Keys to Being a Successful Marketing Director

facebook adMost people are promoted up to Brand Manager because they are really smart and have a knack for getting things done.  From my experience, they get stuck at the Brand Manager level mainly because they are bad at managing people, or can’t get along with the sales force.  Promoting them up to Marketing Director just becomes too risky to the organization–they can’t afford to lose key talent, and they can’t afford to lose touch with the sales team.  And most Marketing Directors fail because they can’t stop acting like a Brand Manager:  too hands on, makes all the decisions, smothers the team and never lets them have their day in the sun.   One rule is at every level you have to adjust to the new role.  Brand Managers fail when they keep acting like ABMs and Directors fail when they keep acting like Brand Managers.                   

In a classic marketing team, the four key roles are Assistant Brand Manager then Brand Manager then Marketing Director or Group Marketing Director and then VP Marketing.  In simple terms, the Assistant Brand Manager role is about doing, analyzing and sending signals you have leadership skills for the future.   At the Brand Manager level, it becomes about ownership and strategic thinking within your brand plan.  Most Brand Managers are honestly a disaster with their first direct report, and get better around the fifth report.  When you get to the Marketing Director role, it’s becomes more about managing and leading than it does about thinking and doing.  To be great, you need to motivate the greatness from your team and let your best players to do their absolute best. 

The five areas that can turn a pretty good marketing director into a great one are:

  1. Hold your team to a Consistently high standard of work:  Rather than being the leader by example, I’d rather see you establish a standard and hold everyone and yourself to that standard.  .  For a new director, this is one of the harder areas—how to balance the freedom you give with the standard you demand.   The key is to be more process orientation than you might have been when you were Brand Manager.   You need to organize the team and build in processes in a way that produces consistent output, your team hits all deadlines, stays focused and keeps things moving.  But it can also show up in the quality of brand plans, execution and interactions with everyone specifically sales.  Be the control point of the team, and not let slips, errors or delays show beyond the team.  Delegate so you motivate your stars, but never abdicate ownership of how your team shows up.
  2. Consistency in Strategic Thinking:  Usually a marketing director has many brands, and isn’t necessarily writing the actual brand plans.  But, it will be the director that hears from the VP, the sales and the agency what each think they have the solution to the plan.  And yet, your brand manager has thoughts of how to make this brand better.   It’s easy to spin out of control, trying to please everyone–as the director is caught among everyone.  But it is actually the director who has to ground everyone, establish the brand’s direction, back up the choices it’s making and be the consistent voice of reason among the many wanting to influence the brand.  Learn to challenge the strategy–let them write it–but make sure it’s put through the test before it moves beyond your desk.
  3. Consistent People Leadership and Management:   Newly appointed directors have to stop acting like a “Senior Senior Brand Manager” and take on more leadership roles.  You have to let your team breathe and grow.   There are likely future super stars within the ranks.   We know you can write a brand plan, roll out a promotion super fast and make snap decisions on creative.  But can you inspire your team to do the same?  Junior marketers have high ambitions–constantly wanting praise, but equally seeking out advice for how to get better.  Brand Managers are still learning to be brand owners, many times younger than they should be.  It becomes the director’s role to manage the talent–giving equal praise and challenges for how to get better.  A great Marketing Director should be meeting quarterly with each team member one on one to take them through a quarterly performance review.   Waiting for year-end is just not enough.  Be passionate about people’s careers–anything less they’ll see it as merely a duty you are fulfilling.   Find energy in their energy.   These young marketers are hungry for improvement–and if you give them quarterly feedback, they are more able to make the adjustments and grow.  While the number one goal of a director is to make the year, the close #2 goal is to make the great people even better.  Identify the great ones, motivate, challenge and push them.  Also, step up when some individuals are not working out.   The marketing team relies on this.
  4. Consistently Showing up to the Sales Team:   While it’s not really acceptable for the ABMs and BMs to struggle with the sales team, it is kind of expected.  But at the director level, they have to be seen as one who is willing to listen.  Great sales people challenge marketers to make sure their account wins.   I’ve seen many sales teams destroy the Marketing Director because they don’t listen, and they stubbornly put forward their plan without sales input.   Great Marketing Directors should informally meet with all key senior sales people on a quarterly basis, to get to know them and let them know you are listening to their problems.  With this forum, you’ll get more of the bubbling up of problems–not just waiting for problems to explode.   If a sales people feel they’ve been heard, they are more apt to follow the directors vision and direction.   Many times, the debate can be healthy and help the sales people frame the story they need to tell with their accounts.  Be the one director that consistently reaches out and listens.  They’ll be in shock, and stand behind your business.
  5. Consistently Deliver:  A great Marketing Director hits the numbers and yet when they don’t hit them, they are the first to own it and put forward a recovery plan before being asked.  They have an entrepreneurial spirit of ownership, rather than just being a corporate pencil pusher.   Proactive communication upwards and with your own team.  Reach out for help across the organization.  Know your business and let everyone know what you know.  Be the leader that makes everything perfectly transparent–everyone will follow you.

When I was an ABM, I had to write the dreaded monthly share and sales report.  Many times, I’d be writing that up to 1am.  At that time, I said I can’t wait till I get promoted so I never have to write this again.  At the Brand Manager level, I edited my ABM’s report.   But when I moved up to Director, I started to feel out of touch so I decided I would write my own monthly report–digging into the sales and share to tell the story.  I kept doing it, even when I moved up to VP, and really feel I benefited from this practice.   No one asked me to do it, but it sure helped me to own the results.  Might feel like a small point, but it wasn’t for me.  To me, it was a competitive advantage.

So what makes a great Marketing Director?  You’ll notice one word that I purposefully put in each of the 5 areas:  Consistent.  That’s a trait I would encourage every director to take:  show up with consistency in standards for your team, strategy, people management, dealings with sales and owning the numbers.  With a bigger group of people, with a broader array of interactions across the organization and with a bigger business line on the P&L, anything less than consistent can really rattle the system.  Your team will dread inconsistency and won’t know which leader will show up.  They’ll mock your mood swings in the cafeteria.  You’ll become famous but for the wrong reasons.  The sales team won’t be able to rely on your word–and to them, that’s everything.   Senior Leaders will struggle with you–won’t want to put you on the big important business because it just feels risky.

So if you can take all your talent, all the experience you’ve gained and find that consistency in approach and leadership, and you’ll be a successful Marketing Director.






To read a presentation on careers:

Other Roles You May Be Interested In
  • Assistant Brand Manager:  It’s about doing; analyzing and sending signals you have leadership skills for the future.  It’s not an easy job and only 50% get promoted to Brand Manager.  To read a story on how to be successful as an ABM, click on the following hyper link:  How to be a Successful ABM and get Promoted
  • Brand Manager:  It becomes about ownership and strategic thinking within your brand plan.  Most Brand Managers are honestly a disaster with their first direct report, and get better around the fifth report.  The good ones let the ABM do their job; the bad ones jump in too much, frustrated and impatient rather than acting as a teacher.  To read about being a successful Brand Manager, read:  How to be a Successful Brand Manager
  • VP Marketing or CMO:  It’s about leadership, vision and getting the most from people.  If you are good at it, you won’t need to do any marketing, other than challenging and guiding your people to do their best work. You have to deliver the results, and very few figure out the equation that the better the people means the better the work and in the end the better the results. Invest in training as a way to motivate your team and keep them engaged.  Use teaching moments to share your wisdom. Read the following article for how to be a success:  How to be a Successful VP of Marketing

At Beloved Brands, we love to see Brand Leaders reach their full potential.  Here are the most popular article “How to” articles.  We can offer specific training programs dedicated to each topic.  Click on any of these most read articles:

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Graham Robertson

Graham Robertson is one of the voices of the modern brand leader. He started Beloved Brands, knowing he could make brands better and brand leaders better. Graham believes passion matters in marketing, because the more loved a brand is by consumers, the more powerful and profitable that brand will be. Graham spent 20 years in brand management leading some of the world’s most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer, General Mills and Coke, rising through the ranks up to VP Marketing. Graham played a major role in helping Pfizer win Marketing Magazine’s Marketer of the Year award. He has an MBA from the Ivey Business School, ranked the #1 International business school by Business Week. As a Brand Coach, he can help you create a winning positioning statement for your brand, write a brand plan everyone can follow, find advertising that drives growth and train your team of Brand Leaders on everything marketing. The client roster for Beloved Brands includes the NFL Players Association, Reebok, Pfizer Capital One, 3M, Sun Products and Earls. Graham’s weekly blog ( has a vast following with over 3 million views, and his public speaking appearances inspire brand leaders to love what they do.

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15 thoughts on “Keys to Being a Successful Marketing Director
  1. Aisha felder

    Thank you for sharing such insightful and accurate information in regards to advancing beyond the brand manager position. I work at Coca-Cola and find your information to be quite accurate in terms of the difficulty of delegating work streams As a brand manager taught to take such ownership in your work that at times you think you are the only one capable of developing and implementing the strategy. In my current role in sales, I learned that this was the wrong approach and systematically learned the benefit of delegation with management. I look to advance into a marketing directors role with greater insight and direction for success. Thank you for sharing.

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