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I am not a digital marketer 🪄
Chapter 2 of The Story of You; breaking down the barriers of job titles; finding clarity and purpose in your work, the magic of authenticity, humour, creativity, tiny budgets, and grassroots marketing
Welcome, welcome to chapter 2 of Story of You, or how to communicate your value(s) to the world.
If you’re new here, perhaps you want to start with reading the first chapter here. Either way, don’t be a stranger, drop me a line and let me know if my own story resonates with you.
I am not a digital marketer.
Perhaps you knew that. I hope you do. It’s a rather common misunderstanding, you see.
I have regularly been referred to clients who have come thinking that I’m a specialist in the field.
At some point in our first conversation, it becomes clear.
Instead, they discover that I’m the one who mines the metaphorical gold (ie: the messages, the objectives, the values, or the story), and who forges a comprehensive strategy, whether for business development or communication.
I also offer support in developing the look and feel of a business, its tone of voice, and help hire the right PR, creative or digital marketing partners. Most importantly, I’m the one who ties up the various threads to ensure the strategy and action plan align with the values of the company and the audience we are reaching out to.
So often, people don’t get what I do. It’s partly my fault. But then again, it’s complicated out there.
After glancing at LinkedIn the other day, I discovered that everyone and their mother is apparently a brand strategist with a proven track record in communications and digital marketing. Or a coach.
How can you figure out who does what and whether they’re any good at it?
Hiring any kind of business adviser is tricky and even when it is, the results are far from guaranteed.
I once made a disastrous consulting appointment. Despite a great CV and a glowing reference (from someone I now assume was a friend, not a business relation), my team and I sadly discovered our hire was incapable of delivering on the scope. We paid them off, it was the easiest route, but how uncomfortable. I still feel the bitter aftertaste of the experience: how could we (I) get it so wrong?
Not long after, I became an independent consultant myself and vowed never to leave any client of mine feeling anything but clarity and satisfaction at my work.
Bold objective, I know.
FINDING THE RIGHT MATCH
We can all learn to become better at communicating who we are, what we do, and who we are the right match for. It’s as generous a step to take as it is courageous.
Generous towards ourselves, by taking the time to acknowledge our desire, our values, and value, by developing the gift that is self-awareness — and generous towards others: by doing the work, we come with clarity.
After all, finding the right business to work for, or the right clients, is not unlike matchmaking. The last thing you want is to present yourself in a way that is not authentic and sign a contract under false assumptions of skill sets that you don’t possess. Am I right?
There are people who enjoy embellishing (or inventing) their accomplishments. I’m not writing for them. Instead, I will assume that you, my reader, care about being your authentic self, to the degree you are at ease to be authentic at work or in public.
IT’S NOT ONE SIZE FITS ALL
You may laugh when I tell you not every company is built the same. Is this news to you?
Not everyone understands what PR, communications, marketing and digital marketing are. I write about these fields because they are relevant to my experience and my work today, but confusion arises in all different types of departments and industries. Do you understand all the threats and opportunities arising with AI for example? I certainly don’t.
Internally, many executives and HR specialists are also in the dark, especially in fast-evolving fields like social and digital. They don’t necessarily admit it (perhaps they are not even aware of it).
To complicate things further, communication tends to be hard to measure. Social media and digital marketing tools can be used for very different purposes.
It’s not enough to wave the magic of the digital wand to get results.
You need to know what spell to cast: some brands want awareness, others want direct sales, and others want engagement and community development. Many want all of it. And few understand or accept that in today’s world, results only transpire when you put money up front, or when you work the long game instead.
With communication tools fast evolving, our habits shift.
It’s more important than ever to constantly reassess how we are perceived within the environment we’re in, not just to be ‘on brand’ but on message.
Clarity here, too, is crucial.
DON’T DO AS I DO
While I was for a number of years global head of communications for a big luxury brand, that company never had (while I was there) a marketing department. The functions were split across business units and some classic functions of marketing were simply non-existent in that business model.
Our designer didn’t believe in marketing. He believed in PR, in storytelling, and never advertised his business (while I was there, things are different now).
My team and I were in charge of sample trafficking (sounds dangerous, but really it’s sending press samples of the products, in our case shoes, bags, accessories and beauty products to magazines and stylists, and back). Crucially, we built relationships, pitched story ideas, planned and produced events, managed press relations external PR agencies in various locations around the world.
At some point in the late 2000s, the company gave me the opportunity to look after the newly emerging social media landscape. I was excited about this challenge, and so were the talented people working for me back then. Social and digital grew, and so did my digital team. However, we never became a digital marketing department — we took what we were good at IRL online, effectively doing social & digital PR.
Fast forward a few years, and we are a runaway success (runaway because it ran away from us, we didn’t expect it).
Before algorithms and paid ads, our platforms became HUGE, we were way ahead of the biggest brand names in the world, carving a real niche for ourselves.
The reason? Authenticity, humour, creativity, tiny budgets, and grassroots marketing efforts from my clever team. Testing. Failing. Trying again. I understood the development of the digital sphere well enough and I surrounded myself with talented people who loved it even more than me. It helps that I live between the innovators and the early adopters on the bell curve: I enjoy tech, gadgets, and trying new things.
One thing led to another and one day, I got an invitation to speak at a Women’s Wear Daily conference in New York City on the topic of ‘digital’. I delivered a great speech (which I didn’t write, a very talented and clever journalist friend of mine was hired to shape the message). The article that followed is still online.
That speech is one of the reasons some people don’t understand what I do.
What’s written online seems to hold more weight than the stories we try to tell the world in our resumes — and on LinkedIn.
Around that time, my then-boss glowingly introduced me to some of his friends, proud that he was that I could support and advise their C-suite team on digital innovation. He would say lovely things like:
“I told so and so to call you because, you know, you’re great at ‘digital’.”
Flattered, or silly that I was, I didn’t contradict him. Proving my point that I am partially responsible for the confusion.
In person, I explained myself more or less clearly and I attempted to signal that my strength lay in appointing the right people in my ‘digital’ team — I never pretended I was one of those people myself. And yet.
A POLICY OF 100% RESPONSIBLE
It’s not easy to tell the story of our skills. Nor is it to explain the arc of a multi-pronged career.
For thirteen years prior to being in the communications job that included ‘digital’, I’d held multiple roles in the company including serving as General Manager for the UK, Scandinavia, Ireland & India. That’s where I developed my business acumen.
Never did I, before or after WWD, go out seeking speaking opportunities to promote my accomplishments as a general manager, or my business development skills (which I must say, I’m very proud of. I’d even say, I’d hire myself for that, before anything else).
There weren’t many podcasts around then, I hadn’t realised I could write about work online (!) and in any case, while I’d been happy to talk about my teams’ work on that platform, I wasn’t interested in self-promotion. I wasn’t particularly introspective, just content to go with the flow.
And like many of my close friends in the industry (‘qui se ressemble s’assemble’), I enjoyed leaving someone else in the limelight and enabling the magic to happen.
After all, I had a job, I was doing it, I didn’t consider how my trajectory could be (mis)understood later on in my career.
I wish I’d done one of those exercises I like to do today with my clients, projecting into the future, getting under the hood, so to speak, to uncover purpose, dreams, and motivations.
Perhaps I’d have glimpsed the possibility that I’d eventually carve my own path, outside of a corporate environment and then need to shed a brighter light on my skills.
One of my longtime clients got a new partner, who like many people with power and money, wanted to establish their own people in the brand. They Googled me and found that WWD article.
Despite years of working together, influenced as they were by the prospect of new money and the perspective of the future part-owner, I heard my client say to me over Zoom one day:
“Oh, but your specialty is ‘digital’, right?”
The question mark was rhetorical, and ‘digital’ was as fuzzy as ever. Never mind my twenty years career or the work we had done together: again, what was written online seemed to have more weight.
In any case, at the risk of sounding silly considering that I’m an expert in communication strategy, I hereby claim responsibility for my mistakes and how I chose not to consider these factors in communicating who I am and what I do.
OWNING THE NARRATIVE (or HOW DO YOU OWN THE NARRATIVE?)
It was time I start owning my story. And I’m not the only person who would benefit from doing that work.
Over the last few years, I’ve taken an inordinate amount of courses in creative writing, communication, mindful communication, facilitation, storytelling, positioning, etc, without realising it was all in service to my younger self.
I wanted to fix the future and somehow repair the past.
After all, I used to be known as the ‘fixer.’
I was attempting to eliminate any chance of confusion or misunderstanding — starting with myself.
Since then, I’ve uncovered that my goal is to support my clients in their moves towards the future they want to see, with as great clarity as humanly possible.
Many people find it hard to explain what they do in a job market in flux, with AI accelerating change, and social and digital moving at the speed of light.
We can all learn to explain what we do better, so we find the right fit for our skill sets. Or name what we want to get better at. Sometimes it’s good to get a challenge. It’s better when everyone is aware of it too.
When it comes to putting ourselves out there, we can choose to hone in on our capabilities, our strengths as well as our weaknesses. Or we can choose to be vague.
I don’t love giving advice, but I’ll make an exception here.
Do as I say, and not as I did.
I believe that owning what we can and cannot do is essential.
If you still wonder why it matters, it’s so that the people who need you and your skills or services can easily find you.
So here’s my personal pitch:
I understand digital marketing but I am NOT a digital marketer. Or a performance marketer. Or actually a marketer.
I’m the woman with the vision and the strategy, the catalyst leading to the change you want to see.
Think of me as a CVO for hire: chief vision officer.
Oh, and a coach!
Most importantly, I make magic happen. ✨
Be careful what’s written about you. Better yet, if writing is your thing, start a blog. It doesn’t need to be weekly, but consider what platforms are at your disposal to share your values and your work so that people can relate to you based on what matters to you most - and the work you actually want to do.
Thoughts on hiring advisers or consultants. The less scrupulous out there tend to leave a murky trail when it comes to terms and billing. Make sure to have written agreements and that you are 100% comfortable with payment terms. If billing is hourly, request time-sheets, or better yet, negotiate a flat fee which will make for less paperwork. Write out or request a clear scope of work to measure results against. Set regular feedback sessions. Look for testimonials and references.
Don’t be scared of asking and giving feedback. If you don’t know how to, read this book, THE reference on the topic. It will change your life.
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