Why marketers shouldn’t pass the blame

February 23, 2015

It’s common place in marketing. The marketing manager/head of marketing/marketing director moves on, is replaced, and then that new employee systematically criticises and undermines what their predecessor did. They explain the mess that has been left and how long (and the skill required) to fix it. They change all of the agencies and suppliers. After all everyone was rubbish; complete idiots. They are the knight in shining armour, the guardian angel, riding in on a unicorn pulled carriage with Handel’s Messiah performed in perfect unison as the soundtrack.


As “hallelujah” sings out the new marketer continually, and at every turn, undermines what was there and what was done.

So this is a characterisation and is not always so overt, but it is often there in one form or another. I’ve seen this happen more times than I care to remember, and each time it becomes even more embarrassing to watch. It also happened to me many years ago (and who knows it could have happened since – I just have thick skin now) and if I am being honest I was guilty of it when I was in my early 20’s. Fortunately I have had great mentors so soon stopped it; but what strikes me is that it is not just confined to those who are starting out their marketing management career (although it is prevalent here) it is across all demographics.

But other than being pathetic and disrespectful, you are doing yourself a disservice.

To start, it can make employees and your boss think that you have no new ideas. Blaming others is not a sensible move. You are in effect saying that you don’t have the ability or vision to take the brand forward. There is normally a reason why something was done at that time and to make a blanket comment is naïve.

Your honeymoon period is really, really short, especially in the digital age. It’s even shorter if you are going in and contracting. The best course of action is to draw a line in the sand and say “we move forward with vigour”. Spending time passing the blame is golden time you are wasting and won’t get back.

Being negative about a former employee may also backfire. They are likely to still have friends and supporters at the company, and blaming that person will alienate them. This is especially true if you criticise a project which others who are still present were involved in. The best course of action is to focus on what you’re doing well and also mention the positive things your predecessor did.

Of course this approach needs the person in the role to be comfortable in their own position. Doing the opposite is a much easier default position. But this shows weakness, insecurity and a blind panic about what lies ahead.

What you are also doing if you criticise a former marketer is to criticise their manager (often a board member) by making them seem inept and by inference the company too. A better strategy is to talk about your vision and what you are going to do.

Nobody cares about the past except for historians and Tony Robinson from Time Team. Your team, managers and colleagues want to know what you will be doing not what your view on the previous post holder is.

So don’t wallow in the past. Approach it with integrity. The old adage “if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all” is the best here. Of course things may not have been rosy, but when you leave will you want your successor to come in and speak in the way you have spoken about your predecessor. If the answer is no then stop it and start behaving with dignity and professionalism. It will stand you in good stead and generate respect from peers, your team and the bosses.

Plus if it gets out that you have been speaking ill of a predecessor and they find out, you could end up being embarrassed when you next bump into them at a trade show or your next interview when they are on the panel; you never know when paths will cross.

You’ve got a job to do – don’t waste time on the past otherwise you will soon find out that you are confined to the annals of company history with a successor who is bemoaning what you did wrong.