In this careers feature, Liz Foster asks the question, with the number of corporate marketing roles shrinking as you climb the ladder, where do all the brand managers go?
Matt Petersen, marketing manager at Nestlé Purina PetCare
When and where were did you work in marketing?
I’m a bit of a marketing dinosaur: started my career at the end of 1979 straight out of UNSW. My first role was as a marketing trainee at KFC for four years, followed by Taubmans Paints, Uncle Tobys (Best Foods in those days) and three years in a below the line agency. I returned to the client side as a BM at Nestlé Confectionery, which led to a two year posting to Nestlé Singapore, and then a year at Nestlé Peters in Melbourne.
I eventually resigned from Nestlé and returned to Sydney, working on various marketing contracts for companies such as Selleys and APN media. My last contract role was at Ralston Purina, and funnily enough the company was acquired by Nestlé in 2002, so I ended up back where I’d come from! Therein lies the first lesson for young marketers – always walk out the door smiling and waving. You never know whether that person holding the exit door open might be reading your CV in a couple of years’ time.
Highest marketing level reached?
Marketing manager – twice.
What do you do now?
Marketing manager for Purina’s Pet Accessories portfolio.
Did you choose your path or did it choose you?
Marketing and I sort of met by mistake – a bit like going on a blind date and finding out that you actually like each other. I had missed out on getting into law at Uni and thought I’d sneak in the back door by starting a commerce degree – what a cunning plan! I took a marketing major as it sounded a lot more interesting than finance or econometrics (I still don’t know what that is), and once I started the marketing subjects in second year, I was hooked.
What’s the most important skill that you’ve taken from your marketing days?
Being able to apply marketing thinking and strategies to almost any category. Making the change from brand management of fast food to paint to breakfast cereals isn’t that difficult, just the vocabulary changes. Oh, and using humour in presentations to disguise a lack of substance. There’s nothing more rewarding than bean counters laughing, “You marketers, you’re all the same!” followed by beating a hasty retreat before the penny drops.
If you had your time again, would you climb the corporate marketing ladder?
Definitely! When you’re starting out in a larger organisation you have a fantastic opportunity to learn so much from so many people more experienced than yourself, and as you work up that ladder you get the chance to give back by helping to mentor the next generation coming through. Unless of course my name was Packer, Murdoch, Singleton or Stokes and my dad could spring the cash to set me up in my own empire, in which case, scratch the above.
What were the best and worst parts of your role as BM?
Best part: starting my career in the eighties, when there was a much more can-do attitude in the industry – fewer rules, less fear, some wonderful marketing and lots more fun! Those were the days of 12 hour lunches, paid for by the agency of course.
Worst part: I’d say the advent of integrated business systems into major corporations. It’s such a shame to see talented young marketers spending so much of each day doing clerical work and completing templates. Also, the day after one of those 12 hour lunches in the eighties trying to remember where I’d left my car.
What career tips would you offer an aspirant or current BM?
Gain experience in big companies and small ones. They both have their pros and cons, and no one model is right for all marketers, so find your right match. Also, consider an industrial marketing role if one comes up. Earthmoving equipment isn’t as sexy a category as say, travel, but industrial marketing can give a young marketer a hell of a lot more experience and responsibility than a classic FMCG business. And don’t take yourself too seriously – approving a new font for your brand logo really isn’t going to make that much difference to the world. Really, it isn’t. Just approve it and move on.
You are still on the Corporate Marketing ladder. Do you see yourself staying there for the rest of your career? If not, what are your future career aspirations?
I wouldn’t call it a corporate ladder so much as a trampoline. Sometimes you’re up high, admiring the view and feeling good and then suddenly you’re back down again, feeling all heavy and trying not to fall flat on your face. I am very much a people person and love working in the big, noisy, fast-paced environment that is a large FMCG marketing team. Having said that, I think every marketer has the dream of running their own shop one day and I’m no different. Who knows what’s around the corner?