Friday, May 11, 2007

To Market, to Market: How I Fell into Marketing

Even though one of my concentrations in business school was marketing, I didn't start out to be a marketer.

How could I have?

When I entered business school, I had only the most rudimentary of notions about how business worked, let alone what marketing was. My work experience had basically been waitressing and scut-jobs. My jobs were so low-down on the totem pole, I barely knew what business the place I worked was in. (Bank or shoe factory? Truck rental or architecture?  Insurance company or Oxfam? Of all of my scut jobs, Oxfam was about the only one that actually registered with me: I definitely got what they did. Tood bad I was only there for a short while as a temp.) 

Marketing? If anyone had asked, I would have said it was advertising.

And the marketing courses I took in b-school?

Nothing as practical as marketing 101. No 4 P's for me.

It was all applied marketing. Models. Analysis. Statistics. (After all, I did go to business school at MIT.)

When I graduated, I got a job working with a consulting company that built econometric and financial forecasting models for Fortune 1000 companies. (Since my co-concentration at MIT had been something called applied economics, this was right up my alley. But it was only right up my alley because I went to business school to begin with because my boyfriend (now husband) thought it was a good idea, and he was an economist.)

Somewhere along the line, I drifted into product management, and the first product I managed was a time-series forecasting tool that did Automated Box-Jenkins models. The product's name was Auto-BJ. (No comment.)

I was a product manager for a good long time.

When I worked at Wang, I couldn't get marketing to do a brochure for my products, but I did get the OK to do some four page data sheets on my own. I snuck around and figured out how to turn them into something more brochure-like by adding colored photos. I used two guys in my group for models.

Wang had a professional photographer in house.

He never told me that if you didn't put make-up on the guys, the pictures would come out with five-o'clock shadows even if the pictures were taken at 8 a.m.

I learned to live with my bro-sheets on which Charley and Jack looked like thugs. Other than that, they turned out OK.

Then I was hired by an incredibly daffy, fast-growing company that brought me on to be the lead product manager for a group of products they were going to build. Someday.

They never did.

Since I had nothing to do once I got there, they put me in a staff position where I did research and wrote business plans and presos that our chairman used to dupe people into investing in us.

Eventually, the dupes smartened up. (Our chairman's reaction: 'The investors are trying to screw us.' The investors might have seen it another way.)

The turnaround guy came in.

Suddenly, the marketing department was gone.

The new chairman looked at me and said, "You can write. You're in charge of marketing."

The first thing I had to do was fire our PR firm.

I doubt we paid them, so I think they were just as happy.

It was a good experience, given that over the years I got to fire a few more PR firms.

We were signed up to go to a trade show in two weeks. Our booth was in hock - we hadn't paid storage.

Somehow, with the help of the one sales person left standing and an admin who to this day remains the most organized person I have ever worked with, we were able to figure out how to rent enough stuff to look respectable. The rag and the rug: pipe and drape. A wastebasket. A potted plant. A couple of chairs. We couldn't afford to rent a real booth.

We did make a new sign. It looked like a shower curtain. So that's what we called it.

After I'd been in charge of marketing for about six months, I found a carton that contained about 5,000 bingo card leads. One of our products had been named Product of the Month by PC Magazine. In the old days, people who saw something of interest written up or advertised in a magazine circled the product's number on something called a bingo card and mailed it in to the magazine.

The sales person and I nearly wept when we saw all those bingo card leads.

We had no way to follow up: no collateral, no telemarketing, no nothing. (This was way pre-web.)

We sifted through the cards and she picked out the ones that looked most promising.

No collateral? Not for long. I wrote some data sheets and printed them in-hourse on card stock. They weren't bad. Eventually we graduated to things printed outside, black and white with spot color. I got really good with shading and spot color.

I designed everything.

I'm no designer.

I kept things simple and/or borrowed ideas from easily-replicable pieces that came in the mail.

The first piece - a four page, one-color brochure - I printed in large lot turned out terrible. I had no idea what a PMS color was. The color I picked - could it really have been sight unseen - was so hideous that I got in a fight with the printer, telling them I couldn't possibly have picked such a horrible color. I went to an art supply store and bought a PMS chart. Damned if the printer wasn't right. I had picked the worst shade of blue on the face of the earth. I had to live with that dreadful piece for about six months. Then we got new features in the product, and I got to redo it. This time I knew better. Using my PMS book, I picked a really nice blue.

The best direct mail piece I ever did was a knock-off of something that I saw for an entirely different kind of product. We, of course, used one color printing, with lots of shading. The piece looked great. We redid in about 5 or 6 times in different colors, varying the text a bit. We got pretty good results with it. The font was copperplate. (I still like copperplate.)

At one point, I had to design the cover for our documentation.

I did a variation on a Mondrian painting. Amateur, but not half-bad.

Then I did a product logo that looked like a belt buckle. We called it the belt buckle.

It was pretty bad, but we used it for years.

Eventually, I figured things out. We got more stable. I got to hire people.

I still did all the writing.

On the job training. Baptism by fire. Live and learn.

But that's how I fell into marketing.


As I'm heading to Berlin for vacation in a couple of days, let's make it a tip of my homburg toMary Schmidt's recent post on "what'd you wanta be when you grow up."

1 comment:

Mary Schmidt said...


I too "fell" into marketing. Learned research when I came back from the holiday break at Northern Telecom to find out that - ta-da!, poof! I'd been moved to the research group. (Didn't seem to bother anyone I had neither the education or experience...hey, I was smart and hard-working and they didn't want to lay me off. This is when NT had twice yearly layoffs, you could almost set your watch by them.)

And, then at NEC I was in product management - we needed collateral for which we: a didn't have permission; b didn't have a budget. Corporate was in NY so what they didn't know wouldn't hurt me. I scurried around, wrote the text, got an outside company to help with the graphics on the cheap, used my engineers as models and away we went...

Some other time, we'll talk about all the unnatural acts I can force MS Word to do for on-the-fly "brochures." ;-) Amazing what we can do when we have to, isn't it?