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.
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.’
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
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