Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Marketing: the good, the boring and the ugly

As promised in my introductory post, here are some thoughts on my time as a marketer.

I don't want to identify the company I worked for by name on this blog (and please don't try to guess - all attempts will be deleted from the comments), so all I'll say is that "my" products comprised various ranges of kits that we sold to research labs. Marketing pharmaceuticals to doctors and their patients is a different kettle of fish entirely, and not something I'm qualified to comment on in any way other than rants about advertising prescription drugs on TV. (WTF? I couldn't believe it when I moved to Canada from the UK and saw my first Viagra ad).

My job was to handle all aspects of my products' launch and promotion. At its best, the job was fun and tapped into my creative abilities in a way I've not experienced (at work) before or since. At its worst, it combined the stress of tight deadlines with the boredom of repetitive brainless tasks. The latter scenario became increasingly dominant throughout my time in the job, as we launched more and more products and became bogged down in "maintenance marketing" (the tasks described as Boring below).

The Good
  • The people. I interacted with people in most departments within the company, and most people were great, but the team of product managers was especially helpful and supportive. Good colleagues are very important to me, and these guys were awesome. I'm still friends with lots of people from across the company - my new job is only a few blocks away so there are frequent beer, coffee and lunch dates.
  • Big meaty creative projects. My favourite was the video we made to promote our lead product, for which I wrote the storyboard and script, worked closely with the producer, assisted at the shoot, helped with post-production, and even saw my pencil scribbles converted into animation by someone much more artistically talented than me. My gloved hands also made it into a couple of scenes after our main "actor" left for the day. I also had fun with puns - we were often asked for slogans for ads, t-shirts etc, most of which never made it into the public eye, which is a shame. I also came up with some promotional item ideas (e.g. playing cards with our logo on them) and got to work closely with the resident graphic artists on ads, emails etc.
  • Big meaty writing projects. This was where they needed a scientist, as my projects included literature reviews, summaries of published papers that used our products etc. The promise of this type of work was why I took the job, but there wasn't nearly as much of it as I would have liked.
  • Conferences. Yes, I was one of those people who stands at a booth, trying to get your contact details in return for the playing cards and pens you're taking. I loved meeting researchers and discussing how our products might help them with their work.

The Boring

  • Endless paperwork.
  • Initiating, proofing and signing off on endless product labels.
  • Product inserts. Dear god, the product inserts. Each one unique, but having to conform to a standard template. The 5 different R&D scientists who developed the products, each with their own interpretation of the standard template. The struggle to ensure accuracy and consistency at all times. The endless revisions. And, the straw that broke the camel's back, the major change to the standard template that entailed making detailed revisions to dozens and dozens of inserts. I just finished this project before I left. I almost went nuts.
  • Product manuals. Possibly the only thing worse than the product inserts.
  • The endless meetings, other than those that discussed the fun projects in the first category.

The Ugly

  • Management speak - constantly shifting, never comprehensible (be sure to have your ducks in line so they can sing from the same hymn sheet).
  • Decision making by committee, and/or multiple edits and sign-offs required on every single label and document, each successive signatory tending to reverse the changes made by the person before them.
  • Lack of a sense of humour (I was made to remove all "fun" scenes and dialogue from my video script because scientists are supposed to be serious and will not respond to cheesiness. Yeah, right, tell that to BioRad - their PCR video went viral and is now a cult favourite that I've even heard scientists sing in the pub (Who's your Daddy?)).
  • Continual changes to paperwork processes and other SOPs.
  • The few bad apples among my colleagues.
  • Metrics.
  • The endemic email diarrhea (most of it designed to cover the sender's back by copying the entire company on every message).
  • Constant minor niggly urgent tasks that took me away from my cool projects, e.g. individually editing each of 60 web pages because we decided to change our nomenclature and our website editing interface sucked.
Yeah, OK, so the last list could refer to almost any job, and might have more to do with my own poor fit with the job and the company than with marketing in general. Every job has its ups and downs and repetitive tasks - during my postdoc I would have put DNA minipreps and pH-ing solutions under Boring and the low pay under Ugly, and in my current job I'd definitely class updating PIs' CVs as Boring. But in my case, the primary motivation for getting out of my marketing job was that the sheer volume of items on the Boring and Ugly lists was preventing me from undertaking anything on the Good list.

Marketing has some very fun and creative aspects, but it's not for everyone. If you're thinking of taking this route, choose your company wisely; the tasks performed by product managers (and marketing departments in general) vary between companies, and from what I've heard, my company wasn't exactly typical. Try to find out - preferably from people with the same job description - what their day-to-day life is like, how much of their time is taken up with maintenance marketing, and how much time they get to spend on the creative stuff. As with requests to meet students and postdocs from a potential new lab, any reluctance by your interviewers to let you talk to existing staff should be a red flag, especially if you're new to the field. (Disclaimer: I actually did talk to several other product managers before taking the job and got some very mixed messages - politics being what they are and all).

Despite some of the negative comments I've made, I learned a hell of a lot during my time in industry. The experience helped me to get my current job and will continue to be useful to me throughout my career. Ultimately, if things go to plan, the primary benefit will probably be that the job diversified my network of contacts. But that's a post for another day.

10 comments:

maddox22 said...

"Each one unique, but having to conform to a standard template. The 5 different R&D scientists who developed the products, each with their own interpretation of the standard template. The struggle to ensure accuracy and consistency at all times. The endless revisions. And, the straw that broke the camel's back, the major change to the standard template that entailed making detailed revisions to dozens and dozens of inserts."

Okay...change "R&D researchers" to "writers" and "product inserts" to "manuscript" and you have a pretty succinct description of most of the "joys" of my job!

And speaking at least for my company, most of the Ugly list does indeed apply (although it didn't apply quite so much when I started working at the company...one of the reasons I'm considering a switch).

But your Good list does sound really cool!

Mad Hatter said...

Wow, the Good list does sound pretty cool, but the Boring and Ugly...yikes! I suppose every job has its Good, Boring, and Ugly and the trick is to find a job with enough Good to keep one happy, and little enough Boring and Ugly for one to be able to live with it.

BTW, I don't particularly mind minipreps, but I really hate pHing solutions too!

CAE said...

maddoxx22, my sympathies... I have to do a little bit of work to standardise fonts and sizes between different grant authors, but otherwise it's not too bad.

Maybe the Ugly list is common to industry in general? I'd be interested to read other people's experiences.

Mad Hatter, you're absolutely right, every job is a mix of the good, the boring and the ugly, some are just less evenly balanced than others!

I can't believe you don't mind minipreps. I did 24 a day (a rotor's worth), 4 days a week, for weeks on end when introducing various mutations into my plasmids. And then the digesting and the gels and the sequencing and the double checking. Blergh.

The bean-mom said...

Thanks for the post! The "good" list sounds awesome--especially the part about producing a video! Too bad the bad and ugly outweighed the good...

And actually, I found minipreps relaxing when I used to do them. Brainless, yet oddly calming work. Making solutions was what I really hated--ugh!

Mad Hatter said...

CAE--I think it's because I did lots of mouse genotyping, which required prepping genomic DNA from mouse tail pieces. Back in the days before the explosion of kits, our protocol involved PK digestion, phenol extraction, phenol:chloroform extraction, phenol:chloroform:isoamyl alcohol extraction, ammonium acetate/isopropanol precipitation, followed by EtOH washes.

I did about 100 of these preps a week, and I got to do Southern blots on all of them! But I agree--I didn't particularly like minipreps either when I was doing lots of them.

The Mad Chemist said...

CAE,

Good post.

I couldn't believe it when I moved to Canada from the UK and saw my first Viagra ad.

You should see the one here in the States for genital herpes meds. For some reason, they always show them during dinner time.

Thanks for your insight. I have seen many jobs like this advertised online and wondered what they might be like.

...because scientists are supposed to be serious and will not respond to cheesiness...

LOL. Scientists invented cheesiness. And dorkiness. And geekiness. And some really bad puns. ;-)

maddox22 said...

Don't forget acronyms!!

CAE said...

Bean Mom, I didn't mind making solutions so much, because it was relatively rare. pHing them though...

Mad Hatter, I've done lots of phenol:chloroform preps too, and they definitely are worse. I especially hate Trizol.

Mad Chemist, like I say, all these jobs are different, so the chance to talk to people within the company is especially important! Oh, and we have the herpes ad here too. We basically get a mix of US and Canadian TV, so we see most of the same adverts.

Maddox (wow, lots of mad pseudonyms on here), FYI, the acronyms are OTT. For a good ROI we need an SOP that reduces acronym usage.

science cog said...

This is a terrific post. Thanks CAE for the details. I bookmarked it for future reference.

CAE said...

Science Cog, if you're interested in this career path I have other insights that are non-bloggable, but answerable by email!