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Four Essential Ingredients for a Truly Great Marketing Department

Becky Morehouse

Becky Morehouse

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During the course of my career, I spent a great deal of time wondering what separates the merely good marketing departments from the ones that are truly great; the handful of marketing departments that have the ability to directly and consistently contribute to organizational success.

Over the years, I have identified four essential ingredients that truly great marketing departments consistently share. And while many marketing departments might have one, two, or even three of these characteristics, the truly great ones have all four. Let’s take a look.

Clear Direction

First, clear direction. Clear direction is essential. It provides focus. It helps everyone understand what is included, and not included, in the marketing mandate. Additionally, it provides tremendous insight into the marketing talent that will be needed. Clear direction also helps you say no to those ideas and goals, and even personnel, that clearly fall outside your mandate

Finally, clear direction creates significant organizational momentum. When everyone knows where you are going there will be fewer internal meetings and fewer public miscues.

Clear direction depends on the chief marketing officer (CMO) and the president not only being on the same page, but on the same sentence.

Note: Not sure about how to establish clear direction? Take a look at an earlier blog on the Purpose-Built Marketing Organization.

Political Support

Second, political support. Without political support, most marketing departments will fail, or at best, be hopelessly sidelined and marginalized. Political support means that the CMO has a seat at the big table and is involved in key conversations and decisions. It also means that the CMO has the authority to hire, fire, and shape the marketing team, organization, and strategy. Recognizing the inherent cross-functionality of great marketing, political support is necessary when marketing butts head with turf issues.

While clear direction outlines the marketing mandate, political support gives the CMO the authority necessary to carry out that mandate.


Third, talent. Highly talented people want to work in marketing departments that have direction and resources (see below) and give them the opportunity to do their best work. Highly talented people want to be part of something great. Truly great marketing departments are talent magnets.

There is every likelihood that some of the talent you need is located somewhere else at the institution. Your job is to find them and bring them on board. Remember, at this stage you are much more interested in doers than thinkers.

Finally, when you think about talent make sure you think well beyond titles. Some people have deep talents that have nothing to do with their present titles.

Nothing happens without talent.


Fourth, resources. In most cases, resources means dollars. And while there is never enough money, clear direction and political support will help focus and multiply your resources. In addition, the political support you have will help you execute some of your marketing mandate through other departments and budgets (remember the idea of “integrated?”). Finally, a commitment to mROI (measuring marketing return on investment) will help the leadership team understand that marketing budgets are more of an investment than a cost.

A note about organizational structure. While organizational structure is critical to marketing success, the discussion about organization should only occur once the four key ingredients are in place. Too often we rush to reorganize when, quite simply, we don’t know what else to do. Of course, the CMO must be empowered to change the organizational structure as needed.

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