As a child, I once asked my parents “Who treats doctors when they fall ill?”. The answer, of course, was other doctors. Lawyers employ other lawyers when they are the subjects of scrutiny, as do accountants. It not only avoids conflict of interest but helps understand how one is perceived by others. So should marketers hire other marketers to promote themselves? The answer is not so simple.
Unlike other professions, the boundaries of marketing are relatively blurred. It’s a welcoming profession that has evolved to accommodate different business-enabling skills. So you may find marketers doing a range of things - from developing intranets and internal communications to pricing and negotiating with clients. In smaller organizations, one individual does many of these tasks.
There are no rigid standards on how marketing should function and many of us practitioners make a choice to define the boundaries of our team’s work, depending on our employer’s need. In my previous roles with multinational companies, nearly half my time was spent in internal marketing because cross-sell was a key source of revenue. In my current role, the outlook is more traditional external marketing.
What we do at work (and outside of it) tends to shape how people perceive us. So when CMOs think of marketing themselves, they need to start by considering what they want to achieve and whether marketing can play a key role in that journey. Do they want to find new opportunities for work? Do they want to be recognized among their peers? Do they want to build a community?
Many years ago, I coveted a significant position at work. It wasn’t something a linear career progression could get me to, and I wasn’t sure what I needed to do. My then-boss told me that my current portfolio handling marketing for the business wasn’t enough. I needed to add another area to my portfolio of work to demonstrate a wider knowledge base. He suggested operations and I took it up. It was a blessing in disguise because it gave me insights into the business' performance and I used that to improve marketing strategy and operations.
The bigger battle, however, was to position myself as a worthy contender for the role. Having always relied on my work to speak for me, I was at sea when I realized that I would have to internally market myself for the position. I was conflicted and didn’t know where to start. A good friend and former colleague offered to mentor me in navigating this situation. I learned to see myself as a brand and identified senior people who could vouch for me in the organization. I drew up detailed plans of what I would request of them and what opportunities I would seek to demonstrate my value.
Actively marketing myself was exhausting and made me realize that should I need to do this externally, I would need help. (I got the promotion but was also informed that it was close call because my experience was “unconventional”).
Many of us are so used to marketing our employers, their areas of work, and the key management personnel, that we can be lost when it comes to marketing ourselves. The frameworks we build for others, seem daunting when applied to us. It may seem easy to hire a peer to market for yourself.
But try giving them “the brief” and you will realize that one of you (if not both) is underprepared and overwhelmed. So how does one get out of this situation and do something meaningful?
Based on my experience, I am sharing a few suggestions.
Identify your professional aspiration.
As a CMO, there are two conventional avenues for career progression - lateral movements to other organizations or roles, or vertical movement to the CEO role. (Unconventionally, you could decide to turn entrepreneur). Understand which one you identify with and what it will take to get you there.
Often, we underestimate the business skills and soft skills that one needs for the new role and focus only on marketing oneself. Get this clarity by speaking to as many peers and mentors as possible. You may realize that marketing may need to wait for a while until the other priorities are addressed.
One of the first things that people notice about you as your progress in your career is how you are measured in your approach. For many CMOs, speaking our mind, being experimentative, and working with our gut feel got us this far. But to go further, we must understand that diplomacy is as important as results. This can feel inauthentic and crushing
to many CMOs. So, in your personal branding journey, identify aspects of your role and personality that you can carry forth and make peace with what you want to drop.
I don’t mean outsource your personal branding plan to an agency or a team member.
Find a group of people willing to help you objectively see the progress you are making. Depending on your aspiration, these could be either your colleagues at work or peers/ friends who can give you the market perception.
For instance, in the C-Suite, I feel CMOs and CIOs are natural allies because both can complement each other and enable success. Similarly, I have found that CHROs and Heads of Strategy can also make for good allies to support CMOs on their personal branding journey.
If you are using an agency for certain parts of your brand building outside the organization, ensure that the agency is not just meeting their KPIs, but giving you objective feedback on what is working and what isn’t.
Don’t bind yourself with rigid timelines.
Marketing is about influencing others to buy into your vision. You may be convinced right away of your invincibility, but others may take their own time. A friend once told me that getting people to like you is like trying to hold sand in your hand. The tighter the fist, the lesser sand you can hold.
Enjoy your brand-building journey.
Self-doubt is normal, as is a bit of eye-rolling and snarky comments from friends and peers. But if you fundamentally don’t like what you are doing to build your personal brand, you will stop very soon. So find activities that you enjoy and make them a part of your brand-building journey. I am largely introverted, prefer writing, and find 1:1 discussions much more enjoyable and engaging than large-format networking events. This is where I focus the bulk of my energies in my personal brand-building journey.
If you are still wondering if marketers should hire others to market themselves, then the answer is - Yes, provided you know where you need help.
How are you developing your personal brand as a marketing leader? The CMO Alliance Community Slack channel is the perfect place to work on your career journey.
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