The central marketing teams of enterprise-level companies face challenges supporting large and diverse internal clients while also producing campaigns to drive enquiries and leads.
Having led marketing teams in retail, education and government, I understand the challenges of a central marketing function and having led large marketing teams at enterprise-level, I understand the challenges these teams, and leaders of these teams, face every day.
Working as an in-house agency
Central marketing teams support the whole of the organisation by providing:
- central brand awareness campaigns
- acquisition and revenue-generation campaigns
- social channel and communications presence for potential and existing customers
- brand management
These actions are usually part of their mandate to reach the company objectives and achieve their KPIs. This best practice marketing work is either created and delivered in-house or delivered in partnership with creative and media agencies.
Additionally, many central marketing teams also function as an in-house agency providing marketing and communications solutions to meet a brief from an internal stakeholder.
For Heads of Marketing who run this model, there have traditionally been three options:
- Not deliver the marketing requests from the organisation outside their central campaigns
- Outsource the requests to an agency (particularly if the internal design team is small)
- Deliver the requests using internal resources
This model operates similarly to an external agency - marketing managers will work as internal account managers, having responsibility for some clients, managing their requests, budgets and campaigns. The internal studio team, digital team and copywriters then craft and deliver the solutions.
To some extent, most central marketing teams work as an in-house agency and often deliver a combination of true marketing solutions and graphic design services. The in-house agency solution often leads to teams facing the same challenges, no matter the industry. You may not have all of these challenges, but no doubt you will recognise many of them.
The biggest challenges
1. Subject matter experts
Subject matter experts (SME), or the internal clients in another parlance, often have very defined parameters around what they want and how to deliver their solutions.
As a central marketing team, it is always a balancing act between acknowledging the subject matter expertise while infusing the recommendation and solution with the appropriate marketing expertise. There is often a subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) push-pull between what the SME knows of their subject and what we as marketers know about our audience and appropriate marketing channels.
Their passion for their subject matter and sphere of influence is always inspiring, and it does take an adroit marketing manager to elevate a request to provide a full marketing solution, not just deliver the exact request.
In a previous life, for example, we had SMEs whose solution for 'marketing' was a DL flyer available at specific locations. This project could have taken years to deliver, many hundreds of thousands of dollars, and make a positive and incredible difference to tens of thousands of people, but if we delivered their request verbatim, it would not have done their work justice or reached the right audience in the right way.
We know we can't be experts in every area of business like the people who deliver it at the coalface, but we are experts in marketing - subject matter experts in marketing - and the challenge continues to get other SMEs to recognise this.
2. Workload strain and resource shortage
All teams in all organisations will have workload strain and resource shortage, and marketers don't think we are unique in this regard; however, this often comes about because organisations fundamentally don't understand the labour involved in running an in-house agency, and marketing often struggles with C-Suite representation - see point 6.
Let's break down some of the numbers from my experience. An organisation of about 1200 people with revenue of $250m will normally have about 10-12 business units (with sub-business units in them) who make regular requests of the central marketing team.
This size organisation has typically about 120-130 projects live with the marketing team at any one time, equating to about 1000-1200 scheduled tasks. These projects are a massive volume of work for a multi-disciplinary marketing team of about 15-20 people.
These projects are frequently outside the normal parameters of the marketing function - most marketing teams are running their large-scale campaigns while also delivering in-house solutions for stakeholders.
So there we have the workload strain.
The resource shortage arises because many marketing teams can't provide clarity around volume, time to complete or outcomes to position a case for either more resources to deliver the projects or an endorsed agreement (at C-Suite level) to allow marketing to decline specific categories of requests from internal stakeholders.
There aren't enough resources to deliver the volume of jobs promptly and often the person who screams the loudest is the one who gets their projects delivered on time and creates a culture of poor client behaviour.
3. Competing priorities
Modern marketing teams are multi-disciplinary, and because of resource shortages to deliver their mandate and expected outcomes, every marketer juggles competing priorities every day.
At the highest level, for central marketing teams, these competing priorities boil down to central brand awareness campaigns and acquisition and revenue-generation campaigns against internal client work. It is a juggling act to deliver above the line campaigns to influence broader campaigns and decision-making and deliver marketing solutions for internal clients who believe they cannot achieve their objectives without comprehensive marketing and graphic design solutions.
4. Budget cuts
It is a fact of modern-day business, particularly in volatile markets, inevitably we will need to sit down with the finance team to redraw our budgets. These budget cuts are made in two spaces - in staffing and FTE and in campaign and production spend.
If the central marketing team can't demonstrate their volume of work, the outcomes they are achieving and a direct link to sales and revenue, the budget discussion can be tough. It can be tough to protect the budget you have, let alone position for more in a harsh environment.
Until marketers can shift the narrative around our work, budget cuts will often come for us first, and deepest, as a central marketing team. When the GFC hit Australia in 2008-2009, the organisation I was working for slashed the marketing budget as a pre-emptive strike against a downturn in sales. I believe in fiscal control, but if you turn the awareness and influence tap off, you can't possibly maintain your sales (and keep people in jobs). And it is more important than ever to maintain your sales - you need to be standing at the end of the crisis to grow again.
Our reality as marketing managers is that we are often seen as a cost to the business (like HR and Accounts) because it can be difficult to draw a line between our output and sales. The reality, of course, is that short of retail stores in the right location in the right shopping centre, the work marketing does help get the brand on the list of customers and therefore opens up the sales channel - providing awareness, leads, traffic and a clear positioning around which sales can close.
5. Brand ownership
Central marketing teams often control the brand, and this brand management leads to the wrong type of work.
So often marketing teams become graphic design studios because the brand is restricted and, to a point, rightfully so, there is a standard of presentation required. It means instead of using time and expertise to position the brand and organisation from a marketing perspective marketing teams are project-managing graphic design solutions.
Brand ownership by the central marketing team is vital, but it doesn't need to mean brand usage is restricted to those same people - it is a recipe for heartache and long leadtimes.
6. C-Suite representation.
There are organisations with marketing representation in the C-Suite through a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) role, but this presence isn't as frequent as it needs to be.
Boards traditionally don't have marketing expertise or representation, and this compounds when the Head of Marketing is a third-level manager with no presence within the leadership team and board.
It is from this challenge I believe most of the other challenges stem - we can't move the dial if we don't even have access to it.
Turning marketing challenges to opportunities
These challenges aren't insurmountable but without awareness of them and without a plan to influence a different outcome marketing teams will not progress our narrative or agency within an enterprise.