Are marketers just too innumerate to lead a company?

The industry has come under fire twice in a week for being selfserving and isolated, but Marketing Week experts and readers think such criticism should itself be examined.


Marketing industry bodies have reacted angrily to a study claiming that 73% of CEOs feel marketing professionals lack credibility.

The report comes at the same time as Merlin Entertainment Group’s chief executive Nick Varney tells Marketing Week that young marketing executives are “too siloed” to be successful in the boardroom.

The report, from marketing group Fournaise, found that CEOs felt marketers talk too much about brand values and equity as their parameters, rather than results, such as sales, EBIT and market value.

Three-quarters of CEOs said that marketers focus too much on the latest trends, such as social media, while rarely being able to show how these trends can generate more business for the company.

However, Sherilyn Shackell, founder of the Marketing Hall of Legends’ Marketing Academy, which Marketing Week sponsors, says it is a “myth” that the modern marketer is driven by concerns such as winning awards for campaigns. She says marketers are acutely aware of their direct contribution to the profit and loss of companies.

“CMOs such as Amanda Mackenzie (Aviva), Andy Fennell (Diageo) and Sally Cowdry (O2) who have a seat in the boardroom ensure that their entire teams are driven by commercial objectives,” she says, adding that leaders such as Martin Glenn (Birds Eye Iglo), Gavin Patterson (BT Retail) and Allan Leighton (ex-Asda) “completely disprove” the idea that marketers are too siloed to become CEOs.

Varney has said young marketers risk being siloed because they are no longer being exposed to other departments, such as sales. Few senior marketers, he says, carry responsibility for profit and loss.

Shackell argues that while exceptional leaders must have “a healthy regard for insight and data” she believes they are characterised by the “ability to influence and engage the courage to take risks”.

Roderick Wilkes, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), says marketers need a voice in the boardroom if organisations are going to align their operations effectively.

A Deloitte and CIM report last year found that 49% of companies are not using a customer or marketing measure to inform board-level decision-making.

Wilkes says: “While marketers are measuring, if they aren’t doing this effectively or presenting it to the board in a meaningful way, then this becomes a commercial sticking point. As we mark the centenary of the CIM this year, it is saddening that this seems to still be the case.”

Play the numbers game

I can and do demonstrate results in my reports with the old, boring, square results that some CEOs want. The CEOs consulted in this report should reconsider the marketing staff they employ: maybe being young and having a Facebook account does not mean they possess market knowledge.
Isabel Castro

This study illustrates the natural tendency for corporations to become more quantitative in downturns. CFOs play a bigger role in economic contractions and place huge pressure on every department to cut costs and focus on the numbers.
Pete Park

I think the issue is broader than this. What happens if you are a numerate, analytical commercial marketer who clearly shows the ROI, sales and profit impact of your team’s activities, yet the organisation tries to reduce everything you do to an oversimplified binary analysis?

Think outside the box

All of these comments ring true for me, but I think the nature of human beings needs to be acknowledged too. Marketing is relatively unique in that it requires creativity, financial savvy and strategic thought, which are often opposing traits. To get this package is tricky as often people sway more towards creative thinking or data processing (science if you like) but are not balanced in both. I think there are relatively few perfect candidates for this level of position. They are out there though. In the meantime, a job share or team mentality between people sharing these skills is necessary.
Natalie Taylor

I think young marketers are sticking to their section of the larger marketing field when they should naturally fuse research, sales, ROI and strategy, while communicating with other departments to uncover issues.

This may be due to budget cuts but I believe the onus is on the marketer to get information from the other ’silos’ within an organisation.

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