Barbara Sullivan on Marketing: Take Risks
“Now’s the time to explore and learn—to take risks,” urged Barbara Sullivan, founder and Managing Partner of the renowned communications agency Sullivan & Company. Visiting OCS this past Monday, Ms. Sullivan divulged the truth about life in the marketing world and ways to wedge your way into the field.
As someone who receives hundreds of resumes for review each year, Ms. Sullivan highlighted the important use of experience to distinguish your application from the rest. “Any experience in which you demonstrate the psychology of trying to market something is invaluable,” she explained. “It doesn’t matter what it is. It doesn’t matter if it was a paid experience; it could be volunteer work, a summer job, a position at Harvard Student Agencies.” Any risk-taking endeavor is important for your application.
Choosing your company
Throughout the conversation, Ms. Sullivan led her audience to understand that the marketing field is an enormous industry with a plethora of different experiences and work environments. One of the biggest distinctions she made was between work life on a client-side marketing team and at an agency.
Marketers at a client might get a broader role than at an agency—they are usually involved with multiple tasks (like product and sales force), and are exposed quickly to the moving parts of the marketing world. “If you want to work client-side, work in a company that is marketing-oriented, because that affects everything about the job and work life. Some companies focus more on the consumer side, and it’s not fun to market for them.”
However, working at an agency—as Ms. Sullivan does—is a more rigorous experience. Agencies do the intellectual, thinking work, and are often more creative environments. “Agencies are often focused on communications, and on creating community. There’s more collaboration across departments, and an agency offers a breadth of experience with different types of clients.”
Size is also an important factor that will dictate the marketing experience, Ms. Sullivan said. Larger companies have more classic training for incoming employees, more resources to bear, and a larger sense of bureaucracy; but often, larger companies might offer less room for creativity in the day-to-day job. On the other hand, smaller companies are fun environments that allot even entry-level employees serious responsibilities and the opportunity to bring in new directions to their team.
Before working at a company, Ms. Sullivan suggested getting to know the personality of the company through social media and research. “Follow them on Facebook and Twitter, see what they’re talking about, look up the biographies of employees: get to know them.”
Finally, Ms. Sullivan reminded her audience of an invaluable resource for the job search. “Chances are, you’re going to find a job through networking. Harvard alums will want to help you—and if their company isn’t hiring, they’ll find someone who is. Use Crimson Compass to find alums.” She suggested making an inventory of contacts like friends, friends’ parents, parents’ friends, etc
Don’t be desperate
Although the job search is stressful on many levels, Ms. Sullivan prompted her audience to think of the big picture. “You’re all smart, attractive, and qualified to think about what you really want to do. Don’t be desperate in your job search. Try stuff you might not like, and you’ll learn just as much. Working in the marketing world is swimming upstream. Do your homework.”
Most importantly: if you reach out to someone, don’t forget to follow up. “If you don’t follow up, you might as well have not reached out at all.”
Julia Eger, ’14