Learning Curve

As the need to communicate with customers more effectively becomes paramount to a business’ success, the marketing profession is witnessing a huge growth in the range of training courses on offer.

Fuelled by increased competition in a range of sectors, with businesses constantly vying for the same customers, the demand for skills training has rocketed.

The once-detached local authorities have become aware of the need to market themselves more effectively; even universities, cities and regions are promoting themselves to the public. In Manchester, for example, an organisation called Marketing Manchester publicises the city worldwide.

But these courses are not confined to mainstream marketing. They cover related areas such as advertising, direct marketing, market research, electronic commerce, public relations and business-to-business marketing for specific industrial sectors. The scope of the training programmes in terms of the length, level and specialism is enormous. But some areas, such as field marketing, could benefit from more choice.

Courses range from one-day training events to two-year and longer qualification programmes, depending on the level of study. The subjects covered range from customer care and frontline service delivery to post-graduate programmes for senior managers. Each can be studied in a variety of modes; full time, part time, intensive blocks and distance learning.

Course providers vary immen-sely, ranging from sole practitioners to professional bodies, colleges and universities.

Marketing courses can provide employers with a cost-effective way to upgrade skills. But the sheer range of options can leave them mystified when trying to determine what courses are available, at what price and, most importantly, of what quality. So where can they go for help?

The major professional bodies, such as the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), the Institute of Direct Marketing (IDM) and the Market Research Society (MRS) all organise training program mes, including courses for senior managers.

These organisations are no longer simply professional membership and awarding bodies. Training now represents a significant part of their operations and they are seeking to build the business and link it to the national Lifelong Learning & Continuing Professional Development (CPD) agendas.

The CIM’s Chartered Marketer designation is a sign of marketing’s increased status and a useful incentive for more senior marketing managers to engage in continuing professional development to keep up to date with developments.

To obtain the distinction, marketers must be full members of CIM (now usually achieved through its own diploma qualification) and demonstrate a high level of marketing experience. They must also keep an annual record of appropriate continuous professional development, such as attending training courses and conferences.

Part-time qualification courses – whether college-based, from a professional body, or university diplomas and degrees – offer good value for money as they are partly publicly funded. They also cover a wide variety of material in a systematic manner, which cannot be achieved through one-off training courses. Another advantage is that they involve work assessments and examinations, proof that participants have completed the necessary study.

University part-time courses in marketing are now mainly at postgraduate level, and tend to mirror the professional body qualifications.

There are a variety of routes into programmes for older managers with good experience, who do not hold a degree or HND. Younger entrants are probably best advised to take a general business undergraduate qualification with a strong marketing component.

There are university business schools across the UK offering part-time marketing programmes which lead to MAs (sometimes MScs) and postgraduate diplomas in marketing management. These usually involve evening and sometimes weekend attendance, but there are also distance learning and flexible programmes to meet the needs of those who, for work or personal reasons, have difficulties attending on a regular basis.

Part-time programmes are mainly offered by the new universities, but they have a long tradition of part-time education in the field. For example, at Manchester Metropolitan University, we can trace educational collaboration with the Manchester Publicity Association back 70 years.

There is usually the opportunity to specialise. Aston’s modular MSc, for example, offers the opportunity to specialise in advertising or market research. But check first whether the specialism you want is likely to run; the economics of higher education mean that minimum numbers are usually needed for a course to go ahead.

The availability of Masters programmes in particular specialisms, in most cases, is restricted to a small number of business schools. This reflects the limited demand for many specialisms, particularly outside London. However, provision is often made for participants from a wide geographical area to attend.

Courses on offer include Masters programmes in public relations at Manchester Metropolitan and Stirling, direct marketing at Kingston University and marketing communications at the University of Westminster.

Universities have well-developed internal course approval and monitoring procedures as part of their degree quality assurance procedures. Teaching Quality in Marketing and related courses (both full and part time) will be assessed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education in 2000/2001. This will give a guide for employers sending their staff on such programmes.

The current and growing importance of research is also a particular strength in university business schools, which underpins the training and education they offer.

A part-time MBA can also be of interest, as it could include some marketing and the opportunity to take specialist electives in the subject, although the extent of this varies from programme to programme. The courses, which last at least two years, are designed for future and current strategic managers. The Association of Business Schools’ MBA Guidelines stress that these programmes are both postgraduate and postexperience, designed for candidates with a solid base of managerial experience.

There are a wide range of programmes available which meet the ABS and European MBA criteria, which are similar, including those accredited by the Association of MBAs. Marketing managers with a first degree or well-regarded professional qualification are clearly strong candidates.

University business schools also deliver short in-company courses designed specially for particular employers to meet their specific training needs.

During the past 30 years there has been an explosion of knowledge in marketing, partly driven by new technologies – point of sale scanners and database marketing – for example, which shows no sign of abating.

The Academy of Marketing provides a major forum for UK marketing academics to keep in touch with one another and the latest developments in the field.

There are a wide variety of organisations offering training courses in the various aspects of marketing. Some trainers are very good, but most companies have real difficulty in distinguishing the good from the indifferent, and the downright poor.

Local networks, such as regional professional bodies, are a useful source of feedback from other’s experience. For basic customer service courses and the like, the major regional Chambers of Commerce offer a variety of programmes. The DTI and TECs are often sources of useful information.

Don’t be afraid of checking with the organisation’s past clients, particularly in areas of specialist expertise where the range of training on offer is often limited. It is also a good idea to make sure you know who will actually deliver the course, as it can differ from those who make the sales pitch.

Ultimately, however, caveat emptor is the best advice.

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