Life As a Startup Marketing Manager

As Seth Godin once said, “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” No one knows this better than marketing managers, the leaders responsible for creating interest in a businesses’ products and services. Ever since the airing of the popular television drama, “Mad Men,” advertising and marketing have been associated with glamor and excitement. Modern marketing managers are a bit different than their fictional counterparts, however, working extremely hard to plan promotional campaigns, manage social media, and perform detailed market research.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to interview Katie Hurst, the Marketing Manager at OpenSesame. Katie has worked with numerous startups over her long and rewarding career, both as the former executive director or a nonprofit collaborative workspace and as a facilitator for Startup Weekend. She provided a variety of enlightening answers about the life of a marketing manager at a startup.

Ernie: Hello Katie, thanks for agreeing to do this interview with me. I know you’ve told me about how you prefer the startup environment to that of a big company—can you explain why?

Katie: I like working at startups because you get to wear multiple hats, and you don’t get pigeonholed into doing one job. I love to learn; I’m a lifelong learner. Fortunately, by working at a startup like OpenSesame, my role is varied every day and every year. I try my hand at a lot of different things, whether it is learning how to use Photoshop, running an intern program, or compiling research into an ebook! It really makes my job exciting and fast paced. Startups also seem to be very conscious of their culture and how employees enjoy working with each other. The work life balance can be difficult at times, but I believe startups tend to recognize that more than larger companies.

Ernie: What do you think are your three most important responsibilities as Marketing Manager at OpenSesame?

Katie: One of the primary responsibilities of a marketing manager is to make sure all the balls are in the air and not falling. I work with our CMO to make sure our upcoming projects are aligned with the overall strategy for the year. I also manage all the content including making sure all our external content (advertising, blog posts etc.) and internal content has a consistent message and is of value to our buyers and sellers.

My second priority is preparing for the future. I’m already planning for 2015, and I have to answer a variety of different questions: What trade shows should we be hitting? Where should our advertising dollars go? What is the next trend that we should be aware of and how can we position ourselves to take advantage of this trend?

The third most important responsibility is managing communication between the teams. Marketing touches everything in an organization, so I have to make sure I’m connecting with the leaders of the various teams. For example, I need to be aware of the product roadmap and new features so I can schedule webinars to address questions and create new FAQ pages on the website. I also need to make sure our sales team is receiving enough relevant leads and that our content team has the tools to please our sellers.

Ernie: What brand do you think is an example of good marketing?

Katie: Cards Against Humanity is one of my favorite, quirky brands. They’ve done some interesting marketing techniques that have really caught my eye. For example, they allow customers to create new cards, which gets people excited about their product. I think Coca-Cola also does some creative promotional campaigns and really pushes what it means to be a consumer product. For instance, they have a Coca-Cola machine you can hug! Of course, one can’t forget Old Spice. I think Old Spice is a great example of using alternative media to get your message out.

Ernie: What is your favorite part of your job?

Katie: I love creating content; I’ve been blogging on various platforms since I was 12 years old, starting with GeoCities back in the day. I just love to create content and tell stories. So, I think my favorite part is writing our ebooks and creating presentations and webinars.

Ernie: What do you think is your greatest achievement or something you’re proud of at OpenSesame?

Katie: I think I’m most proud of our blog and the wealth of information it has to offer. We’ve gone from posting once every month to every weekday—a pretty aggressive editorial schedule for a company of our size. I don’t think many people in our industry are providing that kind of value.

Ernie: In terms of marketing, what do you think are important skills and qualities important for succeeding in the job?

Katie: I think as a marketer you have to be able to speak a number of different languages. You have to understand what developers are building when you’re explaining a product. You need experience with sales to understand your sales team and their perspective. You also need to be familiar with the end client and customer. You have to have a willingness to learn from each of your teams. Strong writing skills are of utmost importance. Clients will notice if something is poorly written. Marketers, now more than ever, have to have a wide skillset. 

Ernie: What do you think is the most important quality for a marketing manager?

Katie: As a marketing manager, you have to be willing to learn new things at all times. You have to be willing to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out.” Marketing is changing so fast, you are constantly learning. Most of what I’ve learned as a marketer has typically been on the fly. The knowledge is not something you can read in a book. You figure it out because you’ve got a deadline or someone breathing down your neck or a customer that really needs help. You just can’t throw your hands up in the air; you’ve just got to figure it out.

Do you think you enjoy the lifestyle of a marketing manager? Also, how do you think the role of a marketing manager will change in the future? Tell us in the comments!