New marketing leaders are put under pressure to make an impact quickly.
To help guide your first steps, we spoke to 11 marketing VPs, one CMO, and two marketing leads with an average of 16 years of marketing experience each.
From understanding the CEO’s priorities to finding impactful whitespace, these leaders share actionable tips to help you succeed in the role.
Summary of advice for new marketing leaders:
- Set your plans aside and assume nothing
- Listen to understand, not just respond
- Don’t bring (all) your old responsibilities to your new role
- Look for white space in the organization
- Focus efforts on marketing channels that influence revenue
- Grow the company, not just leads
- Be powerfully average everyday
- Build a network of experts for support
- Leverage LinkedIn ASAP
- Hire the right people
- Sell your team’s work internally
Let’s dive into each one.
1. Set your plans aside and assume nothing
As a new marketing leader, you may feel tempted to change logos, taglines, messaging, websites, and agencies immediately.
However, such moves may cause harm if not aligned with the company’s goals and priorities.
For marketing leaders, aiming for alignment over agendas can build trust and establish credibility more quickly.
Anders Pers, San Francisco-based VP of Brand and Content at solar energy tech company Enphase Energy, agrees.
“Set your own agenda aside for a while,” says Anders. “Understand what the business needs and what the CEO thinks is important, then do that.”
Avoiding agendas and assumptions can protect the brand from ruin. History is littered with brands that failed to adapt due to false assumptions about how the market worked or where it was headed.
“Don’t assume or take anything for granted,” says Prescillia Avenel, Johannesburg-based Group CMO of global broadcast and digital media company TRACE. “Remain agile and use facts and data to make informed decisions.”
Your action plan:
- Meet with the CEO to discuss the marketing department’s goals and expectations.
- Audit the company’s target audience, competition, and market trends.
- Assess the strengths and weaknesses of the company’s current marketing strategy, channels, and metrics.
- Use the information to build a marketing plan that aligns with the CEO’s goals and the company’s mission.
Fact-based, data-driven marketing gains an edge.
2. Listen to understand, not just respond
Successful marketing leadership requires active listening — giving your full, undivided attention to someone speaking.
“Just continue to listen”, says Scott Dailey, VP of Sales & Marketing at Sava Industries, a 50-year-old New Jersey cabling manufacturer.
“And when you feel like you’re ready to pipe in, speak only if you’re sure your contribution will improve the idea under consideration.”
Your action plan:
- Practice active listening in meetings and discussions with colleagues.
- Ask questions to gain a deeper understanding of the topic at hand.
- Hold back from offering solutions until you fully understand the problem or challenge.
- When you offer solutions, ensure they are well-informed and relevant to the discussion.
- Be willing to consider alternative perspectives and solutions.
- Avoid imposing your own ideas and opinions on others.
Implement these practices in your daily work to build trust, establish credibility, and drive positive outcomes.
3. Don’t bring (all) your old responsibilities to your new role
It’s crucial to shed much of your old thinking and learn what your new role entails.
This is especially important for marketing VP’s stepping up (as opposed to those making a lateral move).
This is because what got you here won’t always take you where you want to go, says Lindsey Laughlin, Virginia-based VP of Marketing Strategy at Gravity Group, a creative marketing agency.
Lindsey’s role is part operations, part client service, and part staff management. If she spends too much time in one area, other things suffer.
“I can’t spend all my time focusing on the business and neglect client service,” says Lindsey, “but I also can’t spend too much time giving design feedback and not thinking about business development.”
Her advice is to be intentional about how you spend your time. “Delegate and give others the chance to step up — and empower them to do so.”
However, don’t forget your “functional superpowers” from your previous role, says Brett McGrath, Indiana-based VP of Marketing at content curation and B2B distribution platform, The Juice.
The biggest piece of advice Brett would give himself two years ago would be to leverage his functional superpowers early and often.
“Any new VP of Marketing shouldn’t leave behind skills that got you in that spot,” says Brett. “The more you use them, the more opportunities you’ll have to coach your teammates up on them.”
Your action plan:
- Identify your key responsibilities in the new role and prioritize them.
- List the tasks from your previous role that are no longer relevant or can be delegated to others.
- Set realistic expectations on how you want to allocate your time.
- Teach your team the functional superpowers that got you to where you are.
Strike a balance between delegation and execution to bring value to your new role.
4. Look for whitespace at the organization
Your VP marketing job description may have been long and detailed, but it was just a starting point.
To move the needle and provide greater value, you must look for whitespace in the organization.
“Within your role or tangentially, look for what is not being done that you can make a difference in”, adds Craig Brockman, a veteran New York-based marketer who has helped lead content strategy and production at LiveRamp and Experian.
Often, these opportunities hide in plain sight and just take a bit of insight to uncover.
“At my last role, one of the first things I saw was that culturally, everyone at LiveRamp loved the company and what it did,” says Craig.
“But there was no employee social advocacy program. So I pitched a pilot program that proved its value several times over, which then rolled out to the larger organization.”
Your action plan:
- Assess the current processes, programs, and operations within your role and organization.
- Identify areas of improvement and areas where new initiatives can be started.
- Rank them according to their impact on the organization’s goals within the next 6-12 months.
- Identify champions from other departments to help you implement these new initiatives.
- Continuously monitor, evaluate, and report on the impact of your programs.
Fortunately, there will always be whitespace in how the business drives revenue.
5. Focus efforts on marketing channels that can influence revenue
“Double down on the one or two key channels that are working until you can scale effectively”, says Olga Karanikos, Boston-based VP of Marketing at SalesScreen, a sales gamification platform.
Olga is a proud member of executive peer communities like Chief (for female VPs and CxOs) and HYPCCCYCL.
Her thoughts are echoed by Ben Walshe, UK-based marketing lead of IoT cybersecurity company Crypto Quantique.
“Get in and learn as much as you can about the customer, pipeline, and how to have a positive influence on the company’s big-picture goals,” says Ben.
Your action plan:
- Assess current marketing channels and their effectiveness in new customer acquisition.
- Allocate more resources to the one or two key channels performing well and pause the rest.
- Continuously monitor the focused channels and adjust your strategy accordingly.
As a marketing leader, it’s crucial not to spread your team thin. Focus your efforts on the winners to compound their momentum.
6. Grow the company, not just leads
“It’s easy to fall back into a comfort zone of leads,” says Ben, the Crypto Quantique marketing lead, “and just take care of the brand and let sales handle the customers.”
But marketing leadership is more than just lead generation.
“I’m responsible for growing the company, not just leads,” says Jasmine Tran, a UK-based first-time VP who leads the marketing org at Ovation Data Services, a digital transformation and data storage provider.
As the first head of a department that didn’t exist before she took the role, Jasmine recognizes she’s not only building a product but also building the team that will build the product.
“Strategy is wonderful,” says Jasmine, “but you need strategy and execution. You have to bring the builders along with the house plan.”
Your action plan:
- Create foundational playbooks that clearly outline marketing expectations and processes.
- Hire and onboard top performers who share your vision and are equipped to execute it.
- Provide the tools, support, and coaching they need to succeed. Don’t be afraid to get into the weeds with them.
- Foster a culture of collaboration between marketing and other departments, especially sales, to ensure a seamless and effective go-to-market strategy.
Strategy is essential, but execution is where great companies differentiate themselves.
7. Be powerfully average everyday
Marketing organizations that over-extend themselves quickly burn out. This manifests itself as haphazard results, higher spending, and tired teams.
The key to marketing success is not shooting for the moon with each campaign but being “powerfully average.”
That’s a phrase coined by former CIA agent Andrew Bustamente and echoed by Ben Virdee-Chapman, a Miami-based VP of Marketing at payroll management platform GigWage.
According to Bustamente’s podcast episode on the topic, being powerfully average is about prioritizing consistency over intensity. In other words, slow and steady wins the race.
Being powerfully average results in less burnout, more energy, steady growth, more resilience, and less resistance to change.
Your action plan:
- Implement a time-blocking schedule and stick to it, dedicating specific times for deep work.
- Use project management tools like Asana to track projects and tasks.
- Use tools like Calendly to streamline meetings and RescueTime to boost and track productivity.
- Build systems for consistent output (e.g., publishing two SEO blog posts a week).
- Assess performance based on consistency rather than one-off wins (e.g., celebrating 5-10 consistent PR mentions in a quarter over one prominent placement).
Setting realistic targets and meeting them consistently is a healthier approach than overachievement — admirable as that may be.
8. Build a network of experts for support
It’s lonely at the top, but community is never more than a click away.
As a new marketing leader, it’s even more important to surround yourself with other VPs and CMOs who can provide the foresight, insight, and hindsight you need to avoid costly mistakes and achieve success.
“You are not the first to encounter your problems, and you won’t be the last”, says Bronwyn Karaoglu, an Australian-based Global VP of Marketing at Ignition, a client engagement platform for professional service businesses.
Bronwyn emphasizes the need to build a wide network of experts around you, from marketing and sales to product and finance — people you can swap notes with over coffee.
If live meetups aren’t feasible, find your tribe online. New marketing VPs would benefit from getting active on LinkedIn and joining online communities.
Your action plan:
- Identify the key areas you need support in, from most to least important.
- Join online communities like the CMO Council, G-CMO, Exit Five, Rand, and RevGenius for access to a wide network of experts.
- Get active on LinkedIn today — it’s the greatest concentration of marketing leaders anywhere online.
- Attend industry conferences and events to connect with other marketing leaders.
- Schedule regular check-ins with mentors and peers to give and receive feedback and stay current.
- Create a structured system for sharing information within your network (e.g., scheduling two LinkedIn posts weekly using Publer).
With high-ranking VPs, CMOs, and CEOs in your network, you’ll be set up for success.
9. Leverage LinkedIn ASAP
LinkedIn isn’t just for thought leadership posts — it can be a key driver of B2B marketing revenue.
Savvy B2B companies use LinkedIn for:
- Partnership development
- Audience engagement
- Content distribution
- Thought leadership
- Lead generation
“I wish I had known that LinkedIn was going to become the everything platform for B2B marketing,” says Ari Applbaum, Tel-Aviv-based VP of Marketing at LeapXpert, a business communication platform.
“I’d say to younger Ari: go all in on LinkedIn NOW, even if it means neglecting other platforms,” says Ari. “Create a lean, mean LinkedIn machine.”
Marketing leaders should consider building an audience, bringing in talent with LinkedIn know-how, learning the platform inside and out, and paying for LinkedIn’s premium packages.
LinkedIn marketing compounds and companies that fail to invest in the platform may get left behind.
Besides, the competition isn’t as high as you think. As of April 2022, 59 million companies had a LinkedIn Page — but only 2.7 million of these Pages published content at least weekly — a paltry 4.6%.
This means publishing content on LinkedIn just twice a week puts your brand ahead of 95% of the businesses on LinkedIn. That’s a massive head start.
Your action plan:
- Create a professional LinkedIn Company Page for your organization.
- Spruce up your personal LinkedIn profile — you must be present and active alongside your team and agency partners. You and your CEO should be on social media.
- Define a LinkedIn content strategy: what content will be shared, how often, and by whom.
- Start publishing content regularly (twice a week at minimum) to grow your audience and establish your brand on the platform. Make your job easier through automation.
- Use LinkedIn for lead generation by sharing content that addresses your audience’s pain points and providing solutions.
- Engage with your audience by responding to comments, direct messages, and reactions.
- Invest in premium services such as LinkedIn Ads and LinkedIn Learning to extract more value from the platform.
- Use LinkedIn for recruitment and employer branding by showcasing your company culture, values, and employee stories.
Invest more in LinkedIn content marketing for greater growth this year.
10. Hire the right people
The right marketers on your team can make or break your efforts. You must support your team by giving them the tools, direction, and space to do good work.
This is the top tip from Edita Vatenaite, Virginia-based VP of Marketing at life sciences R&D company Synthace.
“Hiring the best people to achieve your goals would be my number one priority,” says Virginia. “Followed by setting the right priorities and setting them up for success.”
Your action plan:
- Assess your team’s strengths and weaknesses to determine what skills are missing and which ones need improvement.
- Create marketing job descriptions for new hires that clearly outlines their duties, expectations, and required skills.
- Scan your marketing job descriptions for “red flag keywords” that may turn off top talent.
- Contact industry peers to find potential candidates or use LinkedIn or Indeed.
- Conduct thorough interviews and reference checks before hiring — but don’t wait too long. They’ve got options and are interviewing you, too.
- Offer competitive compensation to attract top talent — you get what you pay for.
- Include professional development allowances as part of your total benefits package.
- Provide ongoing training and support to help your team grow and succeed.
Most importantly, don’t hire ambitious people and ask them to stop being ambitious — it never works.
11. Sell your team’s work internally
You’re the marketing department’s biggest brand ambassador. Nobody knows what’s going on in Marketing until you tell them, so tell them.
As the new marketing VP, one of your superpowers is selling your team’s work internally to gain organizational buy-in. Internal advocacy motivates your team to produce more impactful work.
It’s also easier to win a bigger budget for Marketing when the leadership team is aware of your wins.
“Most marketing teams are doing so much and working so hard,” says Victoria Chapa Grant, Washington DC-based VP of Marketing at Symplicity, a student experience software provider.
”But if you can’t show value internally first, long-term success is impossible.”
Your action plan:
- Communicate the team’s work and achievements during 1:1s with your manager and in Town Halls.
- Use data and metrics to demonstrate marketing’s impact (e.g., leads generated, market share gained, and marketing-influenced pipeline revenue added).
- Invite the leadership team to provide input on marketing strategies and contribute thought leadership content where applicable.
- Seek feedback from the leadership team on marketing’s performance and incorporate suggestions into future marketing plans and initiatives.
Show and sell your team’s work internally and tie it to the bigger picture.
New marketing leaders: Lead more confidently
The above tips may take time to implement. The trick is not to memorize everything but to set up systems and processes to reinforce these tips over time.
Join at least one online community today. Set up those weekly mentorship check-ins. Write that operating manual for your content engine. Lastly, bookmark and return to this article often.
And get in touch to learn how to build a culture of content-driven growth at your organization.