Dealing with the charlatans, conmen, timewasters and the less-than-competent which plague the marketing industry

June 2019

The nature of my consultancy offer dictates that not only do I work with a lot of very different clients across a wide range of sectors and industries, but I also work with a very considerable number of other consultants (typically in areas such as business strategy), tactical specialists (e.g. PPC management and social media), designers, web developers, video makers and market researchers etc.

Why do I need such a large network of folk to call on and work with? Well I position myself as a hugely experienced marketing generalist (experienced as in ’45 years’), with particular skills around brand and marketing strategy, and on the latter I’m especially good at aligning the right tools and tactics to deliver the strategies for SMEs. But delivery of all the tactics is a lot less my bag, and even on areas I am pretty good at, it wouldn’t be cost-effective for the client for me to also handle most of them. The other senior consultants I work with are usually on projects which aren’t just marketing-based and involve more general business strategy – which is always good for me because I get to learn lots of new stuff.

In part for obvious reasons, as you’d expect the specialists I choose to work with are typically very good to bloody excellent, whereas for those I’m often forced to work with – e.g. an existing supplier to a client – it can be more of a mixed bag. For example, in the last month I’ve been working with a long-standing client to uncover some of the failings of their supposed ‘full service agency’, with this revealing that a key piece of content they’d created for us had partly be plagiarised from a US website, and an external audit we commissioned on the extensive PPC management they were carrying out for us, revealed some serious shortcomings.

Also of great importance to me, is the raft of suppliers in media including radio, TV, print and outdoor etc. that I can turn to – and who anyway never let me forget that they’re there (which is fair enough as selling is their job). Here the level of expertise and knowledge can, to say the least, be dubious, and as was apparent in a meeting two weeks ago with the account manager of a radio station I use for a particular client, who unashamedly asked me what the difference was between inbound and outbound marketing – I kid you not. That said, at least the guy was honest enough to admit he didn’t know – better that than the more usual bullshit I might have got from others.

As a further recent example, I’ve been working on a marketing plan for a new client and discovered that the agency who build their website (and who badge themselves as ‘digital marketing specialists’) hadn’t made the site mobile friendly, or even bothered to have Google Analytics installed on it – which is a bit like a car dealership selling you a new vehicle but disabling the speedo and MPG readout. On a longer-term scale, I’ve been battling with a social media specialist for a number of years (and to the point we’ve now fallen out) who has been unwilling, or perhaps unable, to learn the basics of marketing strategy. Instead, he and his small team peddle a muddled story of ‘digital marketing strategy’ (there’s no such thing) and within this narrative have social media positioned as some sort of panacea to every company’s marketing and regardless of market.

Given my experience and decades in the industry, as you also might expect I’m fairly sharp when it comes to spotting out-and-out or even borderline charlatans, or just those with good intentions but aren’t, at least yet, at a level of competence that their job ideally requires. Being the thoroughly decent sort of chap I am, I’m generally happy to help the latter – assuming they want to listen and learn of course – but my stance with the former is invariably less sympathetic.

I guess a good number of industries suffer the sort of people issues I’ve highlighted above, but I also imagine that marketing especially suffers because of the nature of what we do. So what we do is partly science – and increasingly should be in our complex digital world – but the opportunity for smoke and mirrors is none the less massive. This then provides the perfect space for those to operate who frankly should be doing something else in life which is less damaging to business, and in particular to the SME market I now largely operate in.

Thank goodness then for the typically brilliant people I choose to work with.

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