Creating a Marketing Career Path When You’re Just Getting Started

I was speaking at the University of Colorado recently to a room full of marketing majors.  One of the questions someone asked stuck with me.  A women in the room raised her hand and said she was trying to figure out where to work after graduation.  She struggled with the different options and was looking for advise on what size company she should target.

For marketers, like many professions, there are several roads to go down.  Specialists vs generalists.  Creative vs technical.  Client-side vs agency.  Choosing the right path can be daunting.  So here is the advise I have for a marketer just starting out trying to define a path for their own career.

Specialists versus Generalists


This is a question I get a lot from young marketers.  Should I pursue a career as a specialist or generalist?  First here’s the main difference between the two, as I see it.

A specialist can make more money due to lack of competition, but there are less jobs that hire specialists because they’re a bit of a luxury.  Generalists get paid less, but jobs are more plentiful since they can wear multiple hats, which companies tend to appreciate in an employee.

If you’re starting out, less than 5 years of experience, pursue a generalist role.  The more hats you can wear, the more valuable you will be over time.  A generalist can always become a specialist, but the other direction is quite difficult.  By learning as many areas of marketing as you possibly can now, you can discover which areas interest you or discover an unknown talent.  Then later, after you’ve got some experience under your belt, you can drive towards a career that is best suited towards you.

Creative versus Technical

When most people think about marketing, they think advertising – which is a very small piece of the overall puzzle.  I believe marketing is the meeting of 3 skillsets:

  1. Mathematical Analysis
  2. Behavioral Science
  3. Art

Because no one of these areas outweighs the others, the question is not should I be a creative or a technical marketer, but what amount of each.  To be a strong marketer, you must learn all three areas.  A whitepaper is a technical document that requires creativity (art) and is driving towards a certain behavior (behavioral science), which usually leverages some sort of mathematical analysis in its argument.

You will naturally gravitate to one skill set over the others, but learn all three.  You’ll need them.  Like I said, generalize now and specialize later.

Client-side versus Agency


You have two main options when looking at a marketing career.  You can work for a brand directly as part of their in-house marketing department.  Or you can work for an agency supporting many brands with a specialized offering.  Which one should you pick?

I say, do both.  Spend 2-3 years at one, then switch.  The experience you gain at an agency is critical.  Balancing projects, managing clients, understanding different types of brands and their needs – you need to do it all.  Then when you go client-side you get to know a brand intimately, which will teach you voice, budgets and vendor management.  After 5 years, you’ll know which life you prefer.  Jack of all trades or mastering a signature dish – you don’t need to know the answer yet.

Small versus Large Business

This is the question I get most often.  Should I go with the small company or the established brand.  There’s a few things to consider with this one.

  1. Will the brand recognition (or lack there of) affect you in the future?  How so?
  2. Will you be allowed to change anything about the brand?
  3. How many people stand between you and the head of marketing?
  4. Do you operate better in a structured or unstructured environment?
  5. How important is salary to you?  Can you take a financial risk?

Here’s the thing.  You’re going to make more money at a larger company starting out.  The logo will look nice on your resume and people will be impressed.  But you won’t be allowed to touch anything and you’ll likely not be allowed to draw outside of very well defined lines.  You’ll be forced to specialize sooner than I think you should as there are many hands to do work.

At a smaller company you can immediately deliver value because you’ll wear many hats.  Events, social, content, digital, advertising, sales training, RFPs – you will touch everything.  On the flip side you will probably make less money.  Student loans and rent are real concerns and you can’t not pay them.

I recommend targeting small or medium-sized companies when you’re starting out.  You might work at PepsiCo, but no one is impressed if you were the Jr Content Researcher and there are 18 levels between you and the CMO.  Instead, take the risk now and learn everything you can physically stick in your brain.  The pain will be temporary, but the work will be much more fulfilling.  Then, after a few years, if you haven’t already been promoted you can go to the big brands at a higher level and make a larger impact.  How do you know if the company is too large?  Are they on Fortune 500?  Then they’re too large.  Go smaller.


3 ways to work successfully with multiple marketing organizations

My company has a (not so) unique challenge.  As is the case with most companies our size or larger, we have multiple marketing departments with multiple teams.  The corporate marketing team is grouped into 4 organizations, which has several sub-organizations in each one.  In addition corporate communications sits in investor relations and each product has the option to develop their own dedicated marketing SMEs.

To be successful you need a carefully crafted balancing act.  Who does what, when and why?

I’ve been in this role for nearly a year.  In that year I have learned a ton about managing expectations, collaborating with other departments and keeping my cool when people tell me things can’t be done.  Here are a few lessons learned I’ve developed that you may be able to leverage too.

1) No one likes a know-it-all

Image result for know it allI am the first one to admit I struggle with this one.  I’m the first one to raise my hand and explain how my point-of-view is the right one.  Over the last year I’ve tempered this part of my personality.  The fastest way to get people on your bad side is to embarrass them in a meeting – especially with their boss or stakeholders.  Intentional or not, correcting people is never the way to go.

So how do you let someone know that what they’re doing is wrong or dumb?

I have gotten really good (if I do say so myself) at saying two things:

  1. Playing devils advocate, what if…
  2. I like that.  We could also…

No one is going to fault you for saving their ass, but the more you correct someone in public the more they will circumvent you in private.  Many books call this, “giving them an out.”  Don’t leave them with egg on their face.  Give them an opportunity to still look professional in front of their stakeholders while course correcting from the rocks.

2) Include them in the process

Image result for include others memeRegardless of which marketing department you’re in, don’t go it alone.  I struggled with this a lot in my product marketing days.  One day corporate marketing came to me and said, “We love all your ideas, but if you don’t include us we can’t help you.  Let us know what you’re doing so we can be there to support you.”

They had a point.  I wanted to keep all the glory, but I was also taking on all the work – and failing at both.  When I started leaning on them for support, not only was I able to move projects along faster, but had more success in other ways.  They had visibility into dynamics, politics and sometimes budget I didn’t.  And by involving them in the planning process, they had a vested interest in supporting my programs, which made everyone more excited.

Now that I’m in corporate, I have to do the same thing the other way.  By involving vertical marketers, product marketers and business development leads in the planning phase I get more resources and more buy-in earlier.  It raises my professional brand and sets me up for success longer term.

3) Share Success

Image result for thank you memeJust like no one likes a know-it-all, know one likes someone who hogs the spotlight.  If someone helps you reach success with a project, or in your career, acknowledge it.  No one gets where they’re going alone.

In my previous role, I introduced SEO to the company by piloting it on my own product.  I paid for it.  I hired the company.  I reported the outcomes.  But corporate helped too.  They helped me implement my vision and did a lot of extra work to make my experiment a reality.

As a thank you, I would never dream of not giving credit where credit is due.  In every read out I would use the phrase, “We partnered with the website team to…”

Even if they don’t own the vision, outcomes or barely lifted a pencil, share the love.  If they see you do it, they will reciprocate one day.

(Plus, everyone knows what you did.  No need to wallow in it.)

The Anti-Resume Every Marketer Should Make Immediately

Recently, as part of Zayo’s Coffee Club program, I met with a marketing professional named Karen Sutherland.  While meeting we discussed her marketing background and traded stories.  She then handed me a document I’ve been fawning over every since.

Below is Karen’s “Strategic Plan”, the quintessential “anti-resume” and it’s a project every marketer should take on immediately.  In it she summarizes all her experience, differentiators and objectives in an easy-to-consume and compelling format.  I’m blown away and can’t wait to make my own.

Strategic Plan

I’m sure this is meant to be a way to help plan your career with a more targeted and strategic approach.  In my opinion this is also the perfect way to introduce yourself on paper.  Resumes are detailed, bulleted and sometimes overwhelming.  You’re including dates and awards and metrics and publications and on and on.  This document drills down to everything a hiring manager or recruiter actually wants to know.

  • What do you want to do?
  • What do you know how to do?
  • Where do you want to do it?

Once the conversation has started your resume can fill in any timeline or metric gaps.

How to format your personal strategic plan:

  1. Name, contact info, URL at the top – just like a resume.

Don’t slouch on this section.  It doesn’t need to be professionally designed, but this is literally your first impression.  Make it count.  Maybe include a headshot or a special logo.  Maybe just play with the formatting or layout.  Use this to disclose your talent or personal brand without saying it outright.

  1. Professional Objective

I like what Karen did here.  Get to the point and tell the reader exactly what you’re looking for.  Don’t write a complete sentence, but make it skim-worthy.

  1. Positioning Statement

Now you can write in complete sentences.  Write a paragraph on what makes you different, skilled or the best choice – just like if you were describing a product.  Maybe play with the title by doing something fun like “The Pitch” or “In a Nutshell” – if you’re feeling adventurous.

  1. Competencies

I love that Karen broke this into three sections – skills she has, marketing specializations, and who she is.

  1. Target

I really like that she’s broken this down so well.  If you were marketing a product, you would clearly state what your target market looks like.  Why not do that for yourself?

Answer the following questions:

  • Where do you want to work geographically?
  • What type of industries do you prefer?
  • What size company do you prefer?
  • What is your ideal culture?

You may worry that this limits your ability to find work, but we all know the key to proper marketing is segmentation and targeting.  Don’t be afraid to be niche.

Now, do your research.  Which companies fit these parameters?  Which companies complement these parameters?  Now, go hunting.

In summary, stop what you’re doing and make your own strategic plan.  It may be a little tough at first, but zeroing in on your target market and treating yourself like the amazing product you are is the best free thing you can do to market yourself right now.

1 surefire way to make a marketing job application stand out


I despise job searching.  During the summer of 2015 I was laid off and must have sent my resume to 200 companies up and down the Front Range and around the world.  After 4 months I started to lose hope. At month #5 I was struck by inspiration.

That summer was one of self-reflection and improvement.  I went to yoga every day – since I didn’t have anything better to do.  As a result, I lost 20 lbs!  (Don’t worry.  My desk job has caused me to gain it all back.)  I also had plenty of time to volunteer with local dog rescues – a cause that I take very seriously.

Around month #5 two interesting job listings came on the market for Denver-area companies.

One was for Sports Authority (RIP), working on their website’s customer experience.  Since I’d lost a ton of weight recently and now lived in yoga pants, Sports Authority had become a favorite spot to loiter and the role seemed very enticing.

The second was at Kong – the company that makes those red cone-shaped dog toys.  They have “office dogs” and employees get all sorts of dog-related perks.  What self-respecting, crazy dog-lady wouldn’t want a job there?!

I had applied to both companies multiple times already, without so much as a phone screen with HR.  Resumes were not working.  My online portfolio got clicks, but not enough.  I had to do something different – make myself stand out.  I was a marketer for crying out loud!  Certainly I could come up with Image result for brilliantsomething brilliant.

I thought about my experience.  What is something I could do to get their attention and highlight my strengths?  And then it hit me.  I will build a website specifically to show them how much I want to work there!

Okay, that’s not exactly true.  

My (now) husband sent me an article about a girl who wanted to work for AirBnB so badly that she did a special project and built an entire website to deliver it to them.  AirBnb was so impressed that she got an interview.

I thought, “I could do that!”

And I did.  I made each of them a custom WordPress website to talk specifically about how much their companies meant to me.

I talked about my weight loss journey to Sports Authority and included before & after photos.


I also talked about ways I thought they could improve their website and what I was seeing in the market.


I told Kong about my lifelong devotion to their product lines and included photos of my dog, Delilah, playing with their toys.


I also included a section on how I thought Kong could improve by targeting the millennial market more effectively.


It was aggressive and heart felt.  I put it all out there, desperate to make an impression… and it worked.

What actually happened

I tweeted, emailed, facebooked, and LinkedIn’d (that’s a verb, right?) both websites directly to their respective companies.  Somehow someone was going to see them.

Kong actually picked up the phone and called me.  Although they did not want to bring me in for an interview (they wanted someone more senior), the VP of Marketing did apparently see the website and was extremely impressed.  I will note that I was shocked they didn’t at least bring me in to meet me, but they politely said they’d keep my resume on file in case something more appropriate became open in the future.  Blah, blah, blah…

Sports Authority, however, did bring me in for an interview.  They were so impressed with the website that they sent it to the recruiter managing the account, who phone screened me.  When she was satisfied I wasn’t a crazy person, I was actually brought in for a face-to-face interview with real hiring managers at their physical headquarters.

It was obvious that the team was taken aback by me and my unexpected website application.  It definitely made an impression.  Someone let it slip that they were going to give the position to someone internally, but when they saw my website they had to meet me first.

Long story short, I didn’t get the job.  In honesty I wasn’t quite right for that job either.  But I got in the door and that was the whole point.

As marketers, we spend a lot of time thinking about pipeline development and how to increase opportunity volume.  In a way job searching is very similar.  The more opportunities in the funnel, the more likely you are to get a job.  But first you have to get in the door.  And sometimes that requires a degree of creativity and willingness to go above and beyond.

In case you’re worried, I did eventually find a great job – and it only took 6 months.

Image result for got a job

3 ways to turn Sales into Marketing’s best friend

marketing vs salesWe can all agree how strange it is that sales and marketing always seem to be at odds.  We’re all on the same team.  We all want the same things.  But, alas, most of us can easily see that there is a clear divide between the two groups, and in some organizations, that divide is more like a canyon.

But here’s the honest truth.  Sales success = marketing’s success, but marketing’s success doesn’t necessarily = sales success.  Sales is graded on simple metrics and they come in funny shapes – $ € £ ¥ – very simple.  The more of them the better.

Unfortunately marketing operates much further up the funnel.  Although we want funny shaped characters too, we also want crazy things like brand awareness and process management and CTRs… very strange desires indeed.

How can two organizations who seem to be speaking different languages work together for a common goal?

Treat sales like a customer, not a colleague

As marketers, we often think about our customers as the company’s customers – which is correct.  You shouldn’t stop doing that.

However, that’s also true for IT and HR and AP.  But IT’s customers are also everyone in the building using a laptop.  And if those laptops all turn off, the customers complain.  Accounts Payable’s customers are everyone trying to pay vendors.  If the outsourced graphic designer stops working because AP can’t write a check, any marketing manager would (understandably) lose their mind.

Marketing is no different.  Sales is marketing’s customer.

So how do you treat sales like a customer?

  1. Deliver the product they want – ie. Qualified leads

Image result for leadsA laptop is fantastic, but if IT gives you one without an operating system, there’s not much you can do with it.  Leads make everyone happy, except when they’re crap and they waste sales’ time.

Anatomy of a qualified lead:

  • Complete contact information: name, title, email, company
  • Qualifying information: “This person requested a _____”
  • Agreement on what constitutes a qualified lead

I stopped gating my online content because sales and I agreed that downloading a sales sheet does not make you a qualified lead.  In your organization, that may not be the case.  Sit down and talk about it.

This goes double for lead scoring.  Sales leadership should be involved in determining what scoring methodology you’re using.  Then when you hit the magic number, sales is bought in and everyone’s happy.

  1. Consistently remind them of the service you deliver to them

Good B2B sales reps do something called a QBR or “Quarterly Business Review”.

PRO TIP: If you’ve never attended a QBR before, call your local sales reps and ask if you can be a fly on the wall for their next one – in the name of learning.

In a QBR, sales outlines what they delivered to the customer the previous quarter, how they dealt with issues, and what value they helped drive.  It’s a way to remind the customer – who has a million much more important things to think about – what you mean to their business.

Marketing can do the same thing.

Once a quarter I call a 1-hour meeting with sales leadership and walk through my quarterly marketing plan.  I keep my audience in mind and focus on the details sales will care most about.  I start off with lead-to-opportunity conversions from the previous quarter and then outline what I’ve got planned for them in the current quarter.  Some things are brand awareness or customer satisfaction related – which don’t directly drive the pipeline.  But sales isn’t stupid.  Explain to them exactly how this ultimately makes their life easier and they will smile.

  1. Shut up and listen

shut up and listenThe QBR may start with a presentation, but it ends with a discussion.  Once a good rep has explained what they’ve done for the customer, they stop talking.

As marketers, especially amazingly extroverted dynamos like myself, this part can be difficult.  Once a quarter, sit down with sales leadership and let them tell you want they want/need.  The entire purpose of the call will be to listen and take notes.  Over time they will become comfortable enough to simply call you up if they actually need something.

“But Hannah, they are constantly asking me for crap they could just do themselves.” 

Good point.  You are not a PowerPoint monkey and you don’t need to book conference rooms for them.

However if leadership says they really need a new overview PowerPoint for XYZ reason, do that.  If you don’t have one and you keep getting asinine “I need a PowerPoint” calls, that’s an indication that you need to make one.

“But Hannah, I have a sales team full of idiots that wouldn’t know a good lead if it bit them in the…” 

I get it.  I’ve been there.

You’re the expert.  Act like it.  This is exactly how sales feels about their customers too.

“But Hannah, I don’t have the budget to do what they’re asking for.” 

Ask them to pitch in.  If they really want it, the budget will show up.

Image result for did we just become best friends gif

I promise you if you do these three things with a customer service attitude, sales will love you and you’ll find it a lot easier to get things done.  If not, email me at and tell me what you’re running into.  I’m all ears.

How To Write A Personal Marketing Plan

Image result for writingAs marketers, I find we’re always aware that we should be doing more to promote ourselves.  But with the demands of marketing products and companies – often with very few resources and little support – it can be exhausting to go home and create a marketing plan for our own brand development.

I totally get it.

It’s like the old saying, “Never check a book keepers books”, meaning accountants never have time to do their own accounting.  Marketers never have time to do their own marketing.  But here’s the thing… wouldn’t it be easier to market ourselves if we tackled it the same way we tackled a marketing plan?

Hear me out.  I’m serious.

What if we stepped back and created an actual marketing plan for us?  SWOT analysis, competitive analysis, go-to-market strategy – the whole shabang?!  What if we, as marketers – the experts in strategy development – Image result for beautiful mind gifremoved emotion and passion from the equation and treated our careers like another product we are meant to master and make successful.

I actually think that would be more fun than sitting on the bus every day remembering that you really should be sending out (spamming) your resume and going to networking events.

So let’s break it down.  How, as marketers, can we assign the same product marketing plan
principles to promoting ourselves?  Like any good marketing plan, we start with an outline.

Your Personal Marketing Plan:

  1. Situation Analysis
    • It’s time to get real about your situation.  Do you have a degree?  Masters?  Are you at the beginning of your career (1-6 years), middle (7-15 years) or towards the end (15+ years) – what does that mean?  Have you recently been laid off?  Same company for 10 years?  Be honest and completely objective.  You are simply collecting data.  There’s a reason the marketing mix is at the end of the plan – you don’t know what you’re going to do with the data yet.
  2. SWOT Analysis
    • Strengths – Be honest (none of that fake modesty BS).  What do you actually excel at?  In my case, I’m really good at presenting and creating compelling stories.  Try naming 6-10 skills/attributes where you totally kill it.
    • Weaknesses – This is often the easiest thing you can do.  We’re fairly good at tearing ourselves apart.  In this case, keep it constructive and objective – no emotion.  What are your weaknesses?  In my case, I am not great at following financial conversations quickly.  Many of my colleagues can do complicated calculations in their head and I find myself struggling to catch up.  As a marketing professional it’s up to me to use this information to improve my product (myself) and play to my strengths.
    • Opportunities – This one can be exciting and daunting at the same time.  Opportunities could include new roles, going back to school, or any number of other surprises life sends our way.  So write them down.
    • Threats – This can take many forms.  Layoffs, new hires, new technology standards or KPIs… the list can be endless.  Think about the things that could most threaten your professional life and plan accordingly.  Pretending threats don’t exist is just as stupid as dwelling on them.
  3. Competition Analysis
    • This one’s tough.  I’ll admit I struggle with this one myself from time to time.  The obvious competition are your co-workers and colleagues, but what about externally?  It might help to do some research.  How many people are studying marketing these days?  How many people are going back for their MBAs in marketing?  How big is the talent pool in your city?  Think like a recruiter when tackling this section.  Ultimately, that’s what you’re up against.
  4. Professional Objectives
    • Now comes the part where you physically write down (or type if you’re like me and are glued to your laptop) what you want to be when you grow up.  You’ve researched the market, you’ve thought seriously about what you excel at and struggle with.  You’ve even evaluated your current situation.  Where do you want to go with all this data?  For me, I want to be a leader among next-generation B2B marketers.  It’s crazy.  I get it.  But it’s something I can constantly reference when I’m thinking about my next step.  Will this help me become a leader in my field?  If the answers yes, go do that.  If no, don’t waste my time with it.One thing to keep in mind when setting goals is to keep them SMART – Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-based.  A better way to state my goal would be “I want to be a keynote conference speaker on the subject of B2B marketing within 10 years.”  It hits all the marks and is in line with my original goal of being a leader in my field.  You’re turn.
  5. Financial Objectives
    • This one’s the easiest, so I won’t spend too much time on it.  How much money do you want to make or save?  Write it down.  Done.  (Once again, think SMART)
  6. Marketing Mix
    • Okay, here comes the fun part.  How are you going to get there?  You’ve done the research and you’ve stated your objectives.  Let’s dance.  Here are a few options, but we’re marketers – get creative.
      • Social Media
      • Conferences
      • Networking Events
      • Write a book
      • Design a portfolio
      • Write a funny resume
      • Make personal business cards that express your personality
      • Teach a class
      • Volunteer your marketing skills for a cause you care about
      • Buy a billboard for a month promoting yourself – seriously, have you ever seen anyone else do that?  I didn’t think so.
      • Give a lunch and learn to your company employees so they know what you do all day
  7. Budget
    • Any B2B marketer worth their weight will tell you “You don’t have to spend a fortune on marketing, but a small investment goes a long way” – so invest in yourself.  You don’t have to buy a billboard (although that would be awesome and I really hope someone does and sends me a picture) but you could spend the money to go to a marketing conference.  Or budget time, which is often just as precious as money, each month to volunteer or teach or write or whatever.  Some investment goes a long way.
Image result for personal billboard
Okay, apparently someone did do it… and it’s awesome!