Why it’s important to get the big picture…
I’ve learned a lot over the course of my career. When I started out in advertising, all I got in my college classes revolved around creativity, color, layout, flow – basics and theory. When anyone talked about marketing, it was in the context of sales. It wasn’t until later that I really saw how the two should work together. Treating advertising and marketing as two entities, wholly divorced from each other, will never help you succeed as a marketer, designer or as an organization.
What are the biggest lessons of my career, and how have I really put them into practice? These are my top three lessons:
- Be open to learn. The pace of life and business has increased, and if there’s one thing living in the internet age has shown me, it’s that there is way too much for me to ever know it all. So I keep learning and open myself up to what others can teach me.
After leaving college, I learned so much more about different software and how to use it. I learned the importance of people skills and processes. So much so that I kept doing it. In my time, I picked up some HTML for coding pages and emails, project management software like Azure DevOps, marketing CRM software like SalesForce, Microsoft Excel and SharePoint – basically anything new that came along. As for other skills, I picked up communication skills, delegation and management skills, time management and organization skills. Even just passively, I have gained so much.
It’s pretty much a given that lifelong learning is important to workers, as employers are learning. Human resources departments are expanding to give opportunities for learning; companies employ outside groups for training or develop their own training programs. So take advantage of curiosity and learn, both inside and outside the boundaries of your career.
- Start seeing the bigger picture. One thing that will give you a boost career-wise – and help your employer – is getting an understanding of your organization’s whole business. I’m not saying you need to be an expert in every facet of operations (because you most likely can’t or won’t), but you should understand the mission and the delivery of your organization’s goods or services. The more of a high-level view you can get, the better you can see how your role fits, and what you can do to provide more value. Ideally, your employer embraces this thinking and actively communicates openly about the organization. They should be willing to hear suggestions. And the organization should be as open as well. Silos and information-hoarding are massive red flags that stifle long-range success. The less cross-functional relationships are valued in a company, the more likely you are to see people and organizations that are complacent and ultimately stagnant.
I have been fortunate. I started early in my career talking with printing customer service people, learning what they did and how we supported each other. In my newspaper days, I was in small enough offices that I learned from editorial and advertising salespeople. I sought out informal meetings just to discuss upcoming publications and future projects. I learned to become a bridge between departments, and when I moved into my more project management roles I kept that as one of my main functions. It helped smooth a lot of projects knowing who to talk to and what things to focus on.
- Data and information is the new currency. Creative thinking and ideas only get you so far. To pull out this analogy of traveling, creativity and ideas are really more of the trip. Getting the right data and knowing how to use it plans the trip, and looking at the data once you execute the job is making sure you drove to the right location. There. That should be beaten into the ground now, but it stands.
When I started in newspaper, much of my design was one-offs. An ad designed for an advertiser targeted to the demographics, but the nature of the job was to just keep moving. Working in more of a dedicated, recurring marketing setting let me focus more on the numbers and the results and how to adjust (and what to adjust). I worked with a lot of skilled professionals in multiple departments. Numbers and information set up a plan, the plan outlined a message, the message came together, and the message provided results.
Figure out how to look at the information and ask for it if you need to. I remember talking to a colleague about the results of a particular campaign, and they said to me, “you know, this is the first time anyone told me about how this turned out.” One problem was no one saw this as important information that could be used for future campaigns, and the other problem was that my colleague didn’t really know to ask or who to ask.