Why Do We Need a Marketing Department?

As a marketing professional, I often ask myself why my organization needs marketing. Why does my marketing department exist? What impact do we really have?

Sometimes I think it would be fun to remake the classic movie A Wonderful Life so we could see what the world would look like had we never come into existence. What would the company look like if marketing never appeared on the organization chart? What would be lost if my marketing group “went out of business?”

When I assumed my marketing responsibilities at the American Red Cross three years ago, I quickly worked with my team to develop a mission statement. It helped us in several ways. First, it anchored us, giving our work a deeper sense of purpose and reminding us of the important role we play. The mission statement guides us as we choose from among competing priorities, especially when we are trying to allocate our limited resources. It also illuminates our day-to-day activities and helps in making wise decisions.

I am not, however, one who gets caught up in writing flowery, eloquent mission statements. Too often those are written to impress others rather than to guide marketing in making good decisions. I want my work to be grounded on a mission statement that is relevant, memorable and brief. It should be something I can recall as I’m talking about a project with a co-worker. Or meeting with my boss when we’re reviewing my expense budget. Or as I’m away from the office representing my organization in the community. It should be backdrop against which I do everything.

So why does the American Red Cross of Greater Kansas City need marketing? The quick answer is — To help the organization achieve its mission. Marketing exists to:

  1. Build interactive relationships with key audiences. The word interactive may seem unnecessary. After all, aren’t all relationships interactive? It’s there to remind us that we live in a 2.0 world. No longer can we be content to just push out information through the traditional media. We also must use the new media—the social media—to connect, to converse and to engage.
  2. Increase community support. Some purists might say this is a process, a means to an end. It’s in our mission, though, to remind us to go beyond making people feel warm and fuzzy about the Red Cross. We need to look for ways to involve people. Our communications must include calls to action, either direct or implied.
  3. Generate revenue, both philanthropic and earned income. Accountants define marketing and communications as overhead. To them, we’re an expense, a drain on organizational resources. Not for a moment will I allow myself to think like that. My marketing group generates revenue. We may not directly raise funds, but we very much contribute to the success of those who “reap the harvest” which we have helped to plant. The organization’s bottom is stronger because of our marketing work. We bring in more than we consume.

As organizations focus on survival in this tough economy, every program, every department and every position deserves to be carefully scrutinized. As companies become leaner, I am committed to being muscle, not fat. I therefore keep repeating my mantra:  I’m here to build relationships, to increase support, and to generate revenue.

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