AVA talks to…marketing guru Brian Sheehan

The author discusses what will happen to Apple without Steve Jobs and the skills needed to build a successful career in marketing.

Brian Sheehan is the author of AVA’s Basics Marketing 02: Online Marketing, and Basics Marketing 03: Marketing Management. He is Associate Professor of Advertising in the S. I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University, New York. He has more than 25 years’ professional experience with advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi and currently acts as a consultant, managing their Toyota Worldwide Executive Board.


Brian and students visiting Toyota last summer


AVA: What are the most important recent developments within marketing? Have the key skills required to be successful remained the same or has the development of online marketing changed all the rules?

BS: The most basic skills are interpersonal skills and endless curiosity.  Those are vital. Online marketing has changed the game.  Now you also need strong digital skills, especially strong digital strategic skills and basic digital production skills.


Is greed good? Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street


AVA: People are often confused about the differences between advertising and marketing. How would you define the two?

BS: Advertising is a subset of marketing.  Marketing includes pricing, distribution, promotion, and product strategies.  Advertising is focused on the promotional piece.


AVA: Marketing Management opens with a picture of Don Draper from the TV show Mad Men. Is the world of Mad Men one that you recognise?

BS: Only vaguely.  When I first came up in the business 25 years ago those days of the three-martini lunch were already a legend.  Perhaps they were overblown even then.  Advertising is a tough job.


Don Draper from the TV show Mad Men


AVA: The recent allegations of phone hacking and corruption at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp have increased calls for transparency and accountability in the dealings of big businesses. Does this hinder marketers?

BS: No, anything that opens up communication and creates accountability is better for consumers, which makes it better for advertisers, whether they realise it or not.


AVA: What advice would you give someone dealing with a public relations crisis?

BS: Read Chapter 6 of my latest book!


In times of trouble, such as the loss of revenue for British Airways with the volcanic eruption in Iceland, strong leadership becomes even more essential


An excerpt from Marketing Management giving advice on crisis management


AVA: In Online Marketing, you say: ‘we are only just beginning to realise the vast potential of the Web, which offers the best opportunities to create ideas that will change the world.’ Can marketing change the world for the better?

BS: Yes.  Take a look at the “Text HAITI” campaign that raised millions for earthquake relief in a matter of hours. Or take a look at how quickly the SussexSaferRoads campaign went viral all over the world.


AVA: In the introduction to Marketing Management, you write that ‘It is the book that I wish someone had written for me when I stepped into my first management position in marketing.’ How do you hope it will help people in a similar position?

BS: It took me years and years of experience (both good and bad) to learn some pretty simple, basic rules about things that I saw again and again.  If I had a book like this, I could have learned them, and used them a lot faster.


AVA: What advice would you give someone who wanted to work in marketing? What courses are most useful? And in terms of what employers are looking for, what experience should people aim to get?

BS: Internships in advertising or related fields really give you a step up.  Any courses in advertising and/or marketing do too.


AVA: In Marketing Management, you have written a section called ‘The competitive secret weapon: research insights’ which is followed by a case study on Apple’s iPod and iPhone, in which you discuss the impact made on the company by Steve Jobs. With the recent news of his death, much has been made in the media of his maverick management style and his famous pronouncement: ‘We do no market research.’ What is your opinion on this?

BS: It would be a mistake to use Steve Jobs as a benchmark.  He was a true visionary who knew his product and its promise intuitively because it came from his personal vision.  He is a person who comes along ever 100 years (the last one like him was Thomas Edison). For the other 99.99% of CEO’s and top managers, research is a good idea.


A case study from Marketing Management focusing on Apple


AVA: Do you think Apple can continue to match the scale of their previous success without Steve Jobs? What proportion of thriving companies do you think have succeeded because of the vision of one leader, and is this an ideal business model or one that should be avoided?

BS: No, I think they will have some trouble.  They will probably stay successful, but not as successful as with Steve at the helm. This increases the chances, long term, that they will be outflanked at some point. “Visionary” leaders run perhaps 5% of companies (as said before, true visionaries—like jobs—are one in a billion).  Most great leaders are not visionaries, but rather people of strong and consistent purpose, process and ethics.


Good leaders and bad managers discussed in Marketing Management


AVA: In your teaching position, what are the common problems that you see students struggle with?

BS: Ability to apply the learning to the real world because they don’t have a lot of real world experience.  That’s why workshopping is key.


AVA: The world of advertising is a very competitive one. Why do you think you have been successful? And does it worry you that presumably many of your students will be competing for the same jobs?

BS: I have always tried to understand the people around me.  Working in foreign countries like Japan, Hong Kong and Australia has helped me be a keen observer.  I am not worried about my students competing for the same jobs, I worry more about the people who have to go up against my students. 


Brian looking relaxed with some students from Belgium at Saatchi and Saatchi last summer


AVA: Which companies do you most admire for their advertising campaigns?

BS: It is always easy to say companies like Nike and Apple, but I really admire recent work for Snickers (US), Walls sausages (UK), and Geico (US).


You can view recent ads for Walls sausages and Geico on Youtube.


The Quicksilver ad that went viral - in Online Marketing


AVA: In the case of Facebook Beacon, which shared users’ personal information with partner websites to allow for targeted advertising, public outrage and pressure by moveon.org caused an opt-out button to be added, and later the system was scrapped (Online Marketing, page 161). Can we rely on industry self-regulation or does there always need to be legislation in place to prevent abuses of personal data? If the legislation cannot keep up with the advances, do marketers have a personal responsibility to consider the ethics of the techniques they use?

BS: I believe there always needs to be a combination of self-regulation and government legislation (just to keep the industry honest) and in tune with societal values.  The vast majority of regulation should be self-regulation, but we need government regulation for the important stuff.  Yes, marketers have a personal, ethical responsibility not to abuse personal data.


Case study on Facebook Beacon on Online Marketing


AVA: What have the most enjoyable aspects of working in marketing been for you?

BS: Hearing people in an elevator talk about how much they like a campaign they don’t even know I worked on.


AVA: When you look back at your career, what are the achievements you are most proud of, and the events that stand out as particularly testing?

BS: Losing accounts is always testing.  I was proud of times when we lost business but didn’t let people go, but rather rallied the agency to win new business.


AVA: If you had taken a different career path, what do you think you might have done instead?

BS: I wanted to play centerfield for the New York Mets, but that never happened.  I also looked at both banking and investment (I graduated with a degree in economics).  I thank God every day that I didn’t do either of those.  Advertising was a great choice.


Many thanks to Brian for taking part.



Brian’s two marketing books are available to buy from our website. Other books which may be of interest include our advertising series: The Fundamentals of Creative Advertising (second edition), Basics Advertising 01: Copywriting, Basics Advertising 02: Art Direction and Basics Advertising 03: Ideation.