4 Tips for Building a Productive Relationship with Marketing

When Greg Meyers was hired as vice president of IT at Biogen Idec, he had to build a relationship with marketing from scratch. Luckily, he was uniquely qualified.

"I spent half of my professional life in sales and marketing and the other half in IT," says Meyers, who previously ran a hybrid marketing and technology group at Johnson & Johnson. He was in marketing at Qwest and, most recently, a CIO at Novartis.

Meyers wasn't surprised that marketing and IT hadn't gelled at Biogen. That's been the case everywhere he's worked. "There are a lot of built-in rifts between the two groups," he says.

The steps to create an effective relationship with the marketing group aren't radically different from those you'd take with another department.

"What's different is the underlying marketing personality," says Meyers. "It doesn't change what you do, but it changes how you have to be." Most IT-marketing friction is attributable to differences in style, not substance, he says. Those diffferences can be overcome, and Meyers has four tips to help you do it.

Stop talking about tech. Want to win over a marketer? Forget the campaign-management software and ask about her brand marketing plan. Putting the project work aside to find out what keeps the marketing group up at night gives IT credibility to use later.

"When you're trying to negotiate with [marketers], using facts often doesn't work," he says. It helps "if they know that you're supportive of what they're trying to accomplish."

Be a hero. Biogen's marketers have a huge appetite for analytics. What they don't have are data scientists. Guess who does? "Our IT people have those analytical skill sets naturally," says Meyers.

Instead of hiring consultants, marketing now turns to IT's business analysts, one of whom recently designed marketing's suite of analytics tools for campaign management.

Be the heavy. Marketers work with tons of outside agencies. But Meyers--who has worked at an interactive marketing agency--knows that agencies may not put marketing's best interests first.

Meyers is the voice of reason when marketing might otherwise cave in to an agency that wants to build a smartphone app that doesn't meet the company's needs. "We're in the room so that marketing gets the most from its investments," says Meyers.

One agency wanted Johnson & Johnson to build a site entirely in Flash. It looked cool, but it wasn't user-friendly. "The agency was more interested in using this project to try to win an award or showcase their work for future clients than [helping] us achieve [our] very specific objectives, and I pretty much said so in the meeting," Meyers recalls. It was uncomfortable. But the brand manager thanked Meyers--and fired the agency.

Don't be a know-it-all. "Marketing people are used to being the smartest people in the room," says Meyers. Let them be. If you have a good idea, make it seem like theirs. That is, don't present a five-page social media plan. Instead, stroll in with an idea you had in the shower and ask for input. "They need to be part of the ideation and creative process," Meyers says.

Stephanie Overby is regular contributor to CIO magazine and CIO.com. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

Read more about leadership/management in CIO's Leadership/Management Drilldown.

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