Using unicorns to improve your marketing in six months

“Marketing Manager Wanted: Must provide strategic level advice to the business, work with the media, be the brand guardian, write copy for annual reports and press releases, drive the development and operation of digital initiatives and web 2.0. Graphic design skills a plus. PowerPoint skills required. The successful candidate should drive the company’s social media presence in line with global best practice. Candidates should have three years’ experience and an understanding of the shipping sector.”

If this job description seems familiar, or you’re thinking of cutting and pasting the above (using required MS Word skills) because it sums up what your organisation might need, then it’s safe to say your marketing function is going to be underperforming for the foreseeable future. You’re looking for a marketing unicorn. You may as well add in the ability to fly, which, as my eight year old daughter told me with some authority, would actually make your ideal candidate an Alicorn.

With a few notable exceptions, many companies in the shipping sector find themselves in this situation. They understand what they need from a corporate marketing function, but are unsure of what is needed to get the final outputs.

So here are a few tips, which if you are looking to develop your marketing and communications presence, might be of use.

1. Define the job, and what role you want it to play in the business…realistically

You are unlikely to get a candidate who is senior enough to work on ‘strategic level advice’ and be happy to turn around and do PowerPoint and a bit of Photoshop. If you are looking for a team leader, then state this clearly. From a marketing point of view, reporting lines are important. Reporting to the CEO is a very different prospect to answering to the VP of operations or even the COO. This gives a clear signal of how you see the function fitting into the wider business plan.

Roles such as communications (writing), design, website, and social media are all very different. Digital marketing, in my humble opinion, is the most rapidly developing skill-set – and is the most important for the future development of your marketing team. There are, literally, a hand-full of people who are leaders at digital and social media marketing in the shipping industry. The chance of pulling someone out of Google or Facebook to run your special media portfolio is slim…especially with the PowerPoint work they will be doing. But there are ways around this (more on that later).

Asking for a wide range of skills like the above means you’re more like going to get someone who’s strangely out of place, or is lying on their CV.

2. Develop clear expectations and outputs

While developing KPIs and desired outputs with a marketing appointment is a good idea, it is important that business leaders also have some idea of what they want. Typically this takes the form of a website redevelopment, tradeshow attendance, rebrand, or increased press coverage – because these are known quantities. A good (senior) marketing leader should be prepared to challenge you on the effectiveness of these deliverables (or what else should be added to the mix), but they will from understanding where they need to get some quick wins.

This will be especially important if the candidate is from outside the shipping industry. They will need time to learn the ropes (shipping pun), which will take around 12-24 months.

A good marketing leader will also be able to provide you with developing metrics around digital marketing. SEO rankings, press mentions, and other ‘popular’ performance indicators are all well and good but, in reality, are probably of no use to your business. As marketing best-practice goes increasingly digital, the ability to track performance is one of the great advantages…though the numbers can also be distracting. More about this in another article.

3. Funding and budget authority

“What budget do I have to work with?” is always a fun question to ask. It gives a clear understanding of how much planning has been put into the definition of the marketing role and the job you are being asked to do. A top marking executive should want authority over external supplier costs and choice. Indeed, it’s no bad thing to use a new senior marketing appointment as a legitimate reason to test the competiveness of your external PR, crisis communications, design, print, and advertising suppliers. They all have a roll in the marketing and communications portfolio. Nothing drives change and innovation more than a little bit of competition. This will also give you a good idea as to how much thought your suppliers have put into your day-to-day marketing and sales needs. In the digital world, it’s all connected.

A formal marketing budget will allow an experienced manager to set, and be responsible for, the outputs you are looking for.

Rethinking what you need, and what you can get?

We all know how hard it is finding the right person. Unfortunately, for good marketing people with digital experience, and PowerPoint skills, most shipping companies are well out of their league when it comes to pay and professional development.

But one of the interesting aspects of the relatively developing ‘gig’ economy/workforce is that you can bring in certain skills when you need them. If you have a lot of ‘grunt’ work, one option is to hire multiple juniors full-time, and a senior consultant to oversee performance and provide strategic advice on a part-time basis. Or, bring in a mid-level manager and get them to coordinate a wider range of external providers. Need a digital team? The same concept applies. This format is far more common outside shipping, and increases your options and access to specific talent. It is also, potentially, far more cost-effective.

In a way this is just using the ship management business model to improve your marketing.

Graeme Somerville-Ryan

Graeme Somerville-Ryan is the Marketing and Business Development Director (Asia) for the international law firm Wikborg Rein. He also consults to businesses in the shipping, insurance, oil and gas, and financial services sectors on marketing strategy, communications, social media, and profile development in Asia.


  1. Hello Graeme,

    There is no better article that sums up the irony and challenges of marketing position in the shipping industry. When I joined Elcome nine years ago, little did I know then that it’s the beginning of a steep learning curve. You can never stop learning the dynamics of shipping industry.

    As a marketing professional in the maritime industry, I need to learn the business, news, regulations, etc of my clients. If I understand their business dynamics well, I hope I will be able to address them in our company’s context as well.

    What I have observed in my short tenure (still with Elcome) is that most shipping or maritime companies tend to have fewer than 2 people in marketing roles. They mostly do exhibitions, events, website management, SEO, social media, newsletters, advertising, PR, coffee making (a lot) as a small team. Except for Maersk or Wartsilla, very few other companies can afford to have a full-time diversified marketing team.

    I think main challenges to establish a full team for many companies is mainly the lack of establishing the relationship between the marketing efforts and the return on investment. Many shipping companies do not have practices/systems to track the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. Shipping industry, is still regarded by many within it as a sales-driven market rather than a marketing-driven market. But it has started to slowly change that perception.

    I hope in the coming years, many shipping firms will look up on the marketing and will have minimum two people to serve two key functions: Events (exhibitions, roadshows, conferences, seminars, etc) and digital (website, content management, newsletters, social media, etc).

    Best regards

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