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Ask A Philadelphia Marketing Pro: Series #2

Roberts is a seasoned marketer in the life sciences, laboratory services, biotech, pharmaceutical, HIT (healthcare information technology), and SAAS (software-as-a-service) sectors. His past roles have included Vice President for National Sales & Marketing for Quip Laboratories, Vice President of Product Development & Marketing for InfoMedTek, and Director of CenturyLink’s National Healthcare Solutions Center. In his current role, he helps create and drive messaging, positioning, market analysis, and sales enablement for Astrix, Inc. 

Now serving his fourth term as President of the professional AMA Philly chapter, Roberts has traditionally been heavily involved, and was previously awarded the AMA’s Marketer of the Year Award for excellence in both Customer Specific Marketing and Corporate Branding. He’s also served as an awards judge for other AMA chapters, and often guest lectures on both marketing and market research topics at Philadelphia-area universities. With his rich background in both the marketing industry and the AMA itself, I decided to connect with him to share some of that expertise with AMA Philly members.

Currently, you work in product marketing for Astrix, a company dedicated to digital transformation and specialized staffing services for science-based businesses. What do you see as the unique marketing needs of tech and science companies, as opposed to other B2B industries?

Companies that market to tech and science buyers need to do two things simultaneously, which is somewhat unique among other B2B companies. They need to make sure their messages relate to both the quality of the outcome when the customer uses the product or service, and have an emotional dedication to that outcome. I think you’ll find that people in science and technology are emotionally connected to their work in ways that either resonate with or validate them. This imbues their choices with both scientific methodology and personal commitment to excellence. So, we’ve got to acknowledge and address both their personal and professional standards when we create messaging, design knowledge transfer campaigns, tools, and assets.

When it comes to marketing strategy, what do you think are the most common pitfalls that even experienced marketers fall into, and how do you avoid them?

The biggest and most common mistake I see among marketers is the tendency to lapse into a groove or policy of using the tried-and-true (both in terms of channels and tactics). This makes it easy for competitors to be at liberty— and have the advantage — to disrupt the market simply by being fresh-faced. It actually lowers the bar for disruption, and invites creative thinkers to engage in breakthrough thinking at the expense of those who have been lulled into a state of overconfidence. The best way to avoid this problem is to be vigilant when it comes to monitoring the environment for new ideas, creative approaches, and innovations — by both direct competitors and leaders in other sectors.

The number two mistake, in terms of prevalence, is mistaking a new tactic or a new channel for a strategy. This is especially problematic when people who are experts in the use of a specific channel (such as social media) dominate discussions and are mistaken for contributing marketing strategy. In reality, they are contributing expertise on the use of a single channel that could (but doesn’t necessarily need to) dominate in a comprehensive strategy. A tactic, no matter how expertly operationalized, is not a strategy. An effective strategy is superior to channels and tactics, not subordinate to it.

Looking back on your marketing career, what is the most valuable thing you have learned?

The most valuable lesson I learned came from the combination of being raised by a qualitative market researcher and studying investigative journalism as an undergrad. It’s important to always investigate what’s actually happening in the market by investing time in fresh, firsthand observation. Then, test every idea with a limited number of targeted buyers — and influencers — before enacting a full-blown campaign. The best way to summarize this insight is with a simple axiom: measure twice, cut once. In the hands of a curious marketer, this is a guide that will help ensure every campaign, every strategy, and every tactic will be in a stronger position to deliver measurable success.

 What do you think is unique about marketing and/or marketers in the Philadelphia area?

Philadelphia is a place where, because of the plethora of colleges and universities, people are sharp-witted on both sides of the marketer/buyer equation. Since it’s not quite as jaded as New York or Los Angeles, the greater Philadelphia region is a place in which some mediocre marketers can certainly make a living, but it’s the sharp minds that are groomed and thrive here at the highest level of our profession. The colleges and universities granting marketing degrees in our region are top flight, among the best in the U.S., and second to none. People come from all over the world to study marketing in our region and, for those companies smart enough to hire them, it means Philly-area organizations enjoy having top talent on their teams. This truly distinguishes our diverse community of sectors, industries, organizations, and institutions.

During your terms as President of the Philadelphia AMA, what challenges have you faced in the past, and what would you like to see implemented in the future?

The most recent challenge has been the need to socially distance ourselves from our colleagues. However, our chapter continues to contend with the tendency for busy marketers to engage in their offices during daylight hours, but to feel too fatigued to connect with their marketing peers. Based on my conversations with other AMA chapter leaders at our national leadership summit and regional meetings, this is endemic among AMA chapters nationwide. I’d like to see more partnerships of the type our chapter had pioneered in the past, such as with local universities and employers who understand the need to keep marketing skills sharp and evergreen. I’m looking to develop new programs that provide forums for local marketers who are as curious about new techniques as they are serious about their career success.

 How has the AMA been valuable to you in your career?

I’ve been fortunate, through my volunteering with our chapter, to be able to turn my own curiosity into insights, skills, and techniques through the design and production of seminars, workshops, lectures, and coaching. Moreover, I’ve found great colleagues who — for years — have helped me as collaborators on a freelance basis. These people comprise my bulletproof army of colleagues. My phone contains no less than 50 top-tier marketing experts who will take my call, answer my questions, and advise me on ways to succeed with whatever issue I’m facing. I’m also proud to say that I return that favor to at least as many people. It’s like having a panel of high-caliber experts who have my back. And, if that’s not enough, I’m happy to say that when I decided that I was ready for a change in my career, all it took was one text message, one get-together with a fellow chapter member, and I landed my current job in short order.

Want more expert marketing advice? Check out our first interview in this series with Cass Bailey of Slice Communications! Click here to read now.


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