Sauerkraut on Marketing Managers in the Produce Industry

Who needs a Marketing Manager? Some people clearly do. On any given Monday or Wednesday, the NZ Herald’s career section carries several advertisements for marketing professionals. Today as I write is no exception. A stationery shop retail chain is looking for a Marketing Manager who “comes and makes history”. The ad goes on to state that “this full scope role includes coordinating our enthusiastic advertising team, research, compliance, and feeding market intelligence to our team of Category Managers.”

A local University is also on the hunt for a Marketing Director, who “will be responsible for the strategic ownership of the University’s brand and image.” A fertilizer company is keen to have a bob each way and is looking for a Sales and Marketing Manager with “strong strategic and commercial acumen combined with the ability to establish effective business partnerships and alliances.”

I had once had the role of Marketing Manager – Strategic Services at Foodtown and my job description did not include any of the above. What is the role of a Marketing Manager then? Why does one job advertisement differ so much from the next one? Why are we not seeing many Marketing Managers finding a foothold in the fresh produce industry?

They are three simple questions, but if I were to include a questionnaire here and request some feedback, every single reply would be different. It’s already clear from the examples I’ve quoted above that organisations have different views about the functions of a professional who is engaged in marketing. Added to that fact is that marketing as a discipline is not as easily definable as accounting, for example. Marketing may well include responsibility for advertising activity but the Marketing Manager should direct advertising activity, not coordinate it.

Marketing Managers who are primarily the strategic owners of brand and image usually find themselves in a semipermanent state of internal warfare with the guys who tend to interpret the brand and image – the operators. Marketing Managers who also have sales responsibilities can choose on a daily basis whether the dog should wag its tail or whether it should be the other way around.

It is relatively common for a competent sales rep to advance to Sales Manager – not that a rep necessarily makes a good Sales Manager but this route to seniority, pay increases and promotion is well travelled.

Assistant Accountants can progress to the giddy height of Financial Controller and store management trainees have a habit of popping out of the mould eight years later as freshly baked Store Managers.

In contrast with that, one cannot grow one’s own Marketing Manager: these professionals tend to come from elsewhere, other companies, and the open market.

One argument I have heard over the years is that the produce industry can do without Marketing Managers as its product range sells faster than a Marketing Manager can blink. Another old wives’ tale is that Marketing Managers do not fit because university-educated people do not like getting out of bed early and often do not get on with the sales staff. Then there are those who say that they have the four Ps of marketing – product, place, price and promotion – covered anyway and a Marketing Manager would therefore be out of a job before he or she started.

I am afraid I cannot subscribe to any of these antiquated views. In my book, a Marketing Manager is a business leader who by necessity has to be involved across the entire business spectrum – how else could he or she have any chance of being effective?

Marketing skills can not be acquired purely through on the job training, but require a healthy dose of disciplined thinking – something best transmitted by way of gathering with like-minded people and a tutor in a place of learning.

Funny that. This is not a concept readily embraced by the produce industry at large. Yes, there are exceptions, Zespri being one of them, but generally marketing professionals and the produce industry eye each other from a distance.

Yet the produce industry could well do with some of the disciplined thinking marketing professionals can apply.

Produce might sell faster than baked beans – but does this not mean that it’s even more critical to ensure that the industry applies some rigour to its thinking?

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