Alumni from General Mills, The Kraft Heinz Company, and PepsiCo Frito Lay returned to campus to discuss career paths in brand management

Brand management is one of the most popular marketing jobs for MBA students after graduation, and many big brands recruit at business schools for the position. To help get new students up to speed on the possibilities of brand management, Vanderbilt Business welcomed three alumni back to Management Hall earlier this month to speak about their jobs in brand management.

Griffin Bell (MBA’17), Associate Marketing Manager at General Mills; Ashley Delaney (MBA’14), Associate Director at The Kraft Heinz Company; and Jon Hartmann (MBA’17), Associate Marketing Manager at PepsiCo Frito Lay, discussed their day-to-day duties, career paths in brand management, and more with MBA and Master of Marketing students.

Here’s their must-know advice for MBAs considering a career in brand management:

It’s sort of like managing your own business…

The Panelists: Griffin Bell, Jon Hartmann, Ashley Delaney (L to R)

Delaney originally came to Vanderbilt Business thinking she would become an entrepreneur and start her own company. But during her time at business school, she became more and more interested in brand management, because people in the role market and sell their product(s) almost as if they were their own small business. “It was then I realized that I could own and manage a business with someone else’s money, which is pretty cool,” Delaney said.

“You really have that sense of ownership and decision making,” Hartmann affirmed.

…but you will have support.

While brand managers do have a lot of autonomy and responsibility, the alumni clarified that new hires won’t be all on their own at the office — far from it. Brand managers work a lot with cross-functional team members from all over the company, and those people want the products to succeed as much as the brand managers do. “You truly do own it, but you’re part of a team,” Bell said.

“Know exactly what matters to all your different partners,” Hartmann said.

You’ll do a lot more than just marketing.

Many students originally look to brand management as a more creative option than other post-business school positions. While that creativity is certainly part of the job description and brand managers do oversee agencies, they also touch every other function — such as finance and operations — and do quite a bit of quantitative work as well. “It is multifaceted, everything from (managing) creative folks to forecasting demand,” Delaney said.

“You’re going to get different slices into all the aspects that go into building up a brand. You’re very much a generalist,” Hartmann said. “Being comfortable with the finance stuff so you can get familiar with a P&L, that will always help you,” he added.

You will probably rotate through positions in your first few years.

Griffin Bell

Most brand managers will rotate between different positions or brands during their first few years at a company to see where they align, although the length of the rotations and the formality of the process varies from company to company.

“I’m identifying roles (within the company) that are interesting to me and that can help my professional development,” explained Hartmann, who is preparing to make his first rotation.

“Business need is always going to win, but they do have a council that tries to match you up with where you want to go,” Bell said.

You should immerse yourself in the industry.

Whether you’re simply intrigued by the possibilities of brand management or committed to recruiting for the function, keeping up with the industry will only help in your career journey. Following brands on social media, subscribing to email newsletters, watching TV, and flipping through print ads will make sure you stay on top of the latest industry trends.

“Go to a grocery store. Walk around and look what’s on the shelves. You’ll learn from doing that,” Hartmann advised for those who want to work in consumer-packaged goods.

“I like questions that are based on news. It shows you’re reading about the industry, and developing questions that are relevant to my business,” Bell said about recruiting prospective hires.

Want to learn more about Marketing at Vanderbilt Business? Visit our MBA program page or our Master of Marketing program page.