PODCASTS / E51
AUGUST 1, 2021
General Mills just laid off thousands of folks, hundreds in their corporate HQ. This will continue among public CPG firms as these companies are still overstaffed in many functions, especially marketing. And despite the pandemic surge, they’ve returned to stagnancy.
This Wall Street tale doesn’t really concern founders directly, except that many of these folks will still want to trade on their industry resume for another job. And YOU are the only folks hiring in CPG in their hometowns like Minneapolis.
Marketers, especially, are laid off quickly by BigCo and pose a confusing temptation to you the founder, since you’re often new to the CPG sector. After all, marketers focus their careers on growth, on promoting brands through communications and new product launches. As a growing start-up, they sound like they would fit brilliantly into a hyper-growth organization like yours. Not necessarily. Not at all. In fact, hell no.
I’m actually going to make the case that you should let someone else, your competitor, take this risk and, instead, poach executional talent with a track record of early-stage marketing wins OR simply someone who is smart, proactive and curious. You’d be surprised how easily the latter can outperform the BigCo alumn. But I’m not.
Why do BigCo marketers offer less than you want as a founder? Marketing organizations in Big CPG firms are charged with three things: 1) promoting brands, 2) offering up innovation concepts to general managers and 3) monitoring consumer trends to make the first two contemporary and effective. Very few companies do all three well. But that’s beside the point. Yawn.
Marketing is one of those business functions, that, inside a Big company, the staff actually don’t directly do anything they are paid to do. Sales people execute sales meetings and deals. R&D scientists create new formulations. Finance specialists track EPS growth by division. The HQ janitor cleans the toilets with his own hands. What this means is BigCo marketers don’t execute anything. They are essentially analysts and administrators. They hire specialists to execute (agencies) or hand off product concepts to R&D to execute internally. This is why they have a bad reputation among non-marketers in public firms as the ‘folks who basically push PowerPoint for a living.’
These folks can be very smart, but their skills are critical and analytical. They veer towards the pessimistic end of the continuum, especially after 2+ years in low growth, highly political BigCo organizations. Since their jobs are very academic, they are the first to go during layoffs and, as a result, tend to be very insecure about their careers. They demonstrate an intense focus on managing impressions to keep their jobs. They are politicians.
Their titles include: brand manager, associate brand manager, brand director, anything with ‘marketing’ in it, and of course the most political – the general manager.
And, to be brutally honest, if they’ve spent more than five years at BigCo, they’ve learned to mock startups in meetings as a form of competitive ‘in-talk’ and they come to believe their condescension over time. I listened to this crap again and again in meetings where I presented emerging brand threats…the most arrogant would just laugh.
All of this leads to a pretty worthless startup employee. They lack a sense of urgency. They are trained to react to problems and therefore to look for problems. They wait for things to happen and then react. They are NOT proactive about anything. You don’t want this mentality inside your organization at all.
What you want in your fast-growing consumer brand is someone who did something amazing at a prior startup. A successful performance marketing campaign, for example. It doesn’t matter if they went to state school. Seriously. They need to be analytical, yes, but primarily they need to be jazzed about executing things for you (store demos, field events, ad campaigns). Someone who wears seven hats happily. Not an academic. Not someone who wants to be a full-time analyst.
Be careful as these folks flood the startup job market. They should be joining consulting firms, they almost never do (too much work I reckon).
Honestly, the absolute best role for a BigCo marketer in the early-stage universe is…ironically…as founder. In this role, I’ve seen a bunch of folks whine and give up but also an interesting subset burst through their bureaucratic political shell and become incredibly proactive and effective. Adding this new attitude to their existing analytical discipline is a powerful combo as founder, but not in a specialist role where execution is 99% of the role, not analysis.
One former BigCo marketing specialist is crushing it right now with her brand after raising serious money. You know what she confessed to me over coffee early on? “I had no idea how little I had learned at [Insert name of BigCo firm]…indeed…as a founder, a BigCo alumna is forced to adapt or kill their own business, not just kill their salary.
Another reason BigCo Marketers should shut up and become founders or stay away is that they are, after all, growth specialists, and growth is the responsibility of founders, not internal specialists. This is one of the org mistakes I continue to see overfunded early-stage brands make. One exception appears to be Impossible Foods, whose founder is very into the business strategy.
Psst- I have some posts on my blog about hiring for early-stage companies with limited resources. Check them out on my site : premiumgrowthsolutions.com
Be safe out there.