As a Product Marketer, Jodi Innerfield spends her days trying to understand what CIOs and Business Executives need to transform their business, but that wasn’t always the case. After graduating from Columbia University, Jodi Innerfield started her career as a Production Designer Assistant on the movie “Wall Street 2.” With stints in HR, startups, and business school, the journey to becoming a PMM was not always linear, but in hindsight, it’s where she wanted to be. Jodi shared with us her career journey to becoming a product marketer, how she connected her experiences together to find her interest in product marketing, and her advice for professionals who are interested in a career in product marketing.
CareerSchooled: We know you are a PMM now, but looking back for a second, what was your first job, and what does it have in common with what you do now?
At first glance, my first job out of college had nothing to do with Product Marketing–I started my career in film production as a Production Designer’s Assistant on the movie “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps.” Part of my job was working with the art department of the film on everything from researching art and graphics that should be used in the film, working with licensing to get the rights, naming fictitious companies and designing their logos–it was a lot of fun to see something you worked on on the big screen! The other part of my job was as a personal assistant. I drove my boss everywhere, went with her to meetings, made sure she had the exact type of tea and chocolate she needed to keep going. That was, quite obviously, the part of the job I liked least, but it gave me such great exposure to people I never would have met, and it taught me how important things like anticipating someone’s needs are.
While it wasn’t technically in my job description, I spent a lot of time on set because I loved seeing how all the pieces of a film come together. I would stick around on night shoots just so I could experience the magical chaos. I raised my hand to help anywhere I could so I could be close to the action. And you know what? That film experience has definitely been valuable in Product Marketing, where I’ve worked on a number of customer films.
CareerSchooled: You went to business school prior to moving into PMM roles. What were you doing prior to business school, and how did an MBA help you move into PMM?
I left film production because that life wasn’t sustainable–80 hour weeks with no benefits and no overtime–and got an internship in HR. I was a psychology major in college, and had interest in business and law, and after talking to a number of people I thought HR might be a nice blend of the three. While I liked being in HR at a startup–it was fast paced, I got to put a lot of processes and programs into place from the start–I had an itch to do more, but I wasn’t quite sure what “more” was.
I applied to business school initially thinking an MBA would help me grow within HR, since I realized to be successful in senior leadership you needed to have a well-rounded understanding of all aspects of the business. But soon after starting school I realized I didn’t want to stay in HR, and that now was the time to make a move.
Business school gave me that foundational, well-rounded understanding of business which is just as valuable as a PMM as it is in any other role. Besides the marketing courses which are an obvious help when you’re trying to transition into a marketing role, we had a lot of opportunities to work on presentation skills that I’ve found infinitely valuable. Michigan is known for its Action Based Learning, and one experience–the Leadership Crisis Challenge–was particularly impactful for me.
You’re thrown into a mock crisis as the leadership of a company and have to put together a response. My team made it to the final round where you’re grilled in a press conference by actual journalists, and that experience–getting on stage, presenting on a topic I’m not entirely an expert on but need to be as prepared as possible to talk about–that’s pretty much what I do every day.
CareerSchooled: You’ve worked in PMM roles at large companies and at startups. What are some of the similarities/differences, and how do you know which is best for you?
At a startup I got to experience the full spectrum of Product Marketing. I always said my job was 50% working on product (go-to-market launches, product announcements to customers, building demos, writing datasheets, running trainings), and 50% sales facing (first call decks, customer-facing content, sales enablement, customer stories).
Startups are a great way to get started in Product Marketing if you like to do a little bit of everything before you figure out what aspect of PMM you really enjoy. Moving to a much larger company, I knew I would have to pick a “specialty” and become a subject matter expert in a specific area, but that if and when I wanted to try something different, the huge benefit would be that I can make a change within the same company, or even within the same team. And I’ve already done just that–I started as a content and campaigns PMM, and recently switched to solutions marketing, focusing on messaging and positioning and more sales-facing work.
Whether or not you want to be a PMM at a startup or a large company really depends on what you value and where you are in your career, in my opinion. Startups are great for learning the full breadth of PMM, while large companies let you develop depth of experience in a specific area. Growth happens differently at startups (where you grow based on what the company’s needs are and how fast the company is growing) vs larger companies (where there are many more openings and areas for you to potentially move into).
CareerSchooled: You interview and have hired PMMs. What do you look for in a PMM candidate?
I think the number one thing that differentiates a PMM from other roles in marketing is storytelling. Storytelling requires you to fully understand and empathize with your customer/buyer, know their pains, how your product benefits the customer. And being a great storyteller means you also have the ability to, well, tell the story–whether the medium is writing, a slide deck, or a presentation.
So storytelling, for me at least, is a key skill that encompases a lot of other skills a PMM needs in order to be successful. There’s a lot you can teach someone as long as they are an eager, quick learner, but storytelling is a muscle and an art that it’s really valuable to start out with.
CareerSchooled: How do you describe PMM, and what a PMM does?
Product marketing sits at the intersection between the product and the customer. You need to understand the product, communicate what it is, what it does, how to use it, what’s different about it; and then you need to understand the customer, who they are, what they care about, how and where to talk to them. As a product marketer, your responsibility is to be the bridge between the two.
That might mean creating the message that clearly articulates the value of the product to the customer, and how that message translates across slide decks, the website, and paid media. It might mean crafting content for sales to understand the product, or for sales to understand the customer. And sometimes it involves working with analysts and press to make sure the world knows about why your product best meets the needs of your customer, and why it’s the best one out there that does that.
CareerSchooled: What’s your favorite part of being a PMM?
I love that Product Marketing lets me flex my creative and analytical muscles in one role. Some days I’m working with our creative team on the graphics for an ad campaign, and other days I’m diving into how successful that campaign was according to responses and revenue. Being in a role that lets me do both was really important to me since I’ve had roles where I wasn’t as creative, and I would get so bored looking at data and spreadsheets all day. I look for any excuse to be on stage, so the fact that that is part of my job description is pretty great. I also love really diving into the mind of a customer to understand who they are, what makes them tick. That’s when I feel like I’m finally putting my psychology degree to good use!
CareerSchooled: What advice do you have to someone who isn’t in PMM but wants to transition into a career into PMM?
Understand what transferable skills you already have and make sure to highlight those on an application, and figure out what skills you still need to develop and work on developing them. One way I made my life easier transitioning into PMM from HR was I positioned myself for PMM roles in the HR tech space. I made it very clear that I fully understood their customer because I was their customer, and my knowledge of the buyer and the industry was invaluable.
I knew I needed to learn the actual product marketing skills still, but having industry and customer knowledge meant I had tackled half the battle already. So if you can find a role at a company that you have some sort of experience with–you’ve been the buyer, you already work in the industry–that’s a tremendous help since PMMs need to eat, sleep, and breathe their customer.