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Phil Wickenden: Marketing means more than telling and selling

Most organisations have someone they call the head of marketing but, unlike in the other departments, this person’s job is usually less strategic than it could be.

That is often because the boss is not willing to let go of the decisions at the heart of marketing. They can be found holding on tight to the answers to questions like who and what is it for? They certainly aren’t relinquishing responsibility for the company’s posture and the change it seeks to make.

So, it is a bit disingenuous to call this marketing person the “head” of anything. In fact, the head of marketing is often more of a Mafia consigliere, charged with making a case to the boss. If the boss is any good, they will listen carefully, ask hard questions and then make a smart decision. The rest of the time, that head of marketing is mostly following the boss’s lead. That is because marketing is everything the organisation does that interacts with the public. Marketing is personal, it is vivid and it has its fingers in everything.

Phil Wickenden: Growth can be painful, but we must embrace it

Back when Mad Men stalked Madison Avenue, marketing was something you did last. You came to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce with your finished product and Don (after some heavy drinking, womanising and general misogyny) would think up a way to sell it. Things have changed somewhat. We are way beyond the age of telling and selling but you wouldn’t always know it from the daily deluge of collateral dumped in advisers’ in-trays.

Building a successful business today requires us to do something more than just being there and letting people know about it. So, do something that matters and build it into the very fabric of your organisation – right before the first actuary has got out of bed and certainly before Don gets the brief.

marketing graph

To be the head of marketing, you need the freedom and responsibility to change the way things work, not simply how they are talked about. At truly brand-oriented companies, the brand manager has far more influence. If you want a marketing head, you need to give them the freedom to actually do marketing.

Indeed, the reason the tenure of a head of marketing at a big company averages about 18 months is that it takes a year and a half for the boss to realise that pain-free, risk-free, easy miracles are not arriving on schedule.

Phil Wickenden is a consultant

You can follow him on Twitter @PhilWickenden


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  1. Good piece, Phil – although in my experience it’s not just “the boss” who won’t let go of large chunks of the marketing agenda.

    Last year we did a big piece of research among FS marketing directors looking at the breadth of their role for my book No Small Change. Using the old “Seven Ps” definition (Product, Price, Promotion, Place, People, Process and the slightly awkward Physical Evidence), we found that the large majority claimed to control only one – unsurprisingly, Promotion.

    The reality is that in most firms, the old “colouring-in department” tag still rings pretty much true.

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