Brendon Schrader advice for marketers

In our Content Marketing Masters interview series, we’re profiling the smart marketers we get to work with every day. We’re asking Rep Cap’s favorite marketers how they got into the field, what they love about their jobs, and how they stay smart.

Meet Brendon Schrader. I work with Brendon on content marketing for Antenna, the Minneapolis company that connects smart free-agent marketers with organizations that need marketing help.

As a marketer-turned-entrepreneur, Brendon has helpful advice for both marketers who are just starting out and more seasoned marketers who want to build their professional brand.

What do you love most about your job at Antenna?

I love to build and create. As the world of work evolves and the marketing function continues to change, we have a unique opportunity to build something amazing where those two trends intersect. At Antenna, we connect talented marketers with organizations who need their help — on specific projects, in leadership roles, or as long-term consultants. We’re empowering marketers to do the work they love in different ways, and make important contributions to client marketing teams that need specialized talent to accelerate their objectives and the overall business.

We’re seeing the need for new marketing skill sets — the marketing technologist, for example — and new roles in content, analytics and automation. In five years there will be different skill sets and different challenges, but if we keep attracting the best talent out there who want interesting, challenging work, we’ll keep succeeding.

One of Antenna’s core values is creating community, and I’ve heard you talk about how important it is to have a strong network. When did you figure that out?

Having a strong network is something you hear a lot about, but I don’t think most people get just how important it is until they need their network — and sometimes then it’s too late. In college, during my MBA program and early in my career, I heard a lot about networking, but I didn’t do anything proactively to build my network. I didn’t really understand how to do it or why I needed to do it. I thought networking was simply about going on informational interviews — and I didn’t do a ton of that.

But when I left my corporate role and became an independent consultant, I realized my entire professional network was back inside my previous employer. So I immediately spent my days going on as many coffees and lunches as I could to meet new friends and contacts. And not necessarily to gain clients or new business. But instead, to make authentic connections, build new relationships and to add value. Building your network takes open-mindedness and focus. The more like-minded people I met, the more I realized: Your network is everything.

When I talk to students, I stress this simple concept. You’re going to feel scared or stupid reaching out to someone you respect — why should they meet with you? But when you’re a student or fresh out of school, it’s the perfect time to reach out to people. They expect that you are looking to learn. And, you’d be surprised how many people are willing to help you.

You work with a lot of marketers. What are the most important skills for a marketer today?

Beyond the competencies and the experience on paper, I always look for soft skills. Do they have the personality to deal with tough people? That’s important, because when you’re working as a consultant, you can’t push back the same way you can as an employee inside the organization.

How are they going to solve problems and respond to ambiguous situations? Our consultants need to be self-starters who can go out and find the information they need inside the company to help solve the problem. It takes a certain kind of person to do that.

It’s also so important for marketers to have a strong foundation in the numbers. They have to be comfortable with data and analytics and understand technology. That doesn’t mean you have to be a coder or an accountant, but you have to be able to comfortably communicate with many stakeholders. Marketers are being held accountable to ROI, as they should be, so if you can get comfortable with that, you’ll accelerate faster than people who aren’t.

When you’re looking for inspiration, what do you read or who do you call?

I look for inspiration about marketing in the startup community — entrepreneurs who are creating new models and challenging the status quo. You can find amazing new ways of engaging consumers and creating products that deeply resonate with communities of people. I love reading content about the startup community from WeWork and Inc. Magazine. I also watch marketing thought leaders like Mark Ritson, Tom Goodwin and Seth Godin.

What advice do you have for marketers who are just starting out? What do you wish you’d known as a new college grad?

Think of your career like a brand. Go after experiences instead of money. Those unique experiences will enhance your personal “brand story” and make your more marketable over the course of your career.

What are some of those experiences that shaped your story?

When I first got out of college, I was working at a large newspaper, inside their internal ad agency. It was a fine job, and I was learning, but I got a big opportunity to intern with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. The internship was unpaid, and it meant working nights and weekends (after working at my day job all day). But for me, it was worth it, because I was getting a glimpse inside the professional sports industry. I did that work unpaid for an entire season.

When I moved on, I used that experience to get a job with the World Champion Chicago Bulls. This job didn’t pay great, but I quit my job, and moved to Milwaukee where I had a free place to live. I commuted two hours each way every day to Chicago. But I didn’t care. All I cared about was getting this amazing experience. And I loved the work.

And that experience paid off, too. When I interviewed with corporations after my MBA program, everyone wanted to hear about my experience with the Chicago Bulls. Your story really matters, and in marketing, people want to work with people who have worked on big brands. It’s just a fact. So I now had great experience and amazing stories to tell, and that was worth more than a big salary.

Make sacrifices early in your career, when you can afford to take risk. Gather all the experiences you can.

Any other tips for our community of marketers?

Marketers tend to get enamored with the newest shiny object. We’re always looking for the new way to crack the customer code. It can seem like a good idea to look at what other marketers are doing and copy it for our own brand. But you have to understand your business, your customers and what marketing plans and activities generate results for you.

For more insights from Brendon, follow him on LinkedIn.