Goldilocks & The Three Jobs: How to Tell Your In-House Marketing Role Is the Right Fit

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I feel like a perpetual new kid these days. Last year, I left my firm of nearly six years to go support an employed physician practice network. A new challenge, I thought! Stretch, I thought! But then I realized quickly that there was a reason I left health care back in 2011 for a life in legal marketing, and, fortuitously, a role opened up, in-house marketing with a great firm in Detroit. I couldn’t be happier. 

You know an industry is a challenge for you when you find yourself longing for the relative expediency, certainty, and directness of law firm decision-making processes.

Why, I wondered? Why do I do this to myself? Akin to Goldilocks, I was moving from one job that was almost right to one that wasn’t right at all to one that is just perfect. The stress of job transitions, of learning a new culture, of meeting a host of people, of trying to add value in quick fashion without blowing up the world is a little much for my mid-life-crisis brain to handle any more. Yet, here I am.

The answer is obvious, but answers always are when you step back from a problem. I want to be engaged at work. I want to be supported. I want to find interesting challenges. I want work-life meaning. And I will keeping trying new chairs until I find that. Fortunately, right now, everything is just right.

So, whether you are looking for the right firm or you are the right firm doing the looking, here are some observations that may be worthwhile to those in-house marketing professionals in flux. These are my hard-earned learnings on how to be successful in a new role, and if your new work culture doesn't respond, it may be the wrong fit.

  • You are able to add value immediately and solve pain points. And be sure to be responsive to any early adopters of the marketing magic you're selling. They will be your advocates for those more agnostic about your presence.
  • You aren't afraid to take on a task that may seem mundane that others won't touch, but you can make it your own and elevate expectations by wowing colleagues over said task's unanticipated potential.
  • The culture is an open book. Embrace it. The history of your firm, both codified and anecdotal, is crucial to your success as a marketer. How are decisions made? Who are the formal influencers and the informal ones? 
  • You can find your friends. Don't play the hierarchy game. Get to know EVERYONE - support team, associates, partners - and be the glue that helps them collaborate and cross-pollinate. Connect with like-minded people there regularly who can help forewarn you of challenges or controversies. 
  • You are encouraged to watch the long game. It's easy to get swept up in the immediacy of daily tasks. Tweeting this accomplishment. Fixing that web page. Remember that you are there to facilitate growth and help the firm read and anticipate the competitive landscape. Build your credibility with the daily tasks to help get you to the table to discuss the long term development needs and infrastructure.
  • You can be authentic. Go ahead and decorate your office with that movie poster or Gumby statue or photo of your crazy dogs. Be true to yourself. Share your personal life. But be professional. Your humanity will connect you to others, but first and foremost you are a paid resource there to provide service.
  • You must have conversations, and you must be present. You're going to be BUSY, especially if you catch fire with folks with those aforementioned pain points. The busier you get, the more you'll get trapped in your own mental space, half-listening to that colleague while you edit a client blast and post three items on social media. Stop. Listen. Make eye contact. Breathe. The person in front of you is more important than the stuff. (I fail at this the most.)
  • You make time for the fun stuff. See above. It's tempting to say, "Oh, you guys go to the firm golf outing or the birthday lunch. I'll stay here. I've got to get XYZ done." Enjoying camaraderie recharges your batteries, builds bridges, and makes you a player. (And makes you also mix metaphors apparently.) All of that camaraderie is going to help you get your work done more effectively and efficiently by garnering personal and professional support.
  • You are able to embrace autonomy AND collaboration. If you are a doer, do. Don't get caught in asking permission of everyone you see. (I had a boss who wanted me to clear with them all my emails to certain leaders in the organization. That was unsustainable.) However, to some degree, you are still a guest in someone else's house. Collaborate, discuss, learn before striking off in some bold direction. Great and lasting change can come from disruption, but you can also find yourself making grave errors running roughshod over everyone.
  • You are free to be critical ... but you must be kind. New eyes see opportunity. It's not negativity to question how things have been done. But do so respectfully assuming positive intention from all involved. 

So, push yourself, take risks, and, like Goldilocks, test for what will be just right for you. And if you find yourself living in a house with bears, question why you are all eating porridge.

*

[Roy Sexton has led strategic planning and marketing efforts for nearly twenty years in a number of industries, including health care, legal services, and fund raising. He currently serves as Director of Marketing for Kerr Russell in Detroit. He has served as a regional board member for the Legal Marketing Association, sat on the state board of the Michigan Mortgage Lenders Association, and currently sits on the boards of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Ann Arbor and encoremichigan.com. He is a published author with two books of film and arts critique, compiled from his blog of the same name Reel Roy Reviews. He holds an M.A. in theatre history and criticism from the Ohio State University and an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan.]

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