Getting on board

A boardroom position can be an elusive goal for many marketers. But once you’ve reached the top, how do you manage to stay there?

In an age when global markets are increasingly dynamic and complex, marketers – with their ability to spot change and opportunity – have a strong role to play at board level. Marketers’ talents come to the fore in the creation and development of strategy.  

But don’t get too comfortable in that cushy black chair. Marketers who do make the boardroom leap can be surprised by the complexity of the job and unclear about the contribution they can make. Discover five ways to prepare for the role and guarantee top billing in any boardroom drama.

1. Find your voice

Despite the challenges and legal responsibilities that come with the role, new directors are often given little support and guidance. This may lead to a lack of confidence in front of their peers for fear of “saying the wrong thing”, which could in turn have serious consequences for the quality of boardroom discussions and decision making. 

For aspiring directors, it’s important to be recognised by existing directors as someone who is easy to work with, seeks to improve the organisation and adds value. Consider signing up for mentoring, training, and planned inductions. Director at the Institute of Ethics, Phillipa Foster says: “Initial nerves are natural but these can be eased if the board induction process is a good one.” 

2. Prepare and practice

Remember that board directors have to juggle dual responsibilities. They must continue to oversee their operational responsibilities but also should have a clear overview of a company’s operational activities and corporate governance. This demands a thorough understanding of its exposure to risk and of its strategic direction.  

It is a challenging task – the diversity of large organisations can make full and proper oversight difficult. But the consequences of failing can be devastating.  Look at how the failure of oversight led to the banking crisis, which led to revisions to the UK Corporate Governance Code in 2010. Some marketers may find it helpful to become a voluntary trustee or non-executive director for smaller organisations to gain valuable experience in their spare time.  

3. Know your mind

All directors must apply clear and independent thought to the challenges they face. Avoid the perils and limitations attached to “group thinking” or sketchy brain storming sessions that can lead to poor decisions. 

Many organisations remain conservative, following traditional paths of board recruitment via management ranks. This can lead to a homogenous group with an equally vanilla train of thought so you will be an asset to the board if you help nurture independent and challenging ideas.

4. Identify your strengths

Identify and build on core strengths at board level. Marketers shine when it comes to questions around strategy and how to demonstrate value for shareholders, clients and customers. 

FMR Research co-owner Dr Simon Haslam says: “Marketers tend to be able to assimilate data from a range of sources and interpret it capably. So there is a role in helping the board to make sense of an array of complex data and make the most from it in terms of decision-making.” 

He points out that in addition to technical aptitude, marketers have the background skills to motivate positive changes – for example creating a data management protocol or establishing a social media policy.

5. Learn the language 

Don’t fall into the trap of being stereotyped – marketers can find themselves viewed as “vague” and “less grounded” by their peers so it is vital to counter these associations. Focus on developing positive relationships with the chief financial officer and the chief information officer. 

Foster explains that board level marketers need to adopt the language of the board as quickly as possible. “You can suggest something only to listen to someone else five minutes later saying the same thing, but in a different way which gets listened to. This takes time to click into,” she says. 

Try to grasp how the board group communicates to avoid your points becoming lost in translation. And don’t forget or dismiss the value of professional development. This can equip both first time directors and established directors for boardroom battles by ensuring they are fully briefed on the political, social and the evolving business landscape.  

Why are marketers under represented at board level? And what does it take to stay at the top?  Share your thoughts below.

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