A report by Norman Broadbent, which head hunts executive and non-executive directors for the UK’s top companies, found marketing under-represented on the boards of FTSE 350 firms with only 50 non-executive directors having a background in marketing. Finance representation, by contrast, has grown in recent years as companies look to protect shareholders’ investment in the current economic environment by seeking greater scrutiny of spending.
Changes in consumer habits because of technological advances have heightened the need for business to consumer companies to increase the representation of marketing on their boards, the report adds.
“In a world characterised by lightning-fast technological change, where relationships with the consumer have undergone a seismic shift almost unimaginable only five years ago and that might have been considered completely fantastical fifteen years ago, the absence of a function that is almost defined by its knowledge of, and relationship with, the consumer seems at best irrational. At its worst, it seems irresponsible”, it continues.
The report cites Diageo and Unilever as examples of companies that offer marketing a voice in the boardroom. It concedes they, as FMCG companies, are “preaching to the converted” but insists their actions should be noted by all B2C firms.
It continues : “Why should it be different for retailers, pharmaceutical companies, media and construction companies? They too, after all, are concerned with the consumer. Furthermore, in some of these sectors, the world has moved on. Consumer habits have changed beyond recognition yet company structures and board make-up have lagged behind.
“Non-executives who champion the consumer voice in the boardroom have a firm belief that the company that listens to its consumers and stays close will deliver growth, and the company that delivers growth delivers success to its shareholders.”
Marketing directors wishing to grow the influence of their function in the boardroom should be “more proactive” and “press for access” to board members to present their case. “Internally they should ensure they are positioned with the board as a business person who works in marketing rather than a marketer who works in business,” the report says.
Additionally, marketers need to gain more commercial experience in their organisation, “bring science to their art”, and show they can demonstrate what companies require of non-executive directors – knowledge of remuneration, pensions, regulatory and financial matters, the report says.
The recommendations to hasten advancement echo those offered by a panel of former marketers who have stepped up to the c-suite speaking last week at the ISBA annual conference.
ISBA and The Marketing Academy are trying to address under-representation by launching a fellowship mentoring scheme designed to equip senior marketers for the boardroom.