Asking for a Friend

Annotated marketing career advice (with the occasional pun)

May 20, 2019

Asking for a Friend

Fed up of mollycoddled MBA students looking down on marketing as the easy option? Struggling with the content saboteurs side-lining your best beloved projects? Conscious that bombarding your C-suite audience with coffee invites might not be the way to go? If you’ve got a marketing problem, if nobody else can help, then it’s time for you to read Ann Handley’s latest column for The Sophisticated Marketer Quarterly.

Ann is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Everybody Writes, the Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs and one of the pioneers of content marketing as we know it today. She is also the exclusive advice columnist for our quarterly magazine for B2B marketers, by B2B marketers. Ahead of each issue, we invite marketers to submit their most pressing dilemmas to Ann via the LinkedIn Marketing Showcase Page – and to preserve their blushes, we encourage them to “ask for a friend.”

Straight from the pages of our latest issue, here are Ann’s answers to the issues confronting those hypothetical, maybe ever-so-slightly fictitious marketing acquaintances. Sound advice whether you’re passing it on – or keeping it for yourself:

Punk Block

Big-Org Bottleneck asks (for a friend): How do you overcome problems getting great content out the door in a large organization?

Dear Bottleneck

This is a common issue in big companies, where no one team handles it all from idea to creation to execution and follow-up. One team builds a gorgeous piece of content and then hands it off to another for the final mile of campaign distribution... only to have priorities change and that great work be sidelined, abandoned, cast out. Ugh.

What happened here? The problem comes down to that dirty four-letter word: S-I-L-O. And the antidote is to build better alignment among teams. It’s easy for me to say, comfortably ensconced as I am within the

perfect-world pages of this column. But it’s tough to do. I get that. Here are some steps to get closer to the holy grail of a cooperative, cross-functional, un-siloed company:

Get buy-in earlier than you think it’s needed.

Share the strategic goals that underpin your content program early. Frame the conversation with shared business objectives, not your Marketing-centric point of view: How does this further our shared company vision set by leadership?

How early...? Way before a piece of bouncing baby content actually arrives. And way before it’s a twinkle in your eye.

Build cross-functional relationships BEFORE you need something.

From formal (kickoff meetings; regular check-ins; progress updates) to informal (coffee in the caf; Thirsty Thursday meetups).

Sincerely seek to understand what challenges they have that you can help with, too. Or, at the very least, listen. Alliances with other teams are also useful in tag-team co-managing higher-ups.

Shine light on your process.

Seek input. Ask what the other teams need from you at every step of the way. Doing so invests others in a small way in your progress.

If you’ve done all this only to be blindsidedly blocked, then you could always try the following terrible ideas:

  • A last-ditch attack meeting with the uncooperative team. Block the door. Bring a dozen donuts. Don’t let them out until they agree with you.
  • Go rogue and sneak-release it through a well-chosen internal influencer. Conjure up mock outrage and claim no knowledge of release: HOW DID THIS HAPPEN!!!

Okay, maybe not so wise, but some days all you can do is laugh. Know you didn’t fail: you’re just mired in a no-win situation. Take comfort. Move along.

Direct Respect

Sick of Being Disrespected asks (for a friend): As an MBA student who worked in marketing for years, I keep hearing fellow students telling me that they found the well-paying position of Finance harder than they thought, so they’re switching focus to the “easier” Marketing. What actions can we take to break the stigma that marketing is easy, not a business necessity, and deserving of a lower salary?

Dear Disrespected

Marketing has a marketing problem, as my friend and B2B marketer Michael Brenner says. You get no respect when you’re seen as just a go-between for pricey agencies making massive media buys.

How can you counter that, in a cocktail-party-sized clip? Here’s a script:

“Marketing has changed because the world has. Technology now provides real-time access and an overwhelming amount of information about any company, and what people think of it.

“In the most successful companies, Marketing owns the relationships with would-be customers well before Sales gets a whiff of them, which is why content and storytelling are so critical. Post-sale, it’s Marketing that drives renewals and retention.

“Marketers change minds and change behavior. And then Marketers continue to communicate with customers to align them with a brand, so that they’ll continue to love us, recommend us, and spend money with us.”

Say all that. And then get right up in their grill and drop your voice to a threatening whisper:

“That doesn’t sound like something unimportant and trivial. Does. It?”

Sweet Wave

Sweet on the C-Suite asks (for a friend): What is the single best practice that can help B2B brands (and their content creators) cut through the noise and reach the C-suite?

Dear Sweetie

First, what doesn’t work: sending email after email asking for a meeting to tell me about the benefits of this solution that will change the way my whole team works and click this Calendly link to schedule a time. If I don’t hear back, I’ll email you 47 more times in the next 3 weeks... (No, I don’t want to meet for coffee. No, I don’t want my brain picked.)

But Sweetie: That’s not you. Which is why you asked this question. So here’s the answer: There is no single best practice—just like there’s never really one size fits all. (Even socks come in different sizes.) But here are a few ideas:

  • Are you following your favorite execs on Twitter? Instagram? LinkedIn?
  • Are you commenting on and sharing whatever they produce?
  • Are you doing it in a genuine, thoughtful way?
I once agreed to go on an obscure podcast produced by a very small vendor only because the host took time to get to know me as a person. I liked him. I trusted him. And, in the end, I wanted to help him.

People do business with people they trust. So cliché. So true. And not heeded nearly enough. All of us can smell an inauthentic opportunist a mile away—even those of us in the C-suite.

Interested in hearing more from Ann Handley? Sign up to receive her bi-weekly newsletter here.

You’ll find lots more irreverent, heartfelt insight in the latest issue of The Sophisticated Marketer Quarterly, from which this column comes. Give yourself a different perspective on B2B marketing. Subscribe to get your free copy or read online now.