There’s this paradox about being responsible for the marketing of an organization: You are “in charge” of the brand and at the same time, you are not in charge of the brand, like — at all.

Being in charge means you are expected to come up with, organize and execute every single marketing objective of the organization. Even in small, simple organizations, of course, there is nothing simple about tackling this complex task. It requires a ton of planning, a lot of clarity around the audience, consistent execution, total confidence in the message and help and buy-in from team members who may or may not be inclined to support your efforts. But you’re tackling those challenges every day, and overcoming many of them like a boss.

Not really being “in charge” means in many cases the people who are “in charge” of the brand are out in the market, in front of your audience, talking to influencers, saying and doing things you may or may not be aware of. New messages are being tested, brand promises are being made, new initiatives are being formulated — all without your knowledge. So consistency becomes a challenge, only boosting the amount of complexity you are managing.

Then, when these well-meaning leaders get back to the office and regroup with you, they have a boatload of new ideas for you to implement.


Just staying in alignment with your leadership team can feel like a full-time job in and of itself.

So how does one actually, truly stay “in charge” of the brand?

Here’s the hard truth: you set a clear strategy and direction and then you learn how to say no.

Here three specific competencies to begin to practice …

  1. A-B-S. Always Build your bench Strength. With today’s freelance/side gig world, there’s rarely a need to blow all of your marketing budget on bringing in an ad agency. But you do need to make sure you have a vetted circle of resources you can trust. Do they understand contemporary branding and marketing? Are they self-directed? Are they energy positive to work with? Once you’ve established this criteria, we recommend two providers for every role. This distributes the risk and also keeps them grateful for your business. Part of this bench strength are resources that specifically strengthen you – from self-care practices to hiring a coach.
  2. Be your business’s Central Intelligence Agency. Whenever possible, be proactive about gathering and distributing information. It is so much better to bring information to your boss rather than to react/his her requests. This begins with curating a list of content sources and data points that are aligned with the business and the brand. Using a tool like Feedly allows you to track, tag and share selected content on business trends, competitors, social issues that affect the business. For data points, use a simple spreadsheet to track no more three key performance indicators. Then bring this with you to your meetings with your boss as a powerful tool for leading the conversation about results and performance.
  3. Communicate daily with your leaders. Do not wait for your monthly marketing confab with the leadership team to share what is going on in your neck of the woods. You need to assume and assess the thoughts and ideas of the leadership are changing daily. But don’t panic: just talk to them regularly about their thoughts on the market and on marketing. Just because your boss’s thoughts on marketing are changing daily doesn’t mean you need to change your strategy with them. But you do need to be aware of these tide patterns. If you know what’s going on in their mind, then you will know how to better do your job: what ideas are worth pursuing, which ones are worth re-directing and which ones deserve sincere acknowledgment and then quiet shelving.

Underlying these techniques is a crystal clear strategy that all of the stakeholders have agreed to at one point. Once this is established (we recommend doing an annual brand strategy session facilitated by an objective partner who is focused entirely on brand strategy and messaging and we know a good one 😉 ), stick to it.

To remind your leadership of their commitment to it, you may even have them plant their John Hancocks at the bottom of your marketing plan, once it has been established for the year.

Be sure the plan has room to breathe, with opportunities for side trips and deviations. Build some buffer into it.

Our goal with any of our clients who are one-person marketing teams is to bolster their confidence and courage.

To say a firm “no” to the ideas that are not part of the strategy.

To protect your role from becoming an order taker.

And to ensure your job as Director of Marketing (or insert your title here) doesn’t become Director of Firefighting.

Emily Soccorsy + Justin Foster are cofounders of the intrinsic branding practice known as Root + River. Together with their defiantly different clients, they uncover then articulate the foundational elements of the brand. Then, they provide brand strategy and brand coaching as the brand is rolled out internally and externally. Obsessive about language and differentiation, Emily + Justin are also authors and speakers. Follow @rootandriver @fosterthinking and @emilyatlarge.

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