Marketing Guru on... keeping ahead of the youngsters
Senior practitioners should not be cowed by the idea that marketing is a young person's game, says Will Harris. On the contrary, their hard-earned experience could place them in a stronger position.
Will Harris: former marketing director for Nokia
Q: I met my new boss yesterday. He's a whippersnapper - I've got at least 15 years on him. Do I need to start clearing my desk?
A: What happens next is almost entirely up to you. If you are smart and self-aware enough (and it sounds like you might well be), you will reappraise your personal brand in the business where you both work.
First, figure out exactly what your boss needs to do to be seen as a success. From there, you have several choices, and a number of roles you can play.
You could play the 'trusted adviser'; an indomitable rock and source of sage advice about your company and industry. Maurice Saatchi used to describe his boss Michael Howard as wise. It's an old-fashioned word - and, indeed, quality - that has rather lost its sheen in the stampede for the new. I often urge people to try lots of things and see what works, but there is an argument that having the wisdom and experience to know what will work has real value.
Your second option is to surrender all claims to be a day-to-day marketer and relaunch yourself as a 'people person'. As we get older, it becomes more and more difficult to double-guess the creative whims and desires of consumers a generation or more below.
That's why you see older marketing people, deaf to instinct, insistent that they first see the data. At a certain point in one's marketing career, you're in the talent management business, not the creative communications industry. This may be the time for you to cross that threshold.
A third approach is to fight back and move the goalposts. It's no longer a trade-off between youthful and experienced marketers, but between analogue and digital marketers. Your new boss may be 15 years younger than you, but if he doesn't know the difference between SEM and SEO and you do, then your career will probably outlast his. Become a digital expert: no one cares how old you are on the web.
One final thought to close: a recent study from the University of Utah established that the marathon time you can achieve at the age of 19, you can replicate right up to the time you hit 64. Yes, your times peak around the age of 27, but the slide back down lasts another 43 years.
I would like to think that your marketing career (and mine, for that matter) will follow a similar trajectory. With our pensions system the way it is at the moment, it will need to.
Will Harris is a former marketing director for Nokia in the UK and Asia region. He was the first marketing director of the Conservative Party and launch marketing director of the O2 brand.
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk
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