Twenty-four months ago, I graduated from college. The following summer, armed with a degree in psychology and a few marketing internships, I joined the client service team at Holland-Mark. I walked in to my first day on the job with a smile and an optimistic attitude, clueless about what my new day-to-day life would be like.
Given that we’re in the midst of graduation season, I’m taking some time to reflect back on the last two years on things that I’ve learned and things I wish I’d known all along. When I first started, I was the only entry-level employee. This meant that everyone else knew a lot more than me. One of the most valuable (and perhaps most annoying, depending on who you ask) things I did was ask questions. I found that some things that seemed simple required a lot more thought than expected and things that made me anxious because of their complexity were much easier than anticipated. Asking questions is about more than figuring out the complexity of a task, though. It’s about understanding not just the “how” but the “why.” Once I understood why things needed to happen, I could think in a larger context and ultimately add value from a strategic rather than simply tactical standpoint.
As a marketer, my job is to communicate with our internal teams, externally to the greater world, and with our clients. But learning the art of communication is no small task. I devote a lot of my time to making sure there are no surprises. Bad surprises, that is. Good ones are great; over-delivering or providing an unexpected extra makes your clients and managers feel good about the decision to have you around. But bad surprises – like letting a week go by after a meeting only to find out that you and the other party have drawn entirely different conclusions – can really be disastrous. It’s so easy for two people to misunderstand each other in conversation, not to mention through email or social media when there isn’t the ability to interpret facial expressions and body language. In my world, it’s always better to over-communicate.
I often get asked about my background. And when I say I studied psychology, sometimes people ask what I’m doing in marketing. I enjoy spending a leisurely Saturday afternoon thinking about what motivates people and why they do what they do. But I’m not just interested in observing them from behind one-sided glass (although I do love a good focus group). Every day, I work with copywriters, account managers, designers, writers, and clients. And the keys to creating relationships are caring and empathy. The ability to take a step back and feel what another person is feeling and thinking is essential for project management. We’re in a relationship business – people matter. I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times (and I have too), but the truth is that connecting with people, creating a network, and genuinely caring about who you work with will get you far. Plus, it makes it a lot easier to come to work every day if you truly like and respect the people and clients you work with.
In the past two years, I have been fortunate to work with an incredibly bright and talented team of people who took me in and taught me everything I know about marketing. But the last few weeks have been a reminder of how much more there is to learn, although I don’t think that changes with time. It seems as if everyone is just holding on and trying to keep up in a world full of wonderful innovation and increasing complexity. And I, for one, am ready for the ride! Who’s with me?