British Gas on attracting the next generation of marketers

British Gas marketing director Miriam Jordan Keane believes marketers must lead the charge when it comes to creating opportunities that enable talent from all backgrounds to thrive.

In a world where brands are reacting to the pace of change by focusing on the inherent value of their brands, it will take best in class marketers to stand out says British Gas marketing director, Miriam Jordan Keane.

“We feel very strongly that in order to be competitive we need to have best-in-class marketers and one of the big drivers to ensure that we keep getting smart marketers is to understand customer behaviour, focus on insight and data-driven comms,” she explains.

“So much of the future is about understanding why customers behave in the way they do, why they choose the brands and organisations that they do. Those are skills that really good marketers have. So we’re putting an increased focus on marketing as a function within the organisation.”

This increased focus on marketing begins at the very start with Centrica’s graduate schemes and summer placements. The company runs graduate schemes in commercial marketing, customer insight and procurement, the first three months of which are spent in one of British Gas’ contact centres where the young marketers engage with customers on the frontline.

Those of us who are practitioners of marketing, shame on us for not making it clear that marketing is all around.

Miriam Jordan Keane, British Gas

Then over the next two years the graduates spend eight months in three placements across marketing, from insight and data analytics to products and propositions.

“We’re conscious that our graduates understand the commercial side of marketing. Graduates right from the beginning of their training are involved in trading meetings, the conversations around return on investment and the econometrics piece, so they really are well grounded commercial thinkers while also being passionate marketers,” Jordan Keane explains.

“We say we’ve equipped you for a future career to ultimately be a CMO if marketing is your absolute passion, but we’ve also laid the foundation stones for you to go into general management because you have a breadth of understanding of how an organisation functions.”

READ MORE: How brands are getting young people into marketing

British Gas welcomes a broad range of talent into marketing. The latest graduate to come into Jordan Keane’s team did his degree in psychology and criminology, while others have joined with qualifications in law, engineering, fine arts and languages, the latter a transferable skill for any brand contemplating global expansion.

“As data becomes ever more important we also have people come up through data functions, maths and sciences. My personal observation would be the broader the breath of background skills and education we have, the richer the output is,” she adds.

Of the cohort who ended their graduate scheme in December, one has joined the team working on British Gas’ Local Heroes business, a digital service matching household jobs with independent traders. Other graduates have gone into corporate affairs or opted to work on the development of British Gas’s apps, websites and chatbots.

Creating a level playing field

Alongside graduate recruitment, Centrica has broadened out its scope to younger people by offering a 10-week summer placement for undergraduates. The idea is to give them exposure to a corporate environment, which will help them make informed choices for the future direction of their career.

While the summer placements cover all areas of the business, applicants are given the opportunity to state a preference for marketing and where possible the company tries to meet their needs. The summer placement has proved successful, with the majority of people going on to apply for a graduate scheme.

However, while Centrica is a big supporter of apprenticeships for its engineering and technical roles, the company is yet to introduce an apprenticeship in marketing.

“In marketing everything is moving so fast and the question of time is a really important one. One of the things we consider with the summer programme and internships is, are we going to be able to give the young people the time, the resource, the genuine learning that they deserve?” Jordan Keane explains.

“The thing we’re grappling with is how can we do that for young apprentices in marketing in the commercial world and make sure that we were doing it properly? I would say never say never. As the socio-economic gap becomes wider again I think it’s incumbent on companies to invest in the future of people who might not be able to make the choice to go to university for social or economic reasons.”

READ MORE: Marketing’s looming crisis – Why the industry must work harder to attract the next generation

She argues that it is the responsibility of marketing leaders to create the right opportunities to build an inclusive society and that they should never assume everybody outside the industry knows exactly what a career in marketing looks like. That is why engaging young people at an early age could make a real difference.

“Those of us who are practitioners of marketing, shame on us for not making it clear that marketing is all around,” she adds.

“At Centrica we are very clearly focused on the amount of time and energy we invest in graduates. The future of this business sits firmly in the hands of the graduates we are recruiting every year.”

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