Career Paths: Do What You Are

The world of marketing can be an exciting one, especially in a young company where building brand buzz is vital to early success. The best early-stage marketer comes with a diverse skillset and is equally talented in analytics as they are in people skills. They are extremely intelligent, nimble, multi-faceted, and able to speak the language of sales, product, engineering, and their audience’s industry or industries.

What I love most about marketing is building businesses and helping drive awareness of new products. Yet ultimately I fear marketing is a poor profession for a person like myself. While junior-level or mid-level positions enable a marketer to focus on her core strengths, a senior-level position requires such superior abilities to give seamless presentations one minute and generate killer reports the next regarding market opportunities and pipeline planning. Senior level marketers must be brilliant with their people skills and their quant skills. I can improve on the quant side, but the people side will always be a challenge.

One can forgive a senior engineer for shoddy people skills, but not a marketer. It’s especially challenging as a (relatively) young woman in an industry filled with (relatively) older men. I know I’m still (relatively) early in my career – but I’m at a place now where my peers are advancing much more rapidly than I am, and I have to confront the reasons why.

People who will succeed

For instance, one colleague of mine who has all of the qualities needed to become a senior-level marketer, has fast excelled in his seniority and responsibilities. Not only does he have a great job, but he also seems to have unlimited options should he decide to change from one position to the next. Beyond personality, confidence, and skillset, he has three major checkmarks on his resume — a quant-oriented (undergraduate) degree from a top-tier school and time at a successful startup that is well known in the business world. I’d be lying to say I’m jealous, because I’m never going to be that type of marketer, I just look at him and think – that’s who is going to be my boss one day. If I stay in marketing. Or heck, even possibly in another field.

There are other successful senior marketers as well. There are the ones who are incredible when it comes to generating leads. They are sociable enough to generate the right partnerships needed to put opps into the pipeline. I’ve seen some killer marketers who are all leads, all the time. You have someone who wakes up every morning to build pipeline. That person is usually vital in a mid-stage startup and can be the right headcount for one that’s early stage. They are robotic in their processes, very reliable, and hit or exceed targets no matter what.

Other marketers I know are more the managerial type. The ones who put together great teams and motivate these teams to produce quality work. This type of marketer tends to rule in a later-stage startup in growth mode. Sometimes they are able to produce results on their own, other times they are really just good at being the face of the company to the public and the board.

Who am I and where do I fit into this world? I guess you could call me a creative. A strategic, not-so-quant-heavy lead-gen, product-focused creative. Yet b2b companies don’t really care about creativity (and I’m not really that creative anyway, just more intuitive), they care about results – which, don’t get me wrong, I care about too, but I’m just not the best in explaining how I get to them. It’s a bit science, a lot art, and a whole lot of guerrilla tactics. I make things happen. There’s a lot of trust involved. I don’t explain it well. But I’ll build a brand and work harder than most people you might hire.

Creative lost in the mix with nowhere to go

The challenge here is the creative type marketer at an early-stage startup HAS to be a people person. She has to be able to go to events and network up a storm. She can’t just hide behind her Twitter handle to drive success. She ultimately needs to generate leads with a smile, a handshake, and a whole lot of small talk. That’s not me and that’s never going to be me. My social anxiety is the death of my talents in that area. Sure, I can work a booth like no one else, but send me to an event and tell me to spread the word about a product or company in a room full of people and I’ll have a panic attack. Yes, it’s that bad.

Plus, if you are going to have to choose one marketer for your early-stage company, who are you going to pick? The econ major? The leadgen machine? The networker? The creative with social anxiety disorder? Yea, thought so.

Case in point, a colleague of mine promoted to a senior-level position after a year in the company. Granted, the colleague is older and has more experience. But the reality is that my lack of a promotion has more to do with my inability to present myself well and be seen as a team player. It’s easier to promote someone who hits clear metric targets who came in later to the company, versus someone who helped build the company before most of the people who are in power to offer promotions even joined. No one cares about what I did early on, nor should they really, as business is all about what are you doing right now this very moment. Clearly, what I’m doing isn’t enough. Or my boss just hates me. Probably both.

I can’t be that upset about my colleague’s promotion (they worked hard and deserved it) but I think at least my boss would have had some respect to tell me he was promoting my colleague privately before announcing it to our team.

Paranoid, or on to something…

Actions speak louder than words. Maybe I’m just naive but if we were in a large company with clear career tracks it would be different, this was a sensitive situation and in my mind the move clearly was a communication that I’m not valued and should immediately look for new opportunities.

I  bet a lot of people are looking at me right now thinking I’m dumb not to. Heck, my boss seems suspicious, even as I had to go to a (legit) doctor’s appointment due to some serious medical issues. Great, just what I need, a boss who hates me who is also suspicious of me while I’m trying to get healthy.

You know, I didn’t even want the promotion, I just want respect. Respect for offering high-quality, unique, strategic ideas to drive real business value, and a standard of quality that I perhaps hold too personally when violated with trite copy or a cliche campaign. And a little heads up. Hey, I know you’ve been at this level here for a long time and we really appreciate the work you do, just wanted to let you know we’re promoting your colleague because XYZ. But it’s business, no one cares about feelings. People do care about respect, but only in regards to people they DO respect.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T — just a little?

Unfortunately respect doesn’t come from caring about maintaining a brand or occasionally projects which — no matter how many hours you poured into them — will never be as valuable as the work of your colleagues. Respect  comes with being able to be extremely consistent in your deliverables and management style. And patience, to a large extent. When you work for a company with leaders who are in their 40s and 50s expect them to promote other people who are also in their 40s and 50s.

In any case, the feelings about the situation are complex because I didn’t expect nor necessarily deserve a promotion, yet being at a company for over three years with no bump in title and continuing to deliver results and take on more responsibility was perfectly acceptable when no one was getting title bumps. Then suddenly it seemed like only the people the executive team cared about were offered the jump up, and there I sit twiddling my thumbs wondering where do I go from here – here, or elsewhere? The tension in my mind is distracting me from focusing on the piles of work that need to get done.

It really seems like that is their strategy, though, to just push me out one way or another. Which is a shame.

Falling down further and further day by day

Hey, to be fair to myself and my reaction to the situation, I’ve gone from basically CMO to copyeditor within three years time. I never had the right to be CMO in the first place, but then again I’m finding through many people I know that the people who become C-level and VP-level marketers are not always the best, they’re just the more polished. There’s value there indeed, but it doesn’t always help a company get ahead in the long run.

I started with lots of responsibility and leadership and now, well, my boss is jumping on my calls with agencies I manage and just taking over. Yes, we’re in the middle of the call and suddenly he jumps on and it’s like I haven’t been running the meeting for a good ten minutes. The ultimate signal of disrespect.

So, yea, I’m a little saddened by the situation. I just want to learn from it, and be able to make sure I don’t get stepped all over again. Then again, do I even have a right to complain about being stepped all over when I’m not exactly earning top marks in showmanship. But let’s face it. That’s not an age or experience thing. That’s a me thing. I’m just awkward and disorganized and somewhere in all the mess are some really good ideas that work. Take it or leave it. Or leave it and I need to find a new career, if one exists for people like me.

And even after all the stress caused by feeling miserable about someone upleveling me, I don’t really want to be a manager.

The dirty truth, the reality, is that I don’t like telling other people what to do. I like getting things done. Yes, it’s my way or the highway that way, but at least there’s some quality control. I don’t mind the ideal of working collaboratively with other intellectual equals, who all have respect for each other and are open to new ideas. Management becomes so much about managing up and managing down that you hardly have any time to get any work done yourself.

Do I keep fighting to prove this is the right career for me, and seek out a managerial career path that doesn’t suit me at all, or do I stop pushing to fit into this box I clearly do not fit in, and break out of it, running in an entirely new direction? 

Maybe I should just become a novelist, or turn this blog into some kind of really boring memoir when I’m positive my career in Silicon Valley is over for good. Or, I’m half-jokingly considering starting a program to become a Certified Financial Planner. Which would be just hilarious to everyone who knows me. My father, the former actuary, would be very confused about that career move.)

One parting note — no matter what field I end up in throughout my life — marketing will always come in handy. I’ve learned a lot in this profession and will continue to learn until I decide to change paths. Certainly a CFP needs to be a strong marketer.

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One thought on “Career Paths: Do What You Are”

  1. “I started with lots of responsibility and leadership and now, well, my boss is jumping on my calls with agencies I manage and just taking over. Yes, we’re in the middle of the call and suddenly he jumps on and it’s like I haven’t been running the meeting for a good ten minutes. The ultimate signal of disrespect.”

    Yeah, that would be the strongest indication to me that you should be looking for new positions elsewhere.

    Have you considered not being at a tech start-up? Maybe working at a marketing firm? Or BigCorp’s marketing division? Or a publishing company’s e-pub marketing group?

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