against the grain

The more I look around, the more I see marketers going against the grain and thinking big IN SPITE of their employers…

On a plane ride home from speaking in Phoenix this week I had the absolute pleasure of sitting next to a gentleman who has a significant role the in the marketing department for a major automobile manufacturer. As we discussed his current strategies for enhancing the brand awareness of his products, one thing became blatantly obvious: He was frustrated…VERY frustrated.

Like so many of his marketing peers, he has been given the charge to “get results” yet has almost no budgetary allowance for social media, content marketing, etc.

But here is what was so interesting about this fellow—he was literally getting ready to put on a massive event that would bring his company’s car owners together to generate publicity, loyalty, and general product awareness—and he was doing it IN SPITE of his employer.

Yep, between connections in various industries and pulling from his own wallet, this man is literally putting his money where his mouth is and willing this event to happen, a sacrifice that 99% of all employees in the world would likely never even consider making.

The battle between those stuck in the past and those ready to move forward

As I drove home from the airport and considered this man’s marketing vision and dedication, my mind was flooded with other examples of disgruntled marketing employees I’ve been in touch with recently.

Honestly, I’m not sure why I seem to suddenly be seen as a champion by many within the “under-appreciated and under-utilized marketer” crowd (a title I don’t mind by any means), but the amount of emails I seem to be getting these days from CMOs, CCOs, and marketers that have a clear vision of content marketing and its benefits but can’t seem to get any support from management has exploded.

In fact, there have been quite a few times over the last two months that I’ve flat-out told some of these disillusioned employees they should quit and take their talents and vision to someone else that actually “gets it.”

Take for example this email from Jeremy, as it’s absolutely profound:

Hi Marcus,

I’m about 45 pages deep into your Inbound and Content Marketing Made Easy eBook and am simply blown away by the quality of your message, story, and unique voice. Indeed, I can relate to the ‘getting buy-in’ on inbound, as it goes against all forms of the traditional marketing I saw as a kid….Having little budget and zero personnel support from a marketing perspective , my role was to promote our services using a non-existent marketing budget. I turned to the SEOmoz blog for advice on getting our site to stand out for key search phrases, and then dove into the lead generation side with content creation tactics (eBooks, PowerPoint presentations for SlideShare, email marketing, etc.). Fortunately, I had encountered the HubSpot blog, their bundle of eBooks and webinars, and soon passed their inbound marketing course.

The biggest challenge of that role was keeping my inbound marketing efforts a secret, since these new and out-of-the-ordinary techniques were seen as ‘not worth the time’. At work, I would do the cold calls, plan for trade shows, etc. But at night, I came to life- spending countless hours performing keyword research, looking up directories for backlinks, generating content for eBooks, developing slide decks, optimizing our LinkedIn page- you get the point. I was sold on the tried and true methods of inbound, but I was stuck doing old-school ‘marketing’. It was the Olympics of cognitive dissonance.


Crazy, huh? This guy is literally “going dark” with his marketing efforts because his boss refuses to get with the program.

A Marketing Call to Arms

In reality, Jeremy and my friend on the plane are just two of thousands upon thousands of marketers who are becoming more and more disenchanted with the antiquated and non-effective strategies of their current employer and are therefore trying to do whatever it takes to get the proper marketing programs in place. Whether it’s bending the rules or just flat-out breaking them, such renegades, I can clearly attest, are growing in numbers every single day.

As I look ahead, I don’t see this movement slowing down. In fact, I think there are too many companies that do “get it” for talented folks with marketing acumen to simply sit back and wait to join the ranks.

I also think this is exactly why if you’re a marketer and feel completely trapped within an organization that refuses to look forward, then you should stop waiting around and start doing something.

Either get yourself fired because you’re the stallion that can’t be tied up or move on.

I’m serious when I say this.

Yes, it may be a little scary, but at the same time, you just may do something amazing that changes your life and the business you’re in.

Isn’t that worth the risk?

Your Turn:

I’m curious: Do you know any marketing renegades? Tell us about them. Also, have you ever been in the position where you felt handcuffed by management yet knew certain components of social or content marketing would get huge results? What did you do?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts :-)

23 thoughts on “The Age of Disgruntled Marketing Employees Turned Renegades is Here

  1. In my short career, I can point to one organization that just wasn’t interested in trying anything new even if I had the number to justify what I wanted to do, 2 bad bosses, and one company that – despite being great – just wasn’t able to move in the direction I thought it needed to due to legacy issues. That all being said, those are only the problems on the company side, and those are typically the only problems that people point to when they complain about not being able to do social, inbound, content, etc.

    Rarely do we look at ourselves and realize that we fail to put together a strong case for these efforts. I’ll give you an example. I’m the head of marketing for a teen-focused education startup. If I needed to make the case for content creation, I might find an example or case study for another startup, but my CEO is going to ask, “Do they have the same target market? Were they at the same stage as us? Did the product affect them in such a way that they NEEDED content creation? etc etc etc.” Basically, he would ask me to justify it, and he’s going to want numbers. Why? Because he’s a smart business man, a good decision maker, an investor in his own company, and the person that has to answer for backing both good and bad decisions.

    I’m not saying that there aren’t bosses and companies that just don’t get it, but honestly, having managed two departments and hired a lot of people, the biggest thing that I see lacking in young marketers is an ability to make a case with numbers. And, who is typically arguing for social, content, etc? Younger marketers…or at the very least, people that are not the decision makers in a company.

    • Jeremy Abel


      You make some great points in your comment, and I’d really like the chance to respond to your closing paragraph.

      Young marketers are definitely proponents for using social, content, etc. because they have grown up in that environment (i.e. waking up to a Facebook news stream, learning about changes in the world via Twitter, and forming an impression of their favorite brands over the web). Yes, they might not have cold hard numbers to back their inclinations, but taking a leap and innovating is part of why marketing is so unique and valuable. Without coming off as facetious, I would venture to guess that the first company in its industry to have ever run a television ad was taking a risk also. The only metrics they had to back their decision were probably the number of people who owned a television, and perhaps the viewing audience’s age. While there’s a case for playing it safe and following the pack, there’s also value in being an industry leader and being able to spot an opportunity before your competitors have.

      Today’s young marketers are looking for an opportunity to help the company. Nope, they might not have the data right now, but perhaps it is because this field is so new! Give them an hour each week to devote towards content, and then they will have some data.

      From my perspective, everyone is a decision maker in the company. It’s up to the company to determine if they want teams to be good or bad decision makers. Rather than deter their eagerness to help, show them how to harness that passion and use it more effectively.

      Whether content creation is insourced (produced internally) or outsourced (having an agency/firm produce your content ideas), the beauty of content marketing is that it educates your marketing and sales team about your product, your unique selling points, and your industry as a whole. It’s about investing in people, not processes; leveraging the power of your brain over the size of your budget.

      Again, thanks for sharing Eric! Your perspective is certainly appreciated.

      • Thanks, Jeremy. I agree that a leap of faith is definitely needed to do big things. That’s obviously what really makes or breaks it for some entrepreneurs – just to draw one parallel – but having worked in angel investing, I also know that the entrepreneurs that make it big have their numbers together. If they don’t, they never get invested in. One example of this would be your Warren Buffetts of the world, who only invest in things that are clearly good buys and they understand, versus your circa 2005-2008 credit default swap buyers and derivatives traders, who continued pushing the market further and faster despite the fact that the numbers didn’t make sense. Your Warren Buffetts of the world don’t take a leap without data, while the CDS and derivatives guys just blindly leapt.

        That all being said, I was the analytics manager for a social media marketing agency and then for another agency after that, so I feel confident in saying that it is possible to show data around whether or not content, social media, or whatever else you want to call it makes financial sense. In the case of a television commercial, the first company to do it might not have had past television data to rely on, but they certainly extrapolated their projections from radio and print, so while they couldn’t say, “Based on past performance,” they probably did say, “Based on what we know about radio and print, this is what we expect to get out of television commercials.

        Making those sorts of comparisons is really tough. To be honest, I don’t enjoy doing it most of the time because it introduces too much potential variance for me to feel comfortable. Regardless, it needs to be done if we’re going to ask the people that hold the purse strings to move from blind leap to educated guess.

        This is really what I would ask for from one of my staff if they want to do something new, and this is also what good investors ask for before they give you their money. Of course, I want to hear my staff member’s vision and why they think it’s a great idea, but if they want to get into livecasting conferences, or spending 40 hours per week on tumblr, or whatever else, I’d like them to either show me the numbers of someone else that has done it or show me something similar from another channel. That way, we can say, “Okay, Company X got Y return from Z investment in channel 1. Channel 1 and channel 2 have similar characteristics and audiences, so we expect 0.5Y return from 0.2Z investment in channel 2. Is 0.5Y return sufficient to warrant the 0.2Z investment spent on channel 2 and not spent on some other channel?”

        • LOVE the investor approach Eric. GREAT comment brother!

          • Thanks, Marcus.

  2. Hi Marcus,

    You are a legend in this field, my friend- a genuine thought leader and original renegade. And although the feeling of “if they won’t, I will” (which is a staple characteristic of those of us who have been called to the Inbound movement) starts from within, it is most definitely fueled by the constant support of others such as yourself.

    If anyone is truly compelled to make a change in their lives (be it personal or professional), they’re not going to wait for others to give them the green light. We can’t look back on what might have been, what used to work, and what others did before us. Everyone has a story in life, the difference is who will be writing it. I think a lot of people would be happier writing their own story, than having someone else write it for them.

    You took the reigns of River Pools and Spas and turned it into a monument for inbound marketing, and it was a self-made decision to take that leap. It took guts, it took time, but it mattered, and it brought you here today.

    Similar to your article on Samsung’s television ad comparison to iPhone 5, you highlight the importance of self-improvement, and giving in to our ability to move beyond what none have done before us.

    As the old saying goes, “The task is not so much to see what no one has yet seen, but to think what no one has yet thought about that which everyone sees.”

    Marcus, you’re 3 for 3 with me, brother- Keep changing lives.

    God Bless,


    • Your words are incredibly kind Jeremy, thanks so very much.

      And thanks too for being one of those renegades yourself. Your example makes me want to work much harder! ;-)


  3. I have always asked forgiveness rather than permission throughout my career. (fortunately I have landed at a company that is willing to try anything) . I have worked for too many companies and people that just didn’t ‘get it’. Social media? Our audience is not on there – that’s where our kids hang out. Whitepapers and eBooks? Nobody reads those things – that’s boring. So what I did was similar to Jeremy. I participated in social media and I created content on my own. Then I tracked everything I did and shared the outcome. Guess what? Our #2 highest source of converting traffic (and Im talking real live opportunities that turned into cash) came from social media. After that, they told me to do more. But had I not just done it because I ‘got it’, I would never have been able to convince them.

    • Christina, this is exactly why I think you’re awesome. You’re one of these renegades I speak of and your story is a powerful one…in fact, that’s the type of story that needs to be told at social media conferences!

      Rock on,


  4. Wow, in the closet inbound marketers. Love it!

    Well, Marcus, I’d argue they should try one thing before they quit or try to get fired: Take baby steps and show small wins. I’ve been working with one client in particular who is similar to your two examples. He believes in the power of digital marketing but is fighting an uphill battle with his executive team. He managed to win a small budget and we were charged with helping him show a return on it. It’s too soon to share results, but my advice is if you can show small wins, you’ll earn more trust and an increased budget.

    If that fails, then run. Run like the wind.

    • Well said Lisa. Wise judgment is always the key and I don’t want a bunch of marketers leaving their jobs this week because of some junk they read online ;-)

      But just like you said, there comes a point when we all realize, “Enough is enough, these folks are never going to get it…”

      And when that day comes…. ;-)

      Great seeing you,


  5. ann

    Until 4 years ago, I worked at a large art museum in marketing and PR. I was instructed to continue with traditional marketing practices and added some online advertising along the way.

    The Associate director and IT manager was in the dark about the power of content marketing. They were more concerned with the firewall for the network. I was never allowed to create a strong online presence through social outlets, nor was I able to educate the employees on the value of blogging.
    I was written up for being on social marketing sites on company time, although I was building the company profiles at the time.

    I sat on the sidelines of social media and content marketing, all the time reading and learning for myself.

    I left after 7 years to have a child.

    Today I am self employed as a marketing consultant. I continue with traditional marketing principles where I see the need. However, my focus is on content marketing. At SXSW last year, I focused on content marketing sessions and learned so much.

    I enjoy your blog Marcus. You’re on my top 3 list of favorites! Relevant, thought provoking content. Thank you.

    • Ann, one of the best comments I’ve read on here in a long time. Your are truly inspiring!

      Keep up the greatness,


  6. Yep, fellow marketing renegade here! And I was soooo sick of hearing “this is the way we’ve always done it”.

    Well, I’m going to do it a new way in hopes of making things better!

    Or at least…have a chance of making things better. And isn’t that better than NO chance?

    Great post, Marcus!

    • Love meeting fellow renegades Jim :-) Well done sir!


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