Where do all the brand managers go?
Welcome to our new section, Where do all the brand managers go?. In these interviews, Liz Foster will track down the fortunes of ex-brand managers to give us a clearer picture of where they all go. If youd like to see an ex-brand manager profiled, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many years ago when I started out as an exceptionally keen and green marketer in the confectionery division of Nestlé, I had only one career focus – to become a brand manager. It’s dog eat dog in the competitive and maniacally busy marketing environment, and every restructure is received with similar degrees of excitement and nervousness – will I get promoted? And if I don’t, who will be?
Nestlé was a terrific nursery for young and keen marketers, and back in those days we pretty much did everything (when I started, we did not have computers or email and had to physically walk our original artwork around for internal sign-off!). Then, as now, a typical marketing department of a large FMCG company would comprise maybe 12 junior marketers, from marketing assistant, to assistant brand manager, to brand manager. But move up one level and the number shrinks – there might be four marketing managers and one marketing director.
From 12 to 5… So where do all the brand managers go? It’s not a career job, as the sales equivalent of account manager can be. You don’t come across any brand managers (BMs) in their 50s and very few in their 40s (and these days even 30s). Even as a young, ambitious, and (I’d like to think) talented marketer, I always knew that being a marketing director wasn’t for me, and in any case I dropped out of the workforce at marketing manager level to have a baby, neatly curtailing my corporate marketing career in one fell swoop.
Possibly one of the reasons for the drop out is that a terrifically high proportion of BMs tend to be female. Inevitably these females have babies in their late 20s/early 30s, and even though they try and creep back into the workforce, the juggle of dropping to part-time hours with parenting and reduced sleep is never going to be a sustainable combination. Employers and work practices must shoulder part of the blame as there seem to be very few corporates that encourage flexible working hours. Those that do often attach caveats that are impossible to comply with, such as being available outside the set hours for important meetings, or the flexibility to change working days if necessary. Not to mention the reduction in income which curiously doesn’t quite correspond with the reduction of workload.
But whether indirectly forced into early retirement from brand management or whether the career path deviated in a more structured and planned way, one thing’s for sure. There are plenty of ex BMs out there who are all doing something different. Where are they now…
Sara Salter, client services director and co-owner of the Saltmine Design Group.
When and where did you work in marketing?
With over 10 years of FMCG marketing, I started at a small pharmaceutical company, Pharmacare Laboratories, then moved onto Snackbrands Australia, which then became Arnott’s, then Uncle Tobys that then became Nestlé and finally at Coca Cola.
What was your highest marketing level reached?
Senior brand manager
What do you do now?
I am now co-owner and client services director at The Saltmine Design Group. From starting up in 2006, today we have new offices in Chippendale, a solid client base and total staff including permanent contractors of more than 12 people.
Did you choose your path or did it choose you?
I always had a strong entrepreneurial streak and while I started my marketing career thinking I would climb up to a marketing director level, I later realised that starting my own company would be where I would end up.
Being a brand manager creates such a passion for your products, and this passion was not always felt across all the levels of the business. I knew that I wanted to be the driver of this passion from top down.
I decided on a design agency as packaging was a key focus of my time as a brand manager as my roles always included lots of new product development.
What’s the most important skill that you’ve taken from your marketing days?
Thinking on your feet and rolling with the punches. One day is never the same as the next – I used to love this in marketing, and now as a business owner it is just as much a part of every day!
If you had your time again, would you climb the corporate marketing ladder?
I don’t regret for one minute being where I am now. I’m glad I had my time in marketing; I worked with some amazing people and learnt a lot from them. Many of those great people still teach me things now. It was always the people that made my roles enjoyable and I was always quite restless, who knows how far I would have actually got? One thing’s for sure – I wouldn’t change any of it!
What were the best and worst parts of your role as BM?
The best parts for me were working with people from other functions on projects. I used to love helping our R&D and attending production trials and first production runs.
Worst parts for me were when product launches were delayed. Often I would be working on projects for 12 months or more and just before launching management would decide to delay launching. It was always very frustrating!
What career tips would you offer an aspirant or current BM?
Get in there and get your hands dirty. Learn as much as you can and interact with as many different functions as possible. Information is key and will earn you a lot of respect.
Now that youve left the world of brand management, are you satisfied with your current role? If not, what are your future career aspirations?
It doesn’t get any better for me than owning my own business!