Morbid, yes, but the idea is that to create genuinely effective marketing programs, you need to intricately understand your client’s business–beyond advertising. How does the company make money? Where are the growth opportunities? What are the drivers and challenges in the industry? What is it about it the job that keeps your client up at night?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this is why my experience at Whitman has been such a tremendous advantage in my advertising career. Even though I was on a marketing tract, the Whitman curriculum ensured that I was also exposed to the guiding principles of management, supply chain, legal, accounting and entrepreneurism. Like most Whitman students, I participated in the Capstone business plan competition, which allowed me to tinker with how these disciplines work together in concert.
Cut to 2010, when I joined The Martin Agency—the people behind the GEICO Gecko, the UPS Whiteboard Guy, and that Oreo Wonderfilled song you can’t get out of your head—I learned that Martin has a much more elegant way of expressing the “hit by a bus” ideology. At Martin, we insist on account leaders being “T shaped,” meaning that they have a depth of expertise against a single subject (advertising) but also a breadth of knowledge against a number of disciplines. Again, I was well equipped from my experience at Whitman. I was able to bring a holistic business perspective that helped inject new energy into my clients’ brands.
One of my first roles at Martin was as a manager on our Walmart account team. In four years working with that team, we developed campaigns that affected every part of Walmart’s business, from grocery to medicine to video games to digital content and everything in between. Every assignment had its own inherent challenges and opportunities, and as a T shaped Whitman grad, they all fascinated me. My clients weren’t used to the advertising guy asking questions pertaining to their supply chain or pricing model or new legislation on the books. But understanding my clients’ business helped me see the bigger picture into which my team’s advertising efforts needed to fit. Over time, this shared interest built a deep level of trust and understanding with our clients, and Martin was invited to contribute thinking that went well beyond the scope of an advertising agency. I even participated in a think tank that developed non-advertising ideas to drive growth and competitive advantage at Walmart by mining for process improvement and unmet customer needs. We dubbed it “intrapreneurism.” I firmly believe that it was my experience at Whitman that prepared me to approach advertising with a multidisciplinary business lens, and that I’m a stronger thought leader in my organization for it.
In my current role at Martin, I work with our agency’s leadership to connect with other business leaders looking for big ideas that inject new energy into their brands. I believe that part of the reason this role fuels my passion so much is because it scratches an itch that Whitman started a decade ago: using a broad and thoughtful mindset to strategically chip away at a myriad of global business challenges.
This is the T shaped mentality that I bring into the agency every day. And of course, I always look both ways before crossing the street.