How I made it in marketing

01 Oct 14:00 by


Giles Harris, managing director of marketing and consumer research agency Come Round, explains how the determination that helped him forge a career in law propelled him into the world of marketing.

How do you make it in marketing? There are countless ways to get ahead, of course. But there are also some basic principles that everyone should remember:

Be specific about your goals. I didn’t start out in marketing. But once I decided that it was the profession for me, this ‘rule’ was as helpful to me as when I was fresh out of university and desperate to work in the music industry. Back then, one HR director told me: “See that guy from the post room? He has a degree from Cambridge, but no idea which area he wants to work in. Find a department and target it.”

Nothing happens unless you work for it. While on work experience at Universal Music Group, I was assigned to the legal department. The penny dropped: I’d found my niche. I retrained as a music lawyer; however, before I could specialise, I needed to put in the hours in ‘proper’ law firms, working on probate and property, and so on. Richard Branson had just launched his second record label V2, so I worked there in the evenings, too. Be prepared to do everything for nothing.

Be persistent. I rang the heads of every music company’s legal department each Thursday at 7pm to ask if they had any jobs going – at that time of night, they answer their own phones. After months of this, the head of legal at EMI said three words: “Yes. Contact James.” Three interviews later, I was in.

Be flexible. At EMI, we were forever being told we must ‘connect with the consumer’, but the traditional high-street avenues were failing. It was clear to me the future was all about big brand partnerships – joining forces with established household names so that both parties benefited. The subtleties and creativity of marketing was something I became fascinated with after years of drawing up legal documents, and the challenge of being able to demonstrate ways in which EMI could work with a company such as Coca Cola reignited the fire in my belly. EMI agreed, at which point I effectively set up a marketing business within a music business. It was a risk, but a calculated one: would I regret not doing this when I was an old man? The answer was yes, so I went for it.

Don’t be afraid to refine your ideas. Brand partnerships are one thing, but I also wondered if there was a way to connect directly with influential consumers, in their own homes, in a way they like and that taps into the zeitgeist? I came up with the idea of inviting successful bloggers – ‘influencers’ – to review a particular brand, hoping to tap into the psychology that makes word-of-mouth such a powerful marketing tool. Nothing will influence a potential consumer like an endorsement from a friend. And so Come Round was born.

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