How to run a Marketing Team

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

Slide1I’ve seen so many marketing leaders over my twenty years in CPG, whether it was my days as a junior marketer observing those I was under or observing my own issues as I was finally taking the reigns of a marketing team.  The biggest problem I still see and hear about is “lack of consistency”.  And yet, I do believe consistency is one of the most important attributes for a good leader of a marketing team.  People always use the word “Leadership” which sometimes implies that the leader should be “leading” the team.  But, you should be encouraging those under you to be the ones leading the way.  You should stop leading, so you can let them lead.  

Whether you are at the Director or VP level, whether your team is 3 or 30 or even more, here are some thought starters to help you better manage your marketing team.  

Be a Consistent Leader with People

This is my #1 rule as the leader. And yet, it’s the easiest to fail on. When you have multiple brands under you, it’s so easy to forget what you said 5 days ago on one of the brands.  I learned quickly to ask the very simple question:  “what did I say last time?  While it might sound weak, it’s a much stronger position for you than when your brand manager says “yeah, but last time you said….”   

People have to know how to act around you. You have to make it comfortable enough for people to approach you, and be able to communicate the good and bad. A scary leader discourages people from sharing the bad results, which ends up leaving you in the dark.  Open dialogue helps you know what’s really going on, so you can run the business.  Let them challenge you and push forward new thinking into the system.   This helps your brands to stay modern, push new ideas and connect with consumers.  

Be consistent with the Work

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” which some hope for.  Nor does it create an atmosphere of “creativity”. Inconsistent leadership inhibits creativity, with tension that adds no value to the brands. 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 starts with listening. 

You also want to hold your team to a Consistently high standard of work.  Rather than being the leader by example, you should establish a standard and hold everyone and yourself to that standard.  For a new director, this is one of the harder areas–balancing the freedom you give with the standard you demand.  The key is to shift your focus to more of a process orientation.  Organize the team and build in processes in a way that produces consistent output, making sure your team hits all deadlines, stays focused and keeps things moving.  The standard should also show up in the quality of brand plans, the execution and the interactions with everyone specifically sales or your agencies. 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 that allows your weaker players to slow you down. 

Be a Leader who Makes Decisions

When your team comes to see you, they expect your challenges and should be ready for them.  But they want your approval.  Early in my career, I once worked under a VP Marketing who said in every speech “what you can expect from me is….” and we never saw it.  We kept waiting. And we started to parrot the phrase “what you can expect from me…”  in a joking way.  

There’s nothing worse than the constant deflector.  The leader who challenges and sends you back to the drawing board, not because the Brand Manager hasn’t thought of everything but because the director can’t make a decision.  Find your way, whether it is through sorting through a decision tree with criteria, give yourself a certain amount of time or ask for advice from those you trust.  But you have to eventually make a decision. Those leaders who let research make the decision are just as weak.  I’ve always said that market research is only to get you to the point of “so what do you think?” but it should never make a decision for you.  Otherwise, if research decides, then what do we need you for?  

 Let them Run the Brands.  You run the process.

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. Run the process—brand planning, advertising, creative briefs—in a way that’s not restrictive but rather provides the right freedom to your people. Allow your 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.  

Now it’s time, for you to step back and let them do amazing work.  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”. As the leader, that’s a great position to be in, because it forces you to ask and listen.  Look for ways to support and encourage great thinking, while challenging them to reach for even better.  Balance giving them to enough freedom to do great stuff and yet knowing when to step in and make a decision.    

It’s about the People, stupid

So as the leader, 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.  Clearing out under-performing team members is crucial to ensuring you have room for your best to move up. 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. 

Make your people Better

Marketing Training is not just on the job, but also in the classroom in a way that challenges their thinking.  You need to focus on the skills to be better in their jobs.  Marketing fundamentals matter.  And in the modern world, we are letting the classic fundamentals go, whether it is strategic thinking, writing a brand plan, writing a creative brief or judging great communication.  People are NOT getting the same training and development they did in prior generations.  Invest in training, because it is motivating for them get better.  It helps drive retention and commitment into producing great work and driving results.

Better people, means better work and better results.


To read an article on managing your marketing career that you can easily download and print for either you or your team:


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