Type to search

10 pieces of advice for the problems that keep new marketing directors awake at night

Change Makers

10 pieces of advice for the problems that keep new marketing directors awake at night


The role of a marketing director used to be so much simpler. Media channels could be counted on a handful of fingers, data wasn’t ‘big’ and customers fitted neatly into defined segments. Today is different and marketing directors have a great deal of challenges to keep them awake at night.

As ever, it’s true that business is about creating value, making money and cutting costs. For a marketing director to be effective in this regard, it’s no longer just about identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer needs. It requires a new set of skills; open learning techniques as well as good old-fashioned leadership to draw on a wider pool of talent and expertise. How does one leverage technology when you are not a geek? How do you and how much should you invest in creating engagement through digital and social channels when you’re from the dial-up era? Should you trust data or your gut?

Solving these problems are rewarding intellectual and creative challenges, and ones that keep us all in business.

There are numerous lessons I’ve learnt along the way in my former life as a marketing director before moving to the agency side. Here is a synopsis, which might be useful for marketing directors embarking on their new role.

1. Take the opportunity to stand back and see the big picture. 

You’ve been employed to be a director and that means leading in visionary strategy not just implementation effectiveness. I define strategy as ‘the journey to a point of advantage’ – looking at the big picture will give you that field of vision.

2. Immerse yourself in the detail. 

This might sound counter to my first point, but it’s important to know your stuff – and vitally important that you learn the stuff you don’t know. Speak to people in every department of the business. Take the time to not only speak with existing customers, but also lapsed and potential future ones. Get across customer data. Study all and every available piece of data, research, metrics reporting and, of course, the P&L. Remember, business is about making money and cutting costs, so follow the money and you won’t go wrong.

3. Understand what success looks like (and what it doesn’t). 

At the beginning you might have a clear end goal in mind from the role you’ve been empowered with. However, make it a ritual to consistently bring this into focus through asking the tough questions, by articulating priorities and their impact.

Encourage and embrace people who are prepared to challenge your views. No one is right all of the time. Though, always remember you are the leader, not the head of a committee.

4. Build your relationships based on outcomes. 

Avoid being flattered by articulate conversation and lofty observations. The saying goes that actions speak louder than words – make sure your actions (and those of your team and partners) line up against the end goal in both objective outcomes and KPI metrics or you’ll run the risk of mediocrity and sameness. That’s not why you’ve been hired.

Trust your agency (if they’re any good). They’re close enough and far enough from your business to provide a valuable perspective.

Remind yourself why you engage specialist partners both internally and externally. It’s invariably because they’re either better at that specialism than you are or have it as their singular focus. If you think you can do a better job yourself, and have the bandwidth to deliver, don’t engage them and use the budget for something else.

5. Build your network.

At the beginning you won’t know what you don’t know. You also don’t have all the internal and external contacts and connections in place. Start immediately and use the org charts as your roadmap and established key partners as your trusted guides. Remain open-minded and don’t close the door on any opportunities.

6. Find the currency for success.

Success has many forms and different organisations have a different currency for success. It’s important that you understand the currency and metrics of success in your new enterprise. Pick out the top performers and study them. Find out how they approach problem solving and get the right stuff done.

7. Work hard (and smart).

Work hard on establishing your new network. Most people around you will forgive a certain lack of skill and experience if you’re working hard at getting up to speed. It takes courage for a leader to make mistakes but you can learn a lot from them. Importantly, it also creates a positive environment for your team to take effective and measured risks to improve performance.

8. Help others.

The more you help others achieve their goals the more you will be valued. This applies to both managing up and down the line and expanding your network. The more you give the more you get and people will go out of their way to help people they like. This can’t be measured but in my experience it delivers in spades.

9. Build your personal brand.

Become known for something. Work out your own value proposition, one that covers both your and your new company’s goals. Think what is the benefit you are delivering? Then be yourself and deliver it.

10. Use creativity as a business tool. 

Remember why you are doing this job and it will inspire you each and every day to drive better engagement in every facet of the role.

Good marketers are creatively inspiring, great marketers use creativity as a business tool because it’s one of the few things that can deliver success in spades not increments.

To be the very best you will need to keep anchored in what is important in your life and your natural creativity will blossom.


Duncan Wakes-Miller

Duncan Wakes-Miller is chief marketing officer of Duncan Wakes-Miller Consultancy, a specialist marketing consultancy helping clients achieve distinctive, lasting, and substantial performance improvement. A pioneer of marketing strategy and digital innovation, Duncan has successfully managed some of Australia’s iconic brands through transformational change. His experience includes senior marketing and sales strategy roles at Dell Computer, Monster.com, 3 Mobile and the Australian Rugby Union and most recently as managing partner of one of Australia’s most progressive strategy and creative agencies.

  • 1

You Might also Like

Leave a Comment