What’s Different About Marketing and Advertising People?

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”— Albert Einstein
You may read this and feel like I have generalized. I can live with that. I also feel I have generalized accurately. I would be interested in your thoughts and if you would like to do so please click here.

I would have liked to start this piece by telling you that I grew up knowing there was “something different” about me – and that something led to my destiny in marketing/advertising. I can’t tell you that. I actually grew up not very drawn toward business and started college in pre-med. I wandered into marketing after a painful chemistry & physics double team one quarter during my sophomore year. That’s when I discovered the “something different” about the people who make a life in marketing and advertising. My son thinks it’s because we can’t view or listen to any advertisement without a brutal critique, or walk in a store and look at a new product package without similar commentary. True, but there’s more. Because, when I say “what’s different about marketing and advertising people?” I’m really talking about what makes them special and valued in an organization. I happen to think they are special and valued – just like an engineer – only different. Five things stand out about marketing and advertising people to me:

Thought Leadership – It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Marketing and advertising people usually supply a lot of the horsepower. It’s their job. They like the weight of a new thinking loaded into their back pack. When figuring out what’s ahead and how to leverage and innovate against it they tend to say, “sign me up.” Success and the resulting satisfaction for them has a lot to do with finding new solutions. They also seem to index higher for contrariness by continually applying the “wait a second, not so fast here” view when they encounter inertia and same old. Mix together affection for back packing, innovation solutions with some contrariness, and you get the type of thought leadership I am suggesting.

Persuasiveness – Marketing and advertising has four basic components: insight, ideas, selling ideas and implementing ideas. Every piece requires persuasiveness in varying levels. Insight development needs sponsorship – to field the research or to just pause and listen versus simply running forward. Sponsorship generally equals money and that always requires persuasiveness. Ideas are created through collaborative interplay with refinement that requires group synthesis and “horse trading.” Some very subtle persuasiveness is embedded in this process. Selling ideas is pretty obvious and it normally rotates around someone selling an idea to someone else who is not ready for as much change as the idea may require. Finally, when ideas get implemented, change begins to happen for unsuspecting people and marketing and advertising folks are at point in explaining why it’s a good path to follow. Persuasiveness is nearly universal in this business.

Curiosity – Marketing and advertising people are very curious about everything. They ask a lot of questions. They are uncomfortable when they don’t understand something. Generally, they tend to be the type of person that have a lot of interests, read in many different spaces and know a little bit about everything. Marketing and advertising people search for insight into why something is the way it is. They’re like your two year old who asks “why?” every time you tell them something new.

Courage – Marketing and advertising is lonely, early adopter work. Thought leadership has a price, and it takes courage to keep going back for more. I believe this is true of most creative endeavors where you put a piece of yourself out there with every idea or creative expression. Also, controlling the messaging can sometimes tempt you to round off the corners and bend the truth. I remember a time in my career when someone thought it would be a good idea to shoot a new food package with a baby fork in the product close-up to make it look bigger. NO! It worked pretty well in this situation.

“Others-Centered” Thinkers – This might be the stepping off point for generalizing, but I do feel that those who make a successful career in marketing/advertising lean toward an empathetic thinking pattern. If they aren’t that way naturally then they have at least been trained to orient toward “others-centered” thinking. There are certainly other terms used for this “others-centered” mindset. I like this one because it boils it down to the base human truth — they think about other people. That means they listen to, notice and observe other people deeply.

Generalizing, I know.


The subject for this article was stimulated by a conversation with a prospective new client, in which the topic of alumni networks and how to effectively set one up, was raised. The subject piqued our interest, so we decided to investigate further. Here is what we learned.

Alumni networks have been in place for many years in the academic and professional services world. Globalization, the transition from an “employment for life” to a “mobile employment life-cycle” mentality, and the extraordinary growth and impact of technology, have all increased interest in creating alumni networks.

There are three main benefits to keeping connected with former employees. They are:

Talent Recruiting and Referrals. Former employees are great for re-hires (boomerangs). They bring back valued knowledge, are already familiar with the company culture and practices, and can be quickly brought up to speed, thus providing a lower overall cost to the hiring process. Former employees can also provide high value referrals since they have great insight into the company culture and can help identify quality hires.


Branding. By keeping former employees included in company news, upcoming events and ongoing job postings, they are in a position to act as ambassadors for the company. They can positively influence their peers and contacts about their former company.

Business Opportunities. Alumni can provide a vast network of contacts for new business opportunities. They can open doors with their expanded contacts for new clients, vendors and resources of value to your company. They can also become clients.☺

McKinsey and Microsoft were among the first corporate adopters to have created successful formalized programs. McKinsey’s network has 27,000 alumni members in over 120 countries. With the proliferation of social media platforms, many companies are building their own networks. Many are using Linked In, Facebook, Yahoo and Google for alumni connections. Others are setting up corporate networks maintained on their servers to have control over the interactions. Social software companies are offering cloud based corporate alumni platforms which include the ease of social media with the control of a private network.

Here are links to a couple interesting alumni network software companies:



Whatever platform a company chooses to utilize, there are some common Best Practices we have found in our research. They include:

•Strong Buy In by Leadership. The most successful networks have strong support and commitment from the top. The alumni network is viewed as a business development opportunity, with budget allocated, dedicated staff for continuity, and quantified metrics for measuring effectiveness and providing input for improvements.

•Alumni networks are viewed as a two-fold value–recruiting and business development – boomerang rehires and ambassadors.

•Best practices target key past employees for potential boomerang rehires and achieve 10-20% rehire rates for all hiring.

•The very best programs prioritize their alumni based on future value to the company. These programs target top performers, innovators, or individual with key skills as potential boomerang rehires.

•Technology is a key factor. Social networking tools or customer relationship management software is used to keep track of alumni and maintain a relationship. They use social networks, and the best programs use multiple channels to reach their audience. Another key element is that the program is web based — so it is accessible 24/7 around the world. They have dedicated alumni web-pages. These may include FAQs, forums, podcasts, and alumni directories.

•They are global and acknowledge diversity for international employees.

•The employer/employee relationship is cast as a lifelong relationship. When companies communicate early on in the employment process that they view their relationship together as a lifelong engagement, and define alumni as ALL former employees (full or part time, voluntarily or involuntarily terminated, and even include contractors, interns), they create a bond. When employees leave the company, exit interviews are used to find out the reasons for departure and potentially address to minimize future turnovers.

These are some of the best practices in a quick overview. For further descriptions, please visit the links below.



Our final word on alumni networks is that they seem to be a win-win. Employers are realizing the value (and knowledge base) of former employees and, with the aid of social networks and technology, they are finding ways to maintain connections with these valuable assets. For the former employees, staying connected with their past employer provides continuing professional relationships and potential future employment opportunities.

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