Marketing Plans: Leadership, Management and Politics

If annual marketing plans and budgets was dessert, it’s Rice Krispy Treats. Thousands of rice puffs delightful glued by marshmallow fluff are comparable to a marketing plan’s countless parts cemented by delicious goo (coherent strategy) serving crowd-pleasing sugar coma when expertly assembled. Sweet! Further, marshmallow melting technique, like sustainable business tactics, requires low steady heat to deliver lip-smacking results, while rushing over blazing flame spells misfortune.

Place your bets. Someone will lose his/her mind during budget season; perhaps it was you this past year? Large-scale projects ambush us for several reasons.

• We procrastinate trying to throw a behemoth document together higgledy-piggledy hoping Executives either can’t read or won’t notice recycled material.
• Deceptively simple templates lull us into confidence thus we underestimate effort required for coherent assumptions and thoughtful analysis not to mention deft internal selling. Stale tactics betray confidence and sub-par presentations go disregarded, along with your professional opinion thereafter.
• Conniption fits, a form of entitled pouting, erupt when managers feel challenged on merits of Swiss cheese solutions slapped together in eleventh-hour resignation. Righteous indignation is fun but stops learning in its tracks.

In summary, disjointed strategy, sloppy presentation, inadequate planning and cantankerousness reveals much about a manager’s leadership journey.

Is this the part when we get to blame others?

It’s not the marketing plan; it’s you

After suffering crushing feedback during my novice years, I realized my understanding of successful marketing plans misguided and naïve besides over-estimating my ability, at the time, to create, sell and manage a business plan. The criticism, “this is what you are turning in?” delivered with viperous sarcasm did not illuminate a path to improvement but I remained determined. If you are frustrated with your results, I hope this practical counsel provides motivation for self-evaluation helping move you one step closer to mastery because it’s not the marketing plan; it’s you.

By the power of Grayskull, I will slay my Marketing Plan.

Reframe the challenge

First, step back and evaluate the entire plan in terms of proficiency required for leadership, management and political acumen paying careful attention to tension or less than stellar feedback. Regardless of experience, big projects illuminate areas for professional development. Significant strategy, collaboration and presentation skills test discernment plus time management mastery at multiple levels unearthing stress points. Next, categorize duties to channel energy into what is yours to facilitate instead of misdirecting resources, overlooking details belonging to your position or wallowing in emotional quagmire over decisions beyond your sphere of influence.

Organizations have spoken as well as unspoken expectations for project responsibilities; similar to games of hot potato, pinpointing accountability, particularly when things haven’t gone as planned is tricky. Opt out of the blame game entirely even if everyone else is playing in favor of direct communication and accountability for duties within your sphere of influence.


First, let’s clarify definitions of leadership, strategy and tactics. Keep the strategy versus tactics definition front of mind for purposes of understanding requirements for your position for the marketing plan/budget. Sr. Management underestimates mixed messages stemming from unclear nomenclature usage and work-like-an-owner rhetoric versus real job duties.

Leadership, defined broadly as imagining and articulating strategy, inspiring teams with visionary plan focused on long-term success. Leaders decide direction influencing without hierarchy.

Strategy is the overall campaign plan, which may involve complex operational patterns, activity and decision-making that govern tactical execution whereas tactics are the actual means used to gain an objective.

Vision Alignment. For person (s) responsible for Positioning Statement material, understanding big picture strategy, determined by leader (s) is paramount to your success. Realize unless you are the owner or Chief Something, charting direction for the company is not your responsibility. Instead, clarify goals weaving supporting tactical elements into the agreed upon vision. Ask questions if business strategy is not common knowledge, alleviating misplaced pressure as confusion burns valuable time.

Inspire. Provide perspective, explaining vision in simple terms ensuring understanding. Finally, leaders take responsibility when results are
not as planned, blaming others excludes you from the club.

“The quickest way to figure out if you are leading or managing is to count the number of people outside your reporting hierarchy who come to you for advice. The more that do, the more likely it is that you are perceived to be a leader.”

Leadership is not:

  • Allowing emotions to cloud judgment, responding with reactive criticism instead of logical counter points to influence stakeholders. Battles are sometimes necessary but tizzy fits are never advisable.
  • Arbitrarily opting out of portions of assignments due to inconvenience; condoning careless work.
  • Rallying team against perceived enemy imagining solidarity shields you from expectations.
  • Ignoring trends shaping business and contending factors don’t apply to your region. Ostrich tactics invite competitors to enjoy your market share.
  • Pretending you have nothing to learn, an expert in all matters.


Defined broadly as creating the mechanism for successful completion of assignment. Dispensing tasks, responsibilities and checking for quality are all part of successful management; further, overseeing work, communicating objectives and plan details while remaining focused on results.

99% of us are managers; even fancy titles are generally Senior Management positions so focus on mastering these items, which truly fall into your job description before attempting leadership experiments.

Mark your calendar. The budget happens each year so never act surprised again. Excellent managers prepare teams by seeing needs in advance of assignments ensuring as little disruption as possible.

Create a plan for the plan. Organize work, carving out appropriate time, plotting out productivity and resources required.

Train. Depending upon seniority of team, instruction and discussion is necessary so build in resources to set everyone up for success.

Anticipate costs. Review expenses and research impact of assumptions provided. Managers must be in the details.

Proofread. Assign an eagle eye to find errors, as it is painfully clear when departments worked in silos, each section of the plan proposing incongruent stories.

Practice the presentation. Sharpen pitch with mock trials to prepare team in advance of budget presentation giving the team a chance to shine instead of being caught unprepared.

Management is not:

  • Hoping everyone knows the drill and will do his/her part without direction.
  • Ignoring the details.
  • Putting the business plan on the shelf to collect dust.
  • Avoiding feedback when project is off track.
  • Failing to improve procedure, using excuse that nobody else is doing it.


Managing up or maneuvering within a culture is precarious for uninitiated managers lacking working knowledge of unspoken rules; political quicksand devours the well meaning but clueless. Marketing plans are an excellent litmus test of political savvy.

It’s not about you. Higher-up audiences lack sensitivity to your woes. Avoid taking personal offense to shareholder’s want of returns, which does not imply mandatory agreement with directives; on the contrary, constructive disagreement requires shrewdness to win arguments, reputation unscathed. Peevish blunders chip away at professional status; damaging invisible bonds discovered as future partnerships, promotions and support is withdrawn.

Watch your tone. When crafting tactics use upbeat marshmallow crème as an antidote to sour patch kid reality. Most organizations favor best-case scenario so avoid passive-aggressive pessimism impersonating facts. Finally, allow for adequate time to create confections for complex issues.

Selling Solutions. Game-changing initiatives need peddling and political campaigns long before the budget presentation. Miscalculated effort behind selling sizable solutions kills the opportunity. Overcoming status quo requires Herculean effort; the bigger the impact to tradition, the more pre-selling required and more influence and authority needed. Expect ruffled feathers when managers are forced out of their comfort zones. Finally, if popularity is paramount to your happiness, pass on the leadership initiatives altogether until you’ve developed significant grit.

The lesson you are teaching yourself. Marketing plans test your ability to describe reality in terms deemed acceptable to stakeholders. Suspension of disbelief may be required while attempting something initially considered unrealistic. Masters navigate these waters effortlessly, creating value and supporting leadership’s vision never taking the game personally.

Political deftness is not:

  • Spouting your version of truth without regard to audience.
  • Ignoring advice and discrediting counter opinions.
  • Disregarding protocol. It’s tempting for expediency but damages long-term success.
  • Attempting to push initiatives without selling at each level.
  • Railing against the system having miscalculated required effort.
  • Throwing colleagues under bus to make you look good.

Take heart, nobody masters the process instantaneously; instead, building skills each year enables steady progress and eventual mastery of sections in each discipline. An honest assessment is the best place to begin, allowing new understanding to replace exasperation.

Think of your marketing plan and budget as an annual thesis or final exam ensuring your professional credentials remain current. Embrace constructive criticism and seek counter opinions to hone talents. Further, every year is an opportunity to master another Leadership, Management and Political skill. Who wants a Rice Krispy Treat?

Recipe for Boozy Salted Caramel Marshmallow Treats

Brown ½ cup butter over low heat

Add bag of marshmallows with a pinch of fleur de sel salt. Melt slowly, stirring frequently.

Add heavy pour of bourbon to taste. (The alcohol cooks out) Start with 5 tablespoons and carefully taste the marshmallow mix, which should have a strong bourbon flavor.

Cut up 5 to 6 large pieces of soft salted caramel and toss into marshmallows giving a few stirs to start the melting process.

Remove from heat and add cereal, combine rapidly and press into buttered dish. Sprinkle top lightly with more fleur de sel salt.

The story and recipe above should not be considered advice as the readers and
users of Chocolate Cake Mondays are not clients and therefore CCM is not liable for reader’s reliance on the information herein.

Please share any other tips for successful large-scale project management.