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All that You Wanted To Know about the Job Profile of a Product Manager of Consumer Goods

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Although a bachelor's degree is essential for the product manager, consumer goods position, the area of study is often not of great importance to firms recruiting product managers. Persons with degrees in fields such as physical education or foreign languages are at little disadvantage to those with marketing degrees, provided certain criteria are satisfied: for example, aggressiveness, confidence, and creativity. Although a marketing degree is not required for employment, some study of marketing principles is valued by employers.

Rarely do individuals begin at the level of product manager. Normally there are two subordinate organizational levels, and most candidates, regardless of experience or education, begin in the entry-level position.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, firms sought M.B.A. graduates to fill the assistant product manager positions but the recent trend has been to reduce dependence on graduate schools and seek qualified Reports to brand manager. Often responsible for individual assignments on test markets, promotional programs, planning budgets. Regular contact with all areas of functional specialists (media, art, product development, and so forth). Primary responsibility is execution of detail. Duration: six months to one year.

Reports to brand manager. More direct contact with advertising agency and/or sales. Responsibilities include media, product development, budget planning. Execution of plans is tempered by strategic considerations. Duration: one to two years.

Oversees several brands and brand management teams within a given division. Responsible for the marketing efforts of one of the firm's divisions. Receives a key to executive washroom, office with large window.

Undergraduate personnel. The lack of training in marketing, particularly advertising, and the usual lack of actual experience, coupled with the higher compensation consistent with the M.B.A., has turned some firms away from maintaining the M.B.A. as an absolute requirement.

Today's "typical" product manager is male, although the percentage of females in this position is rising each year. The average product manager is between the ages of twenty-six and forty-five and is employed by a company with sales volume under $250 million.

Associates come in and work on a brand group for a year, then go out and spend three months in the sales office, come back and spend a month in our research department, a month in our operations department, and then work on a brand group. Marketing assistants are primarily evaluated on how well they execute.

Because we are lean-staffed,' marketing assistants have to do a little bit of everything. They get instant exposure to every functional staff group, be it operations or research, sales, whatever. They're given several projects to work on concurrently, and it's their job to get them done. They build up a base and try to become a more efficient worker, and it generally takes about four to six months before things really start to click.

As an assistant manager, they have established a really good bas and proved that they can execute anything. We always use the old cliché of breaking down walls, because the lead times to execute programs at often not nearly as long as staff groups would like, or as long as we would like. So marketing assistants must prove that they can get things done with a lot less time than is optimal. If they've proven that, then we try t move them away from a lot of the day-to-day activities of the business as more into long-range thinking and strategic planning.

The critical point in their career is during the second year, when they have to start proving to their boss, the brand manager that they can think strategically. Basically their job is to do the major analytical work on the business and to look at the more long-term things and the key brand projects. They're still executing, but they're doing a lot less of that and they're getting more into analysis and strategic planning. You can tell in the second year whether they have long-term potential here, because if they can't think strategically, they are not going to make it.

The title I had when I started was "product management specialist." What I did was six months of sales training: three months ii grocery stores and three months in drug and mass merchandise outlets The remainder of the program supposedly consisted of several months o: training in R & D, production, and marketing research. However, after my sales training and about one week in production, I was brought into headquarters as a marketing assistant.

You explain and argue your position and defend it with sound logic. The reward is having people whom you respect very much, and who have considerably more experience than you, say, "Yes, this is a good idea, and we're giving you our approval. Go ahead and move on it." To me, that is really rewarding.

Well, you get the feeling that you are running your own business. You know that your leadership is important. It makes you feel very good to know that, at the tender age of twenty or so, you are being looked to for guidance by all these people. That's pretty neat.

Clearly this is a marketing company, so product managers are the most important people. You travel your career path faster. It's also nice o know that you are gaining experience you can easily market someplace else. All these "headhunters" call you up, and it's awful nice to know you are wanted.

This is very trivial, but it is also nice to go shopping in the grocery store and see your product on the shelves with the changes you have made. You can see the tangible results. When you see one of your commercials on the air, you know that the entire United States is watering that commercial. These are things that a corporate planner or a financial analyst cannot experience.

Q - What do you see as the major disadvantages of product management?

A - If you just take a look at the organization charts, there are clearly many, many levels in product management. One of the most frustrating things is that many times you have to sacrifice the good of your product for the good of the whole division or the whole company. You are indeed working within a corporate portfolio type of situation. You are in a very strange situation: You are expected to be the champion for your brand, yet you are also supposed to be a first-class corporate citizen.

It is sometimes difficult to say, "Well, this is not the biggest opportunity for us and given that we have limited resources we will give the axe to the other brands." For example, the company can only do one consumer test each month, and you want to get yours done as soon as possible. Your business is $30 million. However, the product manager of a $60 million business also wants to do some consumer testing. Clearly the other person will have first priority. You may take it to the division manager, who will decide who has the preference.

This is a fairly stressful position at times. People say, "I need a report and I need it in fifteen minutes," and it might take an hour.
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Madison Currin - Greenville, NC
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