‘Put yourself in the shoes of your CEO’ and other thought-provoking career lessons from marketing guru Jill Pringle

Conducting an orchestra

As CEO and founder of Brand Symphony Marketing, Jill Pringle combines her dual passions of music and business in sometimes unexpected ways. In the latest everywomanLeadership webinar she talks about hitting the right notes to move forward and how she uses the skills and perspectives from her musical background to orchestrate marketing across different parts of a business – an approach outlined in her new book The Brand Symphony: How to Create a Branding and Marketing Strategy to Scale an Established Service Business.


1. Your career can leverage all your skills

It took me a long time to understand how I was using quite a lot of my musical skills in the way I approach my marketing. On a personal level, for me there was the ‘marketing Jill’ and there was the ‘musical Jill’. But when I went into organisations, I would always be thinking about what the audience was hearing and seeing and approach the job by trying to come up with a clear song that everybody could sing, then orchestrating the peoples’ ‘voice’ across the business to get it out to market.

Key takeaway: what skills that you use in your personal or leisure time could you utilise more of in your professional life?


2. Complacency hits the wrong note

To progress your career, you have to continue developing, and not just in how good you are in your role but through demonstrating that you can step up. My first sales and marketing job was with the Philharmonia Orchestra, which I actually got because I had previously worked in a box office and had some understanding of how an arts venue works, as well as a music degree. After I’d been there about a year and a half, my boss left and the company insisted on advertising the job externally. I had to apply like everybody else and I had to justify everything that I'd done in that organisation, which gave me a good grounding. It taught me that you have to work to get opportunities, and just because you are in a certain place doesn't mean that you're not going to have competition.

Key takeaway: Do you have any ‘expectations’ for the future which you may need to reframe as ‘goals’, along with a plan of action?


3. Sometimes you just have to make it happen

When I wanted to leave the Philharmonia I started looking at marketing jobs outside of music, but I was knocked back, and always because I didn't have a marketing qualification. I also didn't have the marketing terminology so I couldn't speak the ‘right language’ for what I knew how to do intuitively. I realised I was going to have to make it happen, so I gave up my job, took out a loan to pay my mortgage and put myself through a Masters in marketing. That then allowed me to get a job at Thomson Local, and also gave me a real understanding of where marketing fits in an organisation so I could progress through the rest of my career. Sometimes you have to make investments in yourself in order to get to the next level in your career. It's not always just going to happen for you.

Key takeaway: Future proof your career plan by spending some time anticipating any skills gaps that may become barriers to your advancement.


4. Successful careers are not always linear

At Thomson Local, there were various different marketing teams in different business units, and bit by bit, I moved through them all. I didn't always want to make some of those moves, but when the next step up wasn't there yet (because there was someone good in the role already and they didn't want to leave) I was faced with a choice: either I could leave the organisation or stay and take a sideways move. That turned out to be really good for me, because by the time I became Head of Marketing and then Product Marketing Director, I'd had every different type of marketing role in the business. To use a musical analogy, I had played every instrument in the orchestra. So, I was a natural person to lead it because I could actually help every person in those roles and understood how they all came together.

Key takeaway: Identify stretch assignments and sideways moves that could add breadth to your CV.


5. Let go of the ‘old you’ to move forward

It took me a while to understand that whenever I stepped into a new role, the first thing that I needed to do was to let go of who I was in the previous role. It’s difficult when actually what gets you the promotion is the fact that you're really good in one particular role, but invariably the skills that you need as you take more of a leadership position are very different. One of the best tips I was given was to hire the old ‘you’ quickly. I've definitely had times in my career where I’ve tried to carry on doing both jobs, and that's confusing for me and everybody else. That tip was quite a practical way to think about it for me and enabled me to let go of my previous persona and give it to somebody else. In that way, I could see my job then was to nurture them — not to continue to do that role myself.

Key takeaway: Each new role requires a shift in your personal brand, and it’s well worth mapping this out before you take up the reins.


6. Your personal brand is a performance

As an introvert, I often set my own motivation and look to myself to find a solution to get to the next level. There's strength in not looking outwards to other people for your own self-worth, but, the more senior I got, it actually presented more of a challenge in some ways. My preferred way of winning people over was to demonstrate my capability, rather than talk about it. I was happy to stay inside my department and not actually promote myself outside of that, let alone outside of the organisation, and that can be quite damaging to a career. You do need to build your profile inside and outside of your organisation because people need to know who you are. Then they can come knocking at your door with an opportunity.

Key takeaway: Once you’ve defined your personal brand, the next step is to consider who you need to communicate it to.


7. A good leader knows their orchestra

Learning to understand different people's perspectives is really important. One of the ways that I opened up my network internally was to go and ask other people about what they did and what was going on for them at the moment. I wanted to join the dots of how the organisation works, because we are part of that ecosystem and that overall performance. It’s good to do a bit of work to understand where you fit and maybe think about what is going to be important for the CEO right now, for example, because it's not going to be the same view for them looking down on the whole organisation as it is for you as a player sitting onstage.

Key takeaway: Put yourself in the shoes of your employees, peers and seniors to take a holistic view of where you fit into the picture.


8. Small notes create a new sound

Get used to pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in small steps. Running my own business involves a whole different level of exposure and vulnerability, and when I started, I had to get used to the idea that I could no longer hide behind somebody else's product or service. I was there to represent ‘me’, and that was scary. Just taking things one opportunity at a time and one step at a time, rather than focusing on where that was all going was helpful. Trying to focus on a whole big task is more overwhelming than thinking, ‘All I'm doing today is this one thing that I feel a bit nervous about’. Then over time, you start to look back and think, ‘Actually I've done this a lot, and I don't have that same feeling or anxiety anymore because this is the new normal. This is in my comfort zone now.’

Key takeaway: When you’re ‘stuck’ in your comfort zone, small steps can be more effective than big leaps.