How to get a job as a marketing director in games

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Developers can make the best game in the world, but it’s all for nothing if no-one knows about it.

Like it or not, marketing has always played a huge role in the games industry and is of more importance than ever before in the increasingly-saturated release slate.

We asked a variety of marketing directors from both AAA and indie companies, just how one can get into the games industry in this important role.

What education do I need to get a job as a marketing director?

As with many positions within the games industry, having a university degree is a plus. However, this does not necessarily need to be a qualification focused on marketing.

“Traditionally a degree has often been desired for this level of position,” Fireshine marketing director Sarah Hoeksma tells GamesIndustry.biz.

“I didn’t specialise in marketing at university and had a broader BA, but did decide to do a MA in Marketing once I knew this was the field I loved. I do know great marketing directors who have got to that level through pure talent and drive who didn’t go to university too.”

Ubisoft’s senior marketing director for the UK and Canada, Mark Slaughter, adds: “Although not a prerequisite for a marketing career path, I think it is important that at some point on your journey for you to have studied marketing to a degree/professional level. It gives you a grounding in the science of the discipline and an understanding of how commercially critical marketing is to any business. Strategic-planning can help you in any business-related career path, after all.”

“Despite a constantly changing landscape and the shifting sands of console generations, ‘classical’ marketeers will always have an edge in terms of the underlying principles”

Jamin Smith, Modern Wolf

It is possible to land a career in marketing without having formal education in the field. As Mordern Wolf’s marketing director Jamin Smith says, you can secure a position in this speciality by having a keen eye for the underlying science of marketing.

“There’s a lot to be said for understanding the fundamentals,” he explains.

“Despite a quick, constantly changing landscape driven by social media and the shifting sands of console generations, ‘classical’ marketeers will always have an edge in terms of the underlying principles. While a formal marketing education is by no means a requirement — I’ve never studied marketing in an official sense — you will need to learn the core pillars of digital marketing if you expect to lay an appropriate foundation to build out from.

“From there, games marketeers then have so many unique levers to pull over the course of a game’s campaign. Understanding how featuring on console dashboards works, for example, or the inner workings of the Steam algorithm, or who the biggest tactical-strategy game influencer is, or implementing Twitch Drops — there are many bespoke, game-specific tricks that no education — that I’m aware of!
— can hope to cover.”

Monica Dinsmore, senior director of marketing and brand for esports over at Electronic Arts, adds that hiring managers at entry-level positions typically look for a degree either in communications or marketing, but “practical experience trumps education” more and more often.

“But a collegiate experience often gives you a solid foundation to build on and can be indicative of a commitment to learning,” she highlights.

What experience do I need to get a job in marketing director?

As a marketing director, you’ll be overseeing promotional activity for a company or section of a company. Unsurprisingly, experience working in marketing is absolutely essential.

“Experience working within a marketing team as a product or marketing manager is common,” Hoeksma says. “When I was at EA, cross pollination was really encouraged and we had people move from development teams into marketing or from creative services and so on, too.”

Stephen Hey, presently of marketing consultancy HeyStephenHey, but also a former marketing director at EA and its Chillingo studio, adds: “At director level you need to have done your time with a few years as a marketing or brand manager. You need some successful campaigns under your belt, some successes you can point to and detail the elements you delivered.”

“At director level you need to have done your time with a few years as a marketing or brand manager”

Stephen Hey

Smith argues that it isn’t just experience in marketing specifically that is required or desired for a marketing director position. He says that a broad range of knowledge should be absolutely vital to holding this role.

“At a director level I’d say you should have shipped a broad range of games from a variety of genres on a number of different platforms,” he says. “You only really gain the ‘gut’ for what’s right having gone through the process enough times with enough different campaigns at enough different sizes and shapes delivered. Once this gut feel for what’s right is strong enough, there’s likely enough experience for the role.”

Slaughter adds that having worked across various brands and industries, and not just games, is also a plus, and so is experience “managing and leading teams.”

Dinsmore’s journey is a good example of how a broad variety of experiences can lead to landing a position as a marketing director in games.

“There really isn’t a ‘perfect’ set of skills or experience needed to become a great marketer,” she says. “My personal journey is reflective of this: I started in tech, have deep experience in operations, and I spent a good chunk of my career in investments before moving to video games and now esports. That diversity in exposure and experience was beneficial when I started working in marketing because good marketers need to know every aspect of the business in order to adequately represent the point-of-view of the company and develop marketing a strategy that speaks authentically to its audience.”

E3 2019’s mural on the Figueroa Hotel (photo: VG247)

What qualities and skills do I need to be a marketing director?

While marketing expertise is one area that a marketing director needs to have in spades, the other key skill is how to oversee an entire department.

“A lot of the responsibility of a marketing director is about managing your team and getting the very best from the people who work for you,” Hoeksma says.

“You also have to be focused on the strategy. It is great fun working on the very tactical and executional elements of a campaign but often this is the job of the product or marketing manager. You [also] need to have a solid understanding of the commercial side of the business, you will be looking at the projections, forecasts and sales, and balancing that with performance marketing, agencies and activations.”

As well as being able to manage people, a marketing director should also have knowledge or experience of the wider array of skills that can be used to promote a game or brand in the current media landscape.

“It’s crucial for marketing directors to have empathy and a relentless focus on their audience”

Monica Dinsmore, EA

“You’ll need a good head for the various disciplines that fall under the broader marketing remit, such as brand, creative, comms, community and social,” Smith explains.

“If you’re missing a good strategic head for any of the individual disciplines, chances are that ‘gut’ won’t be honed enough to make the right decisions. You’ll also need a strong feel for the numbers; marketing is all about driving growth, whether that’s revenue, player numbers, wishlists, views or followers. Understanding the KPIs and what levers to pull to make them move is key to it all.

“Above all this disciplinary knowledge, though, you’ll need to know how to manage people, and how to create and lead a team capable of making the numbers do what you need them to do (go up, I’d imagine). On the flip-side, you also need a strong empathy for the consumer, and what resonates with respect to the genre you might be working within. Ultimately you need to know the market — with all its quirks and trends — like the back of your hand.”

Hey adds that you really ned to be an “all-rounder” to be a good marketing director.

“You need to be able to understand where marketing fits into the organisation’s priorities strategically, but also be able to be tactical on a campaign level. You need to be analytical, to work out where the best return on marketing investment is likely to happen before you launch a campaign. Yet, you also need to be creative and able to take informed risks to do something special with campaigns. As a director you will probably have a team so great management skills and empathy will be something you will need to develop.”

For Ubisoft’s Slaughter, the key is to trust in a variety of information outside of your own gut.

Sarah_Hoeksma

Fireshine marketing director Sarah Hoeksma

“To be credible you need to be commercially, strategically and data-led,” he says. “It’s also important to be consistent and rational in your thinking, to have patience and be able to listen. Personally I believe being humble and naturally curious of consumer behaviour is essential as ultimately that is what guides you. Most importantly as a team leader, to be there for your team and support their development.”

Meanwhile, Dinsmore believes that the key skill for marketing directors is a keen ability to be able to relate to the audience their company is serving.

“It’s crucial for marketing directors to have empathy and a relentless focus on their audience,” she says. “You need to know how to speak and relate to that particular audience in an authentic way. In games, for example, the best marketing directors are those that have a passion and respect for video games themselves, and can understand what the player base wants and is feeling.

“It’s also important to maintain a sense of curiosity and commitment to learning, using data to help inform strategic decisions and stay on top of (or ideally ahead of) industry trends. Lastly, you need to be a relationship builder and collaborator. You’ll work with many cross-functional internal teams, creatives, vendors, agencies, brands, and executive stakeholders (to name a few) and it will be your job to help them align around the brand vision.”

Common misconceptions about being a marketing director

As with any speciality, there are some misconceptions floating around about what someone in a particular position does with their time, or what comes under their remit.

For a marketing director, one of the misconceptions pointed out by Modern Wolf’s Smith is that working on promotional activity is actually a smaller part of the role that one might think.

Stephen_Hey

Stephen Hey, currently of marketing consultancy HeyStephenHey, and former marketing director at EA and its Chillingo studio

“I suppose the biggest misconception might be that there’s a lot of actual marketing work involved,” he says. “As the head of a marketing operation, your main focus is to enable your team to do the best work possible. Then you factor in budgets, forecasts, writing job descriptions, interviews, contracts, managing partners and agencies, C-suite/board management — this all contributes to the lion’s share of the role, with little time for ‘actual’ marketing.”

There are also those who believe that a marketing director — or marketing as a more general field — is a profession that is very templated, that there is a structure for correctly marketing every single video game. Hey says this is completely false.

“I would say one misconception is that marketing is quite ‘lightweight’ and, at worse, ‘colouring in’. This is far from the truth,” he says. “Games have to be marketed correctly, and marketing teams are under pressure to spend budgets effectively. This balance of economics, creativity and understanding the market and consumers, is sometimes not really given the credit it deserves.”

What’s the typical progression to a marketing director role?

When it comes to getting to the position of a marketing director, Dinsmore gives an idea of what a traditional progression into the role can look like, all while highlighting that there is “a number of different paths across the marketing discipline, both conventional and not.”

“Usually, you would start out as a coordinator or another entry-level role where you might support customer service or assist account managers,” she says. “Once you’ve got exposure to doing the work, a logical next step would be management.

Monica_Dinsmo

Monica Dinsmore, senior director of marketing and brand for esports at EA

“At this stage you might start to develop creative processes and execute marketing plans, as well as begin to develop your leadership skills by managing entry-level employee growth. Helping others reach their own career aspirations can be incredibly rewarding. As your leadership and experience grow, you’ll likely begin to create strategy. You’d probably be at about director level at this point. Data and market research becomes incredibly important to help you craft your strategy and gives you a good lens to evaluate strategic decisions.

“Beyond director, you typically get into VP and CMO level roles. These executive level roles usually lead all aspects of the marketing process and help drive overall business strategy. People management, leadership skills and designing and implementing strategy are all transferable skills you can take with you to virtually any role as your career progresses.”

Slaughter adds: “As a career, there are many paths in marketing. You can be a generalist, a team manager or indeed a specialist, be it in communications or product development. As previously mentioned marketing is a strategic discipline that should set you up for many career paths should you choose it.”

What advice would you give aspiring marketing directors?

Knowing how to convince someone to want to buy your product is a pretty key discipline within the marketing profession. Therefore, if you want to work in this field, you should be good at getting yourself out there and promoting yourself if you are serious about wanting to be a marketing director.

“I’d recommend any aspiring marketing directors make the effort to put themselves out there for opportunities,” Hoeksma says. “You are, after all, your own biggest advocate. I find that many women I have worked with are less confident about putting themselves forward for promotion early, and I would like to see more of a balance here. I would urge anyone who doubts themselves to push forwards, you know more than you think you do and your experience speaks volumes. Believe in your ability and don’t wait to make that leap, we are all far stronger than we often give ourselves credit for.”

It’s also important to have a variety of skills in your tool belt. One of the advantages of the many routes into marketing is that you can come into the profession with a wide array of knowledge that might help you later down the line. Though, as Smith points out, this isn’t a quick process.

Mark_Slaughter_Ubisoft

Mark Slaughter, senior marketing director for the UK and Canada at Ubisoft

“Be a jack of all trades — although forewarning: this takes years, 15 in my case,” he explains. “Work in QA. Be a games journalist. Go to trade shows. Take a community role. Learn how the PR machine works. Brief assets. Write scripts. Edit videos. Work with great creative partners. Work with bad ones. Embrace all the mistakes. Try a Unity tutorial or similar; learn the other side of the coin. Work for a three-person indie studio. Work for a 1,200-person global publisher. Hone your gut by doing a bit of everything.”

Hey agrees, adding that it’s worth keeping an eye on how promotion is done within different fields: “Absorb everything. All about games but also keep in touch with marketing in other sectors, FMCG, entertainment, electronics and so on.

“Always put your consumers first, try to understand and empathise with them as much as possible using market research and just seeing what they say on Reddit, Discord and other channels.”

For Dinsmore, it’s more about developing a comprehensive knowledge of “the inner workings of the marketing and creative process,” she says.

“This will give you a solid foundation to start. Ask to sit in on creative and strategy meetings and shadow leaders and mentors. In those meetings, don’t be afraid to ask questions and offer suggestions. Just because something might seem obvious to you doesn’t mean it is to everyone in the room.

Jamin_Smith

Jamin Smith, Mordern Wolf’s marketing director

“Work on building up your relationships and soft skills, and make sure you’re staying up to date on industry news and trends. You should also target companies with missions you’re passionate about, or the agencies that represent them. This will give you a head start in terms of being able to relate to the audience of that particular brand.”

Finally, Ubisoft’s Slaughter says that it is vital to understand some of the more technical concepts within the marketing profession.

“The advice I’d give to any aspiring marketing director is to understand the value of targeting, positioning and setting clear consumer behavioural objectives,” he says.

“Being salient and relevant, to not overestimate the importance of your brand in the lives of your consumer. You need to stand out and remember you are not the creative — leave that to the brilliant agencies or teams you employ. Set clear objectives and brief properly, measure and learn and adapt.”

Resources

Books:

  • Creative Inc – Ed Catmull
  • Shoe Dog – Phil Knight
  • Perennial Seller – Ryan Holiday
  • How Brands Grow – Byron Sharp
  • The Long and the Short of It – Binet & Field
  • Marketers Are From Mars, Consumers Are From New Jersey – Bob Hoffman

Online:

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