Mar 22, 2012
Mark Howe has been in marketing literally since he was a kid — one of his first jobs in high school was selling recycling boxes door-to-door.
But it’s only within the last few years that Howe received his first real marketing education credentials. In 2011, he bolstered those credentials even further after graduating from Red River College’s Marketing Management program.
That’s not to say he hasn’t had plenty of practice in the interim. After earning his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree from the University of Manitoba, Howe spent seven years with Agricore United (at the time the largest agribusiness in Canada), where he worked his way from a sales position to the head office, first as Marketing Coordinator, then as Marketing Manager in the company’s Corporate Marketing and Communications Department.
While at Agricore, Howe earned a certificate in AgriMarketing from the Canadian Centre for Sales and Marketing. But he amassed the bulk of his marketing experience on-the-job, and finessed his skill set through years of independent study.
"I’ve always done a lot of self-study — I’m a bit of a nerd that way," says Howe, now Director of Marketing and Professional Development for Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP (TDS Law), one of Manitoba’s top law firms.
"When I’m on vacation, I don’t read fiction books — I read marketing books."
In an effort to formalize his credentials, Howe — who’s also Director of Marketing and Business Development for Acumen Corporate Development Inc. (a TDS affiliate) — enrolled in RRC’s Marketing Management program in 2007. He continued the training (through RRC’s School of Continuing and Distance Education) even after taking a job with Direct Focus Marketing Communications, one of Winnipeg’s largest advertising agencies, where he was responsible for executing initiatives originating from the company’s Toronto office.
Not long after, he was chosen to head up and create a marketing department at TDS Law. The move marked something of a milestone, since it was the first time any law firm in Manitoba had invested in formally creating a marketing department.
"It was a major transition — almost like moving to another country," Howe says of the switch from product-based to service-based marketing, and of creating a new department from scratch within a partnership-based business structure.
"At Direct Focus there was one owner and at Agricore United, there was one senior vice-president, and whatever they said, went. But a law firm is not a vertical structure, it’s a horizontal structure. It’s like you have 50 CEOs, instead of just one."
Howe’s ongoing RRC training came in handy while he was making the transition. In addition to learning more about the ever-evolving field of marketing, he also benefited from the shared experience of his instructors and classmates.
"One of the definite benefits of the evening programs is it’s primarily older people — not fresh out of high school — so they have industry experience, they have work experience, and some of them are private business owners," says Howe, who also runs a marketing consulting firm (Custom Marketing Works) on top of his TDS and Acumen duties. "You can learn a lot — not only from your instructors, but your peers, because everyone has different backgrounds and experiences."
Having graduated with honours last year, Howe is poised to return to RRC next month, when he’ll begin teaching the College’s Services Marketing course. It’s his first time teaching in a classroom setting (he’s been heading up seminars and instructional sessions for years), but Howe says he’s looking forward to it.
"Sometimes marketing and business development can have a negative stigma to it, but I think of it as a helping profession," he says. "If you can help a business to grow or prosper, or become more successful through marketing, that’s a good thing for the client or employer and the local community. Because if businesses can grow, they can hire more people. And if wages go up, they’re paying more taxes to pay for public services and hopefully making more charitable contributions, which helps the economy and community overall."
"I’m not saving lives or anything, but the thing I like best about marketing and business development is helping clients to succeed ... I love seeing ’the needle’ move. When you can see you’re having an impact, when you can see you’re achieving results, and you’re helping your clients achieve their goals — that’s what most rewarding to me.