Private Company Director

Enhanced Marketing Operations Ensure Board and Company Success

Seasoned marketing professionals make the difference in a competitive marketplace.

Why should a private company board focus on and invest in marketing? Let’s take a ride back to 1996. Remember the Tom Cruise film Jerry Maguire? The movie’s first scene features the title character talking about being the person you usually do not see — the guy behind the scenes. Showing a photo of his client, he says, “That’s me on the left.” What the audience sees on the left is an arm pushing the client into the picture.
 
In the corporate setting, pushing a company or executive into the picture is exactly what a marketing team does — that is, if the company or executive has a marketing team. Unfortunately, for far too long, start-ups, small companies and privately held companies have been hesitant to allocate resources to the hiring of dedicated, skilled marketing support, which is critical to a company’s ability to generate revenue and profitability, compete effectively and achieve the next level of growth.
 
In recent years, boards have added directors with specialized areas of expertise — such as cybersecurity, technology, regulatory policy, finance and accounting — to their ranks based on internally focused needs: financial reporting and regulatory requirements. However, they have not been as proactive in adding board members with externally focused marketing expertise. Few boards discuss marketing, and fewer include it on their meeting agendas. Most boards have little awareness or understanding of newer market disruptors, rendering them vulnerable to the competition. Whether as a sounding board for a founder or an objective outside opinion for the board, these specialists can help companies keep up with dynamic change, while overseeing the alignment of marketing with strategy and the company to its customers.
 
It is encouraging to now see a number of boards across the United States rethinking their director qualifications by adding individuals with specialized marketing expertise. 
While this trend deserves applause, if a company’s board identifies a need for someone with, for instance, digital transformation experience, perhaps that same company also needs a seasoned in-house marketing professional, with a broad range of skill sets, to join and lead the corporate team.
 
This is not an outlandish idea. CEOs of public companies have historically turned to marketing to deliver on their company’s purpose, mission and vision. Qualified marketing professionals are adept at working collaboratively with their counterparts in sales, finance, technology, human resources and other corporate departments, which ultimately drives the growth agenda of both the CEO and the company.
 
In companies where a marketing team is in place, the question is whether the board has a solid understanding of the company’s marketing investments and whether the marketers have been able to present their results to further the board’s understanding of the marketing team’s contributions. Both are critically important, since only then is the board positioned to create a climate for change if those investments are not delivering as promised or need further investments.

Know when the time is right for marketing investment

Here are three tips to help determine if your board should consider adding a skilled marketing professional to its team.
 
If you read news items about your category of business and see only your competitors’ names mentioned, you may need to add marketing skill sets in corporate communications to drive your visibility and reputation. Marketing professionals work proactively on your behalf while at the same time keeping all stakeholders on the same page. While the board is often more interested in investor-relations communications, strategic corporate communications focus on differentiation and brand leadership, which are vital for boards to understand. Strategic corporate communications also focus on executive leadership efforts, which not only serve to feature the leadership team’s ideas and abilities but also allow a company to showcase its leadership team, further supporting the board’s investor relations efforts.

If your sales force is creating shiny marketing materials and you suddenly find yourself with a stockpile of pricey swag, it may be time to take stock of your marketing skill sets. While fancy printed brochures and customized water bottles may be created with the best of intentions, they are often crafted by those with a short-term need but little long-term guidance. Sales is not marketing. You need marketing for clarity, consistency and a unified message. What worked when you first opened for business may be unsuitable in the current market. For a recent example of how skilled marketing professionals made a difference for companies and directors, see the quick pivot to virtual executions of the marketing mix carried out throughout the pandemic.

If digital marketing terms, such as bounce rate, conversion rate, cost per click and call to action, are ignored within the organization or misunderstood by the board, it may be time to consider a more experienced team. Adding marketing professionals with skill sets in digital strategy, a deep understanding of the digital technology marketing ecosystem and the ability to implement the best technology stack for your company’s needs are tasks that must be performed by a qualified professional. The same is true for social media, which is best handled by an internally placed professional, well-versed in the company’s business and blessed with seasoned communications skills. 

Marketing and the privately owned business

Privately owned businesses owe it to themselves to send employees, particularly those related to the founders, to work outside the company to learn valuable skills that they can bring back to the business, including marketing. Opportunities abound when a future leader addresses what they may not know and builds a strategy to learn and understand those missing skills. Many pursue advanced degrees or opportunities at companies with strong proficiency in the areas their family’s company most needs to acquire.
 
If the hiring of a full-time marketing head is not in the cards, consider a part-time or fractional chief marketing officer (CMO) solution. The ideal fractional CMO is a well-seasoned corporate executive who can take inventory of your company’s strengths and weaknesses; create a strategy, program and meaningful plan of action; assess internal staffing needs and help oversee execution in an advisory capacity.

While most entrepreneurs have an innate sense of what the market needs, marketing creates the strategy required to sell those ideas, tell the story behind the brand and determine the best targeted audiences to reach. Marketing professionals will also continuously refine the strategy and market category you want to master.
 
A refined marketing strategy will enhance not only the company, but also the work of the company’s board of directors. Externally, the company will appear larger, better organized and more prominent. From an inside perspective, employees will take greater pride in the company and will be happy to serve as ambassadors of the firm. Put that together and your company will be more competitively placed for success in the marketplace.
 
In the words of Jerry Maguire, let an enhanced marketing operation “complete” both your board of directors and your private company.

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Paula Zirinsky is founder of Paula Zirinsky LLC, a professional services marketing advisory in New York City.

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