A podcast for marketing leaders.


« Back

4. What if your boss doesn't understand (or care) about marketing?

Can anything be done when your boss doesn’t understand the work your team dedicates their days to? Kyle & Jeff discuss, and offer three (and a half) steps you can take to build alignment with your marketing-oblivious boss.


(Primarily autogenerated, let us know if you see any errors!)

Kyle: Hello and welcome to unReactive where we look to help marketing leaders reclaim their time and sanity by exploring the topics that keep us stuck in a state of reactivity. I’m Kyle Morck, and I’m joined as always by my co-host Jeff Reynolds. How are you today, Jeff?

Jeff: Amazing. Kyle, we’re getting some positive feedback on this podcast. It’s nice right to get some feedback and questions from marketing leaders. So pretty cool.

Kyle: It’s always scary to launch something, but I’m feeling pretty good about this so far.

Jeff: Haven’t embarrassed ourself any worse than we’ve done in previous parts of our life, you know what I mean?

Kyle: Yeah, it’s always the goal to embarrass yourself a little bit less today than you did yesterday.

Jeff: That’s mine. So, uh, what are we going to talk about today, Kyle?

Kyle: So one concern I’ve actually had with the launch of this podcast is that we were in danger of coming off sounding too academic or disconnected from the reality of being a marketing leader. And I personally have no real interest on discussing or giving advice on topics that aren’t directly actionable for our listeners.

I only want to t alk about things on this podcast that people can really put into action in their lives. But I do think that there are some topics that are a little bit harder to swallow than others. And one of those hard things is what you do when your boss doesn’t understand or care about marketing?

Jeff: Yeah, so this topic, I know we’ve been discussing it, it actually came from a listener who, who sort of brought up like, Hey, your guys’ points are great, or whatever. I don’t know if they said, great.

Kyle: Yeah, maybe they hated our points.

Jeff: They, yeah, that might have been the actual case, but what they did say was, I’m not sure how all these things apply because I have a boss that doesn’t really get what I even do for a living. And I will say this real quickly, that you know, you and I do have a tendency, a little bit to live in our heads just as a natural way of existence. Like we think about thinking a lot and all the meta things. And I do think we do wanna talk about topics here that are more… the operational organizational design, not tactical, so it can come off more academic because we are not necessarily giving always the clear answers. We’re more exploring the challenges and the different paths you can take to get through those challenges. And I think this one is sort of one of those meaning that we can’t have an answer.

How did you phrase the question for today?

Kyle: I phrased it as what if your boss doesn’t understand or care about marketing?

Jeff: Right. So there’s no one answer for that because the person asking that has a whole set of traits and challenges and their boss is different and we don’t know their boss. So we have to talk more broadly and sort of in principles. I hope that makes sense.

Kyle: Yeah, and the other thing that I’d add to it is I think that the show is aspirational in a lot of ways. Like it’s not about the reality of your job today. It’s about the hope of where your job can start getting to tomorrow. And it’s a journey and it’s not a clear and pretty journey.

If you feel like your life could be better, then hopefully these are some actionable steps that you can start taking to get your life to that place.

Jeff: Yep. Exactly. So what would you say. To somebody whose boss is sort of this attitude, which I’ve heard people say, oh, I don’t really believe in marketing. And we’ve heard that from like director VPs of sales and marketing and others. I don’t really believe in marketing and they’re in charge of marketers.

What do you say if that’s your situation?

Kyle: I would say that that’s a little bit different from a boss that doesn’t understand or care about marketing because there’s some bosses that, you know, it’s not coming from any type of negative place. It’s just not their expertise and it’s not their focus. But there are some bosses, like I think particularly in more sales focused or commodity based industries, that their perspective is actually that marketing doesn’t work or that it can’t be an effective thing, whether in general or specifically for their company.

That’s something that’s really difficult to reconcile. It’s actually something that I want to address at some point with upMarketer, some content that’s directed towards bosses that don’t believe in marketing, but I think it’s a really difficult topic to approach from the perspective of a marketing leader that’s already in that position. It’s a hard topic to bring up with your boss because you’re already starting from the back foot.

If you’re already in that role and your boss doesn’t believe that marketing can work, that’s a lot harder position to be in.

Jeff: Well, a lot of times you just have some hard choices to make for yourself.

If you want to make your career something and marketing is your chosen craft, and you have a boss that doesn’t support it, is that the right place for you?

Kyle: Exactly.

Jeff: Or if you’re what I call rowing for shore.

If you’re just, uh, you know, trying to make it to retirement, maybe you could just stuff that down inside of you and don’t worry about it and figure out how to make it work for you. And then I, think one more option would be the kind of idea of be so good they can’t ignore you.

And that’s sort of my, been my approach in life, which is probably dangerous, but it’s like sort of the chip on your shoulder. Well, I’ll show you and just be so good that you can build up political capital and support from the rest of the organization such that you have, uh, the power to get stuff done and create great work.

Kyle: Yeah, and I think that’s a great point. And it goes into, I have four ideas that I think would help if you’re in a position where you feel like your boss doesn’t understand what you do, and it plays into that, like in a lot of ways it’s saying how do you, make yourself so good that they can’t ignore you?

Jeff: Yeah, but just to make sure we’re clear on the distinction, there’s the difference between what to do when somebody doesn’t believe in marketing. That’s not the discussion today. The discussion today is maybe they’re just ignorant or don’t know, have a different set of life experiences.

So that’s really what you’re saying, right? That you have some ideas about that.

Kyle: And there can be nuance there. Maybe your boss just hasn’t really thought about it that deeply and that’s their gut instinct is that marketing can’t help. But there’s still opportunity there to push them in the right direction.

Jeff: Yeah. And heck, a lot of people just don’t have common definitions of terms like the term marketing. You may we may not agree what we mean by that term, right?

Kyle: Yeah, that’s something that we’re gonna address in a future episode is just kind of what is the role of marketing in today’s corporate culture. But today, focus is on: if your boss doesn’t understand or just doesn’t care about marketing, what can you do?

Jeff: Okay, so what can we do?

Kyle: First thing that I would say is that you have to define why your department exists. You need to ask yourself, do you have a good answer for what your department exists to do? What is your function? And I’m not talking about goals, I’m not talking about strategy. I’m talking about the fundamental way that your department engages with the overall business.

What is marketing there to do?

Jeff: Yeah, I think of that as Simon Sinek’s. Why? In a lot of ways. It’s a little different, and I, you know, I’m not a fanboy actually of that whole treatise, but, I think the general idea is, do you know why you exist? Why do I show up every day and how do I fit into the greater organization? What is our contribution to the bigger organization?

Kyle: Exactly, and it’s surprising how rare it is to run across marketing directors that have a good answer to this question.

Jeff: Can you think of some examples of what those whys might be broadly?

Kyle: Yeah. Are you there to drive revenue? If so, how are you going to do that? Are you just trying to support the sales team? If so, what does that look like? You just need a good answer for how your work effectively drives the organization forward. It’s gonna look different for different departments, different industries, different organizations, but if you don’t have that answer, it just makes your job really difficult.

Jeff: Yeah, and you could also say that those examples could be more like the examples you just gave were more organizational focused, which would be one way. Another way you could do it is by being customer focused, like we’re leading the movement towards blank or we’re supporting the movement, like the difference of supporting versus moving, you know, we’re there to wow customers. There’s different angles to look at what that could potentially be.

Kyle: And what it comes down to is that your boss has a picture in their head of what a marketing department’s purpose is, and it’s very likely that that picture is a lot smaller in scope and importance than yours. If your boss thinks marketing’s role is to design pretty pictures or just to generate leads, you’re gonna have a really tough time doing anything else.

Jeff: Yeah, I, I totally get you. So the first thing you’re saying that we need to do, if I have a boss that doesn’t get what we do, is define it for them, basically, and for yourself.

Kyle: Even, if you do have a boss that gets what you do, you still need to do that work.

Jeff: Yeah, that’s right. But if you’re having that challenge that your boss doesn’t get you, the first thing to do is make sure that you’ve done a good enough job of defining why you exist and articulating that.

Kyle: Exactly. You need to start there and if you haven’t done that, it’s gonna be very hard to move forward.

Jeff: Gotcha. Then what?

Kyle: The second thing you need to do once you’ve done a good job defining why your department exists, is you need to work really hard to do what I call filling the gaps. And this is a concept that is really key when it comes to communications with your boss. We talked about this in an earlier episode, your boss doesn’t wanna spend their day thinking about marketing. They have other things to do, particularly if you’re, yeah. They don’t want to think about you. They want to just feel confident that things are moving forward. And when they are focusing on marketing, it’s usually because they feel like there’s a gap that needs to be filled. They are sitting awake at night worried that, oh, we’re falling short in this place. And that’s when they start to question, what is this marketing department doing?

Jeff: Or just what are they exposed to? The example that the person that inspired this question gave was that their boss comes from a world where events are really the only marketing thing. You know, let’s say trade shows, for simplicity. That’s really the only place he engages with the marketing stuff. So therefore, events equal marketing and marketing equals events.

Kyle: Right

Jeff: So the gap is his ignorance that he just literally doesn’t even know.

Kyle: And I think that’s something that you see a lot is you’ll have bosses that will have a weird focus on one area of marketing. You know, if they’re obsessed with having billboards all over, what that means is that there’s a deeper concern that they’re trying to fix. You know, In the trade show case, they are focused on that because maybe they think the company as a whole isn’t doing a good enough job, engaging with the community as a whole with potential customers, what have you. And billboards, it might be that their concern is that the company’s not doing enough to build awareness. But they’re not marketers, so they don’t know what is actually effective to do those things.

Jeff: But they’re the ones judging the marketing and they’re judging it based on how they engage with it. And I had a colleague once who was running marketing for a bank. The CEO was one of these people we’re talking about, didn’t really get marketing. Had a lot of gaps. And so the strategy was actually , this is embarrassing to say, I, I’m not gonna mention any names, and I was not involved in this.

This colleague, they weren’t working with me at the time, they would buy ads, billboards, specifically, since you use that example, Kyle that came along, the CEO’s commute, the bank CEO’s commute. So the bank CEO would see the billboards and then therefore assume they’re doing a great job with the marketing cuz everybody must see these billboards because I see these billboards.

Right? Pretty unsophisticated. But that is a true story and it was effective from the marketing manager’s perspective that they got the CEO to believe that they were doing a good job. Though we can debate the ethics of that.

Kyle: Yeah, maybe it was a worthwhile means to an end, but also maybe it didn’t make their lives that much better and they’re spending their time trying to do things that the CEO will notice and not their job. And I could imagine that that could take a toll on you after a while as well.

Jeff: This person was not proud of it. And that, that, that’s, that’s an example. I’m just saying I’m not using that as a good example. I definitely don’t wanna use that as a good example.

Kyle: I think it is evocative of the problem here is that when your boss doesn’t think you are having an impact, it’s very hard to do your job. So that’s one, potentially less than ethical way of convincing your boss that you’re having an impact. But it is very important to do.

When we’re talking about, you know, your boss has this focus or something on there. They don’t know how to fix the problem, but they do have a gut feeling of the diagnosis. And this may or may not be true, but it’s your job to assuage that concern. And that’s why it’s so important to focus on filling the gaps, because any gap that you leave in the plan, whether you have a plan for it or not, if that hasn’t been communicated throughout the organization, your boss is gonna try to fill it with their own ideas. And the reality, whether it’s good or not, is that the role of a marketing leader, a large amount of your time is going to be spent communicating these types of ideas, both up and down the organization. But you can do yourself a favor by being proactive about this communication. Rather than reactive when people start questioning the gaps. Whether you think it’s a good thing or not, what’s important is for you to really define the role that those are playing in your plan.

Jeff: Yeah, it’s like if you could have a one page explainer that you can always pull out so you’re telling people proactively before they ask: no, of course I have this. All the questions you have, I’ve already answered with this little plan. It can be a mini plan, it can be literally a sheet of paper or half sheet of paper that’s on all your team’s desks.

Kyle: Yeah, and we’ll spend a lot of time on this podcast discussing strategy and what that means. But I think that the communication comes down to really three key ideas. Number one is what are you going to do? Really that comes back to the what do you exist to do, where is your focus areas gonna be? Have you thought of all of these different areas?

Number two is what does success look like? And I think that that is, really key cuz that’s what moves you beyond metrics, is you get to start talking about what you’re trying to influence and how that’s going to come across to the organization.

And then number three, and this is the one that’s missing from a lot of plans is how long will it take? Cuz that is one of the most important things to communicate to your boss.

Because even if you say, oh, hey, here’s the plan and here’s what success looks like. If they come to you in three months and say, you told me you were gonna make all of these things happen. Where is it? Then they’re not gonna feel like you are accomplishing what you’re doing. But if you set it up from the beginning of, hey, this is what this is gonna look like, and all told it’s gonna take 18 months, but here’s some milestones that we can look to to start seeing if that success is starting to form, then you’re gonna have a lot more success in those conversations with your boss.

Jeff: Man. I love that. And I have to say it, you saying it that way, it’s almost like you were a fly on the wall in some of my meetings. And I have a very specific example where I was in a meeting with a VP of a multi-billion dollar company and it was sort of like a get to know you, actually the goal was our agency, Reynolds+Myers, they were trying to introduce us up the chain, so to speak. That’s why I was in this specific meeting. And, the vp, his compliment to the marketing leader was, what I love about this person is that they do a great job of explaining to me what they’re gonna do and how we’ll know if it was successful or not.

They did not mention the time thing. The time thing makes sense. But I’m just being honest about that story. And literally those were your first two. What are you going to do? What does success look like? The third you added, which I think is great, how long will it take? And that’s, that was the conversation that I sat there and heard.

So I, I guess I’m just trying to defend what you’re saying. I’ve seen it in action.

Kyle: Yeah, if you, really focus on hammering those three things into your boss’s head, I think your life is going to be a lot simpler.

Jeff: Yeah. And just that’s the everyday task. Like if you think of that as part of your job communicating up and down, but communicating up, I hate down, hate those words.

Okay, so you had said you had four. So far we covered define why your department exists, so name your why, we covered fill the gaps.

What’s the next one?

Kyle: So the third one is communicate success. And this is where you get to, you know, start having more fun and get to start feeling more achievement in your role. Because if you’ve done an effective job of defining your department and filling in those gaps, then now you get to start communicating your success on your own terms, because you’ve defined what success looks like. You get to focus your reporting on those successes. So if you’ve defined and gotten buy-in on, Hey, we’re gonna move away from trade shows or billboards, or whatever that is, and we’re gonna focus here, then you’re gonna start getting a lot fewer questions about what are we doing with events. Really, the whole point of this is that you get to start showing off how effective marketing can be when you’re allowed to do what you’re an expert at.

Jeff: Yeah, and this is such a skill, really. I mean, if you’re not gonna sing your praises, nobody else probably is. So it’s a skill to learn how to report your successes without coming off as braggadocious or as this enormous walking ego. And the way you do that, at least as you just defined, is if you systematize that because you’ve given out, laid out the plan, the what we’re doing, how we’re measuring success, and how long it’s gonna take, then by communicating success. Once you have it, you’re actually just fulfilling that promise. You’re not bragging. Does that make sense? So it’s not just like random bragging, you’re just telling the story. And learning how to do that- to me, this is how you lubricate relationships, is, people have to build trust in you.

And the only way they can build trust is if they know there’s reasons to trust you. And so sometimes, that’s the obvious, which is they do what they say they’re gonna do. You know, you do what you say you’re going to do.


And the other thing is, you are a winner. You know how to win, you succeed.

And so doing both of those things, it’s a learned skill worth practicing.

Kyle: Yeah, that’s a great point. And really the whole point of this is that you need to help your boss to let you loose, to do the type of work that will make them look really good. If they’re looking good, then they’re gonna be really happy with what you’re doing. So, you need to kind of, do the help me to help you, by let me do what I’m good at and I’ll make you look really good.

Jeff: Yeah. And that’s sort of the be so good they can’t ignore you kind of idea. Right? Like the, the reality is, and I really wish and hope that we get better at this as an industry or get back to this, which is, it’s okay to be great at your craft and to brag about being great at your craft and to stand out in your craft to be the best in the world or your little neck of the woods, and not be afraid of that, because I think a lot of marketing leaders are actually intimidated in some ways by success, because they don’t know what it means for the rest of their career path.

Kyle: Yeah. Or, and I think there’s also a sense of, being afraid to really embrace a niche within the craft. That if you don’t understand every aspect of every trend that’s going on within marketing, that you can’t be a good marketing leader, which just isn’t the case. You just need to be effective and, whatever that looks like for your organization is what matters at that time.

Jeff: And to be clear, I think the premise of upMarketer, of this podcast, it’s really the point of the book that I wrote last year. It all comes down to marketing leadership is a separate craft from marketing in a lot of way. I mean, obviously it’s a tight venn diagram, but we need to get comfortable with being experts in being leaders.

Kyle: Yeah, a huge piece of the art and craft of being a marketing leader is being able to communicate what you’re doing. Cuz it doesn’t matter how effective your marketing might be, if people within your organization don’t understand it, you’re not gonna have the results that you want to have.

Jeff: Okay, so we covered three of the four. I’m defining why my department exists, my why. I’m filling the gaps, which is proactive communication, laying out the plan, tell ‘em what to expect.

And then I’m communicating my success which is really just telling them what happened, reporting what happened, and of course you’re good at your job, so there’s gonna be success or there might be failures too, but that’s okay. You report both of them. Right? So those are the three.

What’s the four? You said there were four.

Kyle: So there’s not necessarily four for everybody, but the fourth step is that if all else fails, start looking for a new gig. And this is where some of the harsh truths start to come in. But some organizations just frankly are not ready to appreciate marketing for whatever reason, despite your best efforts, even if you’ve taken all these steps, it might just not be possible to get this message across.

Jeff: Yeah, so, go find a new job. I mean, I think that goes back to what I had said towards the beginning of this podcast, which is, you’re not gonna thrive in a cage. I personally believe it’s great to give the rest of the leadership a chance and opportunities and collaboratively work together to try to find your place within the organization. But if that doesn’t work, at the end of the day, your life and your career is in your hands and you are responsible for that. And so you should make a change and go somewhere where you thrive. Cuz I really believe the future is gonna belong to the top 20% or whatever the number is. I don’t know what’s exactly the number, but if you believe you’re the top 20% in your craft, then why are you suffering through this organization that doesn’t even get it or doesn’t support you.

Kyle: What it comes down to is that you have a choice to make because you can either stick it out and then you need to really adjust your expectations accordingly. Like you said, rowing to shore. But this is effectively what quiet quitting is. You know, it’s when you start to feel that your rewards are not proportional to your efforts. Then the natural thing to do is to put less effort into the job. That to me is a horrible feeling. You know you are talented enough to deserve a workplace that appreciates what you can bring to the table, and that’s why I think that you need to start looking for a new gig and placing a priority on leadership that understands and appreciates marketing in your search for that next gig.

Jeff: Yeah, because it’s like you want to be the best, put in the work, the effort, the study, the thinking, all those things to become great at your job. And then you need to leverage that and know your worth and know that there are organizations that will appreciate you if you did the other things that I mentioned.

In other words, this recipe doesn’t work for people who suck at their jobs,

Kyle: Yeah. You know, coming back to the reality of the situation is that I understand that people should be working jobs because they need money to survive. Like I, as you know, am about as anti-capitalist as it gets. And I know that the reason we work is to make money and that that’s the important thing there.

But I also think just as humans, It’s really hard to go through life and dedicate, half of your working hours to something that makes you miserable. And it’s really hard not to be miserable if the thing you’re putting effort into doesn’t feel appreciated. So, if you are serious about being good at your craft, I know that you can find a place that will appreciate what you bring to the table.

Putting all of your effort towards that rather than trying to, impress a boss that will never get it, I think is a much better use of your time.

Jeff: Gosh. And there’s lessons in that for us as leaders too, in terms of how we manage and coach up our teams.

Kyle: Definitely.

Jeff: Like, and I mean, I’m guilty of this, you know, the perfectionist in me nitpicking. And you have to know when to keep your mouth shut and not just sound like you’re complaining about people. So that, that’s one thought that comes to mind when you say that, that the same way we want people to manage us is how we should manage other people probably.

And then the other thought is life is short and wasting your time, even though you need money, I guess the default shouldn’t be… you know, we shouldn’t tell ourselves stories about all our limitations of why we can’t do these things. We need to tell our self stories about why we can do things.

And I just generally feel like if, if you just, you know, listened to this podcast and ran your three or four, three and a half steps, however you wanna think about it, and ran that as a playbook. They would feel better about themselves even if it doesn’t work, even if their boss still never gets it.

At least they would feel they gave it the old college try. And the alternative to giving it the old college try is just to go with the flow and be dissatisfied, and that makes zero sense.

Kyle: Yeah, and I think that’s a big piece of my perspective here is that if you’re listening to this podcast, that means that you care about getting better at your job, getting better about your craft, and that probably in itself puts you in that 20%. Most people are going through their life, not thinking at all about how they can get better at their job.

And if you are in the place where you want to get better, that’s probably enough to ensure that you can find a place that you will be happy. It might take some work, but it exists out there, so there’s no reason to settle for less

Jeff: And if you’re really awesome and you feel that way, call me and let’s see if I can introduce you to some people, cuz they’re definitely people looking for great people, great marketers, and great marketing leaders, right?

Kyle: Ain’t it the truth.

Jeff: Man, this is a great topic. I’m glad it was suggested.

Kyle: Thank you all for listening today. If you wanna get more content like this directly in your inbox, be sure to sign up for the unReactive newsletter at upMarketer.Io. And if you have any topics you’d like to hear discussed, please reach out to us on our website or social media. As we said, this topic today came from a listener suggestion, so we really appreciate that and we’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for chatting today, Jeff.

Jeff: Thank you Kyle. We’ll see you I guess soon.

Now Playing:
22. Why do we hunt for silver bullets?