(Why) I’m stepping down from my WordPress marketing role

Joost on why he’s stepping down as WordPress’ Marketing Lead.

Joost de Valk, founder of Yoast, has stepped down as WordPress’ Marketing Lead. This was a new position created this year, and Joost was the first person to take on the role.

Joost explains really well in the post why he’s stepping down. It’s essentially because of scope: “When I first talked to Matt about this role he asked me to become “the CMO of WordPress”. In my eyes, a CMO is involved in all aspects of a project / company… There’s a stark difference between where I thought I would be in the organization in this role, and where I am actually finding myself now.”

This is a real pity. Joost was a great fit for the job in that he:

  1. Could afford to dedicate a large amount of time to the role, and ultimately his business would benefit from any success (ie the business case worked out).
  2. Had the authority in the community to take on something ambitious like this. This in part comes from having extensive experience and community involvement.
  3. Doesn’t work for Automattic, and has demonstrated willingness to critique Matt constructively before.

My assumption was that Joost would be able to use point 2) on my list to get things done in spite of the poorly defined scope. Clearly, that didn’t work out: Joost cites in his post being frustrated with things that “every outsider would consider marketing” such as release posts going out without his knowledge or involvement.

The Marketing team in general has been getting more involved in other teams, but – and I cite this from my experience – it is still fairly well siloed when it needs to be helping other teams and having more involvement at earlier stages. Marketing isn’t something to bolt on at the end: successful products need to have marketing in mind from the earliest stages to inform their development. There are examples of this happening in WordPress, but they’re the exception and not the norm.

Another point Joost makes in his post is to suggest that Matt needs to open up WordPress’ planning and roadmap:

“I’ve not encountered (or been brought into) any discussions about our product vision, something I would need to translate into day-to-day actions. I was expecting there to be some backchannels where these discussions were had and these decisions were made, turns out these simply don’t exist. Matt takes his input from core devchats and lots of other chats and then decides what the roadmap should look like. I honestly think that process needs opening up.”

This is a fair and reasonable comment, and hopefully a mix of changes like this, Josepha Haden’s (so far very impressive) work as Executive Director of WordPress, and the influence of the WordPress Governance Project can move the needle in the medium term.

Marketing Lead is still a role we need, so hopefully we can learn the lessons, identify a successor, and set them up to succeed.

This post first appeared in MasterWP, a weekly newsletter for WordPress professionals.

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