Biggest fuck up
So hard to pick just one from the lava flow of burningly embarrassing mistakes…
OK, so I’ll have to split this into two parts – one being a specific campaign FUBAR and one a strategic career mistake.
My best specific F-up happened early in my agency career. I was managing the sponsorship of the St Leger Festival, the oldest horse race in the world, for a cigarette brand (I know, I know…).
I’d already shamed myself by trying to motivate the sampling team with some kind of uplifting team-building rhetoric. Trust me, a team of bored models really doesn’t need to hear a ten-minute speech from a posh, naive twenty-something before starting their shift.
My words, Churchillian in my head, went down like a shit sandwich.
Dusting myself down, my mood lifted when several tens of thousands of pounds worth of branded merch was delivered to the grandstand, barely in the nick of time. I proudly tore open the first box, a nervous senior client leaning on my shoulder, to reveal fifteen thousand branded lighters.
In the wrong shade of blue. Always double-check your proofs before signing something off, people.
My strategic F-up is more long-term. I spent seventeen years working in the online and mobile gambling industry, having fallen into it off the back of a consulting gig when I couldn’t stand agency life any longer.
Beyond the odd game of cards and the Grand National, I don’t gamble – it’s not a passion of mine. Nothing wrong with it, IMHO, if done in moderation, but I didn’t feel particularly passionate nor proud to be selling it on a global scale across bingo, casino, poker, sports betting, and esports. In the beginning, it was fun (think private planes to Ibiza, being in a pop video, AWESOME parties, great money), but after a few jobs over a few years, the sheen faded, and I was… stuck. Pigeonholed.
I couldn’t leave the industry, not for lack of trying.
One simple decision in my late twenties – when a Marketing Director job title and a fat salary were enough to blind me to any potential negatives – and suddenly, I was in a career I wasn’t really that into.
For nearly two decades.
So yeah, with hindsight and some decent advice, maybe I’d have played that hand differently. There might be some advice in that.
What pisses me off is any fly-by-night tech innovation, social movement, or trending methodology that marketers tend to latch onto like a bat on a blood bag. Marketers are imaginative sorts by nature, and we’re always looking to eulogise the ‘Next Big Thing™’ and be seen as ahead of the curve.
Problem is, that also makes us the biggest suckers in the industry, gullible to a fault. We’re desperate to be the trendsetters, not the trend followers.
The Mavens, not the muppets.
The ‘4 Ps’ of marketing worked 40 years ago, and they’re even more relevant now. People dismiss advertising and marketing now. It’s a distraction, which is why social content works so well. It entertains first and sells second.
Being distracted by shiny gems of innovation just because they’re new (as opposed to having any provable benefit) is a massive flaw in the marketing matrix.
“Treat people like you expect to be treated.”
Most advice needs to be honed for the individual, but this is universal in business in any industry at any level. It’s so easy to believe that seniority = power = importance. The opposite is true.
My job as a CMO or VP of Marketing is 50% marketing and 50% people. Teams have the intelligence. Teams do the actual work. Teams make me look good. And people in those teams know WAAAAAY more than I do about their subject matter specialisms.
Want me, personally, to run a programmatic UA campaign? Monetise our ad space? Build a microsite? Titillate customers with some trending TikTok content? Build a relationship with a game creator? Host a Discord community party? Get coverage in games media via PR? Good luck!
I’m 46 years old. I’ve been around the block several times in several industries. I’ve failed just as much as I’ve won – maybe more. I know where my strengths lie, and I equally know what others in my team are better at doing than me (which is most of it).
Stay humble, and keep a sense of perspective and humour. Be nice.
Do that, keep learning, ingest information obsessively, keep having fun, and treat people well – and you won’t go far wrong in a marketing career.
(Oh, and if this rings true, and you want to develop your own marketing career, there’s always my book, Brands, Bandwagons & Bullshit).