Ruth Dalton, head of communications and marketing at education specialist New Directions, is the epitome of the energetic marketer. Her impressive career history runs from UK recruitment giant Hays to an array of education institutions via the Horticultural Trades Association of all places.
Certified by the Chartered Institute of Marketing and PR, Ruth emphasizes the lessons she’s learned as well as the skills she’s amassed. She shares how to unite people toward a common goal and how to forge strong, productive relationships by being passionate about your work.
What made you a marketer?
When I was 16 or 17 I was desperate to get into journalism. I thought I was going to be a famous news correspondent, but being from small-town Middlesbrough in the northeast of England, I didn’t have the biggest opportunities. I went on to complete an English literature degree, and I loved the creative writing side. Then, once I realized I could work creatively with words and get paid for it, it all started coming together.
How important is that sense of passion to your job?
Incredibly so. I’m very passionate about what I do, and not just at work either. I’m a huge Middlesbrough Football Club fan – and going on their performance, that’s not “glory supporting” [which is to say she’s not just a fair-weather fan]; that’s pure devotion! Plus, I think it’s innate in my personality to be very, very excitable, which helps.
Where else do you find the inspiration for your work?
One of the things I was taught on my marketing course was to look at everything, and I do. My mom used to say I was obsessed with television ads instead of the programs themselves! But really it’s about noticing everything that goes on around you, including the style of ads – whether print or digital – and then giving it a twist to make it your own.
When working in a big company like yours, what’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is always getting cultural buy-in from the teams you’re working with. Often when you come to businesses in their early life cycle, or ones that haven’t employed a marketing team before, you find a lot of expert know-how, but also a “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. What then pops up for every marketer is all of the underground stuff that people create for themselves – bits of old clip art or terrible grammar that they cling onto. And that’s the challenge, to get people to understand that’s not the way forward for their brand.
What skills do marketers need to get that cultural buy-in?
The ability to unite the workforce. It’s like a two-stage battle – you’ve got to take a product or service to market, but you’ve also got to get all the people involved completely energized and ready to support you when that happens. In every business, everyone should be relying on their communications and marketing team to send messages out, even within smaller teams. Somebody working on these things means that everyone stays on the same page.
How does that play out in other relationships, such as those with clients?
Marketing and communications is all about relationships. People love the notion of somebody they trust, and whose company they enjoy, giving them advice. For both business-to-business and business-to-consumer communications, I think that people’s personalities absolutely influence the marketing and connection with the audience. It’s people buying people.
What tips would you give small businesses for their marketing?
When employing a team, look for somebody who is passionate – it will come across in the interview. Somebody who’s probably quite infectious in what they’re talking about. If you’ve got somebody who is exceptionally creative and can come up with innovative ideas, then I don’t think it’s always necessary for them to be professionally qualified. If they can get you excited, they can engage your clients.
Top tips from Ruth:
- Communications is about uniting the workforce. Make sure you can rely on your communications and marketing team to send your messages out.
- There’s a point when you need to hand over your project, no matter how attached you are. That’s why we’re always succession planning and looking for people to step up and take on responsibility.
- For people working at smaller organizations, it’s worth searching for free online tools. You can do really high-end stuff on a shoestring with simple-to-use email marketing programs like PowToon, MailChimp and SurveyMonkey.