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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At Beloved Brands, our purpose is to help brands find a new pathway to growth. We believe that the more love your brand can generate with your most cherished consumers, the more power, growth, and profitability you will realize in the future.

We think the best solutions are likely inside you already, but struggle to come out. Our unique playbook tools are the backbone of our workshops. We bring our challenging voice to help you make decisions and refine every potential idea.

We start by defining a brand positioning statement, outlining the desired target, consumer benefits and support points the brand will stand behind. And then, we build a brand idea that is simple and unique enough to stand out in the clutter of the market, motivating enough to get consumers to engage, buy and build a loyal following with your brand.

We will help you write a strategic brand plan for the future, to get everyone in your organization to follow. It starts with an inspiring vision that pushes your team to imagine a brighter future. We use our strategic thinking tools to help you make strategic choices on where to allocate your brand’s limited resources.

Our brand playbook methodology will challenge you to unlock future growth for your brand

  1. Our deep-dive assessment process will give you the knowledge of the issues facing your brand, so you can build a smart plan to unleash future growth.
  2. Find a winning brand positioning statement that motivates consumers to buy, and gives you a competitive advantage to drive future growth.
  3. Create a brand idea to capture the minds and hearts of consumers, while inspiring and focusing your team to deliver greatness on the brand’s behalf.
  4. Build a brand plan to help you make smart focused decisions, so you can organize, steer, and inspire your team towards higher growth.
  5. Advise on advertising, to find creative that drives branded breakthrough and use a motivating messaging to set up long-term brand growth.
  6. Our brand training program will make your brand leaders smarter, so you have added confidence in their performance to drive brand growth.

To learn more about our coaching, click on this link: Beloved Brands Strategic Coaching

To learn more about our training programs, click on this link: Beloved Brands Training

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

You have my personal promise to help you solve your brand building challenges. I will give you new thinking, so you can unlock future growth for your brand.


Graham Robertson

Founder and CMO, Beloved Brands Inc.



How to Land an Assistant Brand Manager job

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bbi adTwenty years ago, I graduated from business school and started as an Assistant Brand Manager (ABM) at General Mills.  I never admitted it back then, by it was really hard to get that ideal ABM position.  Prior to going back for my MBA, I had tried numerous times to get a job and kept failing.  One interview ended after 5 minutes because she looked at my resume and found out I had no CPG experience.  How could I, if I was going for an entry level position?  
While things have changed tremendously over those twenty years, many of the same principles for landing that job remain the same.  To start with here is the job you’ll be Applying for How to be a Great ABM   If that’s how you’ll be judged in the few months, than that’s how you’ll be judged in the Interview Process.

The first lesson I can tell you is there are more people who want to be an Assistant Brand Manager than there are jobs.   For every ABM, there are hundreds who want that role.  And that’s continuing to tighten in the tough economy as many places are going without.  So how bad do you really want this job?   Do you want it more than everyone else?   And will you do what it takes to get that job?  I remember interviewing so many times and not getting the job–I must have gone through 100 interviews before I finally landed the right job.   I remember one time, after 3 minutes the hiring manager looked at my résumé and said “you have zero marketing experience, this won’t work”.  That one still stings after twenty years, but made me want it even more.
Slide1Persistence is the key.  If you are only half trying, then I have very little sympathy for you.  If you are completely immersed in the effort, trust me, keep pushing because you will eventually break through.

While this article is with my biases, at least you’ll get a vantage from a former CPG executive who was heavily involved in the recruiting hundreds of ABMs.

There are five ways you can get in:

  • MBA: This was the #1 source of our ABMs. It gave us the chance to have a consistency in our recruiting efforts, allowed us to have a focused timing for the hiring and even a consistency in starting dates so we could measure and compare ABMs. One of the silent secrets no one can say is that an MBA ensures that ABMs are late 20s, rather than 22–which makes it easier for them to work with the sales teams. Now, people always ask me: “Do I need an MBA?” My answer is “No, but it sure helps”. It allows you to be part of the formal recruiting process, get in front door and be judged by that very process, rather than just a one-off hiring manager who is in a panic and doesn’t know what they want. My question to you is “Can you do an MBA?” because if you can, I’d recommend it.
  • Head Hunter and Recruiters: This was our second source for ABMs, especially when we needed ABMs outside of the formal recruiting process. There are some Headhunters that specifically fill ABM roles and you should make sure you are connected with them. If you are lucky, you can get a head hunter who gives you tips on your resume or feedback on your interview. Ask for the feedback. Stay in touch regularly.
  • Networking: As the economy has gotten worse, some companies have cut back on the use of Head Hunters and opted for using a “finder’s fee” to employees that recommend someone. So if you can connect with ABMs that already work at the company, they have an incentive to actually get you hired. The advantages to networking is they’ll tell you the hiring manager, process and interview tips. They’ll also alert you to when someone quits. I would recommend you write down the 10-20 companies you want to work for, and get networking with other ABMs, BMs or the HR manager.
  • Experience in the Company: A generation ago, many started off in sales and then moved over to marketing. It still can happen, but it’s becoming less common. If you try this route, push to get over the marketing quickly so you don’t get stuck in a role you don’t want.
  • Job Posting: Don’t wait for the postings, or you’ll be missing out on most of the jobs. The HR department puts up the job posting, either because the company has exhausted all other methods. The posting doesn’t always mean there is a job, but HR using it to fill the resume bank. The new method for hiring is to go on to Linked In and put “We are Hiring” in job groups
Align your resume to the job!
  • Write your resume for the job you want, not as a way to tell who you are and your life story: I’ve reviewed 1000s of resumes.  Don’t put “VP student union” on your LinkedIn, put “Pursuing a Career in Brand Management”.  You have to shift to be forward looking, not past. 
  • Make your resume look like you can do the job.  Re-arrange all your experience so that it lines up to the job you want. Have you done some of the things we need you to do?   Analytics, creativity, project management, leading others, making decisions, pressure to deliver numbers, fast past environment, dedicated to completing the task at hand, achieving results. 
  • Focus your resume.  Get rid of the stuff on your resume that has nothing to do with the job you want.  It feels like it’s just your insecurity wanting to keep it on there, and like any communication, less is more. 
  • Make your biggest accomplishment, no matter what it is (eg. champion chess player, captain of the hockey team, dean’s list or won a case competition) a center point on your resume and that you link it to the job you want in the future. 
Interview like you want that Job!
  • In the interview, find an energy level in telling your stories.  Every answer should tie back to fitting with the job you are going for.  Have each story linked to part of the job and how it would help you when you are working there.
  • Forward Looking Answers:  Answer the questions in a way that nails down what they want to hear, not what you necessarily want to say.  Yes, tell your story, but realize that you’ve got to connect to being able to do the job.
  • Know your audience, you might interview with HR, mid level managers and senior managers.  Your story, tone and interaction might change based on who you are meeting with.  You need to get a consensus in the hiring process—so you need to impress each one, in a unique way that makes them back you in the meeting.
  • Ask really good questions—could be lined up to the skills, or what might be part of your criteria for taking the job. But never ever say “nope, I’m good, I have all I need to know”.   This shifts it to a dialogue where you engage.  If you can make it conversational and not interrogation, that makes it even better. 
  • Close the interview by “almost” asking for the job.  Lay out the 1-2 main points of why you would be a success.  If it is a consensus style interview where they’ll be re-grouping on the decision, these two points are what you want them to bring up in that meeting in support of you for the position.  

Here are the Interview Questions that I used to Ask:

  1. Tell me a time you used numbers to sell an idea?    You better have your story tight because your answer will be questioned one or two more levels to see if you really know your stuff.  Great Marketers can tell stories with analysis.
  2. What’s the most creative thing you’ve ever done?  It really doesn’t matter what it was, but how far did you push yourself out of your comfort zone to find the creative solution.  Your passion for your idea should come through.    
  3. What’s the thing you’re most proud of?  When I read a resume, I want to see big accomplishments beyond your work experience or school.  Football, chess, travelling the world or charity work etc.  I want to hear your story and your pride come through.  Great Marketers accomplish things, and I want to know that you have a history of accomplishments.  Don’t tell just what you did, tell me what you ACCOMPLISHED!  
  4. Tell me a time when you’ve convinced your boss of something they thought wouldn’t work.   I want to see if you can make it happen.  This will show your leadership, selling skills, and willingness to push.  A great Marketer can get what they want.. 
  5. If you were Tim Tebow’s Agent, how would you maximize his value as a spokesperson?  I always took something in the pop culture news and asked how you would handle it.  I was looking to see how curious you are and how you could take something with very little subject matter expertise and put together a plan.  A great Marketer has a curiosity and can form opinions quickly.  This lets me see your thinking.  Pop culture is a great area that goes beyond books.   
  6. If you were on a team that solved a serious healthcare problem for Society, what factors would you use to price it on the global level?   This is a very thick question with many issues, especially adding in the global issue.  I want to see you think through those issues and layer those issues into your answer.  How do you handle the differences between North America and the Third World?   How important is profitability vs R&D vs compassion?   How would you leverage government, key influencers and where would that fit into your answer.  Great marketers can handle ambiguity and there is a lot within this case.  
  7. From your previous Interview with our company, what’s the biggest mistake you made and how would you now change that?   Great marketers are constantly pushing themselves to improve.  That starts with your own personal assessment.  I want to see that you have thought about it and now see a better solution.  It also puts you under a bit of unexpected pressure to see how you handle that.  
  8. What questions do you have for me?  To me this is one of the most important sections.  It demonstrates how engaged you are in the process.  The quality of your questions will help to separate you.  Have five great questions done ahead of time, ask about 2-3 each interview.  Ask deep questions, not surface questions.  Turn each answer into a conversation starter. 

Act like you want the job.  Show a bit of spunk and energy through the interviews.  Marketing jobs are a bit different.  Take a Red Bull before the interview.  Be leaning forward, make eye contact, be comfortable and dynamic in your personality.

Best of luck to you in your job search. Go for it and don’t give up.

Here’s a presentation on Successful Marketing Careers:  




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