How can an experienced direct marketer take his/her career to the executive level?
Being an experienced direct marketer is certainly an excellent stepping stone to becoming an executive in that field. Understanding the fundamentals of direct marketing should lead your supervisors to take notice.
To ensure that they do, however,you will need to develop and possess a wider range of knowledge and experience. A good way to do that is to seek a supervisor or executive who is willing to mentor you — maybe not formally, but someone you feel has the qualities you would like to gain and who would be willing to answer questions and give advice. There are skills to be learned: managing people, budget processes, strategic thinking and balancing what's good for you against what's good for the company, just to name a few. A good mentor can help you learn and avoid pitfalls.
To get noticed, you will have to do more than “your job.” Being just an experienced direct marketer with none of the other skills may just keep you doing the same job.
This may seem like dangerous advice, but you need to train others to replace you. If your supervisors view you as too hard to replace, you will find yourself locked in to your present position. You may be noticed, but not considered. Being seen as someone who can develop others is a strong plus in becoming an executive.
Always be on the lookout for opportunities to gain “executive” experience both in your present work environment and outside of it. Networking becomes an important ingredient in upward mobility. The old adage, “It's not what you know, but who you know” somewhat overstates the importance of networking. In the final analysis, knowledge and drive to perform well can override “who you know.”
Think of it this way: The same learning process it took to be an experienced direct marketer will be needed to develop the additional skills necessary to lead others as an executive. And of course, if you want “baptism by fire,” you can start your own company.