I wanna be a rock star - a new model for marketing

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By: Neil Edwards on 29th August 2009, 5 minute read

In his post ‘Will 10% unemployment be the new full employment?’, Charles Besondy predicts that permanent marketing employees will soon be a thing of the past.

He argues:

There is too much uncertainty in the land to confidently invest in a strong and capable marketing department. There is too much volatility in the marketing programmes budget to justify a fully staffed marketing department. Better to keep fixed labour costs to a minimum and bring in the rock star interims for a few months as needed. No long-term commitments, no health insurance concerns, just the perfect skills and knowledge applied to the opportunity or problem for a season.

Besondy is an interim manager and we shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, to hear him take this position.

Certainly, it is the case that economic conditions are imposing long term changes on business models. The move towards the outsourcing of non-core skills, be they marketing or otherwise, continues unabated: probably because it works, but does this mean the end of the in-house marketing team is inevitable?

Besondy stops short of looking at the pros and cons of a permanent marketing team or analysing which parts of the marketing discipline should be kept in-house. Having operated on both sides of the inustry, I feel qualified to have a try.

Pro’s of a permanent marketing team

  • Dedicated to the business
  • Deep understanding of day-to-day issues and developments
  • On-hand whenever it is needed
  • Potentially cheaper in the long run if fully employed

Con’s of a permanent marketing team

  • Risk of silo thinking and loss of perspective on what is going on outside of the business
  • Risk of temporary or permanent loss of drive and focus
  • Potential to be absorbed by the minutiae at the expense of ‘the big picture’
  • Potential to be under employed
  • The substantial and inflexible cost of full time salaries, holiday pay, sick leave etc.

The case for outsourcing is certainly a strong one, but is it an open and shut case?

I have posted regularly on the difference between the marketing discipline and the marketing department. The marketing discipline has to be owned by the board: the marketing department has to look after the elements of the marketing mix that are assigned to it more often than not, this is brand and promotion.

Besondy has his focus on the traditional marketing department and I agree with his views in this area. I have never seen any benefit in an in-house creative team and believe too that many, if not all, forms of campaign development and delivery can be delivered more effectively by external resources.

The picture becomes more blurred in the areas of strategic marketing and marketing management. To think of strategic marketing as something that can be stopped and started according to the ebbs and flows of business fortunes is dangerous. Marketing, in its broadest definition, has to be constant and this means there needs to be somebody who is able to link the strategy of the board with tactical implementations in all areas of the 8P’s. Whether this should be resourced in-house or outsourced is a question of scale and affordability.

An outsourced marketing operation that can provide strategic consultancy as well as tactical implementation is the ideal solution for a small or medium sized business: not only is it more cost effective, but the client can access a level of experience that it would take several years to build in-house. With the right provider, there is no reason why this outsourced resource shouldn’t be fully focused on the business and available on demand.

The larger business is likely to have the scale to warrant permanent resource, but it too will benefit from blending internal structures with outsourced experience. I predict the corporate of the future will have a non-executive Director of Strategy & Marketing on the board and a permanent Head of Marketing in a senior management position. The non-exec will be somebody with deep marketing experience in a range of industries, who is able to guide and advise the board on its marketing strategy. The Head of Marketing will be responsible for the delivery of the plan and management of agency relationships. Naturally, for the model to be effective, the Head of Marketing will need to see the non-exec as an ally and mentor, not a threat.

In conclusion, therefore, even if the days of the permanent marketing employee aren’t completely numbered, the nature of the roles that many of them fulfil at the present time are. Jobs for life, if they ever existed in the first place, will go and short to medium-term performance related contracts will become the norm.

Marketers should embrace the opportunity the change presents. The chance to move from business to business makes for an interesting and varied career and, moreover, it allows greater value to be delivered to the client. Through this transition, marketing as a discipline might finally gain the respect and recognition it deserves.

Whether we should swagger in like rock stars is a different question!

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Neil Edwards


Neil Edwards

Neil is a Chartered Marketer and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing with many years' experience in marketing, brand and communications.

CEO / The Marketing Eye

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