Reviving a marketing department

Reviving a marketing department

Marketing expert Katrina Cooke joined Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce from Aston Villa FC towards the end of 2015. Here she explains how established businesses can benefit from an investment in marketing.

It’s an all-too-familiar story that in times of financial challenge an organisation’s marketing resource comes under threat, or ceases to exist.  Fast forward a few years to a thriving local business community and an organisation enjoying growth, and the decision is taken to invest in marketing again in a quest for sustainable growth and stability.

But how do you ensure that the new marketing department is effective from day one? Here’s my top tips after six months of doing just that at the Chamber.

Dispel the marketing myth
Entering an established business, be prepared to dispel some myths over what a new marketing department does or does not do. “I need a flyer creating” and “Can you design me a pop-up banner?” were both regular soundbites in the office in my first few weeks.
It’s best to position the marketing department as that vital link between the organisation and its customers, ensuring that the products and services offered match customer needs and effectively communicate the organisation’s core proposition. Yes, that communication may involve producing flyers or pop-up banners, but they are by-products of an integrated, strategic plan.

Don’t rush in
Joining a busy organisation in need of a marketing strategy, it would be very tempting to try to do too much, too quickly: to start briefing designers or booking advertising space at the request of others without clearly understanding how this fits into a wider plan.

Avoid this if you can. Yes, inevitably there will be ‘jobs’ and day-to-day tasks that require marketing assistance. And from my experience staff are genuinely excited to have a marketing resource they can hand over to.

It’s important, however, that this doesn’t distract from the need to develop a well thought-out marketing strategy. Give yourself the time to make a clear plan, identify the ‘quick-wins’ but also to rank what the key priorities are for the first six months.

For the Chamber, our top priorities were to refresh and refine our positioning and core proposition, to streamline and simplify our membership products, and to build a new website.

Put your customers at the heart of everything
The first few months in a new marketing department are as much about change management as about developing a marketing plan. With every change you make, keep thinking back to your core customers. If it’s an internal process change, then how will the new process put the organisation in a stronger position to serve those customers? And if it’s an external facing change, then how will your customers see the benefit?

If you apply that rule of thumb, then you can take confidence that your changes will have integrity and are always made with the customer in mind.

Insight is King
To develop a marketing plan, answering three simple questions should provide structure and focus: Where are we now? Where do we want to be? How do we get there? Gathering insight – both qualitative and quantitative, from staff, from customers, on competitors, and so on – will be vital to ensure you’re answering those three questions accurately.

Accept that those inside the organisation embedded with dealing with customers day-in, day-out will understand their needs and wants far more than you might claim to in your first few weeks at the organisation.

Use this to your advantage – to position the marketing function as a collaborative and open department, and to ensure that the marketing strategy gives an accurate reflection of the current status. Listen to staff, longstanding customers, lapsed customers and prospective customers, and use this insight to inform the ‘how do we get there?’ question.

Promise a strategy, not a miracle!
It won’t all happen overnight. But if you’ve kept to points 1-4 above, then trust yourself, and trust that you’re on the right path. At the Chamber, the first six months of the new-look marketing department saw us refresh our brand and launch a new core proposition to connect, support and grow local businesses.

We relaunched our group website which saw record numbers of visitors and page views in April 2016. We’ve also experienced good sales to date from our refreshed membership packages, including our new ‘1813 Club’, targeting businesses looking for access to exclusive events and personal introductions in the city.

We’re proud of what we’ve achieved in six months but we know it’s just the start, and that the next six months will always be more important than the last!

Katrina Cooke is director of marketing and communications at Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce. To find out more, visit