April 21, 2014
How to deal with the STRESS of being a Brand Leader
When I was in University trying to figure out my career, my mom said “what about an actuary?” What a great career: you make a good living and you have the longest life expectancy of any career. The life expectancy is directly related to the lack of stress. Instead I chose Marketing, where the jobs are highly stressful. Plain and simple. I spent 20 years in marketing, and no matter what the level, whether as a new Assistant Brand Manager or a VP with 20 years of experience, I found it highly stressful job. As an ABM, I felt constantly reminded that “not everyone gets promoted” so I worked my ass off just to get that Brand Manager job. As you move up, through each promotion, that insecurity never goes away, but rather it pushes you extra hard. At the VP level, you are still reminded that “most CMOs only last 36 months”. The stress never ends. But I loved every day of my marketing career. Even with the stress.
Here are the 6 degrees of stress that Brand Leaders face:
- Ambiguity is one of the hardest pressures you will face. There really is no exact answer. As my Economics prof once said “economics proves what happens in real life can actually happen in theory as well”. I love that answer because marketers drive those supply and demand curves. And similarly, we have to use a combination of fundamentals and instinct to make the right choices. As a leader, patience and composure help you sort through the issues. The consequences of not remaining composed are a scared team and choosing quick decisions with bad results. The consequence of stress is usually decision-making first. So take your time, slow down your thinking, map out decision trees, use tools to help you support your instincts. And make a decision. Most marketers faced with A or B, try to find a way to choose both, but that just depletes your resources by spreading them against two options.
- If the Results don’t come in, it can be frustrating. The key to making sure you can hit your results is to make good projections. You should always be doing regular deep dive analysis to ensure you know what’s going on, and can summarize the key issues. When faced with struggling results, reach for your logic as you re-group. Force yourself to course correct, rather than continuing to repeat and repeat and repeat. Challenge team to “this is when we are needed as a motivation to dig deep and fix the business in front of you. As the leader, if you can put a time frame on how long it might take to turn things around, it can help manage your teams stress and work load level. (eg. For the next 3 months, we’ll need all hands on deck as we turn around the extra strength business) The focus helps cut the ambiguity
- At various times in your career, relationships can cause you a lot of stress. Organizations have natural conflict points with conflicting priorities. For most marketers, the sales team can be a stress point, as they try to close any short-term gaps while you try to drive longer term equity. Be pro-active in making the first move to build a relationship. Try to figure out what motivates and what annoys the other person. Understand and reach for common ground, which most times is not that far away. Have regular touch points, to hear them out. I used to have regular lunches with the key account sales directors, mainly to hear them out. I would get nothing during the lunch but a ton between the lunches. I only figured out this late in my career, after years of butting heads with sales at all stages of my career. The other conflict is with your ad agency. They value pride in work more than they do results. If you can find that happy medium where they are motivated to do great work that drives your results, then you’ll have great advertising. Don’t treat them like a supplier you pay. That won’t work. You have to inspire, motivate and energize your agency. Always tap into their pride.
- Time Pressure is almost the opposite of ambiguity. Many marketers think being creative means you can have some weakness on being organized. Not true. You have to be organized, disciplined and work the system so it doesn’t get in your way. Be calm, so you continue to make the right decisions. And you can actually use time to your advantage, if you can stay cool in the face of deadlines, you can use those time constraints to get everyone focused on the simple answers. Time can focus your team, as long as you stay cool. If you get stressed, everyone just freezes.
- Managing your career: The best marketers are ambitious and want to get ahead. CPG marketing is still an “up or out” mentality, which puts added pressure to keep moving up. But your career changes at every stage of the marketing career, so there is a constant change on the pressure. When you’re a junior marketer, it is all about doing–and making it happen through subject matter experts. Here’s where you also to manage your boss, to make sure they are aware of what you want. I recommend you think of your career as three different aspects: skills, behaviours and experiences. And as you move up, you need to make sure you are well rounded in each of those. Identify the gaps, and look to close those through your career choices.
- Your personal life: During your career, there will be tons of things happen in your personal life that can trickle into your work life. Your personal life during your career will be full: you could be getting married, buying a house and having kids. But you have to be able to compartmentalize and almost separate the personal from the professional life. But just like not taking your personal life to work, you can’t take your work life home. It’s even harder today to compartmentalize with smart phones that never turn off. But, a career is a marathon, not a series of sprints.
One thing to keep in mind is the Idiot Curve. At every new job, I find it takes 3 months to get back to being just as smart as you were on the first day. The basic rule is: You get dumber before you get smarter. We’ve promoted some great ABMs and watch them struggle and wonder if we made a mistake. But the idiot curve is inevitable. It just shows up differently for each person. No matter how hard you fight it, you have to ride the curve. (But, please fight through the curve, you have to for your survival) The biggest gap is that you forget to use your instincts. You spend so much of your time trying to absorb all that is coming at you, that you reach for the basic process instead of your brains. You might be working on a project for weeks before you think to even look at the budget. You work on a promotion for Wal-Mart and then think “oh ya, I should talk to the Wal-Mart sales manager and see what he thinks”. Or you say something in a meeting you think you’re supposed to say, but it doesn’t even resemble anything that you think, feel or believe in. That’s the idiot curve. And it will last 3 months. And you’ll experience it in a new and exciting way you can’t even predict. Feel free to let me know which way so I can add it to the list. (I won’t show names)
I also found at each new level, it got lonely during the first few months. You don’t know your new peers and it takes them a while to accept you. Your friends, who might have been former peers treat you differently now.
Stress will happen, but be ready for it. The best way to deal with uncertainty is to make sure you organized and ready to handle it. Here are some ways to get organized and manage what is controllable:
- Hit the Deadlines: Don’t look out of control or sloppy. We have enough to do, that things will just stockpile on each other.
- Know Your Business: Don’t get caught off-guard. Make sure you are asking the questions and carrying forward the knowledge.
- Open Communication: No surprises. Keep everyone aware of what’s going on. Present upwards with an action plan of what to do with it.
- Listen and Decide: While it’s crucial that we seek to understand, it’s equally important that we give direction or push towards the end path.
- We must get better: When we don’t know something, speak in an “asking way”, but when we know, speak in a “telling way”.
- We control Our Destiny: We run the brands, they do not run us. Be slightly ahead of the game, not chasing your work to completion.
- Regular Feedback for Growth:You should always take feedback, good or bad, as a lesson for you. Not a personal attack or setback.
It’s crucial that you learn to deal with stress you move up, because the stress increases with each level. Being unable to handle stress will eat you alive and likely limit your career. To me, one of the best stress relievers has been the work itself. I pushed myself to love the work. Being satisfied helped my stress level. Whenever I settled for OK, it ate away at me for months, regretting I settled.
Love what you do. Live why you do it.
To read more on managing your marketing carer, read the following presentation: