The Rotating Roles at Media Buying & Marketing Firms

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The single most frustrating thing for a client-side executive is being in a stale role too long. As a mid-level executive learns, a role responsible for a single aspect of the overall marketing mix — i.e. online, digital, interactive, whatever — is actually low-to-middle-management, not the platform to upper management she envisioned as she naively accepted the role. Once a new role is targeted, say broadcast, this executive’s networking skills suddenly flourish just enough to get her the coveted role. The role, much to her career’s chagrin, has a life-span of just a few years, as performance still counts for something, but also this ambitious executive has her sights set on something even less intellectually rigorous, yet somehow more rewarding — CMO.

Inevitably, having become CMO by the time she’s 40 leaves much to be desired and a future as ambiguous as it was when she first graduated with her bachelors in English. At 40, what now, what else is there to do but consult, write a book, or go non-profit? Perhaps CEO? Nope, she still hopes to have kids. Her career sky-rocketed so hastily, she failed to prepare her own exit strategy and hadn’t even noticed that life passed her by without so much as stopping to smell a single rose.

The single most frustrating thing to a vendor is being the unfortunate owner of a rolodex that’s only good a few months. As any salesperson with feet on the street knows, re-orgs and lay-offs are the primers of “shifted priorities”, and more upsetting than not being on a prospect’s radar anymore is losing track of the prospect altogether because they’re no longer doing what they did just the week prior. So, you’re left with two choices, both exercisable simultaneously: start another futile effort to court, schmooze, and dine another easily corruptible 20-something or overly bitter 40-something while waiting for the rotated exec you previous courted and bonded with to get into another position where your merchandise becomes attractive again. A million motivational speakers, sales trainers, and personal coaching gurus later, and you’re finally ready to stop selling to become a senior executive on the client side.

As we all know, consultants are often behind the decisions that invariably make the life of most mid-level managers miserable. In an effort to earn our keep by making a recommendation, (regrettably, sometimes any recommendation), we advise media clients to revamp a department or business unit for optimal performance. However, as is often the case, during the execution, politics flair up, egos are bruised, and clients play what amounts to a game of musical chairs with their personnel in the hopes that it’ll shake off the “leeches” (actually the most experienced and most willing to mentor junior executives at the company) and breathe some “fresh air” into a failing (but in mid-level management’s view, strong) infrastructure. That, in turn, causes similar re-alignments at marketing services firms. And that, in turn, explains the abysmal rates of churn, morale, and loyalty in the marketing business (not that any actually matter, as big advertising holding companies have still been able to make billions without any of them).

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