In-house Observations: Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Sleeping with the Enemy

by Ed Roberts

The year was 1992 and Eddie, my barber, was playing Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” so loud that it sounded like she was standing in Blalock’s barbershop singing directly into my ear. ‘Course, it didn’t matter; I was nearing the end of my design school coursework and four years of “all-nighters” in Brooks Hall. And through it all, I managed to successfully avoid Eddie’s ridiculous, Gumby-inspired hi-top fade. Most important, I searched for and found what the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul sung so convincingly—real love.

My “real love” embodied a sweet, soft spoken girl who was a marketing major in business school. She was a little quirky. Watching her walk through a restaurant, movie theater or mall while wearing heels, was like watching a toddler taking their first steps. The sight of her navigating our dates was oddly funny and very endearing. I was quirky too; my vision was perfect, but I opted to wear a pair of orange, non-prescription glasses stupidly thinking they made me look smarter and better looking in a Clark Kent kind of way.

We were two fresh-faced, naive kids who pledged to make a difference in the marketing and advertising industry. Fast-forward nineteen years; I’m an in-house design manager for a company that manages billions of dollars in electric generation assets, and every morning I wake up next to a Jimmy Choo stiletto-wearing vice president of marketing—personally the love of my life, professionally the enemy.

So why are they (or we) the enemy? Didn’t we both, in-house designers and marketing professionals alike, pursue professions where we promote the companies we work for? Essentially choosing the proverbial corporate beds we lie in 8, 10 or even 12 hours a day. Growing up, when I made a less than desirable decision, my mother would say, “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.” Unfortunately, when we accept an offer of employment, we usually don’t get to choose the people that will share that corporate bed with us. I’ve heard of tug of wars between designers and marketers who can’t accomplish the simplest initiatives due to a lack of mutual respect and basic communication.

In order to avoid these conflicts and future pillow fights, here are three things I’ve learned from sleeping with the enemy:

  1. Look them straight in the eye and honestly tell them you have their back, no matter what.
  2. Let them know that you will never make them look bad in front of management or stakeholders by not following through on your promises.
  3. And, in order for the company’s marketing initiatives to be successful you need them to offer you the same in return.

I followed these simple steps a week after entering my new corporate bed. As a result, the marketing manager and I have created a solid, open and honest communication style. Over the next six months we developed a vision statement and set of core values that complements our organization’s corporate mission and governs the entire strategic communications team. Consider trying these basic steps. If you can’t build mutual respect and basic communication with your marketing partner, it’s not a bed you have to lie in. It may be a sign that it’s time for you to start shopping for a new bed. If you’ve tried similar or completely different steps with success, please share.