How to Be a Successful VP of Marketing

Quintessentially, rule #1 is you have to Make the Numbers. 

As the VP, your main role is to create demand for your brands.  What’s expected of you is to gain share and drive sales growth to help drive profit for the company.   The results come from making the right strategic choices, executing at a level beyond the competitors and motivating your team to do great work.  But how you do it, and the balances you place in key areas are choices you need to make.  Making the numbers gives you more freedom on how you wish to run things.  Without the numbers, the rest might not matter.

Here’s my Six points of advice on How to be Successful VP of Marketing. 

  1. While your people run the brands and the execution, you should run the P&L and essentially run all the marketing processes.  You have to run the P&L and make investment choices.  Bring an ROI and ROE (Return on Investment and Effort) mind set to those decisions.   These choices will be one of the essentials to making the numbers and gaining more freedom in how you do the job.  In terms of process, it’s always been my belief that great processes in place—brand planning, advertising, creative briefs—is not restrictive but rather provides the right freedom to your people.  I’d rather my people drive all their creative energy into great work that gets in the marketplace, not trying to figure out what slide looks really cool in the brand plan presentation.  I’ve worked as a Brand Manager in a marketing team without process and it was total chaos, not fun at all.

    Click on the plan above for How to Write a Brand Plan

  2. Focus on the People and the Results will come:  The formula is simple:  the better the people, the better the work and in turn the better the results.  You should have a regular review of the talent with your directors.  I’d encourage you to ensure there’s a systemic way to get feedback to everyone on the team, preferably on a quarterly basis.  Waiting for the annual review is way too late and almost negligent as a leader.  Your people have the potential to grow with feedback.   But without feedback, they’ll be confused and even frustrated.  You should invest in training and development.  Marketing Training is not just on the job, but also in the classroom to challenge their thinking and give them added skills to be better in their jobs.  plan adMarketing fundamentals matter.  And the classic fundamentals are falling, whether it is strategic thinking, writing a brand plan, writing a creative brief or judging great advertising.  People are NOT getting the same development they did in prior generations.  Investing in training, not only makes them better, but it is also motivating for them to know that you are investing in them.  And that helps drive retention and commitment into producing great work and driving results.  To view examples of best in class Marketing training:  Beloved Brands Learning Sessions
  3. Be consistent:   People have to know how to act around you.  You have to set up an avenue where they are comfortable enough to approach you, and be able to communicate the good and bad.  A scary leader discourages people from sharing the bad results, leaving you in the dark.  On the other hand, open dialogue helps you be more knowledgeable of what’s really going on, so you can run the business.  Also, they have to be able to challenge you and push forward new thinking into the system.   This helps your brands to stay modern, push new ideas and connect with consumers.  If you push your ideas too far, you could be pushing ideas from a generation too late.  Be consistent in how you think, how you act in meetings and how you approve.  Inconsistent behaviour by a leader does not “keep them on their toes” and create an atmosphere of “creativity”.   It inhibits creativity, and creates tension that adds no value to the brands.  People forget that leadership assumes “followership” from your team.  Creating a good atmosphere on the team will make people want to go the extra mile for you.  Be a good listener and you’ll be surprised on what people tell you—how honest they’ll be, how much they’ll tell you.  Knowledge makes you a great leader, and it starts with listening.
  4. Let them own it and let them Shine:  Remember when you were a Brand Manager and the passion you put into that job—the greatness you sought–drove you even harder.  Now it’s time, for you to step back and let them have that same passion to do amazing work and drive the results.  It has to be about them, not you.  At the VP level, I used to walk into every meeting knowing that “I knew less about the issue on the table, than anyone in the room”.   I looked for ways to support and encourage great thinking, while challenging them to reach for even better.  It’s not easy to balance giving them to freedom and yet knowing when to step in and make a decision.  When I was a Brand Manager, my VP once said to me “every time I make a decision, I weaken myself”.  Honestly, I thought he was certifiably crazy, until I was in the VP role.  And then it made sense.  By making all the decisions, you bring yourself down a level or two and you take over their job.  They’ll start to look to you to make EVERY decision and that just makes you the “Super-Duper Brand Manager”.    Instead, knowing how to ask good questions of your team to challenge or push them into a certain direction without them knowing you’re pushing them is more enlightening than coming up with statements of direction.  But on the other hand, when they put their great work up for approval, and it’s fundamentally sound, approve it.  Don’t do the constant spin of pushing for better, because then you look indecisive.  For how those on your team can be better, view: How to be a Successful Marketing Director or How to be a Successful Brand Manager or How to be a Successful Assistant Brand Manager
  5. You are the Mayor of Marketing:  Bring a vision to the role.  I tried to use vision statements to rally the team, almost like campaign statements.  I used  “Everything starts and ends with the Consumer in Mind” to push my team to be more consumer focused.   And I used  “If we each get better, we all get better” to bring a re-commitment to training and development. Look at what needs fixing on your team, and create your own vision statements that relevant to your situation.  Bring a human side to the role.  Get up, walk around and engage with everyone on your team.  It will make someone’s day.  Your role is to motivate and encourage them to do great work.  Challenge them and recognize the great work.  It might be my own thing, but I never said “thank you” because I never thought they were doing it for me.  Instead I said “you should be proud” because I knew they were doing it for themselves.  Influence behind the scenes to help clear some of the roadblocks in the way of their success.  Know when you need to back them up, whether it’s an internal struggle they are having, selling the work into your boss or with a conflict with an agency they are struggling with.  
  6. It’s a rather lonely job:  I remember when I first took the job as VP, I found it surprisingly a bit lonely.  Everyone in marketing tries to be “on” whenever you are around.  And you don’t always experience the “real” side of the people on your team.  That’s ok.  Just be ready for it.  Also, the distance from your new peers (the head of sales, HR, operations or finance) is far greater than you’re used to.  And it might feel daunting at first.  Your peers expect you to run marketing and let them run their own functional area.  And the specific problems you face, they might not appreciate or even understand the subtleties of the role.   Your boss also gives you a lot of rope (good and bad) and there’s usually less coaching than you might be used to.  It’s important for you to have a good mentor or even an executive coach to give you someone to talk with that understands what you’re going through.

As you are coming up through the marketing roles, observe great leaders equally watch bad leaders.  I learned equally from watching both.  It will help frame how you will do the job.  Keep a checklist of “when I’m in the VP role”.   Bring those into the role, and look to improve upon what your predecessor left for you.  I was lucky in that my predecessor did a great job in turning around the business, giving me freedom to bring energy and passion into the role.

My last piece of advice for you is, Enjoy it.  Yes, it’s stressful.  You worked hard to get here.   Bring that enjoyment into the role.  If you love the work, it will be contagious and your people will feed off that passion and energy. They will be better for it.

After all, the better the people, the better the work, and  in turn the better the results.

To read how to run your career as well as those on your team read the following document.  Feel free to download and share with your team.

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
  • Marketing Director:  It’s more about managing and leading than it does about thinking and doing.  Your role is to set the standard and then hold everyone to that standard.  To be great, you need to motivate the greatness from your team and let your best players to do their absolute best.  Let your best people shine, grow and push you.  Follow this hyper link to read more:   How to be a Successful Marketing Director

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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14 thoughts on “How to Be a Successful VP of Marketing
  1. Martin Cubas

    I have never worked in Marketing, I come from operations and logistics area, but I felt touched with this article since I think this 6 rules are applicable to every function. Great article!, Thanks a lot.

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  3. mark olivito

    Fantastic breakdown Graham! The P&L is all too often ignored by Marketing VP’s/CMO’s…..that’s the ultimate scorecard and not the “other” chiefs responsibility. Great detail in the slideshare too!

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