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Job Description of Product Manager in Consumer Goods

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The role of the product manager in consumer goods is to oversee and coordinate the efforts of a team of specialists in marketing a product effectively. Planning, communication and obtaining the combined output of the team generate a broad variety of tasks and functions which are subject to varying degrees of control by the product manager. These activities include:

  1. advertising copy approval

  2. media selection

  3. advertising strategy control

  4. total product strategy control

  5. market research

  6. product research

  7. sales promotion

  8. budget making

  9. production scheduling

  10. distribution logistics

  11. legal considerations

  12. sales force direction
In general, the product manager deals with the entire product strategy through each of these individual functions. The product manager must sell the elements of the product strategy to those responsible "or making the final decisions as well as to those responsible for the actual implementation. Often the programs must be altered again and again before final approval.

The product manager faces an unusual dilemma in being responsible for the success of the product, but having little authority over those functions of the firm that are needed for the creation and implementation of a successful marketing mix. Thus, excellent communication and persuasion skills are a necessity for the product manager position.

In order to acquire necessary services, the product manager must persuade his or her counterparts in the functional departments to implement programs. For example, if a consumer study is needed to determine purchasing habits, the product manager must seek the marketing research department's cooperation in terms of time and resources to be devoted to this project over others. This indirect means of securing interdepartmental cooperation imparts one form of competition to the job, since all other product managers are vying for the limited time and resources of the functional departments as well.

A second form of competition exists among product managers- promotion within the firm. Often only one out of three managers is promoted, and the product management job is characterized by the phrase "up or out." "Out," however, often means a move to a similar position in a different company.

Both forms of competition, and the drive for success in each tend to prevent product managers from straying too far from establishes practices for fear of creating a poor impression and subsequently losing support. Thus, there exists an indirect means of control by the firm-self-regulation-which preserves the firm's concept of the role of product manager.

A number of job conflicts plague managers, often confusing objectives, frustrating innovation, and limiting effectiveness. Among these conflicts are the following:
  1. The product manager is required to be a generalist with broad background in many functional areas and, in some instances, ; specialist in one or more of those functions, depending on the capabilities of the firm. Many firms attempt to provide functional experts t( support product managers, but it is practically impossible to cover all the job, requiring product managers to fill in accordingly.

  2. The successful product manager typically remains in one or two to four years. After that time, he or she either receives a promotion or leaves the firm. This "up or out" philosophy puts pressure on the product manager to realize short-term success, sometimes at the expense of long-term stability for the product. Another result is that there is relatively little time available to master the job's skills before moving on.

  3. The product manager is usually two to four organization levels below the actual decision makers. By the time a major project proposal has been approved, it may have been written, re-written, and changed by a number of contributors along the way. The time required for this review and adjustment process often frustrates innovative and timely contributions.
Thus the product manager position may be summed up in terms of three activities, each focused on a single brand or product:
  1. planning programs

  2. communication among departments to secure resources

  3. coordination of implementation efforts
Q - Why did you choose a career in product management?

A - When I was getting out of graduate school, there was a tossup between advertising and product management. The reason I chose to go be product management route was, when you are in product management or working on the corporate side, you have much more product information available to you (that is, financial information is not shared with advertising agencies). In working with our advertising agency, there s certain information we just don't give them (per company policy), so n a sense they're operating in the dark. Another thing, when you work n product management, you literally have many more avenues open to all in the future. I think it's a better springboard to other types of business positions.

I really wanted to be multifaceted. In this position you're not only dealing with advertising and you're not only dealing with manufacturing. You are dealing with manufacturing, finance, market research, advertising, packaging the whole gamut. It's really one of the benefits of product management (They say that the classical question asked of product management people when being interviewed is, "Would you rather have two balls or seven balls in the air?" If you say two balls, you've given the wrong answer, because you are supposed to be able to keep a lot of things going at the same time.

The reason I chose this company over other companies was the high level of responsibility. This company has assistant product managers running $15 and $20 million businesses. I didn't see that at other places.

Q - Would you describe a typical career path for someone in product management?

A - Generally, the majority of people come in with M.B.A.'s, but we have a marketing associate program where we take a couple of college graduates and bring them along.
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