What Mountaineers Can Teach Marketers

Marian Salzman
Oct 28 · 3 min read

How many of us begin the week feeling like we have an unscalable mountain to climb? But do we ever stop to appreciate how far we’ve come? As marketers, there are many things we can learn from mountaineers.

I’m blessed that when I’m in Europe, I have one of the finest commutes around. The route to PMI’s operations center in Lausanne passes alongside Lake Geneva, and I can catch sight of the snowy peaks of Mont Blanc. Now, I have no desire to pull on a pair of hiking boots anytime soon — I’m kind of allergic to the cold — but I’ve always been curious about the spirit that drives individuals to conquer distant summits.

One of my colleagues on PMI’s senior leadership team is an avid climber and often uses the analogy of mountains to motivate her team. She’s not the only one who’s transferred the lessons she’s learned to her workplace. Here are my five key takeaways.

1. REALIZE YOU CAN’T DO IT ALONE

Successful climbs are the result of teamwork and collaboration. OK, so the star of Free Solo is an exception — but as a rule, climbing is about working together, taking turns at the front, sharing the load and making the most of each other’s skills. When one climber is flagging, another can take up the slack. We’ve all seen leaders who are exhausted and drained of worthwhile ideas. How refreshing it would be if they let someone else take over for a while before resuming the lead position. Creativity comes from harnessing diverse talents and creating conditions that allow novel ideas to bubble to the surface. Stepping aside on occasion to let others shine can be the very best antidote to dulled thinking.

2. DREAM BIG

To climb a mountain requires ambition. The Magic of Thinking Big — a self-help bestseller first published the year I was born — still holds lessons for all of us today. Just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it’s not possible. This applies equally to the first ascent of a virgin mountain peak or a never-before-considered initiative that could have a global impact.

3. TAKE IT STEP BY STEP

I’m told that if mountaineers were to keep their eye on the summit every step of the way, they’d soon despair at the crushing lack of progress. It’s a slow passage, and sometimes the peak may not seem to be getting any closer. The smarter approach is to break down the journey into more manageable chunks. For mountaineers, this can mean focusing on an objective that’s only a few hundred feet away. For marketers, it means sensible project management and achievable goal setting. There are few things more cheering than checking off one’s progress regularly, creating tangible proof of movement toward the goal.

4. LOOK BACK AND ADMIRE THE VIEW

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the monumental task ahead. Don’t forget to regularly look back and take in how far you’ve come. It’s one of the best ways I know to stay motivated for the next leg of the journey.

5. ACCEPT IT WON’T BE EASY

Mountaineering is a reminder that life’s journey is a constant struggle — with plenty of exertion, discomfort and maybe even a few false summits along the way. Whenever I feel especially challenged by my job, I remind myself that I knew it wouldn’t be easy when I took on the role. And also that the size of the emotional reward is directly proportionate to the size of the feat. If I’m going to make the effort to train and prepare and then pull on that pack and hiking boots, I want the view at the summit to be worth it.

Marian Salzman

Written by

SVP Global Communications at Philip Morris International — award-winning PR and marketing professional, author and trendspotter — popularized “metrosexual.”