Season five of the hit AMC series Mad Men began airing in March, and fans of Don Draper and the crew at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce can now return to the 1960s and the sultry world of Madison Avenue advertising.
Things have changed in advertising and marketing since Draper, the consummate boardroom presenter, and his breed pitched everything from Lucky Strikes to Sugarberry Hams. Now digital and social media, which Draper never dreamed of, have taken center stage, but some things haven't changed. Presentation and communication skills are as essential as ever for marketing professionals.
Pam Drago Maltby, who graduated with a marketing degree in 1982, is president of Ipsos ASI, US, a market research firm founded in 1975 that today has 16,000 employees and 5,000 clients in 84 countries. Its motto is "Nobody is Unpredictable."
She called communication skills "key to being successful in the business world." And that includes listening. "Communication has many forms when dealing with clients. One key is making sure you are listening to what people are saying," she commented. "Presentation skills are essential. Our teams are out presenting results to clients every week, and it is important to know your content and present with confidence. Also, it's important to listen to the questions that are being asked so that you can appropriately respond."
Maltby said she rehearses presentations, especially for a big new business pitch. She tries to find out everything there is to know about a client and the people who will be attending the presentation and what is most important to them. "It's important to do your homework prior to any new business pitch," she advised.
And business pitches can be fun. In fact, the most fun she has had in her career was when $12 million worth of business hinged on her team's presentation to a client who, it was rumored, was inclined to take its contract to a competitor.
"Even our best supporters did not think we had a chance of keeping the business," she recalled. "We had eight weeks to prepare for a big pitch to save the business." Her team had a new tool that was better than the competition's, which they hoped would help them pull in the contract, but there were some rough edges. So, Maltby and her team shifted to high gear.
"We had a meeting to discuss the importance of being able to present and deliver on this new product in eight weeks, which seemed impossible. Every person involved believed we could do it and gave 150 percent, including working weekends, long hours and under a lot of stress," she said. Collaboration was key, and everyone on our team knew the importance of his or her role and delivered well and on time.
Her team gave its pitch, and the competitor went next. "We received a call from the client that same day saying we had secured the business," she recalled. "They were extremely impressed with our presentation, and our competitor did not put the same amount of work into their pitch, assuming that they had the business. As we look back at that experience, it was a highlight of all of our careers."
Maltby began her career with Duracell in sales. This, she said, is often the beginning steps for a marketing professional, providing "field experience" before proper marketing positions.
Her route took a turn when she was recruited by Nielsen Co., a marketing research firm in New York City. "It was a path I never thought I would take, but where now I have spent my entire career," she said. She worked with clients such as Unilever, Kraft, and Johnson & Johnson, among others. She joined her current employer nine years ago and likes what she does.
"I love what I do. Ipsos is a large global company that offers lots of opportunities, and I work with a diverse group of people who share the same values. The brand and advertising research industry is always changing," said Maltby, whose daughter will graduate with a WVU psychology degree this May. Maltby is from Closter, N.J., but her mother is from Belle, W.Va., which is her state connection. She said her younger daughter also plans to attend WVU. "WVU is becoming quite a family tradition, which has kept up my connection to WVU, and I am so happy about that," she said.
Although she does enjoy her work, occasionally she must deal with difficult clients. Nevertheless, she tries to turn a negative into an opportunity. "You will come across tough clients, and my advice to my team has been that we need to do the best we can to make them happy. You never know what is happening in people's lives, whether it is personal or stress on the job. It helps to find a common interest or try to find a way to make a connection. Most importantly, if you consistently deliver well for a tough client, most often he or she will come around and that can often be one of the most rewarding experiences."
Maltby said marketing graduates should be ready to go where fortune leads and to be flexible. "You never know where your career will take you, so be open to different experiences," she advised. Other points to keep in mind are:
- Always treat people with respect. You will run across many people from your past over time, and they could end up being your client or your boss in your future.
- Embrace change. Things will change, like it or not, so best not to resist it.
- Communicate, especially if there is an issue, better to give advance notice rather than have someone be surprised.
- Work hard. You will stand out, and it will pay off.
- Find a mentor who can provide advice/support.
- Always dress appropriately, even in a casual environment.
- Give back and be there for others, especially if you have benefited from help from others.
- Collaboration is key.
- Global experience will give you an edge.