What should I be when I grow up?

If engineers are boring,teachers wimps and farmers greedy swines, there is only one respectable profession left: marketing

No-one can impress at cocktail parties with quite the panache of a marketing man. Or, of course, a marketing woman.

While others may shuffle awkwardly from foot to foot when asked by a gushing circulator what they do for a living, the creative person preens an eyebrow and declares with blithe insouciance that he is in negotiations with Paula Yates. As his interlocutor rises, gawping to the bait, he explains that his client, Anchor Canned Cream, wishes to cast Miss Yates opposite Swirly the Clown in a forthcoming television advertisement.

To an ever-widening group of open-mouthed listeners he adds, with many an expansive gesture, that in the oeuvre under construction, Swirly squirts cream over a series of small puddings before placing one on Paula’s nose. At that very moment, and mark this well, backing singers will render the libretto: “Swirly gave Paula Yates, Swirly gave Paula Yates, Swirly gave Paula Yates her just deserts.”

At that, even the most brittle and back-biting cocktail coterie cannot suppress excited applause. (No matter that Miss Yates declined to accept Anchor’s offer on the ground that she would prefer something “more heavyweight and stylish”, like American Express.)

Who, then, can blame the marketing man, who dwells in a world of excitement, celebrity and glamour, for casting a pitying eye on the civil engineer who is widely regarded as tedium incarnate.

To add to his woe, the engineer has, for a full two decades, been the butt of a joke wrought, albeit unwittingly, by the marketing fraternity. To those who enjoy a chortle at the expense of those less fortunate than themselves it is a well known fact that under the heading “Boring” in the Yellow Pages there is the cross-reference “See civil engineers”. Ho, ho.

This has proved more than a passing irritant to those who have answered the call of shaft and subway. For three years, the Institution of Civil Engineers has fought to have the reference expunged from the directory. And now, at last, its petitioning is heeded. Henceforth all new editions of Yellow Pages will, under “Boring”, carry the words “See sites exploration”. And so honour is satisfied.

“We got fed up at the frequently snide remark that ‘you’re the boring people’,” says John Whitwell, deputy secretary of the institution. “Our boring image is totally wrong. We’re young at heart and energetic.”

At the risk of casting the tiniest pall over Mr Whitwell’s hour of triumph, it has to be said that it’s possible to be young at heart, energetic, and boring just the same. But how much better to be boring in the eyes of those who know nothing of conduit and tube than to be heartily loathed by the world at large, which is the lot of some who earn their crust in other ways.

I know. I am one. Though the prying tabloid hacks are but distant cousins, I am nevertheless guilty by association. And were I to go to cocktail parties, which I do not, and only partly because no-one ever invites me, I should prefer to attend under a flag of convenience and declare myself a civil engineer.

Politicians ought to resort to a similar subterfuge, and perhaps would were they not so thick-skinned and arrogant. Others who might win easier acceptance were they to pass themselves off as, say, veal crate manufacturers, include used car dealers, double-glazing salesmen, traffic wardens, and, of course, estate agents.

It is, however, a disturbing phenomenon of our time that the list of occupations held in low esteem grows, and includes some professions previously revered. Teachers, for example, once consoled themselves with the knowledge that, though poorly paid, they commanded respect. Now it is quite routine for them to be beaten up by pupils and parents alike. Doctors come in for similar rough treatment. Farmers, perhaps with more justice, have forfeited their reputation; no longer the jolly purveyors of all things nourishing and good, they are seen as callous money grubbers who feed sheep to cows and uproot hedgerows.

So let us assume you are dandling an infant grandchild on your knee when he or she enquires in piping tones: “What should I be when I grow up?” Civil engineering is out. Too boring. Accountancy ditto. Butchers are a dying breed. Vivisectionists an endangered one. Tax collecting may be fun, but only for the perverted. Glaziers, plumbers, roofers and plasterers are cowboys, as are lawyers. Professional sport requires some talent. So does musicianship. That leaves nursing (for nurses are angels), the Queen Mother (position taken), and weather person. This last is particularly desirable since it confers celebrity, than which there is no greater attribute.

Finally, let us not forget marketing. Marketing folk can never be boring, for theirs is a world of excitement. In fact, exciting is one of their favourite words. For marketing people, there is no such thing as, for example, a shave. For them it is a shaving experience. Unbelievably smooth, too. And luxurious. Throw in Paula Yates, and how can the poor old civil engineer, down his hole, compete? And who would be unkind enough to tell him that, yes, there is a better hole.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email customerservices@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here