Your Legacy as a Marketer Is Not Dictated by the Size of Your Budget

Spending money is easy. Making money is what it’s about.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

I remember the first time I was entrusted to make a quarter million dollar decision. It wasn’t as an advertising exec or a marketing manager. It was as a supervisor in a manufacturing facility making pop-up camper trailers.

I was supervisor of the “tops” section and was asked to calculate how much extruded aluminum to order for the coming year. The trailers varied in size so that one had to calculate (guesstimate) the number of pieces for each size trailer top that would be produced the following year. I remember the sense of responsibility that weighed on me. I felt personally responsible to make sure I submitted an accurate inventory of the parts needed.

The memory of that feeling occasionally re-emerged decades later when I was working in advertising and marketing for a much larger company in a different industry. I was astounded at how little concern there was with regards to the decisions some people made, because it wasn’t their money.

I’m a Scotsman, so true to form I squeeze my quarters till the eagle squawks. (OK, quarters don’t have eagles any more, but you know what I mean.)

When budgets get really big, people lose sight of the value of money. That is, until you get into a recession like we’re in now. It doesn’t grow on trees.

In the marketing game, especially for smaller companies, what’s important is not how big of a budget you get to spend, but how much impact you can make with what you’ve got.

Years ago I read a Harvard Business Review article that said, “When you’re a little company, you can’t spend money like the big companies.” Big companies frivolously waste all kinds of money. They don’t know what to do with it, so they blow it on pet projects and hobby interests. It they fritter it away, who cares? There’s more where that came from.

Let’s be frank. Little companies don’t have this luxury.

It takes more homework, more strategic thinking, wiser decisions to get a 50 dollar bang out of a two dollar bill. But it can be done.

This is actually an edge little companies have. They know where their money came from, so they know its value.


When the 90’s tech revolution exploded out of the chute, there were all kinds of small companies with new ideas and big dreams. Venture capital was everywhere because you never knew which would take off and which would flop. It was like the 60s music scene. Record labels signed everyone because the record label execs were out of touch with the street and didn’t want to miss the next Beatles. They didn’t want to become the butt of jokes like those folks at Decca.

Unfortunately, many of those 90s tech companies were run by people who were talented in tech but not necessarily leaders. (Even Steve Jobs was booted from Apple once.) So, the companies search for leaders who can bring them to the next level.

The error in judgment is right at this point. It’s a very high risk decision. I know of a successful startup that reached this precise moment when the founder/president said, “We need someone with more experience. I’m not the guy.”

The solution was to bring in the VP from a nationally known brand — a brand so well known that every person reading this would recognize it — who clearly had the chops to bring them to the next level. The problem? He didn’t understand the technology. He didn’t understand the distribution. And he didn’t know what he didn’t know. The only thing he knew how to do was solve problems by throwing more money at them.

Within a year the company was bankrupt. Beware.

He probably made a fortune, and the former employees were left holding the bag. No, wait. They didn’t even have bags after the unemployment checks ran out.

I’ve seen people make quarter million dollar and larger decisions simply for the satisfaction of having their name on the project, with no concern whatsoever as to whether it had any value for the company.

I’m grateful to have learned early the value of other people’s money and assuming responsibility like it was my own.

Be wise.

And as for the budget you get to manage, manage it well and you will be entrusted with more.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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