A few weeks ago I gave an informational interview to a local university student looking for advice on the best way to jump start his marketing career. The conversation was a handy excuse to catalog some of the lessons I’ve learned over 30 years in marketing, and to document what marketing career advice I’d give myself – if I were suddenly transported back to the late 1980s – knowing what I know now.
Here are my 5 tips for new college grads or any aspiring young marketer:
1. Work for a big company.
At a large corporation, your responsibilities are more tightly defined and it can be more difficult to feel like you’re making a measurable difference. Early in your career, however, there’s a lot to be said for learning to navigate the dynamics of working in a large organization. (I still remember how one of my very first emails – innocent, I thought – generated a furious response from a department head.) It’s a large corporation where you’ll learn the difference between product marketing, field marketing, and corporate marketing, between branding and demand generation. You’ll learn how to get noticed, how to work as part of a team, and yes: how to deal with a wide range of personalities.
2. Work for an agency.
At some point early in your career, work for an agency. One of my very few career regrets is not experiencing agency life early on. You’ll almost certainly work harder, and earn less, than you would at a large company, but the nature of the agency business means you’ll get exposed to a much broader range of (client) companies, industries, and product categories. You’ll wear more hats. You’ll learn how to sell (see #4, below.) Agency life can be intense: the wins feel better, and the failures hit harder. But you’ll get to take risks that you wouldn’t in a larger company. And you’ll almost certainly have a lot of fun doing it.
3. Soak up technology.
News flash: marketing today is technology-driven. Wherever you are early on in your career, learn, train, get certified in as many technologies as you can, especially if it’s on someone else’s dime. You don’t have to be a programmer or even a techie. Think social media management, content management, marketing automation, reporting and analytics. No matter what happens next, just having that skill set, that certification, that familiarity, that comfort level with specific technologies will open doors, get you noticed on LinkedIn, and put you in front of the queue. If marketing software is a merit badge, be an eagle scout.
4. Spend time with sales.
The best marketers I know also know how to sell. And that’s important, because, as a marketer, you’ll be constantly selling ideas, to your client, to your boss, even if you’re not on the front lines selling your company’s product. My first four years out of college were in sales – door to door, no less. It was a tough experience but I leverage that experience every day. I’m a better listener. I know when to go for the close, and when to just shut up and let someone else talk. Take a sales training class if your company offers one. If they don’t, ask to spend a day in the field, or a day on the phone, with one of your sales colleagues. At bare minimum, you’ll be a better marketer for learning why customers buy.
5. Learn to write, and write well.
You shouldn’t have to say “learn to write” to a college graduate. And yet, in the Twitter era, good business writing is a skill both in high demand and short supply. Think campaign reports, budget proposals, creative concepts, even that two paragraph email that explains why the campaign is launching two weeks later than you promised. Learn how to express yourself in writing precisely, intelligently, and in brief. Learn how to edit – not what others write, but what you write. Brevity is your friend. Bullet points are your friend. Good writing will take you places, no matter what your role.
What did I miss? What advice would you give to an aspiring marketer?