also, sometimes a BC will still not be satisfied, even if you’ve accomplished what you and s/he agreed upon at the outset. In those cases, just look in the mirror (figuratively, of course) and ask yourself: “Did I do the best that I could have? Did I work as hard as I should have? Did I think as creatively as I’m capable of thinking? If the answers are yes, pat yourself on the back. If the answer to any of these is no, learn from the experience and move on.

How aggressively should you merchandise your results to your BC?

This is an age-old question, particularly for those in the agency world, but for all of us, really. If we are measured by our successes, doesn’t it make sense to shout from the rooftops about them? The answer is that you should toot your own horn when your hard work led directly to a specific result. If you convinced a reporter to interview your BC and it resulted in an article, voice your pleasure about it having worked out so well. If your event idea led directly to a full house on event day and lots of sales leads, make sure to tell your BC, “since the process we implemented worked so well this time, let’s make sure to use it to create future events as well.” You see, it’s not a self-serving “LOOK AT ME!” kind of approach, but a gentle reminder that the idea was yours, and that the team succeeded as a result.

But there is a key point here: If your work didn’t lead directly to the great result, don’t try to take credit. At most, say that you’re pleased all the work the team is doing has led to this kind of a result. There’s no value in turning yourself into a pretzel just to take credit for something. If the company is succeeding, and you are a contributor to that success, it will be clear. There’s no need to highlight yourself above the rest of the team.

Is there ever a time to celebrate, or am I destined to never actually feel like I’ve crossed a finish-line?

Tanguy Pepiot of U. of Oregon celebrated too early and lost. As marketers, when do we get to celebrate?

Two answers here: First, take up running, baking/cooking, knitting or join a book club. Those are endeavors with clear finish lines. Doing one of those things regularly will help answer the need we all have for clear milestones.

Second, if you think back to the answer to the first question in this post, that helps here. Did you hit your goals? Great! Celebrate. But don’t confuse celebration with an end. Think about it this way: Do you really want a finish line in your work? Even a pizza baker has the next pizza to bake. Even a marathon champion has a next race. We don’t want a true finish-line. We want a series of challenges to accomplish. That’s what life is all about.

Is it okay if my BC takes credit for what I’ve done?

Heck, yeah! You know you’ve done great work and your BC knows you’ve done great work. I remember, early in my career, I worked my tail off to do great things for an entertainment client. My BC was ruthless, and never, ever satisfied with the work I was doing. And any successes were all about her. But you know what? When a high-level exec in the company asked her what she thought about me, she sang my praises up to the roof. She knew I was getting it done. Really, all that matters is that you know and your BC knows. The rest will take care of itself.

To what degree should you admit when you have not succeeded?

This is a question that a real marketing professional should never be asking, given that our whole world is about perception, credibility and reputation. But since it’s here, I’ll answer it as follows:

We are only as trusted as our credibility. If we are always sugar-coating our results, we risk losing the trust of our BC. Now, if you run through a series of initiatives and fail each time, you may have credibility but you won’t have a job. Still, the expectation is that you are good at what you do, so by all means, fess up when you don’t get the job done. However…

That is not enough on its own. Any discussion of missing your goals must, must, must be accompanied by lessons learned, ideas for better strategy/implementation the next time around or, at least, an explanation of why things didn’t go as expected. That shows you are already thinking about the future, and that’s a trait all managers want in their team members.

Marketing professionals do not live in a black-and-white world. In fact, the business world does not get grayer than when it comes to marketing. That is why it’s so important to think about what success looks like, how we fit into the overall picture of company success and how to make sure we are appreciated for doing our job well.

We’re never going to be judged like someone assessing a new haircut, but with a bit of analysis, advance planning and honesty with ourselves, we can develop a clearer picture of how we are doing. So go get ‘em!

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