How to deal with the stress Marketers face

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If you don’t like stress, do not choose a career in Marketing. I spent 20 years in marketing, and no matter what level, whether as a new Assistant Brand Manager or a VP with 20 years of experience, stress was part of the job.stress

Early on, I was constantly reminded that “not everyone gets promoted” so I worked my ass off to get that Brand Manager job. As I moved up, through each promotion, that insecurity never went away, but rather it pushed me to work extra hard. Even as I felt I had finally made it, at the VP level, I was reminded “most CMOs only last 36 months.” The stress never ended. However, I loved every day of my marketing career.

The stress was always there, but I learned to manage and deal with the stress.

The stress brand leaders face:


Ambiguity can chew you up and spit you out. With marketing, there is no right or wrong answer, but there is the best answer that will either work or won’t work. Marketers must use a combination of fundamentals, thinking and instinct to make the smartest choice. You won’t know until your work is put into the marketplace.

As a leader, persistence, 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 result 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. Also, make a decision. Most marketers faced with A or B, try to find a way to choose both, but that depletes your limited 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 reasonable projections. It would be best if you always were 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 workload level.  (e.g., For the next three 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 much 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. And, 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

Time Pressure is almost the opposite of ambiguity. Many marketers think being creative means; you can have some weakness in 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. Also, you can use the 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 around you will feel your stress, and they freeze.

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.  However, your career changes at every stage of the marketing career, so there is a constant change in 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, and experiences. Also, 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.

Balancing your personal life

During your career, there will be tons of things happening in your personal life that can trickle into your work life: you could be getting married, buying a house and having kids. And those are the positives–you could break up, make a bad investment or lose a loved one.

You have to learn to be able to compartmentalize and almost separate your personal from your professional life. While you shouldn’t take your personal life to work, you can’t take your work life home. It’s even harder today to compartmentalize with smartphones that never turn off–every buzz or beep keeps you connected to work. Build your own rules for how you separate work and personal, whether turning your phone off, not working weekends or having designated personal time (6-9pm). Find an activity that can help you switch from the high pace of work to the relaxed pace of home.

The idiot curve

One thing to keep in mind is the Idiot Curve. At every new job, I find it takes three months to get back to being just as smart as you were on the first day. The main rule of the Idiot Curve: you get dumber before you get smarter. We’ve promoted some great junior marketers and watch them struggle and wonder if we made a mistake.

The idiot curve is inevitable.

It just shows up differently for each person and for every level you go through. No matter how hard you fight it, you have to ride the curve. (But, please fight through the curve\ for your survival)

Marketing Career Idiot Curve

The most significant 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.
  • And then, 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.”
  • Alternatively, 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. Also, it will last three months.

Moreover, 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.

The best way to deal with stress is to make sure you are organized and prepared 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 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, click through the following presentation:

To learn more about this type of thinking, you should explore my new book, Beloved Brands.

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If you need our help, email me at or call me at 416 885 3911

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Graham Robertson

Founder and CMO, Beloved Brands Inc.