I’m not here to make it pretty

Aug 07, 2022

It’s worthwhile to continue conversations around what marketing is and is not and why it’s critical to your bottom line.

In recent years, we’ve finally seen the efforts of organizations like the Society of Marketing Professional Services and the Association of Proposal Management Professionals – as well as the grassroots work of marketers inside their firms – pay off. Marketing professionals are being recognized for the important role they play in brand awareness and differentiation, business development, and client satisfaction. Simply put, marketing is critical to profitability and people know it.

For the most part.

I truly believe we’ve made significant strides. In my 11-year career, I’ve witnessed and participated in targeted campaigns to help industry leaders better understand the value of investing in marketing and business development, as well as initiatives to boost awareness around women in the workplace and the need for meaningful diversity and inclusion practices. Most recently, with COVID-19 hovering relentlessly over every aspect of our lives, we’ve navigated difficult conversations about work-life fit, flexibility, and how firms can meet working parents where they are. For more on this, see the important work being done by ElevateHER.

Furthermore, we aren’t stopping at conversations – firms have taken a serious look at their policies and practices and begun pivoting to adapt to the modern workforce. The changes are paying off. The ROI on marketing and business development is well documented. Firms intentionally growing a diverse and inclusive culture reap the benefits of multi-faceted perspectives and experiences at the decision-making table. Recruiting, retention, and performance soar in work environments where health, balance, and happiness are prioritized.

We are doing it.

Yet, every time I get together with my peers for professional development, I am reminded of the long road ahead of us. As such, I think it’s worthwhile to continue the conversations around what marketing is and is not and why it’s critical to your bottom line.

Marketing is not a catch-all. As a principal of an engineering firm, would you ever ask your electrical engineer to manage HVAC work? Or ask your bridge project manager to oversee the design of a wastewater facility? Probably not. For many reasons, but specifically because they were not trained in that discipline, it is not their area of expertise, and there are other people far better qualified for that work.

So why is it that we expect our marketing staff to know anything and everything about, well – everything? A remnant from the days when marketing was expendable and often executed by administrative staff between other tasks, the inclination to throw everything at your marketers has lingered. Marketers are tasked with booking flights and hotels, ordering food and coffee, making reservations, and managing expense sheets. Marketers are asked to be IT professionals, HR reps, recruiters, personal assistants, corporate photographers and videographers, accountants, event planners, you name it.

Marketers are often creative problem solvers with great attention to detail, excellent communication skills, and an aptitude for multi-tasking – making them the perfect go-getters to tackle varied tasks. When managers have a rockstar marketer with far-ranging skills and a desire to execute work outside of their job description, the least those managers can do is have a conversation about availability and compensation needs for additional work. Leadership affords technical professionals the respect of assigning them work that is in their wheelhouse and reasonably achievable. That level of respect should be extended to marketing professionals.

Marketers do more than make it pretty. Regardless of intention, this one never sits right. In fact, let’s just take it out of our vocabulary altogether. Typically, even entry-level marketing positions require a four-year degree. Lately, I’ve seen senior-level postings calling for an advanced degree or professional certification on top of 10 or more years of experience. We want candidates who win billions of dollars’ worth of work, manage large teams of technical and marketing staff, communicate like the president’s public relations lead, sell like Amazon, write like a best-selling author, layout a page like the New York Times, develop a complex visual like a graphic designer, coach interviews like it’s March Madness. We want the best of the best.

Then we get them, and managers undervalue their contribution and skill set by saying things like, “We will handle this, but we need you to make it pretty.” This sentiment becomes even more problematic when directed toward women, who have been historically associated with synonymous phrases like "doll up" or "glam up."

A result of marketing should, in fact, be consistent, professional-looking, and aesthetically pleasing documents, proposals, collateral, and presentations, but that is neither the main goal of marketing nor where marketers add the most value.

Marketers give you an edge over the competition and build business through market research, strategic planning, client development, proposal management, and brand recognition, among other activities. They help you think like your audience, develop clear messaging, and win work. It’s about time we modify our language and behaviors to reflect that

As a proposal manager at Burns & McDonnell, Mercedez Thompson collaborates with business development and project management leadership to define distinctive value propositions and execute proposal win strategy within the Water practice. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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