For the past three years, Silicon Valley marketers who once had salaries and career trajectories envied by marketers around the world, have been the poster children for "there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I".
But recently we've heard rumors that things are getting better.
Marcia Mintz, currently COO of the Palo Alto Jewish Community Center (JCC), has transitioned her Silicon Valley marketing career from dot-com craziness to non-profit guerilla tactics.
We called her up to ask what the outlook is for other marketers seeking jobs in Silicon Valley, and also how marketing a start-up compares to marketing a nonprofit… -> The state of Silicon Valley marketing careers
When the dot-com craze crashed, "marketing was the first
department to be cut, particularly in high tech," Mintz says.
While some of the larger companies tried to coast by for a while on brand reputation alone, smaller companies had to rely on non-marketing employees within their companies to pick up the pieces and create lead generation campaigns.
Marketing became part of sales, product development -- any other department willing and able to pitch in.
That means that today, many departments are using the language of marketing, particularly sales. "If you're in marketing, you'll need sales training, and if you're in sales, you'll need marketing training," says Mintz. At the very least, you need to be able to speak the others' language.
Mintz has also seen marketing dollars being driven more toward local efforts rather than the national campaigns.
"I have to make decisions like if I'm going to advertise in the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, or local papers. A few years ago, you had to be in the big leagues to be considered a player; now it's not about being a player, it's about getting bang for your buck."
How does that translate to marketing careers? You don't
necessarily have to have national top-of-the-line experience. Most companies wouldn't be able to afford you, anyway.
If you're willing and able, now is actually a great time for that starter job that could lead to big things once the region's economy picks up. -> How to pitch yourself in today's Silicon Valley economy
If you've been out of work for awhile, don't despair, says Mintz. "In the Valley, we're much more respectful of people being out of jobs, because we all have friends who have been laid off but haven't been able to find the right fit."
Of course, she says, you can always claim to be a consultant, as so many people are these days.
And don't be afraid to ask for help from your connections. "Ask, do you have any contacts, can you make a phone call for me," Mintz says. "It's still and always will be 100% about networking. You have to be very aggressive about that."
Not only do connections help you get an interview, but talking about the connection, where you know the person from, can get you over that first "horribly uncomfortable hump in an interview," she says. "I know that I respond differently to a person depending on whether they've come in from an ad on Craigslist or whether it's through personal connections."
The marketplace is improving, she says. "We have a ramp-up plan for when things get better, and the number one thing is to hire marketing people. I don't think that will come for another year, though. We'll have to stay status quo for awhile to strengthen core programs internally."
After that, let the ramp-up begin.-> Tips on marketing for a start-up
Mintz worked as Director of Marketing and Business Development for IQ.com (now NewWorldIQ) during the dot-com boom.
Working at a start-up is "probably the greatest professional learning experience you could ever have," Mintz says.
Start-ups are often unstructured and open to change and
flexibility. That's very empowering as a professional, she says. She almost felt like an inventor: "You're looking for those right ingredients, and if you can make it work, wow."
But you have to be able to deal with unpredictability and
constant change, and that can be frustrating. Still, the energy, the excitement, the dreams: all of it made for a work experience unlike any other. "I loved it. I loved it, and as a professional it taught me so much."
Of course, she says, it's quite a different experience today. "Back then, if you had an idea that was bold and flashy, that got you noticed and got you press, you could run with it. It didn't matter if it helped you sell your product. Today, you have to tie it into the bottom line."
Would she do it again? Absolutely, but she'd be smarter about it. "I'd look for something different in a start-up now."
Like what? Before signing on she'd make sure the company clearly understood and could articulate the following things:
o its competition
o its ramp-up plan, from start-up to profitability
o the projected lifetime of the company
o who the people are that would make it all happen.-> Tips on nonprofit marketing life
The biggest challenge working for a nonprofit, says Mintz, is that you have to be very careful with production values.
"You have to be very choosey even about the type of paper you're printing on, because you're asking people for money and they want to know that you're not spending a lot on overhead."
But in a lot of ways, it's very similar to working in a start-up. "My time at the start-up really prepared me for this position. I'm always looking for ways to enhance word-of-mouth marketing, use guerilla techniques."
And, while nonprofit work can be fulfilling, don't make the mistake of thinking that a nonprofit career will be a piece of cake. You have to answer to a board, justify your actions to donors, and manage volunteers who have fewer skills than the employees you're accustomed to. In fact, you may find it more stressful rather than less.
FYI: Mintz's contact information for you (please don't abuse it)
Marcia Mintz, COO
Palo Alto JCC
4000 Middlefield Road
Palo Alto, CA 94303