Don’t forget to market yourself

Getting ahead is a very January thought. After a period of reflection (or perhaps sheer boredom) at Christmas time come the New Year’s resolutions: among them, getting a better job.

But what happens if you’re already at the top of your professional scale? You’re a marketing director, you’re earning over £100,000 a year (hopefully), you’ve trained and worked on some of the most prestigious brands – you’ve probably successfully relaunched a couple. Time is marching on. What next?

Early retirement is unlikely to figure prominently on the agenda. Marketing is too young, too aspirational and too poorly paid (relatively speaking) for all that talk about a ch̢teau in Gascony forming the kernel of your Net-based consultancy to be anything more than just that Рtalk. Much more likely are long-harboured ambitions to move into the boardroom accompanied by gnawing doubts about whether a marketing background will provide the necessary skills for a successful transition.

No need for pessimism, if you play your cards right. There are enough examples of marketers making it to chief executive to form an encouraging pattern. Among them are Sir Peter Davis at Sainsbury’s, EMI’s Eric Nicoli, Camelot’s Dianne Thompson, Tesco’s Terry Leahy and Cadbury Schweppes’ John Sunderland. Not far behind are the likes of Philip Jansen, head of Telewest Broadband, Roger Partington, president of TXU’s European retail arm, or Walker Snacks president Martin Glenn.

So the opportunities exist, but how easy is it to capitalise on them? A perceived career obstruction is the dubious status of marketing, both within the boardroom and among shareholders and advisers. Accountancy and legal qualifications give off the (not always warranted) odour of reliability, professionalism and accountability, whereas marketing continues to be regarded as something of a dark art. Statistics say as much. Among FTSE-100 companies, according to a survey published in 2000, only 13 per cent of chief executives had a marketing background, compared with 26 per cent who had specialised in finance.

No doubt this situation is unfair, or at least unbalanced. There are, for instance, certain natural qualities, desirable in a chief executive, which are more obvious in a marketer than an accountant: communication skills, customer awareness and the possession of a strategic vision which extends well beyond the annual reporting season. But rather than hand-wringing, the thing to do is to acquire a broad and convincing knowledge of how the rest of a company works – from balance sheets to IT, human resources to production – at the first opportunity. Part of this experience may well involve stints at business school, plugging into industry activities (to add a bit of gravitas) or simply tapping remorselessy into the knowledge of senior industry peers.

While it is hard to generalise a formula for success, certain signals emerge from those who have made the grade. Such people are, to an extent, self-selecting. They are single-minded and they start their ascent relatively early in their career. They absorb detail like blotting paper and are keenly aware that by next year their CV must be that little bit more impressive than it was this year. They are relentlessly hard working. Is that you?

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