Who’s Behind the Wheel?


The following was actually heard at a coffee shop in Bend: “I dabble in social media, so I decided to start a social media marketing business.”

Uhhh…what? Hit the brakes! Back up. You’ve put a lot into your business, are you really going to hand the keys to your future over to a student driver? I think not. Yet too many businesses hire their marketing provider without knowing who they’re putting behind the wheel. Marketing is actually a profession, a trade requiring specific skill sets, specialized training and a great deal of intuition that can only be gained through years of hands-on experience.

If you’ve seen actor, Jason Statham in The Transporter movies, then you get an idea of the kind of person you want driving your brand development (ie. marketing). The Transporter is a professional driver-for-hire, confident in his skills, calm under pressure and able to come up with creative solutions when things get dicey. Most of all, he’s a damn good driver! It’s crucial that you learn how to tell the difference between a Marketing Transporter and someone who’s just getting their learner’s permit. There are a lot of amateurs out there–do you really want to pay for their training?

Far too many people these days are hanging up a shingle without first earning their chops–as if all they need to do is buy a laptop and read a few popular marketing how-to books. As in any other trade, an aspiring marketer should start their career by interning with a reputable agency, working under the mentorship of a senior marketing professional or with an entry-level job. Unfortunately, many of these newbies just jump right into the driver’s seat, and eventually drive their clients into the ditch, or up the wall! (I cannot tell you how many companies have come to us to rescue them and overhaul their broken-down marketing.)

Legendary advertising creative director William Bernbach said that, “Properly practiced creativity can make one ad do the work of ten.” He also said, “Just because your ad looks good is no insurance that it will get looked at. How many people do you know who are impeccably groomed…but dull?” There are lots of people out there who can design a pretty ad, but precious few who can create an ad campaign that’s impossible to ignore. It’s one thing to rev the engine; it’s another to win the race.

There a few crucial questions to ask anyone you’re considering as a marketing provider, whether you’re talking with an agency director or a freelancer. How they answer will speak volumes.

1) Who taught you? Asking for a person’s work history and experience is a good idea, but truly great marketing professionals will be able to tell you without hesitation at least one or two people who mentored them. There is a level of excellence that cannot be gained through books or through doing work in a vacuum–it is inherited by being in the presence of greatness.

2) Who are your top three marketing heroes? Real professionals have studied the legends and innovators in our industry, such as David Ogilvy, John Caples and Roy H. Williams. Anyone who cannot name at least one or two classic marketing icons isn’t a professional driver.

3) How long have you been a marketing professional? Unless you are a small business with a very limited budget, do not hire a firm or a professional with less than five solid years in the trade. Make sure to get references and/or work samples that show longevity. Why? Because five years is the minimum amount of time it takes to get a sense of what marketing is all about–the whole picture, not just one aspect like being “good at Facebook.” Marketing isn’t done in isolation; every medium, every campaign, every message must point back to your brand with a coherent voice; each piece must work in unison with the others. If a self-proclaimed marketing professional hasn’t had enough experience to see the whole picture, they can hurt you in the long run, no matter how good they are at specific bells and whistles.

4) Can you tell me about your top three projects and their outcomes? If all their projects are recent, that will tell you something. If they cannot clearly define outcomes, then they likely don’t have an understanding of the entire process of results-based brand building.

The marketing profession is a noble trade requiring a high level of skill and precision, not something to dabble in. Your business and your future are at stake, so be sure you know who you’re putting behind the wheel!

Kelly Walker is creative director for Intrepid Marketing, a leading Bend marketing agency. For more information, contact Kelly at 541-419-9976 or Kelly@intrepidforward.com

(Photo above: Do you really want to put your business this guy’s hands? | Photo courtesy of Intrepid Marketing)


About Author

Kelly Walker is the host of A Swig of Branding, creative director for Intrepid Marketing and a senior copywriter with over 20 years experience. He has masterminded scores of high-profile brand identity projects, written hundreds of ads and taught college-level marketing and copywriting courses. He resides in Bend with his wife Andrea, four boys and (finally) a little girl due September, 2015.

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