Having a culture focused on upskilling has helped drinks giant Britvic take on its latest challenge – the introduction of a Level 3 Digital Marketing apprenticeship.
The nine-strong inaugural cohort of apprentices on the 15-month course includes global marketing controller Fiona Graham. A marketer with 35 years’ experience, Graham served as head of marketing capability for nine years, during which time she inducted the team into the Britvic way of marketing, ran capability days on a quarterly basis and invited in external speakers, such as Mark Ritson and Byron Sharp.
The apprenticeship programme feels like a natural continuation of that work and a perfect fit for a senior marketer, Graham explains.
“People think that offering apprenticeships means new, inexperienced staff and trying to find roles for them, when the reality is businesses can offer apprenticeships to their existing team and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” she tells Marketing Week.
Graham kicked off her career at Britvic in 1987, first selling into the pubs and clubs of the North East, before becoming a fully-fledged brand manager. After two years she went into the dental industry, working her way up from senior brand manager to category director for Sensodyne, leading the brand into its takeover by GlaxoSmithKline.
Go to HR, find the person who deals with apprenticeships and say: ‘I’ve found the programme that will be really valuable to this company.
Fiona Graham, Britvic
After developing the worldwide strategy for Sensodyne and managing the new product development pipeline, Graham became UK marketing director for the oral care brands at GSK, with responsibility for the full P&L.
When the R&D and marketing teams merged she took the opportunity to become a marketing consultant, during which time she developed a love for teaching marketing processes beyond the textbook theory.
Tempted back to the brand world, Graham returned to Britvic after 25 years in 2012 to head up marketing capability, devising the definitive way of marketing at the brand.
It was in this capacity she started looking for digital skills training at the start of lockdown and came across the School of Marketing. Working with the organisation’s founder Ritchie Mehta, Graham put together a 12-week online programme which 75 marketers across the business took part in.
Once the course was complete the conversation turned to what Britvic could do next to enhance its marketers’ digital skills, which is where the apprenticeship idea came in. Discussions went on for six months as Graham talked to the wider business about the scheme, during which time she moved into the global marketing controller role.
“I’m working in our global projects team, so I’m looking at global innovation and that’s made me want to upskill. I’ve worked in global roles before and I’ve worked in global innovation roles before, but not in what I’d call the current environment,” Graham explains.
She points to the skills she learnt climbing the career ladder, from how to brief research and assess creative, to how to forecast a new product or develop the right communications plan. However, when it comes to digital skills, senior marketers often have a grasp of the theory but aren’t the ones putting it into practice.
“You’ve not had the experience of what a Facebook campaign delivers on a monthly basis. You can look at an overall schedule, you know you need to make sure you’ve got digital out-of-home, or your website needs to be optimised, but you’re not doing it yourself,” Graham points out.
“Doing the apprenticeship gives you a chance to go back and learn from scratch. You’ll be so much more confident to have the conversation and be knowledgeable with your media agency. When they’re presenting plans to you, you can ask the questions you maybe wouldn’t have known to ask before and it makes you a better, more all-round marketer.”
Applying the learnings
The apprenticeship, which kicked off in October, includes experienced marketers who have either been with Britvic, or working in the sector, for more than a decade and recognise they have a skills gap where they want to develop their confidence. Others have no formal training in marketing, such as a recent graduate who after a year in ecommerce has decided to transfer.
Beyond the Britvic cohort, fellow apprentices include people from small businesses, as well as entrepreneurs running their own companies.
“You’ve got a complete mix of people an apprenticeship could be valuable for,” says Graham. “Someone with no marketing training who wants to upskill, somebody who wants learns about marketing to advance their career, or people who really want to learn more skills and get practice applying them.”
The apprentices have joined the course with the full backing of their line managers. The idea is to apply the learnings directing to their day jobs, using the project work to inform business challenges from the get-go.
The formal tuition element runs via Zoom for one to two hours a week in the form of lectures. Apprentices are encouraged to ask questions and stay behind to chat with the lecturer if any topics need clarifying. There are then back-up materials, including a chapter and slides to read, as well as a more in-depth module on the same topic.
The most valuable element of the apprenticeship for Graham so far has been the option to do two electives over the 15-month period. She is currently conducting a deep dive on search engine optimisation, learning things she would have relied on agencies for prior to taking the course.
Before Christmas she conducted research on a competitor, including information on the market they’re in and products they’re selling, using only online tools to build up a picture.
Her colleagues are working on several other topics relevant to their current roles. One marketer, for example, is focusing on how to raise awareness and increase registrations to Britvic’s digital platform from a new customer segment. Another is conducting a review of market opportunities and competitive strategy using online research tools.
A fellow Britvic marketer is conducting an online product test using ecommerce and social channels, the insights from which will be used to recommend a media plan for a national launch, while another in the cohort is investigating digital sampling opportunities to improve efficiency and audience targeting for a forthcoming campaign.
Graham appreciates the practical nature of the course and the fact Britvic is giving the apprentices tasks to apply their learning immediately. Being a senior marketer, she recognises how crucial it is to act as a role model, promoting the message that you can never stop learning.
“Being on the lectures and talking about your experiences, regardless of where you are in your career, is really valuable,” Graham notes. “The idea is people are talking and sharing case studies during the tutorials, so everybody learns from each other.”
Finding the right fit
Four months in and the apprenticeship scheme is off to a flying start at Britvic, although this is far from the case for every business.
According to Marketing Week’s 2022 Career and Salary Survey, more than half of marketers (57.9%) work for a brand with no marketing apprenticeship at all.
When asked about the barriers to introducing such a scheme, more than a fifth (21.2%) say the company they work for doesn’t currently see the value, while 10.4% say it is too complicated to develop a programme. A further 6.6% of the 4,463 marketers surveyed admit they cannot get buy-in at the highest level for such an initiative.
To get a marketing apprenticeship off the ground, Graham suggests finding out if someone in the business deals with apprenticeships and could offer advice. She advises marketers to do their research and show how an apprenticeship will add immediate value to their day-to-day work.
Plus, many brands are not using their apprenticeship levy, which means money is going spare that could be used to upskill.
“They’re [the business] going to support an apprenticeship programme where it’s obvious they’re going to get some benefit from it,” Graham argues.
“Go to HR, find the person who deals with apprenticeships and say: ‘I’ve found the programme that will be really valuable to this company and I’m going to enhance my skills and apply them immediately’. Make the case for it.”
She believes the more case studies that are publicised the better, as well as more information about how to initiate an apprenticeship programme. In addition to researching test cases, Graham urges marketers to find the right programme that works for them.
“For us it was the digital marketing apprenticeship that was relevant. A straightforward marketing apprenticeship might not have been relevant for us,” she explains. “We have a mix of people that come into marketing, but we do tend to recruit people who already have experience, so building skills in a particular area felt really relevant for us.”
Ultimately, the business sees this initial cohort as a test and learn to assess how valuable the programme is and whether Britvic should grow the apprenticeship programme in future.