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Experience still matters in digital marketing (no matter what the ‘pundits’ say)


Last week, a post by long-time blogger and consultant, Mark Schaefer, ruffled a few feathers–and for good reason.

Generally, the post was about how MORE experience could actually HURT you in the marketing profession.

It started with a quote from Olga Adrienko, head of global marketing for SEMRush:

“In our field of marketing, experience is a burden. In other disciplines, the world hasn’t really changed all that much. Take sales, for example. There are certain cold call skills, emotional appeals, sales triggers … and then you’re done. It’s been that way for ages. But in marketing, if you’re not embracing the rapid changes and constantly refining your vision, you will fail completely. If you were successful in marketing 10 years ago, that does not mean you will be successful now.”

That first sentence–“in our field of marketing, experience is a burden.”

Wow. Shots fired. I’ll let you stew on that for a hot tick while I point out another interesting quote from the post–this one from Franklin Goldberg, CMO of the Parable Group:

“Many businesses need to rethink their requirements for high-level leadership positions, especially within the Marketing and Sales departments. Some of the best talent is excluded with prerequisites like “10 years experience required.” I’m shocked that we don’t see more Directors, Senior Directors, VP’s, and even CMO’s in their 20’s. Not only are they digital natives, they have fresh eyes, a drive to try new things, and they aren’t jaded by years of being told things can’t be done. Honestly, being a VP for 35 years might be a major disadvantage.”

That last sentence–“being a VP for 35 years might be a major disadvantage.”

Wow. Again.

And I’m hardly the only one saying “Wow.”

I shared this post on LinkedIn Friday and a couple hours later, Dave Schneider, CMO of Red Wing Shoes, commented:

“This article is rubbish and fails to acknowledge the difference between what marketing seeks to accomplish (which is enduring) and how it is executed (which is fleeting). It also fails to understand the importance of building organizational “coalitions” within a company to ensure that marketing’s impact can be fully realized; something that is difficult to drive without real, hands-on experience and a few gray hairs. I fully agree that the younger generations can and do teach those more senior in their careers — in fact, I have several “reverse” mentors of “kids” in their 20’s that regularly “teach” me — but to carte blanche suggest that experience has become less valuable is flat wrong as marketing becomes increasingly complex.”

That’s from a CMO with 27 years experience in the industry with outfits like Colle+McVoy, Martin Williams, BBDO and Digitas (hardly fly-by-night operations).

And, he’s got a point. Experience in marketing is about so much more than tactical execution.

Being a leader in marketing (or comms, for that matter) is about more than your ability to adapt to digital. We’re almost at a point where we put too much emphasis on that.

There are so many nuances to leadership that simply cannot be replaced by anything BUT experience. Let’s start a list:

  • Managing expectations with peers and other executives (table stakes)
  • Building alliances and consensus around marketing and comms programs (again, table stakes)
  • Managing difficult personalities that may or may not control budgets (key to success at the higher levels)
  • Working with legal and risk teams to manage ongoing issues and crisis situations (how many 25-year-olds do this well?!?!?)
  • Understanding how to effectively and efficiently manage an agency relationship (I’ve seen a few 25-28 year-olds really struggle with this in the last 20 years)
  • Understanding how to effectively and efficiently manage a team (how much could you possibly know about managing a team of professionals at all different age levels when you’re in your 20s?)

Shall I go on?

Experience in comms and marketing still matters folks. Don’t let anyone (not even Mark Schaefer) tell you otherwise. It matters a helluva a lot. And, it should.

The post also implied that many marketing executies and leaders haven’t evolved over the past 10+ years. AHEM! There are a few of us 40-plussers (and 50-plussers) still out here who actually have been evolving!

A few of us have had our heads up the last 10 years.

A few of us have been pushing ourselves to get smarter and stay current.

So, I’m not buying that experience is dead and that the future CMO is a 28-year-old (nothing against 28-year-olds!).

Experience still matters. Yes, you need to keep up. Yes, you always need to be learning and growing. And yes, you need to empower and listen to your younger team members. But, that also shouldn’t mean a marketing VP with 30 years of experience gets shut out.

I just don’t buy it.

Finally, one last angle. Back to the Schaefer piece. As any good consumer of media knows, the credibility of the person sharing the message matters.

So, when you make a statement like “25 years of experience in marketing might be a disadvantage”, you better be damn credible.

Let’s take a closer look at the two people in Schaefer’s post who shared these statements.

First, Olga Adrienko, currently the head of global marketing at SEMRush, where she’s been since 2013. Before that, she spent time at The Lux Group as a project manager and sales manager. She graduated in 2008 with a degree in international trade and customs.

So, she’s most likely about 32 years old with about 5+ years experience in the marketing industry (all with one organization, mind you). Also, keep in mind, this person has never worked with an agency–large or small. And, they’ve never worked with a larger company in the marketing leadership role. To be clear, I’m not taking ANY shots at Olga here. She’s probably great at her job. You don’t get a title with “global” in it by accident. But, is she the most credible person to be espousing opinions about how experience in marketing doesn’t matter (considering she has just 5 years of it)?

The second quote is from Franklin Goldberg, CMO of the Parable Group. Before this role he was a consultant and worked for a few faith-based organizations. He was also in sales earlier in his career and owned a bookstore. I didn’t see any post-secondary education on his LinkedIn profile (although that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any). As far as I can tell, he has spent only 5 years in the marketing world.

Again, is he the best person to be sharing views about experience in marketing doesn’t matter?

Let me say it another way: Who would you trust to talk intelligently about this topic?

  • A person with 10+ years experience in the professional world; but just 5 years experience in marketing
  • A person with 20 years experience in the professional world (10 of that in sales and owning a bookstore); and just 5 years experience in marketing
  • A person with 27 years experience in marketing with some of the top agencies in the U.S./Midwest; and a CMO of a legendary Minnesota-based company for the last five years.

Would anyone take option #1 or #2 over #3 (which, in this case, was Dave Schneider, the CMO who commented on my post)?

I don’t know–this one seems pretty cut-and-dry. Experience still matters in marketing and communications. I laid out the reasons I believe this is true. I talked about how many people actually ARE evolving. And, although everyone is entitled to their opinion, credibility also matters.

What say you, readers? Does experience still matter in the marketing world? I say yes–with a double exclamation point. Then again, I’m 46 years old with 22+ years experience. Maybe I’m not the most credible person to speak on this topic either…



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