In with the old: in with the young

On-the-job training and mentoring is proven to help inexperienced marketers develop their skills. But what happens when older staff, with the knowledge to pass on, are scarce? asks Victoria Furness

Forget the pink pound and the “yoof” market, it’s the grey pound that marketers should be targeting, since – industry pundits tell us – this is the consumer group with people who have large amounts of disposable income and leisure time on their hands.

It is therefore rather ironic to find that only 3% of marketers are over 50 years old (Marketing Week/Ball & Hoolahan Salary Survey, MW January 12), with the large majority at least a couple of decades younger – between the ages of 27 and 35 years old.

This is nothing new, claims Camelot chief executive Dianne Thompson: “Marketing has always been a young person’s industry,” she says. “The nature of the work is that you work hard and play hard. There is no such thing as a nine-to-five day.”

Ian Millner, managing director of Iris and board director of the Marketing Communication Consultants Association (MCCA), disagrees: “I don’t think marketing needs to be a young industry, but there is a premium placed on energy and drive over experience.”

A recent study by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education and Leicester University found that 90% of employees learn core skills on the job. Over half the employees said receiving advice and coaching from senior staff improves their effectiveness and productivity. Yet if grey-haired marketers are so scarce, how can junior marketers learn the secrets of successful past campaigns?

Former managing director of CDP, David McLaren, was recruited to his current role as chairman of PR agency Cohn & Wolfe partly to bring some “grey hair” to a young agency. He says: “I think something has been lost by the diminishing numbers of older people in marketing, because there is a balance to be struck between the ‘old farts’ wanting to carry on doing things the way they have always done, and the way in which they can help younger people learn expensive lessons cheaply,” he continues.

But lamenting the lack of senior marketers is not to diminish the skills and qualifications of younger marketers entering the profession. Sean McPheat, trainer and founder of Managing Training and Development, says: “Young marketers and sales people have a lot of product knowledge and know the theory. They just lack the experience.

Keen to learn

“The good news is that a lot of new team members are as keen as mustard to learn from others that have been in the role for many years,” he continues. “The bad news is that the workloads of senior marketers within any firm are increasing, so finding the time for internal mentoring and coaching programmes is very difficult – that’s why a lot of firms go outside for training.”

Working with an external training provider can fill an expertise gap by bringing in senior marketers that junior marketers can learn from in a formal environment.

Alternatively, a senior marketer could be hired – on a full time or consultancy basis. Another source of advice are industry bodies, such as the Marketing Society and Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).

Jeff Whitney, vice-president of global marketing at e-learning software company, OutStart, believes in networking. “I had a conversation with one person whose telemarketing agency was achieving 10% connection rate from calls. I was able to share my experience in achieving 30% to 40%, and my information initially came from someone else in the industry.”

Role models or mentors are another source of advice for junior marketers. James Layfield, managing director of experiential marketing agency, The Lounge, and previously one of Virgin’s youngest managing directors, benefited from both mentoring and hands-on experience early on in his career.

“The approach of one of my managers, Brenda Ross, was to let people in the team take on more responsibility than would be normal in traditional institutions,” he says, “and Brenda was very supportive in guiding me, and letting me make some mistakes and learn from these,” he recalls.

Where senior marketers do work in an organisation, they need to be accessible to offer advice. At Camelot, Sophia Kyriacou believes the organisation’s flat structure gives her greater access to the expertise of senior marketers. “There is an open plan office feel, so a junior employee could be sitting next to relatively senior people and benefit from hearing them speak on certain subjects,” she says.

Two-way learning

Of course, passing on advice is not a one-way street. Senior marketers can also learn from junior colleagues, particularly when it comes to new marketing channels, such as mobile, viral marketing or experiential marketing.

All the evidence would suggest that instead of solely focusing efforts on the next generation of marketing directors, companies should consider how they could hold on to more experienced marketers and gain some of their grey-haired wisdom.

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