On his LinkedIn profile, award-winning marketer Russ Powell asks one thing: not to be pigeon-holed as ‘just’ an award-winning marketer.
With an impressive career garnered from roles at corporate giants Fujitsu, Microsoft, Dell, Symantec and now Atos, Russ is a master of skills spanning marketing strategy, content marketing and digital, through to marketing automation and events management.
That’s not to mention his sideline as a successful stand-up comedian (no joke).
So, I caught up with him to find out just where he started, how he started, and to get his advice for marketers who are just starting out on the yellow-brick road of their marketing career. Here’s what he had to say…
1. You’ve built a fantastic marketing career in-house. What made you choose in-house over agency life?
I came into marketing by chance rather than choice. I’d started the graduate scheme at Fujitsu in a project management role, but after six months I knew it wasn’t right for me. I contemplated leaving and starting again, but a role as an account communications manager came up.
I got it, and I absolutely loved it. So, it was good fortune and timing that really kick-started my marketing career (not to mention the encouragement of my then boss).
Coming off the graduate scheme I was keen to keep building my experience as broadly as possible, and I saw client-side roles in large organisations as the best way to do that. I didn’t want to specialise in one area of marketing so soon in my career. I was fortunate enough to secure roles with Microsoft, Dell, Symantec and most recently Atos which have enabled me to do just that, and as a result, I’ve had first-hand experience of most elements of B2B marketing.
2. What are the crucial skills required of an in-house marketer?
You have to be an all-rounder, because there is so much to do and a lot of stakeholders to keep satisfied.
You must think creatively and be a good problem solver, so you can get to the bones of a challenge or target and properly brief agencies or creatives.
You also need to maintain a business focus to all marketing activity, making sure what’s delivered generates the right ROI. Brilliant ideas are all well and good, but only if they convert to leads, opportunities and closed business.
You also need to be a good mediator and relationship manager: I’ve often found that if stakeholders from the wider business deal directly with agencies or creatives neither side comes away having enjoyed the experience. So, you need to act as the hub for activity and discussions – which comes with the requirements for excellent communication, collaboration and organisation skills.
3. What are your top tips on how to succeed in a global enterprise like Atos. What do you wish you knew when you started?
The main thing for anyone starting out in any enterprise is to focus on people. Even though many things are now automated or digitised, there is still a person in the background. So, . (Don’t just focus on more senior members of the organisation either).
Being more specific to global enterprises, here’s a hit list of things you should be doing if you’re just starting out:
Ask (lots of) questions. When you’re fresh into a career and new in an organisation think of yourself as a toddler. Everything is new to them and they want to know what things are and why. Obviously, you can be more selective with the questions you ask, but don’t be afraid to question anything you’re not sure of. The worst thing you can do is sit in silence, and no one would get annoyed at a new starter wanting to know how things work.
Be brave. This leads on from my last point – in a large organisation it’s easy to get lost and feel like you’re not contributing, so you need to be unafraid to chip in when it feels right. You’ve been hired to add value, so don’t be afraid to do so.
Say “Yes!”. When you get asked to do something, say yes and say it with enthusiasm. Many grads join an organisation expecting to jump straight into managing big projects with huge budgets, so they baulk when given the boring jobs. But these are the jobs where you earn your stripes. If you can get stuck into the mundane stuff and smash through it with a smile on your face, it WILL get noticed, and you’ll start working your way up to bigger responsibilities.
Acknowledging PA power. I’m not just saying this because I’m married to one, but PAs are powerful in large organisations. If you want time with an exec you have to go via the PA. They are gatekeepers who control a precious commodity; the exec’s time. If you want some of that time you need to treat the gatekeeper with the respect they deserve.
4. What skills should marketers be focusing on today?
I think the biggest skill to master is to get inside the head of a client to understand what they need, and tailoring activity to suit. I see a lot of campaigns run out to market without even being tested with a friendly client: most frighteningly ABM activity. If you know the client, share what you’re doing and work with their marketing and comms teams so you can align activity.
Another skill is financial understanding. As marketers, we often focus just on creative or campaign delivery, losing sight of the bottom line – dangerous when we need to prove ROI and marketing value.
5. You’ve built a strong online persona, and have recently been listed as one of the top 10 best B2B marketers to follow on Twitter – how important is self-marketing in this industry? What tips would you give to someone keen to kick start their own brand?
The whole “top 10 tweeter” thing was very flattering and also completely unexpected. I’ve been commenting, blogging and discussing topics that interest me and had picked up enough – or the right – followers that Joel (Harrison, B2B Marketing Editor-in-Chief) added me to the list.
Self-marketing as a term makes me cringe: it makes me think of people shouting about themselves and how brilliant they are. That style of marketing (for yourself or otherwise) only lasts so long until you get lost in the crowd of everyone else’s shouting. If I do post about myself I’ll normally add some humour to remove any ego from it.
Building a profile in an industry should happen as a by-product of doing a great job. What kick-started it for me was winning the award for best use of direct mail at the 2015 B2B Marketing awards. After that, B2B Marketing asked me to contribute to the magazine and the website, and through that I started to build up a network in the wider B2B community.
If I was to give three tips on handling an online persona they would be:
- Have an opinion – you don’t have to be controversial and end up in ‘comment wars’, just articulate your point of view in a constructive and polite way.
- Be consistent – I try and tweet at least once a day about something I’ve found interesting. I blog via LinkedIn every couple of months or so, as I like the longer pieces to be more of a discussion based on something that’s sparked my interest rather than a blog for the sake of a blog, so they’re less frequent.
- Use hashtags – just pick out the pertinent subjects in your tweets with a # and you should find that people start adding you to lists and following you.
In part 2 of our interview with Russ Powell, he shares more about how b2b marketing is changing, and gives his advice on getting the best out of agencies.
Keen to know more about Russ Powell? Check out his LinkedIn profile.