How To Avoid Burnout & Thrive In Marketing with Doug Zarkin & Kage Spatz

Marketing Strategy Series hosted by Kage Spatz, Founder of

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Doug Zarkin Marketing Expert

Focus your energies on making a difference as a person, not just as a CMO or marketing leader.

As part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business or career. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Doug Zarkin.

Doug Zarkin holds an impressive array of honors for his marketing and brand building work including an ANA Genius Award, Brandweek’s Constellation Award, a Silver Clio Award, and multiple Effie Awards. He was recently named a Retail Innovator Award Winner and was recognized by his peers as Top 40 Over 40 and twice recognized as Innovative Marketer of The Year by The CMO Club. His work at Pearle Vision is currently the subject of a Harvard Business School case study on brand rejuvenation.

Thank you for doing this! Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned from that?

Funny in the sense that now I can look back on it and laugh, but in the moment it was anything but. One of the larger roles I had was overseeing the marketing for Warner Bros. Home Video. This was about the same time that email was establishing itself as an acceptable means for day-to-day communication.

My client’s first name was Vito (pretty senior guy at the studio) and I didn’t realize that each and every time I sent him an email, spell-check would automatically change his name to Video. So over the course of a month, I didn’t know that each and every correspondence from my email addressed him as Video, not Vito.

After about a month, he finally printed out a slew of my emails and sent them back to me via fed-ex with a note that read “Doug, the joke isn’t funny anymore.” He thought I was poking fun at him because of the business we worked on. I was mortified. I called him immediately and explained the error was not intentional and we had a good laugh. But at the moment as a still young leader, you can imagine I was sweating bullets. This is probably why one of my biggest pet peeves is when people spell Pearle Vision without the “e”.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

My first client-side role was as the founding marketing and creative services leader for Avon’s new college focused brand mark. The end of the story had the plan I developed to win the Best Executed Launch Strategy by WWD and helped drive the business to $118 Million within its first 18 months. The beginning and middle of the story were chock full of lessons learned.

What I came to realize, especially when launching a new brand or business is that there is often no right or wrong way, invest the time in crafting a well-thought-out approach and go for it. I call this “a way” and put your passion and intellect behind it.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

Barb Martino (currently CRO Active international), my first true mentor. It would be impossible to really articulate the impact Barb had on me both as a marketer and a person. But fair to say I wouldn’t be anywhere near the person I hopefully am without her guidance and support.

In the seven years we worked together at Grey Advertising and eventually started G-Whiz Youth & Entertainment Marketing (a partner company of Grey), she brought out the best in me and helped me in ways I am not sure she fully understands this day. She provided enough rope to climb but not too much to choke myself when I failed.

She recognized something in me that I had not yet recognized in myself and put me in situations where I could discover for myself the kind of person and leader I wanted to become. I will be forever grateful for her coming into my life.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

  • Don’t let the quest for perfection get in the way of truly celebrating your progress.
  • Surround yourself with people who are passionate, but at the heart of it are good humans.
  • Focus your energies on making a difference as a person, not just as a CMO or marketing leader.

Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?

I think consumers are looking for authenticity, a genuine approach to communications.

Using technology to “over personalize” a message actually can do harm to your brand. A consumer wants curation in their messaging certainly, but there is a limit to where it becomes decretive.

F.O.M.O. (Fear of missing out) is not a marketing strategy, so I don’t invest too much intellectual capital is worrying about trying to be a “Marketing Nostradamus.”

Where I do believe the industry is headed is a bit “back to basics.” Too much deference towards technology-based solutions has gotten in the way of authentic, consumer-centric messaging for many.

Consumers are revolting to 100 or so emails a day in their inbox from everywhere and everyone they don’t do business with. Brands need to be humble and choose their communications channels and message opportunities wisely.

What 5 things do you wish someone told you before you started?

  1. Don’t let the quest for perfection get in the way of celebrating progress.
  2. It is possible to lead both from the back and the front.
  3. Spellcheck is your worst enemy, don’t trust it.
  4. Look for talent, hire for passion.
  5. Take a moment and allow yourself to enjoy the journey not just the outcome.

What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

Funny enough I watch a ton of content both off and online. The easiest way to keep current is to expose yourself to messages in the market. I am actually one of the small group of folks that likes commercials and so I am an avid consumer of brand content.

I also am a part of several thought leadership organizations such as The CMO Club, Brand Innovators, and the Assoc of National Advertisers where I have the opportunity to interact with thought leaders across the country. Amazing stories and experiences to build and learn from.

One more before we go: If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I propose we rid the world of bot-calling. How many times can my vehicle’s warranty be coming up for renewal, or that supposedly “my credit card company wants to offer me a lower rate?” Who loves these 7am or 11pm phone calls? No one!

The phone calls that spoof numbers that we think we recognize and get suckered into picking up the phone is infuriating. Life without the possibility of parole seems to be a punishment equal to the crime #sarcasmbutnotreally.

Thank you for sharing your story and so many valuable insights with us today!

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