The cornerstone of a successful career is undoubtedly continuous learning and development, perhaps more so in marketing than any other industry. From the rapid rate of change, frequent inception and adoption of new tools and techniques, and the slightly less frequent global pandemics that throw the entire economic landscape into question, marketing’s role as a business-critical function has perhaps never been more acutely felt by those professionals at the coalface.
This year, the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) announced significant changes to our chartered marketer status that will allow more marketers than ever before to gain recognition by investing in continuing professional development (CPD). In this article, we hear from five marketers at varying stages of their careers on why learning is a priority – and how it can often be found in unexpected places.
Pete Markey FCIM, chief marketing officer, TSB
Pete Markey FCIM may well be the world’s busiest CMO. From being one of the industry’s most called-upon voices on professional development, to hosting a live improvised comedy show that raised over £30,000 for Comic Relief back in March, learning has always been at the centre of his approach to being an effective marketer – and leader.
A self-starting junior marketer, Markey took opportunities early in his career that went beyond his job description to expand his knowledge of marketing’s crucial role in driving business strategy and growth. “At British Gas, I accepted the chance to join a voluntary board to drive the future strategy of the business. I was working in brand marketing at the time, but I was keen to expand my experience in digital. For me, that meant looking beyond my job description and at what my colleagues were doing.”
Taking the lead in his own development has taken Markey to some unusual places throughout his career. Most recently, he has ventured into the world of improvised comedy: “I’ve been taking improv lessons for over a year now, and it has allowed me to be more spontaneous, creative and confident in unexpected or challenging situations.”
Beyond the skills gained, Markey also found significant value in setting a schedule that allowed him to invest time in learning: “Setting myself a schedule and sticking to it – which sometimes meant leaving the office early – to give myself the time to invest in these additional skills was so liberating.” To track learning activities such as this and reflect on progress, Markey has been registered with CIM’s CPD programme since 2014.
For those marketers looking to supercharge their skills, it can be natural to focus on tools and techniques, but this can be short-sighted, says Markey: “Marketers at every level should look beyond being a practitioner and focus on being a leader. Soft skills are essential to this – and the further you get in your career, the more they matter.”
Lucy Stone ACIM, research communications and marketing manager, Cancer Research UK
For Lucy Stone ACIM, on-the-job learning at the start of her marketing career laid a healthy foundation for embedding lifelong learning, but she has noticed a marked shift in the her approach as she progressed: “My attitude to learning has changed dramatically throughout my marketing career.”
Perhaps most notably, behavioural skills have become an increasing priority. “For me, development goes beyond technical expertise. Soft skills are crucial. The ability to develop resilience and confidence is something I’ve had to address in my development planning.”
This development planning culminated in Stone setting the professional goal of becoming a chartered marketer, pending completion of two years’ CPD. Until then, she has been able to use that goal as a focus for her skills development: “Completing CIM’s CPD skills assessment really helped me to focus my learning, and pinpoint specific areas of development that I need to address. For example, I need to work on my knowledge of digital integration, as well as risk and reputation.”
Stone completed the CIM Diploma in Professional Marketing last year, and this formalised learning helped her to embed habits that she now brings into her day-to-day working. She says that opportunities for development can often be found closer to home than one might expect: “Social media is an untapped resource for learning. Look at what’s trending on Twitter each day and consider why. Explore how companies are responding to those trends, particularly those that are outside of your sector.”
Searching for expertise has seen Stone look to stand on the shoulders of giants. She has recently signed up to CIM’s mentoring programme, which matches developing marketers with experienced professionals: “Not only does it count towards CPD, a healthy mentor/mentee relationship can help those early in their careers to think about what they want from their development and how they can achieve this. It can be a much-needed source of focus and motivation.”
Sarah Ellis, co-founder, Amazing If and co-author of The Squiggly Career
Sarah Ellis began her career in marketing almost 20 years ago, before pivoting to focus on the world of work itself, co-founding career development company Amazing If in 2013.
As the workplace has changed, so too have the skills required to succeed. What Ellis now finds is that it’s not as binary as it used to be, and the distinction between the skillsets of marketers at varying levels of seniority have shifted: “You could now be at the very early stages of your marketing career and know more about digital than your marketing director.”
Overcoming this challenge has an inherent learning opportunity, Ellis believes, through mechanisms such as reverse mentoring. This was a tactic implemented at Sainsbury’s, where she spent almost seven years leading on marketing strategy across roles encompassing content, PR and CSR. “Everyone on the board was mentored by someone who was a real digital expert. There was an acknowledgement that those early in their career knew more and could teach senior leaders.”
However, issues can arise when learning feels necessary or instructed. “Often, people feel like they should learn something, or they’ve been told to, and they’re looking for the quickest and easiest route to do it,” Ellis shares. “What we should be asking ourselves is, where do I learn best? How do I learn best? It’s a process of self-discovery.
“For example, I know that I can only read non-fiction books if I do something with what I’ve read.” Having that level of awareness can help time-poor professionals to reframe learning into relevant and enjoyable experiences, and it’s something Ellis herself has implemented: “Because I like visual thinking, I physically draw out the key ideas from a book as I go. That’s my way of reading in a way that works for me.”
Approaching learning in a way that is relevant not only to your learning preferences but also your desired outcomes can be a powerful tool, but it often requires a considerable shift in mindset, Ellis cautions. “You’re asking people to reframe what it means to learn. The reframe is from focusing on formalised learning into seeing learning as continual improvement and professional growth. If you frame learning in that way, you approach things really differently.”
Jack Hardy ACIM CMktr, digital marketing consultant, Accrosoft
Jack Hardy ACIM is one of the first associate members of CIM to become a chartered marketer, under the new amendments to the prestigious professional accolade, which now allows marketers as young as 23 to become chartered.
Having achieved chartered marketer status in April 2020, Hardy believes that there is something to be gained from the situation many marketers now find themselves operating in. “[Becoming chartered] is a steep learning curve and one that will continue to change and develop – case in point, the situation we now find ourselves in [with the coronavirus pandemic]. As a marketer I’ve never worked in conditions such as these, and it makes you rethink the skills you’re bringing to the table.”
For Hardy, the value of chartered status lies in the very nature of the process, which requires active learning to maintain the title: “It shows you’ve put the time and effort in to achieve the status, but also that you’re continuing to learn with CPD to retain the title. It’s an active process.”
This is essential, because the need to keep up to date doesn’t ease as you progress, shares Hardy: “I’ve recently moved jobs and I’ve had to develop new skills, particularly in relation to software, so I’ve been upskilling in tools such as Hubspot.”
Having such a wide variety of content available can help to maintain skills where the goalposts are constantly moving, says Hardy: “Even if your learning is as simple as watching a YouTube tutorial, you can develop your skills – and generally, you have to. For example, the Adobe suite is continuously updating its software. As soon as you take your eye off the ball, you’ve missed a tool that could benefit you and your marketing massively.”
No matter how you get your learning, Hardy believes there is value: “You don’t know what you don’t know until you start learning, and the more you learn, you realise how developing new skills can open up different channels, different ideas and different ways of analysing your work and others.”
Remi Pedro, marketing manager, Green Flag (part of Direct Line Group)
Remi Pedro self-confessedly “stumbled” into marketing, which came with its own unique set of challenges when approaching learning and development. “There was a sense of inadequacy in terms of what I thought I ought to know versus what I did know, so my learning pattern at the beginning of my career was preoccupied with what I thought I should know. For example, ‘what’s the best TV spot time in this region?’ rather than ‘what makes TV such a great medium within an integrated marketing mix?’”
Expanding her understanding of what constitutes learning has helped Pedro to establish behaviours that work for her: “What really makes you stand out is when you cultivate passion points and have an opinion on something, or are just naturally curious about a subject matter which you are able to transpose into your work.”
Pedro is currently studying for a master’s degree in Digital Media, Technology & Cultural Form from the University of Goldsmiths, but the majority of her day-to-day development comes from consuming content: “My daily learning is reading, such as trade articles or even generic newspapers, or listening to podcasts. Squiggly Careers [hosted by fellow interviewee Sarah Ellis] is my go-to podcast in terms of how to navigate my career.”
Managing a balance between working, studying and switching off is a challenge and Pedro is frank about her own capacity to prioritise: “I’d be a liar if I said I’d nailed what that looks like. At the start of the week, I try to be very deliberate in terms of time that I want to carve out. For me, visualisation of what the week will look like can be a very powerful tool; so carving out time to work, time to learn, time to do neither.”
Nonetheless, Pedro admits being a true “convert” to learning, and looking to leadership is her next major development goal: “Learning in the capacity of how you can be a better leader or person is so important, sometimes even more important than subject-specific skills. People are fundamentally what keep any business going.”
From improvised comedy to the latest podcasts and tutorials, it’s easier than you think to keep your learning up to date and start your journey to becoming a Chartered Marketer via CIM’s CPD platform. Find out how.