MARKETING FOCUS: Hours not to reason why...

Marketers spend more time bogged down in administration than developing strategy. Where are they going to find the time to think about the future? David Leggett reports

Marketers spend more time bogged down in administration than developing

strategy. Where are they going to find the time to think about the

future? David Leggett reports

Time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted. That army maxim holds true

for marketing, which is becoming more focused on gathering information

and learning about customers. But do marketers have the time to do this?

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests they do not. One

study, by BT, shows that professionals spend 80% of their time gathering

information and only 5% formatting it and making decisions.

Findings like this raise serious concerns that the short-term pressures

of dealing with administrative tasks leave marketers precious little

time for strategic planning.

From somewhere under the internal reports, market research, sales data,

database analyses - not to mention external information sources - has to

come the ‘future marketing’ that is needed to keep the brand moving

forward. To be well informed these days, marketers also need to be aware

of their own firm’s financial performance, general trading conditions,

social issues and the debates of the day.

Not surprisingly, Reuters Business Information has identified a

condition it calls Information Fatigue Syndrome. In a survey of 1300

business executives, Reuters found that 50% are unable to handle the

information they receive, 31% receive enormous amounts of unsolicited

information, and 43% believe they are suffering ill- health as a

consequence. Even without sickness, executives say that the effect is

time-wasting and delays important business decisions.

Increased pressure

James Kydd, marketing director at Virgin Trading, says: ‘There is no

doubt that administration is an unpleasant task. As for information, it

is a matter of how much you want. There is a certain amount we want in

terms of market information - a few publications worth browsing through

- and the press cuttings we get every day. Then there is a whole pile of

stuff I could read but don’t, which probably means I don’t know exactly

what the omens are for the Internet in the year 2010. But is that


Alongside this increase in time pressure there has been a decline in

marketing personnel. One industry estimate suggests that at least 5000

jobs have gone from marketing departments during the 90s, and this is

probably far lower than the real figure. Like every other aspect of

business, there are fewer people carrying out more tasks with less time

for each. UK workers put in 48 hours per week above the European

average, with many marketers reaching 50- or 60-hour weeks.

Peter Dart, chairman of the Added Value Group, says the definition of

what marketing should be is getting lost as a result. ‘Marketing is

strategic future planning.

Invariably, what people are really doing is travelling on business,

dealing with bureaucracy and administration, or short-term tactical

relaunches which do not change perceptions.’

His company carried out a small-scale survey among 50 brand and

marketing managers. It asked them how their day is divided in terms of

the tasks they perform. Short-term business accounted for 83% of the

day, with 29% of their hours spent on marketing operations or

‘maintenance’, 23% on working with other functions, 11% on preparing and

giving presentations, 8% on admin, and 6% each on travel or other

activities, such as training.

Just 17% of the day was available for ‘future marketing’. Dart believes

the problem lies at the heart of Western business culture. ‘There is a

disproportionate amount of emphasis placed on short-term performance. It

is about share price, the stock market and the share options of company

directors. Too often that is the over-riding influence on marketing

decisions,’ he says.

There can be few senior managers from any discipline who have not heard

the message that businesses must be marketing-driven. Unless they are

closely aligned to what the market wants and responsive to it, they will

not survive. Yet many of the tasks which marketers are required to carry

out, from meetings with distributors to selling-in a campaign to the

sales force, to the fine detail of campaign management, ought to be

taken on by the directors of those departments.

‘If everybody in the company is as marketing-oriented as they should be,

marketers could relax,’ says Dart. At Britvic Soft Drinks, international

marketing manager David Atter, who looks after Tango, Red Card and

Mountain Dew, believes that thinned-out staff numbers make this easier

to achieve. ‘The Britvic team is working closer together. There is a

better understanding of who does what. That means less admin, and

therefore internal meetings are less paper-driven,’ he says.

But Atter is not convinced that marketers need new corporate structures

in order to make their jobs more interesting and effective. ‘It is very

important to be focused and to prioritise your resources. If you do, you

will be successful. But there is no written rule. It is down to the

individual to organise themselves.’

Fewer meetings

At Virgin, the corporate philosophy is to have flattened structures

which give individuals more responsibility. An important by-product of

this set-up is that there are fewer meetings involved. ‘I spend far less

time in internal presentations,’ says Kydd. ‘I have three meetings a

month; one for manufacturing, where all the divisions get together, one

for marketing, but only when we decide we need one, and one for sales.

The Virgin culture says there is no need to have lots of middle layers

of management. That is why it is so invigorating to work there because

you spend your time doing what you are meant to be doing.’

He contrasts the experience with his former job in an advertising

agency, where the amount of time wasted was huge. Much of that earlier

effort centred around presenting the same information repeatedly to

internal colleagues, direct clients, their colleagues, and international

divisions of client companies. Add to that the process of preparing

contact reports, monthly updates and three-monthly reviews, and the time

left over for strategic thinking becomes minimal.

The difference at Virgin, says Kydd, is that ‘if you give people their

head, they have more confidence and ask the right questions, rather than

treating you simply as a step to get through in the process.’

Recognising which contacts are critical and how they can be more

effectively managed is an important step forward.

This can involve something as simple as creating a hierarchy for

messages. At Microsoft, the lowest level of contact used for the daily

dispersal of ‘maintenance’ information is e-mail. Telephone messages are

more important and require a response. Face-to-face contact is reserved

for genuine strategic matters.

While marketers have adopted technology mainly for the execution of

their campaigns, it has not so far impacted on the way they work. Some

advertising agencies, led by St Luke’s, have done away with meeting

rooms and have adopted the US concept of ‘hot desking’, where

individuals do not have ownership of a work surface, they merely use the

first available space. This tends to go hand-in-hand with the use of

laptop computers, e-mail, mobile phones and remote working.

Few marketing departments have so far undergone this kind of

restructuring. There remains a sense in which marketers need to be in

the building (provided they are not away at conferences, supplier sites,

sales trips or photo shoots).

But if they are to continue to have the luxury of an office and a job,

they may have to address the fundamental issue of what they spend their

time doing. ‘Marketing people need to be careful about how broad their

footprint in a business is,’ warns Dart.

‘Only if an organisation is truly marketing-oriented and working to a

shared vision, will marketers be able to realise at a certain point that

their task is complete.’

That satisfaction of a job done tends to be lost amid the blur of daily

activities that are not strategic and goal-oriented. It is a tough issue

to resolve, especially when budgets and staff remain under pressure.

And as if that were not enough, marketers also need to nurture

themselves in order to be capable of the strategic insight they are

hoping to be free to achieve.

But as Elaine Greenwood, marketing director of Grattan, points out, it

is always important to keep a perspective on work. She says:

‘Maintaining the quality of life outside work is why I work. The job of

being a marketing director enables me to afford nice holidays, good food

and wine, and a horse. It wouldn’t be worth it otherwise.’

A day in the life of... Elaine Greenwood, marketing director, Grattan

8.45 Arrive at the office. Have my first cup of tea - I drink gallons of

the stuff every day.

9.00 Board meeting debrief. This is where I discuss strategy and the

content and outcome of our monthly meetings, in order for managers to

brief their staff at their weekly ‘prayer meetings’.

10.35 Requests from staff for meetings today start coming in. What

started as a relatively free day is filling up.

11.00 Check inserts and ads in weekend colour supplements. There’s so

much clutter at the moment - what’s it going to be like in the run-up to


Response rates from the press are below our planned levels this season.

Is it a blip or a longer-term trend?

11.30 Go through today’s morning mail.

12.00pm Meeting with the customer acquisition planning team and Grattan

marketing manager.

12.30 Read the reports left for me by members of my team.

1.00 Lunch with my fellow directors. This is a discipline we stick to.

We all have an hour to eat, chat, socialise and discuss issues.

2.00 Fully refreshed and ready for the afternoon. Impromptu meeting with

PR manager to agree format of next year’s budget.

2.15 Deal with the afternoon’s post. Sign memos/letters arising from the

earlier mail. Sign invoices - anything over pounds 10,000 (on average

ten each day).

3.00 Check over last week’s sales and performance figures. Decide which

issues I want to bring up at our weekly executive meeting. Have my

answers prepared to my action points from last week’s meeting.

4.00 Weekly executive meeting. Review of last week’s key business

performance indicators, starting with customer-related statistics. Also

items to be briefed to all staff on the weekly Hot News bulletin boards.

6.00 Check messages and try to clear my desk before going home to ride

my horse, feed her and get her stable ready for the night.

How marketers spend their time

* Just 17% of a marketer’s day is available for ‘future marketing’.

Short-term business accounts for 83% of the day. Source: Added Value


* 80% of a professional’s time is spent gathering information and only

5% formatting it and making decisions. Source: BT

* 43% of executives believe they are suffering ill-health as a

consequence of too much information. Source: Reuters Business



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