Guerrilla Guide: Professional stereotypes

I’m at a Networx function, sipping a beer and chatting with Frank Chamberlin, who also writes for this esteemed publication. We’re talking about the pitfalls of penning a piece without a decent brief, when I notice to my right a woman who is staring at me.

Being a well-brought up boy, I put my hand out and we introduce ourselves. As soon as our names have been exchanged she asks me, “What do you do?” (I’d never start off with that question). I say, “I’m not sure, it depends what the time is and where I am.” She blinks, like I’ve kicked her in the shins. Then asks me, “What does Starship do?” (I’m wearing a name tag, much as I hate them.) I say, “We’re an advertising agency.” She says, “That’s it?”

So I stupidly play her game. I ask her this, which is a big mistake. “What does XXXX do?” (She has the name of a big head hunting firm on her lapel. Of course I know them.) She says, “You don’t know? We’re a recruitment firm!” I say (third mistake), “Oh, I see.” She asks aggressively, “What do you mean by that?” I know what I want to say, but hesitate, searching for the right word. “I’ve always found personnel people to be, ahhh, what’s the term? (I desperately think of plays, Oscar Wilde…) A bit earnest.”

“Earnest. You think I’m earnest?” (whites of eyes showing). “Would you say that if you knew I was the new marketing manager?” she says, like she means, “Hey, I’ve got a big budget and you’d better be nice to me, because all you ad guys want it.” And she storms off because I’ve been so offensive. Not exactly a new situation for me. I didn’t mean to be rude, but there you go, in her mind it’s obviously a major sin to not take yourself seriously.

Frank smiles, shrugs his shoulders. I sip another beer and wonder why people think their careers matter so much, instead of just trying to enjoy themselves for their own sake; why they literally live their job. So with the intention of making damn sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing instead of selling drugs, bad legal advice or second hand houses, below I’ve cobbled together a list of the ‘professions’ (I use the term lightly) you could have done instead and why you’re better off where you are, in career nirvana.

In order to not appear too discriminatory, I’ve listed them alphabetically. And in case you’re wondering, I’ve interviewed at least one member of each of these professions, to get the running on what’s the real perception from the inside. They’re all very necessary, except perhaps tax lawyers, so I don’t really want to insult their members, but be warned. This is an article that will offend anyone who isn’t a marketer, so don’t show it to your friends unless you’re sick of them.

Accountant

I had to start with the worst one first. Someone who thinks the word conservative means business-like. ‘Personality’ used as a contraceptive. People who make bankers look exciting. A profession filled with people who are so money-oriented they studied how to track it. And look backwards? They spend their life with their eyes firmly locked on the rear vision mirror. Accountants don’t know how to generate money, only know how to find where it’s gone. Even then they have the cheek to think they can manage businesses because they read balance sheets all day. That’s like a traffic cop telling you because he sees people go fast all the time he’s by definition a good driver. The accountant is the enemy of the marketer, in the same way the pet door is the enemy of the fat cat – something to squeeze past on the way to a good time.

Architect

Seven years studying how to create unique living environments, three-dimensional art, getting the physics, engineering, dimensions exactly right for a nirvana space where people can just ‘be’ in a pleasant existence, only to be told by a pimply kid doing work experience at the local council they won’t approve it.

Artist

Yes, you get to drink and take drugs all day, slap some crap on the wall and make out you’re brilliant. The madder it is, the better you are. But if you ain’t into flagrant self promotion, you starve.

Banker

See accountant, assume they have all the money and want all of it back, with interest. Plus want to charge you mega bucks for doing anything complex, like taking your own money out of your account. Then recognise that’s the good ones.

Builder

Women make up the bulk of decision-makers in this fair country; accept it. To be told what colour tiles, where they want the stove, why the window has to be double-glazed all day long, drives builders nuts. So they all hate women. A good honest profession where you can clearly see what you’ve achieved in a day has its merits, but with many a downside too.

Chemist

Scores well on the public trust factor (we’d be pretty stuffed if they didn’t – imagine going to the chemist for Disprin and getting heroin), but as boring as bat shit for the chemist themselves. Yes, you do get to meet lots of people who wander in the door – but the same four walls, day in, day out? The same piece of carpet to stand on while you dish out the pills? No wonder lots of chemists start to tickle the till. Wouldn’t you take a sniff of something to make your day more interesting?

Chiropractor

Saving people from pain is a noble calling. But because the doctors and physios see them as a threat, chiros are relegated to a position close to tarot card readers by many more conservative members of the public. And this after seven to 10 years of intense training. I ask you?

Dentist

Spend your time looking down people’s mouths all day, squinting, trying to see what’s going wrong behind a back molar – when the buggers have had garlic sausages for lunch. And almost everyone you talk to can’t talk back (a mouthful of instruments and suction tubes). No wonder they are all nutty. Nice people, over qualified, overpaid, but, generally, quite mad.

Doctor

Take some of the highest IQ people in the country, have their parents push them into a high paying job that will come in handy when Mum and Dad are old. And it’s great to brag about to friends: “Yes, John’s doing medicine at Melbourne.” Then stick them in tiny rooms, with bad light, get them to see lonely little old ladies all day. Doling out Disprin. Pay them shit per person, so they have to race through their diagnoses. What a waste. The smartest people in the country operating as distribution systems for chemical companies. Bored out of their minds. We’d be better off to train nurses to go on those diagnosis websites and get the doctors doing something better with their time.

Engineer

I could be an engineer. You get to invent things, design things, improve things. They are invariably decent people. Virtually unrecognised in Australia, this is a career that has merit and deserves respect. But gets bugger-all salary unless you’re at the very top. Also involves a lot of study in your chosen area and that could be tricky for a dummy like me.

General manager

We need them. Many of us are doing their job already without knowing it. The work is as varied as Paris’s love life and you can control the lives of all around you, so it has a lot of plusses. But the downside is a lack of focus, a lack of expertise and the sad fact that accountants often think they should be in this key role of business without any ability in the calling at all. General managers vary incredibly in quality. They can be the worst entrepreneurs, or the best. The worst marketers, or the best. There’s not enough training being undertaken at graduate level. I think most MBAs should be spending their time doing general management, instead of wanting to be experts at something. You could move to GM, many marketers do. But you’d spend a lot of time doing accounting or buying widgets, which you may not like.

Head hunter

Called Slave Traders, Meat Marketers or worse behind their backs, and treated very politely to their faces, ‘cause head hunters can tip you into a good possie, or ruin your chances for one. Many personnel operators can’t help taking life way too seriously. If you spent all day weighing people up, or selling through your ability to sum people up, either way you get judgemental and start not to see the funny side of anything. Especially when you’re trained up to the eyeballs, in what people who have no idea think is business ‘best practice’. I know head hunters who couldn’t laugh at their own funeral. There are some talented marketers trapped in head hunting companies, but they do bugger-all marketing, really. The bosses don’t believe in spending money and what do you say about a product (people) that obviously is always different, and when it goes wrong, is never your fault, but you have to wear it? Would you want to be one?

Journalist

Here you have highly entertaining, intelligent people. Interesting folk, drinking themselves to sleep because some bastards a hundred years ago allowed what is arguably Australia’s most powerful profession to be subjugated by rogue robber barons. Now there are only three or four sizable employers, so (outside of the specialist magazines and pod/vod casting) you have few options and an awful union/class-based system under which to work. One decent, but despondent place is the ABC, where because it’s starved of funds and not listened to by the public, you only earn a pittance as a journo. The rest (while some are great organisations, with fantastic people working with you) ruin your career and your headspace. Many of these places force their main asset to sully itself like an old man shitting himself on the bus. Due to the need to attract audience numbers they get involved in fostering plain bad entertainment (Big Brother, Biggest Loser). The profession you study/enter, if you have the highest of moral drivers, is often the business you work in with the lowest morals of the lot. Irony? No wonder they drink.

Lawyer

While they may spend their time making up laws and hence control our lives and rule this country, lawyers do so with a smug belief that they, and they alone, know what’s right. And they spend most of their time in battles with other lawyers. They can’t both be right. Usually the kid at school who didn’t win the fights, they now fight all the time, as dictated by the adversarial system under which they operate. When they are uncertain if they’ll win, they go out and find more rules, often delving back centuries. And they outright lie. Yep, they make good money, but have to struggle through a traction-like professional system, spending years as slaves to the partners. We as marketers have one up on the lawyers in another respect too. The law is controlled by public opinion in the main, particularly legislation. And we can control public opinion.

Nurse

My heart goes out to the nurses, underpaid, caring, close as you can get to we sticky humans and they do it all the time, day and night; anything you can imagine, they have to do. With gusto and determination and pride. And our system ignores them. Treats them like second-class medical staff. Along with their even more downtrodden assistants, they are under manned, under appreciated and under resourced. The system is over burdened, their lives are drenched with forms, the tedium is palpable and through all that nurses have to be absolutely exacting in their delivery of medicines and coordinated like a machine to save lives. They are exhausted, depressed and leaving in droves.

Physiotherapist

Close to nurses are physios. Less stressed and a great career if you like spending time helping people. Can live anywhere if you speak the language. Get to mix with sports stars. You’d have to like touching people I guess (that rules out most of the lawyers), but generally I can’t really knock being a physio.

Pilot

Can you imagine spending more than 10 years paying a fortune to fly and taking all sorts of exams? Being responsible for the lives of hundreds of people? But there’s a lot of upside. Travel all over the world, have great accommodation. Get to wear snappy suits and a cap, whacko! Set up spouses in several cities. Party yourself stupid for days at a time in exotic locations and go on holiday almost free. But with autopilot, between taking off and landing, you are bored to tears. You have to work for some real bastards, it gets highly political in the admin side, and the pressure not to fuck up (i.e. smack into a mountain and kill the lot) is something you and I will never know.

Politician

The most sucked up to is also the most hated. I challenge you to think of any role more derisive. The pollies separate us. Tear at our psyche and our belief in truth and fairness. They cause great rifts in our society and do so for personal gain. But that power is at a terrible cost. Think how you’d feel being Kevin Rudd or Peter Garret at a Liberal convention? You are under people’s skin, changing the very fabric of their existence – on the one hand doing good for a few, on the other tipping the balance the wrong way for others. Pollies are treated like gods, but would you want to stand in a line and agree with stuff you didn’t for the good of the party? And invariably once you’re with a party, you’re with them the whole way. A marketer could do well to join. God knows they need better marketing of some pressing issues. But would you still be a marketer, or could you say they are all already marketers?

Priest

I’ve listed the profession ‘priest’ to cover any religious role. I had many years of being indoctrinated by them. Nice people, but full of shit. Sell something I had no confidence in? I’d rather sell tobacco; at least you know for sure it’s certain death.

Public servant

Closely reined in by the politicians is their arch nemesis, the servant of the public. Unelected, brimming with ultimate power and usually stuffed full of brains, the bureaucrats are an interesting bunch. Sometimes actually paid quite well, they must struggle through a system that would kill you of tedium, but thankfully awards profile, like ours does. Always being asked to fix something by everyone you meet (like a doctor for our society, some are asked to fix a culture issue, others asked to fix the roads) many of my public servant friends invent other jobs on social occasions – a medico, a bikie drug smuggler, occasionally a Jedi Knight.

Real estate agent

Spend your days showing people through houses. Yes, you get to drive snappy cars and wear nice suits, but that’s it for the fun aspect.

Stockbroker

Selling second hand shares is slightly more fun than second hand houses, as you can promise great returns and you can knock up all sorts of statistics to make it seem like you’re not really gambling. And you can sell one lot of shares to another of your own clients, if turnover looks a bit iffy this month. And did I mention the nice suits and boozy lunches?

Teacher

You get good holidays. But could you stand there, spending days at a time trying to keep unruly, badly brought up kids quiet while you try to get them to absorb something they don’t appreciate, no matter how vital it may be for the rest of their lives? And get paid shit money for it? I’d rather jump.

Vet

Deserve sincere praise for what they do to look after those in our community who can’t look after themselves and can’t explain how they feel. I respect the specialists – horses, dogs, cattle, etc. But I question the expertise of the general vet. I doubt the ability of anyone to be able to know much about a wide range of animals (birds, fish, lizards, cats…) when we can’t even find decent generalist doctors for people, and we’re only one species. How much would a vet in Brighton really know about gangrene in galahs or Guatemalan geckos? So you’re giving advice on something you know nothing about, much of the time. Sounds like a lawyer telling you about advertising.

Zoo keeper

See vet, assume almost no income. Dress up in a natty Steve Irwin outfit and perform like a trained seal for the public most days of the week. Glamour? I’d like to be the keeper of the eagles, or the panthers, for a weekend.

Marketers

What is good about being a marketer, you already know. The variety, the power, the pay, the intellectual interest, the moving sea of challenge living inside a competitive chess game. But we have an image problem. We are not treated with the same respect as many of the above professions. Doctors, lawyers, pilots, engineers (the list goes on and on) all rank above us in public opinion, public respect. And we spend our waking hours in charge of public opinion. It’s beyond a joke.

Our profession must start to stake its claim as a complex balance of science, art, competition and calibre. I’m sick to death of being in the one profession that has absolutely no respect for itself. We have no visible promotional efforts made by our leadership. There’s no CPA, AMA, ADA, Master Builders promotional campaigns going on for us. No TV ads. No public relations effort. No real public pride building done for we humble marketers. I beg you AMI, ASMI, AMSRS, DMA, fix it. One of you, please fix it. Or get together like grown-ups and do it jointly, but fix it.

Make us not just personally proud of what we do (many of us can only brag to head hunters and pissed colleagues), but please make us acknowledged for what we do, by our public. I’d be more than happy to contribute to the campaign.

Even the free to air TV stations run their own promotions. Why can’t we? Couldn’t we lean on the media? Surely they owe us something; we’re the bloody decision-makers aren’t we?

Next month I’m discussing the pros and cons of stretching brands versus launching new ones, to create new services or products. If you’ve got something you’d like to stretch, or you’d like me to slip something on, call me and we can pull and push lunch around all afternoon.