Career Advice from 12 Top Minds in Marketing

Michelle Markelz
American Marketing Association: Marketing News

Everyone is touting career advice these days, from bloggers to authors to social media pundits. But for those of us who’ve worked hard to find success, true nuggets of career wisdom are more than just inspirational platitudes—they’re career-defining mantras.

Marketing News tapped 12 industry leaders, from advertisers to academics, to share the advice that’s guided them throughout their careers. Read on for the indispensable wisdoms and hard-won lessons that have formed the foundation of their success. They might just propel you to make the next big career leap.

Source: American Marketing Association

Diana Smith, Director of Marketing, Segment

Diana Smith used to comb through customer support call records looking for insights in user frustrations and questions. As a marketer, she knew that customer feedback would be the currency with which she could buy into the user experience conversation. “In marketing you’re always trying to get a certain message to a certain audience, but a lot of people think too much about themselves. […] It’s really important to have empathy.”

Smith became adept at understanding the interests of her audience when she worked in public relations. Earning media for clients wasn’t a matter of asking for placement in a newspaper, it was about demonstrating value for journalists. The same follows for marketing, she says. “We talk a lot at Segment about how we can write utilitarian content for people.” Smith applied that philosophy when she overhauled the company’s blog. When she found it, the blog was a mixed bag of content, trying to do too many different things at once. She reined it in by figuring out what brought readers to the site, what they wanted to read, and producing more of it.

“Empathy will always come back to interpersonal connections” – Diana Smith

Source: American Marketing Association
Cathy Davis, Executive Vice President, Leo Burnett

Six years ago, Cathy Davis saw the rise of social media and decided she wanted to learn it, experience it and master it. She didn’t know anyone who was any good at it, so she bought Twitter for Dummies. Today, she has 20,000 followers and has been named on the Forbes Must-follow Marketing Minds list. Although sending her first tweet was scary—“I was horrified. I thought, What if I say something people don’t like? What if I sound stupid?”—Davis followed her own advice and learned by pushing herself to try the things she wasn’t comfortable doing. With the disruption that nearly every industry is facing as the world becomes more mobile, Davis says that stretching your limits will make you better, smarter and more equipped to deal with change.

“Change used to be incremental. It’s exponential now, and you need to get out in front of it.” – Cathy Davis

Source: American Marketing Association

Chris Wollen, CMO, Droga5

Chris Wollen, a self-professed ski bum who hadn’t yet started climbing the corporate ladder, was working in a Colorado hotel when a guest asked him to fax some advertising storyboards to New York. Wollen followed the revisions and iterations of the story throughout the guest’s stay, and by the end, his interest was piqued. Before the guest checked out, Wollen made him an offer: a beer for some candid conversation about the advertising industry.

After his chat with the guest, Wollen headed east with a plan to make a profession out of answering the questions that mattered to him: What moves people? What makes them get up in the morning? “I found so interesting the fact that [the answers to those questions] could have a business result,” he says.

At BBH New York, Wollen got the chance to answer those questions in a big way when he took over what was, at the time, a flagship account for the agency. His predecessor, who briefed him on the client, gave him perhaps the simplest but truest advice he’d use in this industry: “In a cheeky way, he said, ‘The only thing that matters is that you do great work,’ ” Wollen recalls. At the time, the guidance seemed nebulous, but Wollen came to appreciate how accurate it was and how it has only become truer as the industry has evolved. “We live in a world now where consumers can fast-forward,” he says. “You have to create a brand that people want to pay attention to. If you think about a lot of the ads we see right now, they might be informative … but do they really speak to you? Do you really care? Or is it just a lot of noise? A lot of what we make doesn’t get attention. If you confront that, you’ll hold your work to a much higher standard.”

“The only thing that matters is that you do great work.” – Chris Wollen

Source: American Marketing Association

Rohit Bhargava, Founder, Influential Marketing Group

In Australia, where Rohit Bhargava spent two years working for Leo Burnett, it’s common practice to sit in the front seat of a cab—a symbolic way of saying that you and the driver are equals. For Bhargava, this small gesture is just one example of the many daily interactions that can help you build and enforce your ideals, both professional and personal. “Reputation is something you spend a long time building for yourself, and every interaction has the ability to increase it or decrease it,” he says.

Bhargava has earned his reputation as a marketing expert by providing high-level strategy consulting and publishing forward-looking content for business decision making. His 15 Trends book series inspired a workshop, increasing his recognition as a thought leader. After more than 10 years developing the insights and gaining the experience he needed to be a valued advisor, he decided to go into business for himself in 2012.

Risk-taking is often a practice of the young, but Bhargava says that the older he gets, the more comfortable he’s become with taking smart risks. Influential Marketing Group’s success would have been a lot more precarious had Bhargava not founded it knowing exactly where his first five clients would come from, and that certainty is the direct result of his commitment to a humble reputation. “I heard someone say, ‘If you meet someone who is nice to you but mean to the waiter, they’re not a nice person,’ ” says Bhargava. “I think the way you treat people—no matter how big you get or how many stages you spend time on—is a big part of the reputation you build for yourself.”

“Reputation is something you spend a long time building for yourself, and every interaction has the ability to increase it or decrease it.” -Rohit Bhargava

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