IS RITSON RIGHT? DO WE REALLY NEED TO LIE TO GET A DECENT MARKETING JOB? 

Two audiences within B2B organisations need to trust more in marketing in order to get more success from it. 

The first audience is us, the B2B marketers. We should never stop figuring out how to produce better, more effective work and in doing so, earn our right to create it. 

The second audience that should trust more in marketing (although we don’t always make it easy for them), is everybody else across our organisations. 

If you’re to stand any chance of creating the most relevant and effective marketing strategy for your brand and business in your market, you need the autonomy, credibility and trust that leaves none of your colleagues in any doubt that your take on marketing is the right one.

Last week though, my erstwhile colleague Mark Ritson advised senior marketers struggling to progress through hiring processes, to lie in job interviews about their approach to marketing

If you haven’t yet read Mark’s column in Marketing Week from last week, here it is.

Mark Ritson has few peers as a professor of marketing and brand management and is a brilliant, captivating columnist; I hired him as Marketing Week’s star writer when I was editor. He’s also my friend. His contributions to my imminent book ‘Boring2Brave’ are consistently superb and I’m grateful for the time he took to be interviewed for it. 

But how do we reconcile the words Mark wrote – to lie in job interviews about the importance of a ‘digital first’ approach to marketing without any strategic context – with the need to educate others on how successful marketing has to work? 

In Mark’s words: “A job interview is a shitty place to try and educate the organisation considering recruiting you. My sincere advice is to go against your best instincts during the recruitment process, then with job secured, attempt to right the ship with some strategic heft and proper marketing knowledge.” 

There’s a surplus of senior and very high quality marketing talent looking for work right now. 

In my own experience, processes to recruit senior marketers are getting worse. It’s sometimes clear from a candidate’s point of view that the hirer in question has no idea about the skills or experience they’re looking for. 

In fact, there’s an absence of any marketing comprehension involved right through many processes, starting with the job spec.

Look through any list of advertised marketing vacancies, particularly in B2B tech, and you’ll see an identi-kit list of character traits and requirements, with heavy focus on the exclusively ‘digital’ marketing strategy they’ve already decided they need. Many companies look to hire ‘digital marketing directors’ as their first marketing leader. 

In short, most job ads scream that they’ve been written by someone without a nanobyte of true marketing expertise to their name. 

Are there employers out there that would welcome a candidate in an interview possessing both the conviction and the courage to explain how without an expertly defined positioning, the right segmentation and a brilliantly crafted message, digital marketing is just a smart bombing delivery system firing blanks? 

If not, then Mark Ritson could be right. After all, from a candidate’s point of view, the aim of any hiring process is quite simply to get the job. 

If that’s the case however, we should ask of ourselves the following two questions: 

1) Once you’ve lied to your new bosses at the earliest opportunity, about who you are and what you believe – what then? Those lies will come back to smack you in the chops as soon as you try to inject a strategic methodology; as soon as you express hope for a budget to cover anything more than a small martech stack offering email campaigns and some PPC. 

2) Are we really so bad at making a case for doing proper marketing that we have to lie and pretend to be shit practitioners, just to get hired? 

If so, maybe we’re not the business leaders we profess or aspire to be. 

Digital marketing was never supposed to be a replacement for an assortment of important channels and activities that (weirdly) get clustered together and labelled ‘traditional’ marketing. It was supposed to be an amazing, complementary addition. 

Every senior marketer knows how to buy in and ‘own’ digital skills. Lying about their importance at the expense of educating an organisation in building a brand and executing brilliant marketing, feels unhelpful. 

Success lies in a strategy that speaks to the business goals and then decides the marketing tactics and skills to deliver it. Digital is likely to be included in those tactics. 

But none of that should be decided before the marketing director has arrived. If you determine what marketing looks like before getting a marketing leader in the door, you’ll never hire anyone good. Why would a worthy talent consider a marketing job that has already been designed for them by non-marketers?

And if your job posting is putting great people off from applying to join your team, it’s doing the direct opposite of what you need it to. 

Here’s the job ad I long to see: 

“We need growth. We do many things well. We have a brilliant product and our customers seem happy but we don’t know how to grow or scale. 

Nobody knows who we are. And, while we believe we’re better than the leader in our category, we have no idea how to catch them. 

Tell us how your creativity, energy, experience and skills might take us from a really good product to a brand our customers want to associate with and buy? 

Help us become a company that partners and employees aspire to work with. Tell us how you’d help transform our sales funnel from one where we chase every (any) lead, to one where consistently high volumes of the ‘right’ leads self-identify and choose to fall into the top of our funnel? 

Mark Ritson’s piece was one of pragmatism. He’s trying to help better marketers win the plum roles ahead of lesser ones. 

But for as long as we’re telling porkies to our future colleagues rather than explaining the impact that bigger, more strategic thinking can bring, marketing will continue to be seen by many of them as a bit of a joke.