Fast Company

Get Smart about Managing Marketing Burnout

According to the UK Recruitment firm, the Hudson Group, 44% of all marketers are facing burnout. I haven't seen any US figures on this yet, but last week's article in Brand Republic reinforces one of my hypotheses that today's marketers are being stretched beyond their limits.

The UK is feeling the backlash in the form of increasing absenteeism, turnover, poor morale and declines in productivity and quality of output. Conduct an informal quick poll of the marketers around you. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that this phenomenon is present in the US, as well.

Wanted: Marketer.

Just a decade ago, typical marketing job descriptions stressed writing, communication, project management, agency management, creative management, advertising/promotions, collateral development, segmentation, modeling and reporting skills. Media buying, PR, partner and events management may have been critical to the job, as well -- along with industry-related experience. As an adjunct competency, it was also common to see "proficiency with word processing software, including Microsoft Office required."

Superhuman skill required. Cape optional.

Beyond the skills required ten years ago, today's marketers require a slew of other core competencies. Along with a keen understanding of creative development, today's marketers must demonstrate more "left-brain" capabilities. Business case development, project management, quantitative analysis and database marketing skills are critical to the success present-day marketing efforts. The ability to evaluate and interpret customer data and behavior across channels, and apply integrated marketing and CRM principles are now essential core competencies.

Today, marketers also require a much stronger level of comfort and proficiency in the use and application of technology. This extends far beyond basic computer and word processing skills. Widespread use of the web, email and wireless communications drive the need for marketers with an intimate understanding of technology-based channel dynamics, best practices and metrics. Expanding use and adoption of CRM and marketing automation technologies also drive the need for marketers who understand, at either basic or advanced levels, how to use new toolsets to drive campaign development, execution, reporting and analysis.

It's a superhuman expectation for any individual to master skills in all of these areas. The fact remains, however, that well-rounded, highly capable marketers possess an incredibly diverse combination of skill sets. In today's marketplace, it is common to underestimate or undervalue these skill sets. It's also easy to neglect our own corporate responsibility to invest in building critical skill sets that will help foster better results in the future.

Available Any Time -- in Any Channel.

In the past, the cadence of marketing was dictated by the response times necessary for traditional offline channels and the telephone. Today's marketer must contend with the needs of a 24/7 competitive global marketplace. While agility and speed to market are essential, the hitch is this: today's integrated, multi-channel marketing demands actually complicate the marketing process, and slow time to market.

Increasingly sophisticated (demographic, psychographic, behavioral) segmentation and "mass customization" practices are creating more personal, relevant messages. They're also creating more work for marketers: Instead of two versions of a welcome kit, there might now be five; instead of three versions of a newsletter, there might be fourteen. The increase in the number of customer messages being developed within marketing has driven an exponential increase in the number of development cycles being managed by marketing today. To complicate matters, mounting legal and privacy issues mandate more approval time and can extend the length of development cycles.

The sheer proliferation of online and offline channels creates a unique set of challenges for marketers today. Customers now switch dynamically between online and offline channels, and expect timely recognition and relevant response at every turn. To create "seamless" customer dialog, marketers must proactively anticipate customer choice, create a framework for messaging and response, and ensure messages are delivered and measured effectively across all channels. In the quest to provide an effective cross-channel experience, marketing departments frequently encounter significant operational and technological barriers. The resolution of such challenges frequently slows time-to-market and complicates the delivery and measurement of marketing outcomes.

Able to Leap Tall Silos in a Single Bound.

Yesterday's marketing department often behaved as "an island unto itself," interfacing largely with a few internal departments and external agencies. Today's marketing departments coordinate and interface on a frequent basis with a mounting number of internal and external constituencies. These include IT, Finance, Analytics, Research, Product Development, Customer Service, Corporate Communications, Legal/Privacy, etc. -- in addition to channel staff, agencies and other external partners.

To make matters worse, in today's business climate, the lines of demarcation, roles and responsibilities that exist in marketing groups and other departments have become blurred. Yet, it is often the marketer's responsibility to sort through the chaos, leap over the confusion and drive through to meet deadlines. Very often they succeed, but the mental, physical and business acrobatics necessary to produce every day outcomes often results in exhaustion, frustration and poor morale.

Apply Here?

Do marketers have a reason for burnout? Without question. This seems to be a natural outcome of an era of marketing transformation. Today, the organizational role, scope and power of the marketing department are being redefined. Areas of control and influence are being expanded. New areas of specialization and job focus are being created. Corporate infrastructures are being realigned. Systems are being modified and integrated. Old paradigms are being broken -- new paradigms are being created. We're pioneering on new frontiers. I write about this a great deal on my blog at Livepath.net.

In midst of this change, however, marketers have to find ways to produce and survive! Beyond individual coping tactics, we must ask ourselves how corporations can help minimize the casualties in this brave new world. In my opinion, success hinges on good, smart leadership:

  • Smart leaders understand the impact market evolution is having, both on the marketer and the role and scope of marketing within the organization. They understand that to drive customer delight over the next decade, the entire organization must be rallied. They recognize that marketing is likely to lead this charge, and seek to position the department and individuals accordingly.
  • Smart leaders know how to translate the plight of the marketer and the marketing organization to senior executives. They engage other leaders to break bottlenecks and improve the operational environment and business culture. They are advocates for accountability as well as effective process, standards and methodologies, which drive more efficient operations.
  • Smart leaders don't treat talent like a commodity. They recognize the skill sets of each individual and put them to work accordingly. They appreciate the contribution of creative, visionary, strategic thinkers and balance this vision with analytic thinkers who bring fact-based analysis to the table. They know when to stretch individuals beyond comfort zones -- and when to acquire new talent. They appreciate the power of outsourcing, and use it effectively to speed results, increase manpower, and augment skill sets as necessary.
  • Smart leaders know the value of investing to retain good people. They work actively to attract, engage and retain people with the skills to get things done. They allocate dollars and time to ensure training, education and knowledge sharing occur to expand team competencies and keep minds sharp. They implement performance-based incentive programs to ensure that results are rewarded and effort is recognized. They recognize the difference between every day accomplishments and super-human feats of strength. They use real and emotional capital to reward performers individually in the ways that matter most.
  • Smart leaders understand that working smarter is more important than working harder. They understand that marketers must work with their heads more than they work with their bodies (going to meetings, taking notes, pushing reports). They know the difference between an effective work day and a long work day, and engrain within each employee a focus on working efficiently and accountably.
  • Smart leaders listen. They tune in to what people say, and what remains unsaid. They consider individual, team and general morale. They know how to tap into an undercurrent of pessimism and infuse it with hope, relief, advocacy and understanding. They understand that the majority of problems that impact marketing come from outside the marketing department, and respond as sympathetic and fierce advocates.

In summary, smart leaders serve as an important first line defense for burnout, by helping protect organizations from the backlash of overwork and exhaustion. Over the next decade, attracting smart, capable leaders who can successfully drive improvement and change -- while maintaining productivity within the marketing enterprise -- will be critical to success. In the mean time, we're in for a lot of turmoil, and more than our share of work!

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3 Comments

  • Sadie Peterson

    I think a lot of the marketing burnout issue is related to a lack of specialization, particularly among in-house marketing departments. Many companies, particularly smaller ones, expect marketing employees to be gurus in all areas of marketing: web marketing, print advertising, direct marketing, market planning, product introduction, and more. Perhaps more companies should be considering outsourcing specialized marketing tasks.

  • David Brewster, Business Simpl

    I can't speak for marketing per se, but in my experience the symptoms described in this article are very common across most areas of management. (It is certainly as common an issue in Australia as in the UK and US.)

    A big part of the problem is what I call 'upside down' management. Far too many managers, particularly in large organisations, spend their time either trying to keep the boss happy, having their own people trying to keep them happy or both. What they should be doing - and their superiors should be doing - is helping their people get their jobs done. This means doing everything they can to reduce the impact of the various forms of complexity which Leigh alludes to.

  • Mary Sutter

    Unfortunately, the marketing business environment has seemed to have changed much faster than companies have been able to react. Implementing change some times feels like trying to turn the Titanic. The worst part is trying to change the business culture with how marketers are perceived. Marketing has changed dramatically over the last 10-15 years (how much did the average marketer know about data mining in 1990?) and the most successful companies will be the ones that not only embrace innovative technology, but innovative culture.