I just received an email from a good friend in Massachusetts. A girlfriend of hers, a 20+ year marketing professional was “let go” from her position as head of a technology firm’s marketing ... right before Christmas.
Crazy but true, the CEO in question tried to paint the layoff as a compliment. “You’ve done such a fine job putting a team in place here and training them. We really don’t need you anymore.” he apparently said.
Now, when was the last time you heard of a CFO being laid off like that? “Bob, you’ve done such a fine job training bookkeeping and hiring that accounting firm. We’ve decided to do without you this year.”
Or how about the CIO? “Jerry, those technicians of yours are fantastic geeks. Our tech has never been in better shape. Thanks and have a nice life.”
Yet, somehow on a planet where it’s nearly inconceivable to lay off your most critical leaders when a company needs them most, during a crisis, it’s all too easy to lay off the head of marketing.
Back during the downturn of 2001-02, marketing got socked in the stomach. We were money wasters; we weren’t accountable enough; we were “suits”; we were bad. In fact, when in reaction to the then-common marketplace feelings, an ad agency in Massachusetts did a joke song CD titled, ‘Let’s All Blame the Marketing Director!’ It was so true to life that it was hard for some of us to laugh.
We’ve come a very long way since those dark days. The profession as a whole has nearly reinvented itself -- especially in terms of accountability and measurement. Now, we all measure everything (and now CEOs complain our reports are too detailed; if it’s not one thing, it’s another.)
But, I think we still have one profound challenge to address as a profession. We have raised our reputations as tacticians, but we are not seen as mission-critical strategic leaders.
Strategic leaders keep their jobs during recessions. Tacticians can be downsized. You can always get a cheaper tactician or make one tactician do the work of two. Heck, you can even outsource tacticians to other, cheaper countries.
How can marketing as a profession seize the day and get upper management to (a) give us a seat at the table, and (b) see us as the strategic leaders that we are?
I don’t have the answers -- but I hope you do. Write me. Share your insights and ideas. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
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