Tameka Vasquez
Feb 1, 2018 · 6 min read

We’ve all seen those quirky job descriptions: the kinds that practically read, “we’re looking for a rockstar, champion, guru, ninja. Come create, grow and be the master of your destiny.”

At three different points in my career, I found myself in newly created roles. The first time, I was an early team member of a new division within an established company. The second time, I was the first marketing hire within a small business seeking to reinvent themselves. The third time, I was the first marketing hire within the western hemisphere of an international company.

Being the first marketing employee, in particular, is a bit like being the firstborn in your family. I’ve had the great fortune of both experiences. I’m still trying to figure out if this means I’m destined for a career and life of voluntary human experimentation or if I just subconsciously enjoy risky tightrope walking my career to either medals or meltdowns. Truth is, I’m really grateful I’ve had these experiences, and I’m sure my pioneering days are not over.

I’m not alone. Many marketers are attracted to opportunities that allow them to be resourceful, creative and recognized. We tend to enjoy solving problems, taking risks and upskilling ourselves. But with endless possibilities for marketing impact and so little time and resource, it is paramount that expectations are articulated and priorities are understood. Don’t fully depend on the job description or rest on confidence in your previous experience. Be sure to nail it down during the interview process or in the very early days on the job.

In reflection of my work history as well as that of some fellow pioneering marketers across a variety of industries, here are six questions you should ask to assert value early on and have a more promising experience in your newly minted marketing role.

[1] What is the story behind the brand and its founders?

It’s important to understand a company’s legacy and to be able to keep that story alive. You should know where the company’s been to activate your role in where it’s heading. Demonstrate curiosity about how and why the company entered the industry it serves, the strongest market opportunities, any mergers or acquisitions along the way, who they’ve displaced and what market issues their products and services address. You ought to be the champion of the brand and its value propositions so you can immediately embed that story in your marketing strategy and translate it into useful tactics.

[2] Who will I be collaborating with?

Regardless what tasks you take on in your first couple of months, you have to prepare to operate in a customer-centric, solutions-focused and data-driven manner. But you can’t achieve that operating rhythm for the marketing “department” on your own, and you shouldn’t be expected to. Between sales, product, creative, IT, and finance, your foundational knowledge base is all there.

Rena DeLevie, Founder of Management For Millennials, says, “Connect what you’re doing to your colleagues’ job in a way that shows (not tells) what you are doing and why it is valuable to them.”

I believe building cross-functional collaboration is one of the most impactful challenges for a pioneering marketer to step up to early on. It fosters culture that later minimizes finger pointing and maximizes education and therefore advocacy. So know who you’ll be working with and current dynamics between those functions.

[3] Is there an established or ballpark marketing budget?

You won’t find a company that isn’t obsessed with measuring the return on investment, especially in marketing, but they often miss the mark on the “I” in ROI — the investment. In their 2017 State of Inbound report, Hubspot lists “securing enough budget” as the third biggest challenge marketers are facing. Will you be able to secure sponsorships and partnerships and bring in freelancers or agencies when needed?

Every marketer knows too well that the struggle is real when you step into a company where you may only get a dollar and a dream. Since there hasn’t been a marketer before you, understanding budget constraints early on allows you to strike the right balance of quality and quantity in your planning. Prioritizing is probably the hardest thing to do when you are the first marketing hire at a company because you’ll want to demonstrate the full extent of your strategic and creative chops. But when budget is tight, you’re better off doing a few things really well than doing a little of everything that can’t be effectively measured.

[4] What technologies will I have access to?

I once worked for a company that had seven modes of internal communication alone but did not have an adequate contacts database. It signaled early on that they spent a lot of time speaking to each other and very little speaking to their clients and prospects, which was quickly confirmed as the (frightening) truth.

Get your hands on any and all tools pertaining to internal communication, project management, analytics, automation, customer relationship management, content/digital asset management, etc. But also get entrenched in sales collateral, market research, product documents, buyer information, external communications, and absolutely any data that can serve as benchmarks.

If you find yourself at a company that is lacking a critical technology for you to run marketing campaigns, like a marketing automation system, you’ll have to be prepared to make a case for it, quickly. FYI — the spend on marketing technologies now rivals information technologies according to a recent Gartner marketing survey. If you find yourself at a company that has a full stack of tools, you’ll need to get comfortable with the most relevant ones, because until further notice, the marketing department will be you and those platforms.

[5] How will you judge my contributions?

When you’re expected to be some mix of Dan Wieden, Nate Silver, and Andrew Ng, pioneering marketers will quickly find themselves in a position where they just don’t know which of their contributions will be acknowledged and appreciated. As mentioned earlier, you have to get clarity on expectations and how your success will be measured.

Tim McDonald, Founder of CreatingIs, LLC., says, “None of my managers told me what they wanted to see from me. So I learned to always experiment, take risks, but understand the impact everything has on other stakeholders and come up with reporting to measure results.”

Will you be evaluated by increased website traffic, qualified leads, social media engagement, content downloads, event attendance, etc.? Can your evaluation also include development of strategy and process, effective internal communication and alignment, stronger brand awareness, usable materials and new initiatives?

Jaimee Given, a beauty industry marketer, says, “Without a predecessor, you don’t have anyone to be judged against and that is an amazing opportunity to drive your own agenda, but be prepared to go completely outside of your comfort zone to measure and communicate your contributions.”

[6] Does this company have a tolerance for failure?

Chris Ee, the Associate Director of Analytics & Insights at The Marketing Arm, says, “Because people may never fully understand what you do, marketers have to go above and beyond to help justify their rationale. They have to take authority, establish process and document everything to later evaluate what worked and what didn’t.”

Many things will not go as planned and in due time, some things may prove unsuccessful. Being a pioneering marketer is a journey through unchartered territory and stopping to merely grab up every bit of low-hanging fruit can sometimes stall the construction of a clear path forward. It’s a tough balancing act. And unfortunately, some companies read the absence of immediate marketing successes as failures. You’ll need to know early on how your leaders will address that and how you can mitigate any negative perceptions of your attempts.

Being the first to perform a function at a company is an interesting challenge, but most rewarding in a culture that values effort, fosters team spirit and applies the patience required to build a practice that can positively challenge its status quo.

If you have an interview coming up for a newly created role, I’m happy to help by expanding upon this advice. If you’ve just landed this kind of job, I’d love to hear how you’re doing so far. If you found this article relatable, don’t be shy. Tweet @tameka_vasquez

The Whats Her Name

The first digital publication and trend report to examine marketing and advertising from the perspectives of women of color working in the field. Tag us on social with #TheWhatsHerName.

Tameka Vasquez

Written by

a flower child from foreign lands currently adulting as a biz strategist, professor, and speaker in the tech industry.

The Whats Her Name

The first digital publication and trend report to examine marketing and advertising from the perspectives of women of color working in the field. Tag us on social with #TheWhatsHerName.

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