Phil Preston on… his ten marketing commandments

  Some description I was recently asked to talk to second year marketing under-grads at the University of East London on a marketing related topic. Well, as they spend most of their academic life listening to lectures on marketing strategy, customer experience management, innovation, digital marketing etc. I decided to do something a bit different.

Having been round the block a few times, including eight years spent in the hot seat as Director of Marketing, I have come to the conclusion that to stay ahead of the game and still remain sane there are ten marketing commandments you should follow. I hasten to add that this is not official CIM advice, but they have worked for me.

For each commandment that follows pre-fix it with ‘Thou shalt …’ apart from number nine, which isn’t an order, more an observation.

  1. Get professional: goes without saying that if you want to take your marketing career seriously you should not only be professionally qualified but also you should join a professional organisation. In fact, whatever career path you take, it’s always good for your credibility to have some letters after your name.
  2. Get digital: if you don’t understand this stuff, both from a tactical and strategic point of view then you’ll get left behind. But don’t be blinded by the technology – keep it in perspective and ideally keep it simple.
  3. Know the numbers: of course you have to understand the metrics of marketing, particularly digital, but you also have to know your way around a balance sheet and a set of management accounts. Also get to know the finance people, what makes them tick, what are their fears and aspirations – form alliances and help them understand your world. If you ever find yourself on the Board of a company and you are facing a barrage of tough questions from the CEO or MD then it’s good to have the Finance Director in your corner.
  4. Know your enemy: you not only need to know who your competitors are but also you need to be aware of the enemy within. In any organisation, particularly a large company, there will be people hell bent on making your life as difficult as possible (in my case it was the Director of Sales). How you deal with these people will depend on the culture of the company and your own values. However, always stay calm and be professional.
  5. Surround yourself with good people: don’t be afraid to hire the very best; people who have the knowledge, skills and personal attributes to go far. When recruiting do not ever hire the best of a bad bunch or someone who will be a disruptive influence on your team – start the process again if necessary. And once you’ve hired someone don’t be afraid to invest in them; inevitably they will leave but that’s no reason to prevent them reaching their full potential.
  6. Be nice – but not too nice: sometimes in life you have to make hard decisions but always be ethical about the decisions you make and the way you implement them. For example, making people redundant is tough for everyone concerned so keep in mind that you are dealing with fellow human beings and treat them with respect. Equally, don’t be afraid to constructively criticise someone for doing a sub-standard job when they should know better.
  7. Stay curious: remember when you were little and you were fascinated by everything and anything? What happens is that we all grow up, get stuck in a rut and find it very difficult to unlearn stuff. But if you can, stay curious; don’t only look at what your competitors are doing or the latest ideas generated by the crowd through your co-creation platform, look at the world around you, at literature, art, nature, science, music, popular culture, people … you can gain inspiration from virtually anywhere.
  8. Go home: believe it or not you don’t have to be the last one to leave the office. Yes you should be enthusiastic, committed and hopefully passionate about what you do but you also need a social life and you need to do things that nurture you personally, otherwise you’ll burn out. If you happen to be reading this blog at home or on holiday put that damn Blackberry down now!
  9. Small is beautiful: do you aspire to work for a big brand? It may look great on your CV but the ‘production line’ job you may end up with probably won’t give you as much satisfaction as being one of only a small marketing team working for a small company with virtually no marketing budget. Trust me on this.
  10. Get your hands dirty: don’t think you know your customers or consumers just because you have read the latest research report or spoken to the sales team. The best way to get to know them is to work on the shop floor, either metaphorically or physically. There’s no disgrace in starting from the bottom and working your way to the top so don’t be afraid to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in, it’s good for the soul.