I am in the process of looking for my next "opportunity" and the job-hunting process has forced me to reflect back on my marketing career. The other day I was thinking to myself "If you could go back to when you first started, what would you tell yourself?" and when I finished my internal thoughts, I realized it would make a great blog post.
Avoid Getting Locked Into One Tactic
I started the "marketing" phase of my career working in email marketing. That was late 2000 and at that time, email marketing was all the rage. Marketers were loving it because it offered great ROI. Email service providers like the company I worked for were in a race to grow revenues and would often give clients super low CPMs to sign them up. This meant that it cost next to nothing to blast people with all kinds of email messages selling your goods/services.
Since that time, email marketing has changed drastically (as every other marketing tactic does) and now it's just another tool at a marketers fingertips. I believe the marketing industry is largely driven by hype. Lots of people making and drinking the Cool-Aid, if you will. Those that sell tools and services need to be seen as having something that marketers don't, so that the marketers pay for it. And so it is easy to get caught up in it. Take social media, which to me feels an awful lot like email marketing used to feel. It's cheap and the possibilities are endless but in a few years it will be just like email marketing - another arrow in the quiver.
Some people might want to stick with one tactic and to those people, best of luck, but if you have aspirations of being able to do more then you need make hard choices and keep diversifying your experience. I believe this is easier said than done because success can come easy... even if you had never heard of social media two years ago, you could be a published author with over 10,000 Twitter followers today. It can be hard to walk away from success but my advice would be to just consider the big picture. Is what you are doing today really going to matter in five years?
In my case, being seen as anything but an email marketing person was really hard. In some ways, I had to go to and do an MBA to shed that image. So my advice to young people is to get as much experience in different tactics as possible. Not only will you get a better understanding of who true marketers present an integrated marketing strategy but you will also pick up lots of great contacts along the way.
Get Experience in Communications and Sales
I believe that sales, communications and marketing are and have been converging for years. They all involve similar strategies to make people think, feel or act in a pre-determined way. People are often scared of sales but trust me, if you can't sell then how are you ever going to get a job because the most important thing you will ever sell is yourself.
This is especially true if you want to work for smaller companies because more often than not, they will not have somebody that just does marketing or just does communications. And while most communications people think that a marketing person can't do their job (and vice versa), the truth is quite the opposite. Looking back at how I missed out on these opportunities or didn't capitalize on them, I now see many different ways I could have been involved. Participate in trade shows, liase with your agency's PR or sales department and bring in leads.
When I was doing my MBA, we never really spoke about communications or sales. In fact, I'm pretty sure that when we did a business plan project that my group was one of the only ones that included a PR strategy as part of our overall marketing communications strategy. I don't really think the basis of PR are all that complicated - I learned them in a few hours over the phone. But employers like to see tangible experience in this area so get out there and get involved!
For better or worse, the internet is awash in marketing thinking. Blogs, websites, tweets.... it's everywhere. Spend some time getting familiar with who is out there. Find somebody influential and see who they are listening to. If you are not already into RSS feeds then set up a Google Reader account and start subscribing to RSS feeds at imporant marketing websites... it will save you going back often to see when new content is published. Set up a twitter account and follow influential thinkers. Search for key terms or look for hashtaps like #marketing to find pepole to follow. Tools like TweetDeck make managing twitter that much easier.
If you are not on LinkedIn, then you should set up a profile immediately. LinkedIn will help you manage and stay connected to your business contacts. When you meet somebody interesting, ask them if they are on LinkedIn and if you can connect. I have found LinkedIn invaluable when it comes to doing company research and preparing for interviews. I use it to get a sense of what the company is like and what experience the people I might be working with or interviewing with have.
Don't Burn Bridges
The world may be big, but the marketing world is small and you never know when something is going to come back to you. I left DoubleClick's DARTmail division in 2004 and I remember leaving the building thinking that I will never see the DARTmail platform again. Two years later I am sitting in training learning the tool all over again.
Stay positive and try to keep you reputation (personal brand) as something viewed positively by those around you. Spend some time each week reconnecting with and staying updated on what old colleagues are doing as you never know when you might get an email or a phone call that leads you in a new and interesting direction.
Marketing is a fun field to work in. Be social, be jovial and be passionate. I think that these three things are infectious and bring energy to any office environment. Just because it is fun, doesn't mean it is easy and some days you are going to want to crawl under a rock and die but if you're having fun as much as you can, you will never go wrong.
Good luck out there.