With more than 18 years of marketing experience at various enterprises, Dan Roche shares the difference between working small versus large organisations, advice on mapping your career path and how to leave a lasting legacy.
Small versus large businesses
He’s traversed the borders between a small PR agency, a global agency and then to KPMG, and now sits in a role as head of European partner marketing at the global tech firm Automation Anywhere. Here Dan shares his experiences of these roles, and what other marketers can learn about the clear differences between each one.
What are some of the benefits of working for a smaller business?
My last role at a
was as marketing director at Olive Communications. I was recruited to Olive to build the marketing function from scratch. Olive had one inhouse marketer, who was essentially a webmaster, who wasn’t strategic or focused on lead generation. The CEO brought me in to grow the business quickly and get our marketing professionalised. I had great latitude to do this as I saw fit.
Not all small organisations are like this; it depends on the senior leadership team’s understanding of marketing. It can be seen either as strategic and value adding, or just as the guys who do brochures and blow up balloons at events.
So if you’re lucky enough to work with a small organisation that has a CEO who takes marketing seriously and can put support and budget behind it, you can do incredible things. It’s also possibly easier to build a legacy at a small business. I was at Olive five years ago, but the website, brand and messaging I put in place there is still proving valid and useful now.
You then took a role as head of marketing at KPMG. What made you take that position?
I worked for a tech start-up within KPMG, called Small Business Accounting. I joined because I liked the brand, but I would’ve been wary of accepting a role in a very large organisation unless there was a clear opportunity for disruption – in a positive sense.
I was brought in to essentially lead a start-up marketing function, which was a similar challenge to what I had done at Olive. They wanted a leader to shake things up and make a difference quickly – to do something people at KPMG would usually never do.
I think it’s less about aligning to the size of the company, than the type of organisation and its needs. The roles I’ve taken have appealed to me because it’s meant understanding the business and translating that to a marketing strategy in a way that will make an impact as quickly as possible.
Were there challenges in adjusting to a role at a large firm?
The biggest challenge was how marketing was perceived by the rest of the marketing team and the business. We were trying to develop a sub-brand within KPMG, which was a new,
People were reticent to do something different. They thought the existing structures were the right ones and they didn’t want to let go.
I was fortunate to have a senior stakeholder within the organisation to say ‘Look, we’re doing this. This is a different approach for KPMG so we’ve got to do something disruptive in marketing’.
You have to go through a lot of compliance checks around corporate risk. At a small company, you can just create and post a new blog on a website in a day, while at KPMG that process can take weeks, and could also be watered down to make it less effective. As a marketer, that’s a real downside.
What were the main differences between working for a small versus large organisation?
There was an incredible amount of process and structure in being part of a large organisation. But it can be a good thing to have a framework to work within. You have support staff like finance and HR to help you with reviews.
In smaller organisations, these things aren’t as well developed. A finance team can help pay people on time and manage budgets, while at a smaller company as marketing lead I have to get involved with that and deal with suppliers asking where their money is. So you lose in terms of autonomy and freedom, but you gain from mature systems and support.
On balance, very large organisations don’t necessarily give you the same platform to be innovative because they’re already successful – you can only improve a bit. If you’re at a smaller or medium sized organisation and you get marketing right, it can turbo-charge the business.
Leaving such a well-respected brand – and support for a clear career path – can be very hard for some. What gave you the impetus to leave?
From a marketing perspective, I’d achieved more than I hoped was possible at KPMG. We’d created this award-winning new brand (
B2B Marketing Awards, Best Brand Initiative 2016
), built a new website, devised a sophisticated telemarketing model and ultimately a reliable and repeatable digital demand generation engine.
The rest of the big four accountancy firms were trying to do the same thing – launching a service that targeted entrepreneurs, so there was competitive tension to get this right.
The other three didn’t get it right – they weren’t as brave or innovative. We generated thousands of new clients over two and a half years, while our closest competitor only got to about 300.
However KPMG’s core business is FTSE 100 firms, rather than entrepreneurs so in the end the decision was made to not invest too much further in this area. The clients we won weren’t necessarily translating into larger organisations. I saw the writing on the wall, thought I’d had a great time and done something ground-breaking, but if KPMG weren’t going to back this any further it was time to do something else.
You’re now European partner marketing director for Automation Anywhere. What appealed to you about that role?
Automation Anywhere is the fastest growing software company in the world. We’re big in the US and India but in Europe, we’re seeking to ramp up. When I joined, there were just 15 of us in the London office. and I was the second or third marketing hire. They hired me to build partner marketing out from pretty much a standing start. I was also attracted to the challenge of applying my knowledge of working at partner-type businesses to a firm in a really compelling sector –
automation and AI
“If people can’t make their own decisions, they’re generally not as happy. That comes with responsibility because if you make those decisions and they go wrong you have to be accountable for them.”
Mapping your career path
Dan’s career path has led him into markedly different roles, yet each with the opportunities granted by autonomy and support for a new project. We asked Dan how actively he’s planned his career and the diversity behind its development.
Do you proactively plan your career?
I’ve always taken care to understand how the wider business works in order to most successfully help with its challenges. I took an MBA to deepen my knowledge of business, also studying best practice in sales, including understanding sales metrics and methodology. Being a good technical marketer can take you places but having a broader vision makes you stand out.
Are you happy with the way your career path has developed?
I think if I’d started at a large company I wouldn’t have moved down into a smaller company. There were 100 people in the marketing team at KPMG in the UK and the team is very well organised and planned from a career perspective.
They take care to develop their people but there’s a slight danger you can become institutionalised. Many people enjoy the structure because they have a clear career path to do different things within the organisation.
But to my mind, that discourages innovative thinking and bringing on board the latest marketing techniques and cool things to move the business forward on a tactical and strategic basis. That wouldn’t have worked well for me, but it works for people disposed to that type of career.
Did you use mentoring/networks or support from anyone when planning your career?
I’ve always been fortunate to have business and marketing leaders within the organisations I’ve worked for who I’ve admired and tried to learn from, both agency and client-side. At Azzurri, my boss instigated a coaching course for her team and that was really helpful. The coach was an ex-marketing director himself and had moved into career/life coaching. It helped develop emotional intelligence and softer skills like stakeholder engagement. He provided a framework and structure to think about what was important, which made a huge difference in knowing what to work towards in three or five years’ time.
Have you ever considered taking the CEO role?
I think marketing has changed for the better in B2B and has become more strategic over recent years. I’d suggest the immediate opportunity is for CMOs and marketing leaders to drive the business forward enough in their own right and to show clear commercial impact of their team’s performance.
Once that is better demonstrated, the CMO to CEO path will be clearer. A good CEO also needs to have a strong understanding and a focus on operations and finance, which are internal facing, while a marketers’ mindset is generally more external. So it’s a rare marketer who can move to a CEO role in B2B.
Dan Roche career history:
- European partner marketing director, Automation Anywhere (current)
- Head of marketing, KPMG Small Business Accounting, KPMG (2 yrs 10 months)
- Marketing director, Olive Communications (1 yr 5 months)
- Head of marketing, Azzurri Communications (4 yrs 6 months)
- Senior consultant, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide (3 yrs 4 months)
- Associate director, The ITPR Group (5 yrs 1 month)
Building a legacy
Great leaders think about what they’re leaving behind – both in terms of their team and the structures that support them. We asked Dan about his efforts.
What are the key skills you look for at interviews?
I look for the
capability to manage
a complex, fast-moving environment. I want to see resilience and examples of where they’ve faced challenging situations.
Also, innovation, where they’ve done something different and haven’t just come into a role and ticked boxes.
These are difficult to quantify but are the two things that will make a difference in a super fast-moving, unstructured organisation.
How can you ensure a good marketing legacy is left behind when you leave?
Good marketing means creating a platform for sustained success. It’s the brand, the positioning and what the company stands for.
But it’s also about bringing in the right people and team, which is your in-house team as well as agencies.
When I joined KPMG, they’d put a big budget behind the initial launch and had four agencies involved, but they hadn’t necessarily briefed them well. So when I came in I removed a couple of them but retained the one that was a great agency, but was just being focused in the wrong way. They still continued working for other parts of KPMG after I left.
If you create that platform, you can provide consistency and continuity.
Do you have a succession plan?
When I joined Automation Anywhere, I was the only person doing partner marketing in Europe. Now I have a great team in Germany, France and the Netherlands. I’m hiring more people as we speak so there are always people to naturally grow and fill roles.
What contributes most to job satisfaction?
Autonomy, which is true in life as well. If people can’t make their own decisions, they’re generally not as happy. That comes with responsibility because if you make those decisions and they go wrong you have to be accountable for them.
I think working for a company where the values are aligned with your own is important, but in marketing you can still do interesting and challenging things even if the company isn’t exactly to your liking.
What contributes most to success?
is a huge factor for marketing leaders. Marketing is not always well understood, so if you’re not communicating effectively or influencing people who have an opinion on what you’re doing, it might hinder the success of your project.
Spend time when you first join the organisation understanding what success looks like for the key players. This is where emotional intelligence and softer skills can really help.
Reading widely is really important, not just in marketing best practice and digital tools and techniques, because for a
you don’t need to know everything to the Nth degree. While reading fiction and biographies give you a wider insight into the human condition and that empathy can be valuable.
I’m reading a book at the moment called
, which is about Captain Cook. It’s non-fiction but tells the story about how they managed to sail down to Australia 250 years ago in a pretty small boat. I suppose Captain Cook is a good leadership role model in that he pioneered a voyage in uncharted waters, while keeping the ship happy in times of adversity. I’ve learned something from that.
This report explains why career success and succession planning go hand-in-hand for marketing leaders, and guide you towards a happy and fulfilling future.