When Should You Change Your Director of Marketing

What’s Up with My Director of Marketing?

Sometimes business is up. Sometimes it’s down. Who’s to praise? Who’s to punish? The relationship between a general manager and director of marketing is, at best, a strained one. For better or for worse, no single individual in your planning committee has as much potential to change your business as your DofM. So often is the case, however, that I see this role squandered by misplaced tasks that erode its true purpose.

A Different Role Requires Specialized Talents

You would never promote your rooms division manager to the position of controller, nor would you ever move your executive housekeeper to F&B director. Yet, we’ve seen countless examples where the director of marketing is promoted from a role in operations. This shift is plainly illogical, underscoring a lack of understanding in marketing complexity and the very unique skill set that an exceptional marketer brings to the role.

By their very nature, marketers are more visionary than pragmatic. Your DofM should have a vision for the future of the property and should be thinking as much about tonight’s occupancy as they should for the next six month’s opportunities. In fact, the longer the time horizon, the better! Therein lies the conundrum.

Hotel operations tend to focus on the today: VIP’s, groups in house, rooms out of order, or service issues identified in the latest TripAdvisor guest rating. Hotel marketing, while remaining fully aware of all of this daily information, should nonetheless be focused on scenarios involving package development, positioning, competitive trends and seasonal opportunities. There’s very little a DofM can do to magically increase tonight’s or tomorrow night’s occupancy, yet with a good strategy, significant improvements can be made when long-term plans are put into action.

This leads to potential frustration on the part of the GM. The more you ask your DofM to get involved in today’s operations, the less time he or she has for planning the future. Sorry, but I side with the DofM on this one. You need your marketer as your scout, your advance planner, and quite frankly, your risk taker. A good DofM manages the relationship between revenue management, the sales team, and senior operations. A great DofM builds fundamental bridges between these often desperate groups and leads them according to the vision. If their time is taken up with no many smaller tasks, they won’t be able to visualize the bigger picture.

But where do you find these evangelic and charismatic DofM’s? Surprisingly, my recommendation is not in our hotel industry. Simply put, there are typically insufficient opportunities for gaining the prerequisite marketing experience on property. Packaged goods firms offer one potential resource; in particular, those with backgrounds in perishable goods such as soft drinks or snack foods. I note that my own background of marketing with Procter & Gamble and Frito Lay served me well in quickly adapting to hospitality. Another potential reserve is financial marketing, especially those in retail banking where customer acquisition strategies are meticulously honed.

In thirty years of working with hotels, I have had the pleasure of learning from more than twenty different DofM’s. The bulk of these individuals came up through the sales stream, typically moving from the director of sales position. I suspect, more often than not, adding the marketing title to their directorship was a cost savings measure as opposed to hiring two separate positions. That is not to say that this was a bad HR decision, or that the individuals who held this position were inferior. Rather, the marketing approach was by and large an extension of sales efforts: conservative and traditional. And for most market situations, this works more than satisfactory.

These Are Not Traditional Times

If you are a DofM reading this article, take charge. Hotel marketers need to rattle their GM’s cages. And vice versa, GM’s need to support their DofM’s through this process. Set the tone for the future. Cast off the shackles of trying to measure every bit of minutia to the Nth degree. Remember you were hired as a marketer, not as an accountant. Identify new opportunities and take some calculated risks. Then test ideas with new ad creative, new web initiatives and ventures into new market segments. Take command by helping mold the future of your property. Remember, without risk, there is no reward.

A key trait of a marketer is to be adaptable.  This goes without saying, but it is oh so important to reiterate.  DofM’s must accept the present conditions with all their idiosyncrasies then find some way to be unique amongst a slew of competitors.  The internet can really serve to your advantage here as it offers another direct channel to connect with your consumers.

Building on this notion, loyalty programs are a superb example.  Now a mainstay of hotel chains, you should reflect on the broad acceptance of these initiatives, so you can take them to the next level.

Kudos to the marketers at Kimpton who delivered pet goldfish to befriend single travelers. And let’s not forget the success of the “This Summer Kids Eat and Stay for Free” campaign. Brilliant. What thumbprints has your property’s marketing team delivered lately to adjust to an industry of tighter margins and heightened expectations?

This gets us back to the original premise of this article. Is your hotel adapting to meet the rigors of a modern world? A comparative look at revenue forecasts should give you some indication. So, when is it time to look for a new director of marketing? As a GM, here are the questions you should ask yourself before even considering this difficult action:

  • Are your DofM’s bonus goals based on short term (this fiscal/calendar year) or geared at least in some portion to long-term success?
  • Do you allow your DofM to test new initiatives, and does your marketing budget reflect this belief with a specifically identified allocation for these activities?
  • Have you encouraged your DofM to bring new ideas to your team garnered from companies outside of the hotel industry?
  • Have you rejected your DofM’s business building proposals when they are either unproven or cannot be specifically quantified?
  • Do you regularly allocate funds for guest research to provide inferences for testing initiatives?
  • How involved is your DofM with day-to-day operations? Have you bridged the topic with them to find out if they need more time for proper long-term planning?

The Bottom Line

Great marketing requires a special type of leader – both visionary and malleable. As a GM, you not only need to seek that individual, but nurture them with an environment that allows for their success. The results can be beyond your wildest imagination.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published on eHotelier on March 29, 2011)

Larry MogelonskyWhen Should You Change Your Director of Marketing