Beware of The Flash, The Fluff, and The Fakers

I recently attended an excellent seminar by Kimberly Davis, who runs a London-based marketing company called Sarsaparilla. You might remember Kimberly as the tough-talking New Yorker who appeared on BBC TV's 'The Apprentice' programme in 2009. (If not, check out the weblink at the end of this article).

One of the little gems she shared with the audience at our talk was that, before filming had begun for Series 5 of The Apprentice, Lord Sugar had told her that he "hates all marketing people." Kimberly thinks this is because, in the past, marketing consultants have wasted a lot of money for him! This was actually the theme of Kimberly's talk - the way that businesses waste money on the wrong type of marketing.

As a marketing expert myself, I've attended literally hundreds of talks by my fellow marketers. Some of them have been interesting and useful - others not so. But one thing that I come away with, time-after-time, is the feeling that most people who say they work in 'marketing' don't really understand marketing at all.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that over 75% of people who have 'marketing' in their job title don't even understand what the word means! And the worst offenders are often the people that run their own 'marketing' company!

So it was therefore a joy to attend this seminar by Kimberly, who is completely on the same wavelength as me about these people. In fact she has invented a phrase for them: 'The Flash, The Fluff, and the Fakers.'

You see, the problem with the word 'marketing' is that it is a catch-all phrase used by a lot of people to describe a narrow business activity, rather than an entire strategic discipline. 

For example, sales people often say that they are marketers. PR consultants say they are marketers. People who supply promotional merchandise say they are marketers. Web designers and social media gurus say they are marketers. People who organise events say they are marketers. The list goes on and on and on.

But none of these people are really marketers in the true sense of the word. What they really do is provide a narrow service that is related to marketing. It's a bit like a violinist calling himself an 'orchestra conductor' when he can only play one instrument. Or like a clown calling himself a 'circus ringmaster'.

A true marketer is someone who understands the wider strategic implications of an organisation's long-term objectives - and also understands how to achieve these objectives.

For example, it's not enough just to say: "our company needs a new website, let's find someone to design it for us." You have to first ask the question of what the website is trying to achieve. Do you really need to spend thousands of pounds on a website, or is there a better way to get your message across? Could that money be spent more effectively and more efficiently on another aspect of marketing, such as printed materials, advertising, etc. Or can you even achieve the same results without spending anything at all?

Of course, if you contact  a web designer they will tell you that you DO need a new website. But if you ask a PR consultant for advice, they will tell you that you should spend all of your money on a PR campaign instead! 

Who should you believe? There is no way of knowing, unless you use a proper professional marketing expert who will do all the research first, and give you an independent analysis of how to achieve your strategic goals.

But sadly, many business owners (and I have worked for some of them myself) think they already know what is best for their company. So they cut out the middleman, and go straight for 'the Flash, the Fluff, and the Fakers'.

Bad mistake. You end up wasting most of your marketing budget on something that is either ineffective, or worse still, you pay for something that you didn't need in the first place!

I often have this argument with business owners who tell me they have found a great web designer, or a great social media consultant, a great graphic designer, or a great printing company. 

Then I watch their faces drop when I tell them that I could have sourced the same services for them at a better price, from a much better supplier. And in some cases I tell them that they didn't need to spend any money at all, because there is a better way of achieving the same objectives.

So take my advice: beware of anyone calling themselves a marketing expert. Ask to see their credentials, their qualifications, their previous job experience, their current and past clients, plus examples of their work. And make sure that if someone says they work in 'marketing', they actually know what the word means!

And now for the inevitable sales pitch... 

I have worked in 'real' marketing for almost 30 years and have been running my marketing agency - The News Hound Ltd - for 10 years. I have worked with many well-known clients, including large private companies, big public sector organisations, councils, colleges, universities, and national charities. I have top level qualifications from the Chartered Institute of Marketing and also a Masters Degree from London School of Marketing.You can contact me by emailing - or call 0113 279 6844.

That's the end of my sales pitch folks!

Click here to see a clip of Kimberly Davis on Series 5 of BBC TVs 'The Apprentice'