Tackling the learning curve

As the skills requirements for marketers increase, the industry is seeking candidates from a broad range of educational fields; and training methods are being overhauled, says Richenda Wilson

Never in its history has the marketing world been so complex; never has the range of skills demanded of its professionals been so diverse.

Everyone will have their own particular favourites, but the list of must-have skills for the 21st-century marketer includes many, if not all, of the following: digital knowledge, brand understanding, customer focus, media and channel dexterity, international awareness, data literacy, ethics and the ability to deliver return on investment. The Institute of Direct Marketing recently developed a profile of tomorrow’s marketer that included an intimidating list of required skills.

“They should be a brand-literate and numerate technophile,” says Neil Morris, the IDM’s deputy managing director. “They need commercial astuteness, while also being a maverick prepared to break the mould when needed.

Predictions for the future

“Tomorrow’s marketers need to have a multi-channel perspective,” says Paul Sykes, regional director for recruitment consultancy Michael Page Marketing. “Traditional above and below-the-line media rules no longer apply, and an understanding of digital communications channels is essential.”

Independent marketing services group Engine claims that the best way to ensure that all the skills are accommodated is through integration. The group is moving all 600 members of staff in its ten partner companies under a single roof in June, and has also appointed a head of integration to oversee cultural integration across the group.

“A few years ago, the role of a campaign manager was much narrower than it is today,” says Engine’s group development director Julian Hough. “Digital marketing is central to the role today, but until recently it remained siloed in the dark depths of a separate department.

“Successful marketers now realise the importance of widening their marketing approach beyond single disciplines. While online is clearly an essential ingredient to the successful marketing mix, the marketer of the 21st century will need to embrace a host of other, equally important, skills to get the most from a campaign.

“These skills will not only include other marketing disciplines, such as experiential marketing, lifetime customer value and consumer PR, but also public affairs, which will become increasingly important as there is greater pressure for legislation around marketing alcohol, cars, food and to children.

“Essentially, tomorrow’s successful marketer will need to spend time not only learning about these broad and varied skills, but also planning how they can all be integrated successfully and efficiently.”

Morris at the IDM commends all the efforts at consolidation, but believes it can never truly happen. He likens marketing to the science disciplines, which grow increasingly plentiful and disparate.

No sooner has marketing won the debate about being recognised as a profession than it moves on to a debate about how many professions it encompasses, he says.

In fact, says Morris, a marketing degree is not a prerequisite for a successful career in the industry; good candidates are being drawn from a wide range of faculties, including geography and maths. Indeed, the decline in the number of maths graduates across the country is having an impact on the industry as numerate job applicants become more scarce.

Basic skills

And literacy can no longer be taken for granted, laments Helen Saunders, HR manager at marketing services agency Gratterpalm. “It is remarkable that, even now, basic literacy skills are often lacking,” she says. “Combined with a lack of attention to detail, this will be a serious weakness for anyone wanting to get on the ladder, let alone progress up it.”

Ed Lecky-Thompson, head of digital at relationship marketing agency Hicklin Slade & Partners, finds the same thing. “The Government tells us that educational standards are rising, but that isn’t the reality for most employers,” he says. “In the 1990s, a CV littered with spelling mistakes would be disregarded. Sadly, many employers no longer have the luxury of being able to be that selective.

“Tomorrow’s marketers may well find that basic numeracy, literacy and professional work skills will be more sought after than specialist qualifications. We place more value on finding the students who possess the skills you can’t learn in a textbook.

“It is important that younger marketers ensure they have the basics before finding an employer that can deepen their industry knowledge. There’s nothing worse than a graduate who resorts to marketing jargon because they haven’t learned to speak like a human being. If an employee can’t engage with people without the jargon, asking them to build engaging consumer relationships for our clients will be challenging.”

But Saunders at Gratterpalm has high hopes for the latest initiatives to train individuals for jobs in marketing: “By 2013, the Government aims to have fully implemented its new diploma qualification, which seeks to bring educational qualifications closer to the needs of industry. Leeds schools will begin a pilot of the Creative and Media Diploma this September. This will help students get early exposure to the workings of the industry.”

Superficial understanding

Morris at the IDM believes this is essential. He sees young people in marketing who understand concepts at a superficial level, but don’t know how to apply their knowledge; who can collect data, but not analyse it; or who have learned the theory, but don’t understand its relevance.

The IDM has created a Foundation Certificate in Marketing that undergraduates can take alongside their other studies.

“It helps to cement their understanding of how the theory applies in practice so that they come out with a better understanding of the real world,” says Morris.

Many universities offer superb vocational qualifications intended to prepare marketers for a career in the industry, says Ros Kindersley, managing director of recruitment consultancy JFL Search & Selection. But, she adds, there are certain things that can’t be learned until you are at the sharp end, working in a company. Internships, mentoring, moving around departments and getting down to work will teach invaluable skills.

“Big brands and companies such as Marks & Spencer, Procter & Gamble and Unilever invest more time and money into training and development, particularly in graduate training schemes,” says Kindersley. “These allow junior candidates to experience all areas of the business, while being guided and mentored throughout the process to leave them with a broad level of experience and a variety of established skills.

“Our training is very much tailored to the individual,” says Andy Snuggs, managing director of integrated communications consultancy Geronimo. “As the marketing arena becomes ever more diverse, a rigid training scheme may not be the best approach.

“However, we do require all account service recruits to take the DMA diploma course. This gives a good grounding in marketing principles and the experience of answering a brief.

“An important part of our internal training is the ‘knowledge share’. We set aside time to keep team members up to speed with relevant industry news and developments – especially crucial in the digital space. We also bring in external specialists to add to our knowledge shares.”

Outside courses can be used to enhance skills in specialist, fast-changing areas. Marketing communications trade body the MCCA, for example, has just launched a workshop that aims to give those involved in the marketing communications sector a grounding in evolving digital communications across all platforms and countries.

The Excellence in Digital Communications course will take the form of a moderated discussion on the implications of the new landscape for agencies and their clients. Sessions will focus on new channels, programming and marketing campaigns that exploit the new technologies, and examine possible ways in which these may evolve.

“Anyone who works in marketing needs to keep that hunger for new information and tools,” says Romina Rosado, managing director, Europe, at online video-sharing platform The NewsMarket. “Older marketers should stay in touch by spending more time with kids to understand how they actually use Facebook, what on earth Twitter is and what they watch on TV (if they still do).”

Heather Westgate, chief executive at direct marketing agency TDA, agrees. She says: “It is important to seek out new things to explore, whether it’s checking out the latest social media platform or reading a different newspaper. We don’t stop being marketers when we leave the office.”

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