A Marketing Department of One

Eleven ways to succeed with limited marketing resources.

January 7, 2015


Trudi Mullins, vide president of communications and team development at Singing River FCU in Moss Point, Miss., advises solo marketers to set their sights on changing current and prospective members’ behaviors rather than trying to make products exciting. Says Mullins: "No one wakes up on a Saturday morning and thinks ‘I can’t wait to open a checking account.’”

Does any credit union marketer have enough hours in the day or dollars in the marketing budget? Probably not.

Special challenges arise, however, when the marketing department consists of you—and only you.

Trudi Mullins can relate. She has been a solo marketer at $195 million asset Singing River Federal Credit Union, Moss Point, Miss., for five years.

Working solo can cause people to “get in a bubble and have blinders on,” says Mullins, vice president of communications and team development. To keep the bubble and blinders at bay, she likes to “pace the halls,” hanging out with tellers, member service representatives—anyone who has direct contact with members.

“I listen to the requests they get from members,” she says. “That’s where I get some of my best ideas.”

Mullins and other marketers share how they get the most out of their limited resources.

1. Focus on strategy

One pitfall for solo marketers is getting bogged down in the abundance of tasks clamoring for attention each day.

The upshot is that “you can become very tactical,” says Mark Arnold, president of On the Mark Strategies, a credit union marketing consulting firm.

To counter that tendency, Arnold advises carving out time for strategic thinking, and pondering the question, “What am I trying to accomplish?”

“You can’t just put on those track shoes and race every single day,” says Arnold, a former credit union marketer. “You’ll be running a marathon as a sprinter, which means you’ll collapse at the halfway point. Take time to read and to think about strategy.”

2. Set priorities

Each day has only so many hours. As a one-person department, you must allocate your time to your credit union’s various marketing needs.

Decide on your priorities by “having a serious heart-to-heart talk with your CEO,” Arnold says.

Discuss how many hours a week you should devote to design work, planning, product development, community outreach, and other responsibilities.

“Then if you see you can’t do all the design work because you’re expected to spend 50% of your time out in the community, you’ll need to budget more to outsource” some marketing functions, he says.

3. Watch where your time goes

A useful first step in time management is to log how you use your workdays. For a month or so, record how many hours a week go toward writing ad copy, planning promotions, attending community meetings, and so on. The results can be enlightening.

“You’ll see the areas where you’re spending more time than you should,” Arnold says.

Even a time-management master can’t do everything.

“You also have to be a master at saying ‘no,’ ” Arnold says. “Just as your credit union, from a brand perspective, can’t be all things to all people, you as a marketer can’t be all things to your credit union.”

NEXT: Outsource

4. Outsource

One of the biggest boons to solo marketers is outside help. But what if you have no budget to spend on an advertising agency? Arnold advises looking elsewhere for good value and affordable pricing.

You may be able to find local free-lancers who can do design work, writing, campaign planning, and more at reasonable rates. They may be one-person shops, people working out of their homes, or freelancers just starting out.

“There are lots of possibilities out there,” Arnold says. “I use free-lancers in my own business in several ways, and I highly recommend that to one-person marketing departments.”

5. Size up your skills

Knowing what to outsource depends on honest self-evaluation, says Toby Hayes, chief marketing officer at $217 million asset Cabrillo Credit Union in San Diego.

Until 18 months ago, he was a one-person marketing department at Cabrillo, as he was at two other credit unions during his eight-year credit union career.

Thanks to a varied background, Hayes brings diverse skills to his current job. He studied journalism and graphic design, and later was a newspaper editor and a free-lance writer.

Still, he knows he’s stronger in some areas than others. That’s where self-evaluation comes in.

“I ask myself what I’m really good at doing,” Hayes says. “Then I delegate other tasks to third-party vendors.”

For instance, he might design a promotion and decide the look he’s after. Then, to save time, he hires an outside party to execute the details and create the collateral materials.

“Focus on your best skills and talents, and let others handle what else needs to be done,” Hayes says.

6. Let go of perfection

As a solo marketer, you need to accept that you can’t always achieve perfection, Hayes says. Recognize when something you’re working on is good enough and then move on to the next project.

Also, accept that some things simply won’t get done at all no matter how diligent and efficient you strive to be. “There’s not a week that I go home on a Friday and say, ‘Yes, I got everything done this week,’ ” Hayes says. “There’s always a sense of wishing I could have accomplished more.”

7. Build internal credibility

Over the past 18 months, Hayes’ annual marketing budget has grown from roughly $150,000 to $210,000. He’s added a marketing assistant to his staff, and the current business development officer moved into the marketing department.

Hayes believes combining these two functions into one department, or at least having the same person oversee them, boosts the efficiency and effectiveness of each.

“In less than a couple of years, I’ve gone from a one-person marketing department to a department of three,” he says. “A lot of that stems from conveying to the rest of the senior management team how vital marketing is to our organization.”

Demonstrating strong results is part of that. So is showing keen interest in learning about all aspects of the credit union.

“You need a basic understanding of how each gear within the organization works with the others,” Hayes says. “Get involved with the asset/liability management committee and learn about efficiency ratios, return on assets, and all the things marketing can contribute to. Your leaders will see you want to be involved and that marketing is key to your credit union’s success.”

Gaining that sort of recognition is a challenge for marketing departments of any size. But solo marketers face an even bigger hurdle in demonstrating that “marketing is more than just making things look pretty,” Hayes says.

NEXT: Focus on larger objectives

8. Don’t fixate on products and tactics

One trap solo marketers can fall into is dwelling on making products “cool,” says Mullins.

When that happens, the focus lands on products and tactics, not marketing’s larger objectives. “That’s where one-person shops can get bogged down,” she says. “How do you make a checking account cool? Well, you don’t. No one wakes up on a Saturday morning and thinks ‘I can’t wait to open a checking account.’”

SIDEBAR: Turn to Your CU Peers for Inspiration

Mullins advises solo marketers to set their sights on changing current and prospective members’ behaviors rather than trying to make products exciting. With a checking account, for example, providing convenience and ease of use can lead to the desired behavior: signing up for your checking product with direct deposit.

“You have to give people an experience that makes them want to change their behavior,” Mullins says. “Give them an experience they can’t get anyplace else.”

9. Vet requests properly

Maintaining focus is another challenge for single-person marketing departments, says Anne Legg, senior vice president of business strategy and innovation for 3rd Degree Advertising and a former credit union marketer in a one-person shop.

In such an environment, “you’re hit with a wide array of requests,” Legg says, “and you can get overwhelmed so easily. That’s why the ability to scope and vet is huge.”

For instance, someone may approach you with the idea of building a credit union float for a local parade. But maybe some other awareness-building effort must happen first to effectively reach the target audience.

Scoping and vetting all the requests that come your way helps you sort out which will have the most impact and benefit, Legg says. Some requests go into what she calls the “parking lot” to await later action.

“I’ve vetted those ideas properly so people in the organization feel I’m listening,” she explains. “The ideas won’t leave the parking lot, but they’re just not going to be in my office right now.”

10. Indulge your curiosity

Curiosity helps you explore new ideas and exercise your creativity. A complement to that is allowing yourself to be “comfortable about feeling uncomfortable,” Legg says.

Perhaps that takes an extra measure of gutsiness when you’re a department of one. “You have to be able to acknowledge you know nothing about a certain subject, but you’ll learn what you can,” Legg says. “You may end up creating the biggest bomb, or it might be the best idea of your career. You won’t know until you try. And you’ll try because you’re curious.”

11. Enjoy your freedom

Feelings of being stretched too thin usually come with the territory for solo marketers. But avoid dwelling on the negatives, Legg advises, and instead relish the positives.

“One advantage of being a single-person department is you don’t have as many organizational layers to go through because you’re probably dealing with just one or two people in a leadership capacity,” she says. “That gives you a lot of freedom in what you do. Embrace that freedom.”


1. Credit Union Certified Marketing Executive Designation
2. Credit Union Copy & Art Express
3. Market Research
4. Marketing Management School
5. Marketing microsites

CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council
On The Mark Strategies
Third Degree Advertising