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Mar 17, 2004
Interview

Career Advice from Ernst & Young Chief Marketing Officer Jim Speros

SUMMARY: No summary available.
Jim Speros, Ernst & Young's US Chief Marketing Officer, began his career agency-side, working for Benton & Bowles, SSC&B, and NW Ayer with brands such as Noxzema, Tropicana, and Johnson's Baby Shampoo.

But while working on the AT&T account for NW Ayer, the client lured him away. Speros wound up at AT&T for 20 years, winding up as VP of Business Services, Marketing, and Communications.

Then in 1998 he became Ernst & Young's US CMO.

We asked Speros to share insights and career tips from his three decades in marketing:


High-growth vertical niches for marketing careers

Align yourself with multiculturalism and you may do very well, Speros says. Hispanic and Asian populations in particular are growing very rapidly.

At AT&T, Speros had headed up the company's Multicultural Marketing divisions. "I was dealing with consumers from 17 different ethnic groups," he says. "That was something I consciously wanted to get involved with because the world was becoming multicultural and it was important to have it as part of your tool kit."

Because of the aging of the population, industries that market to seniors, such as investments, travel, real estate, and healthcare, will also be growing rapidly, Speros says.

Speros' marketing pet peeves

Pet peeve #1: Short term thinking

"Marketing needs 'soak time' and we all too often fall into the trap of worshipping at the altar of quarterly results," Speros says. "When you succumb to this kind of thinking, you're not building your brand for the long term. Unfortunately, too many managers and leaders look for short term hits to justify their existence."

Pet peeve #2: Trying to please everyone

"Marketing strategy is about making choices, not building consensus," he says. "When you try to please everyone, you wind up with choosing the lowest common denominator which often leads to failure. You need courage and you must take risks."

Otherwise, you end up with mediocre marketing campaigns that have no staying power (another of his pet peeves).

How to move from agency to client-side

While it may be frowned upon in general, leaving an agency to go work for a client is far from unheard of. "If I were looking at it from an agency perspective, if that person was going to leave, I'd rather see them go to a client and have them continue working there than go to a competitor," Speros says.

If you're at an agency and interested in switching, plant the seed in the client's mind by saying something such as, "I've been thinking about moving to client-side at some point, and I was wondering if you could provide some insight, or if there might be some opportunities here," he suggests.

How to ask for a raise

First, ask for a feedback session or two to be sure that your boss notices you delivering results.

"The time to request a raise is after you've done something extraordinary, when you have that momentum supporting you," Speros says.

Couple the conversation with what additional responsibilities or tasks you'll take on in return for a raise. "There has to be something in it for your employer," he says.

If the answer is no -- that a raise is not possible at the moment -- ask when you might have the conversation again. "If you don't see [a raise] coming and it's a primary concern, you might think about moving on," says Speros.

Three specific career-growth tactics:

#1. Join and volunteer to lead groups for an association.

Speros is Chairman of the Association of National Advertisers. "I've always had a passion for marketing, communications, and advertising, and have been involved in that organization for almost 25 years," he says. Through this, he has built an extraordinary network that allowed him to expose his talents to others.

#2. Cultivate a variety of functional skills and characteristics

Some traits are bred in the bone, but most can be cultivated. To succeed at the upper echelons of marketing, you need to be:
--innovative
--willing to take risks
--insightful, with an acute awareness of the world around you
--a superb communicator
--able to harness the ability of others

From a functional perspective, get as varied a work experience as you can, early on: work in an agency, for a PR firm, as a brand manager. Get exposure to events and sponsorships, pricing and distribution strategies.

But make sure you don't "keep flitting from company to company like a hummingbird going from flower to flower," Speros warns. "If you look at a resume and see someone has moved around every two years, it suggests they weren't very effective."

#3. Sell your ideas internally

"Early on in my career, I underestimated the importance of selling things through at the top of the organization," Speros says. "I've never made that mistake since."

Understand what issues keep your CEO awake at night. Your primary role is to bring the perspectives and insight from the outside world in and share that information along the way.

Then, using that insight, you bring creative ideas back out to the outside world. "All along that path, what you have to make sure you do is that it doesn't just come down like a thud on the CEO," Speros says. "Bring them into the tent early on."


How to get a life outside the office

"I work 75 hours a week, and that's pretty average for a CMO," Speros says. "I could work 24/7, but you have to create vent holes."

For example, Speros schedules all his presentations and meetings Monday through Thursday, then schedules conference calls from his home on Fridays. "Then I can go out to dinner with my wife. You have to make time for things that are important in your life, not that it's easy."

But how do you make employers understand? Communicate your needs, then draw a line.

"It requires some strength, because people will always ask for more," he notes.

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