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Marketing your IT team is bound to backfire

No matter how successful your IT team and how well-crafted your message, marketing the IT department to your organization is a potential disaster.

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“Everyone has an opinion of IT, either good, bad, or indifferent. Marketing IT only serves to enhance the feelings, especially the bad ones. If you market yourself, you put a target on your back.”

—Tony Young, CIO of Informatica.

CIOs have routinely marketed the IT department to the rest of their organization. Annual reports filled with impressive metrics helped demystify and highlight IT’s contribution to the success of a company. But now, as executives are increasingly tech-savvy and fully comprehend the role technology plays in an organization’s strategy, IT may no longer benefit from internal marketing..

"Everyone has an opinion of IT, either good, bad, or indifferent," says Tony Young, CIO of Informatica. "Marketing IT only serves to enhance the feelings, especially the bad ones. If you market yourself, you put a target on your back."

Negative campaigns

In some organizations, employees foster ill will toward IT because of the perception of unmet expectations, frustration with slow-moving projects, or blame for slow networks, for example. Marketing your IT department can easily exacerbate those negative opinions. Marketing materials tend to focus on the past, trumpeting year-old projects and fulfilled service level agreements (SLAs). Your executive team instead wants to see the contribution your IT department is making now and how it will add value to the organization in the future.

Calling attention to your IT department can also raise questions you would rather avoid. If your organization is facing budget issues, self-promotion in glossy brochures will inevitably raise questions about why IT has money to spare on internal marketing efforts.

Young believes that CIOs who market IT efforts risk making themselves look foolish and out of touch with everyone else in the organization. “It may seem like a good idea, but it will irritate your audience, it is a waste of money, and it is old-fashioned,” says Young.

Clarify future value

Communicate to your partners in the business that your IT department is doing more than just its job. Providing the status on various SLAs is the minimum requirement. Connect your IT deliverables to the strategic business initiatives and goals. Talk about the future. Tell the executive team how your IT team can make the business more strategic. Use specific examples to emphasize how they can meet current challenges.

"Tell them what is wrong and what you are going to do to fix it," says Young. "They have a lot of things coming at them and very little time to read your stuff. You might get some resonance with them if you are very clear and concise."

Marketing IT to the organization can be very dangerous to the CIO. The only marketing you should do is within your own department to build the culture and morale of the team. Outside of that, the most effective marketing IT can do is to simply do its job by executing and delivering on time and on budget and helping the business innovate.

Read "The situational CIO" to see why CIOs still need to focus on the tactics of IT while balancing strategic involvement.

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