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Creating Culture in the Marketing Department

November 15, 2012

“Voice from the Trenches” is written by Karen Euler. Karen consults for companies that seek to create or refresh their strategic marketing plan. She enjoys conversing with readers through LinkedIn or Twitter @karen_e.

What does it mean to proactively define culture in a corporate setting? Does culture refer to the ping-pong table that emerges in a well-lit corner of the 7th floor on Friday afternoons? The sunny disposition held by the receptionist no matter how difficult the client outburst? The Pan-Mass Challenge bike ride team that participates every year regardless of the weather? Somehow we know that chili cook-offs and holiday parties are not the real indicators of a company’s culture, so what is it that really keeps the group together? A recent business book offers a simple definition of culture that makes perfect sense for today’s AEC marketer.

Clayton Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life? quotes MIT’s Edgar Schein on corporate culture and how it is formed. “Culture is a way of working together toward common goals that have been followed so frequently and so successfully that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way. If a culture has formed, people will autonomously do what they need to do to be successful.”

Christensen notes that through the problems they solve, employees create for themselves “an understanding of the priorities in the business, and how to execute them–the processes. A culture is the unique combination of processes and priorities within an organization.”

If the advantage of well-developed culture is that the organization become self-managing, what does this mean for a marketing director who wants to have an impactful career? It means perfecting the processes and priorities that are handed to her by the principals and then inventing some new ones to take the firm to a new, marketing-oriented place.

Here’s a process idea adapted from the work of organizational guru David Allen, known for the bestseller Getting Things Done. Each work group — like graphic designers and marketing coordinators — reports each Friday morning on the following:

  1. Projects in Progress (short updates)
  2. Next Actions (next steps for each ongoing project)
  3. Waiting For (things in progress outside our department)
  4. Someday/Maybe (great ideas for a rainy day)

A short report in this format provided by each work group could give the marketing director a great start to planning the following week.

Another way marketing can create culture is by reporting out the number of proposals sent out and the dollar value of commissions won. Some companies keep this information close to the ownership while others distribute it monthly to the whole firm. Having seen both strategies up close, I am convinced that distributing the information widely makes all levels of the firm feel invested in marketing and client relations.

There is an old saying, “hire for attitude, train for skills.” One of the core attitudinal behaviors of the marketing department is customer service for our many internal clients. Modeling a perpetually good attitude to all constituents makes it utterly contagious. Getting back to the big picture, when the marketing department helps set the tone of the organization, it is certainly great for business.


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