Being Head of Marketing Doesn’t Mean You Have the Best Ideas

I come from the world of marketing agencies. Marketing and advertising as a service can be a really fun industry to work in—it’s fast paced, full of variety and if you’re hungry, you can learn a whole lot in a short amount of time.

Every type of business has its flaws, though, and one that I experienced consistently was the myth of “the all-knowing creative director.” The concept of a sage-like mogul in an agency plays out in a number of ways (both good and bad), but I want to focus on one specific aspect: ideas.

In agency-land (and other contexts), a pervasive, un-spoken mindset can develop in which it is understood that the creative director in charge holds their position because they have the best ideas. Even in places that claim to operate in an idea meritocracy, the practical implication is that anyone can offer ideas, but the ones that are chosen and implemented ultimately belong to one person. (Oftentimes this is because that person hit a grand-slam at some point in their career and continue to live off of equity from that success, as well as other base-hits along the way.)

It’s strange to write, but this year I became a marketing executive. I’m not big on titles, but I was christened with the rank of Chief Marketing Officer. (This is on a relatively small scale at a startup, mind you.) Our organization has grown significantly this year and as I’ve worked with handfuls of different people on my team to execute marketing in cities across the country, I’ve seen from experience that the best ideas absolutely do not come from the person at the top (that person being me, in this case).

Some of our best ideas have come from people other than me—our CEO, Campus Directors on the ground in our markets, our instructors, our customers and even people who don’t work for the company but care about what we do and offer suggestions.

There’s something to be said for experience, of course, and I do have the unique vantage point of being able to see what’s happening from a global level, but experience and perspective are different than ideas. Experience and perspective pave the way for execution of great ideas, they aren’t an unending source of them.

Two values that we hold to on our leadership team are “stay humble” and “listen.” My job as leader of marketing for our company is to create an environment in which our smart people from anywhere in the company can contribute great ideas, then to execute those ideas excellently with my team.


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Practicing the art of bringing guns to a knife fight.

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