Diageo: Marketers are general managers, making marketing a better route to CEO

Generation Exchange: Ed Pilkington, Diageo’s marketing and innovation director, Europe and Nicholas Cornbleet, brand manager for Smirnoff Europe on the career opportunities marketing provides.

Smirnoff Diageo brand

Marketing is at the heart of Diageo’s business. It dictates the overall strategy for brands such as Smirnoff and determines the best way to grow these brands, as well as communicating to the rest of the company how to do it.

“In marketing today, brand managers are the general managers for their brands. They are the ones that shape the strategy and develop the growth drivers for that brand and, ultimately, for the business,” says marketing and innovation director for Europe Ed Pilkington. “So marketing teams are structured differently from how they were five years ago.”

This change in team dynamic and the addition of more specialists has taught Pilkington a breadth of new skills. “I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on data, for example, but I’ve got a much better idea of what a data strategy looks like than I used to,” he adds.

READ MORE: The similarities and differences between junior and senior marketers

It is this promise of learning a wide range of business skills and leadership qualities that attracted Nicholas Cornbleet, brand manager at Smirnoff Europe, to marketing, having previously had his sights set on banking or law.

As a marketer, you can make a fundamental impact on the success of a business

Nicholas Cornbleet, Diageo

He has been at Diageo for four years and believes marketing is “the best route to general management”. “As a marketer, you can make a fundamental impact on the success of a business,” he adds. “And, it’s a lot of fun”.

However, despite his view of marketing’s prospects changing, he says there is still a lack of understanding around what marketers do.

He explains: “It is business leadership across the board. It covers everything from pricing strategies to product launches and TV ads, so it’s very broad. Being a marketer is providing me with the skills I’ll need to take on a range of roles; there is huge potential in marketing.”

While Pilkington believes CMO is “still a good gig”, it is not the road Cornbleet wants to go down. “If you’re a good marketer and have had a breadth of experiences, there are a number of options at exec level,” he says.

“When you look at the boardrooms of FTSE 100 companies, there are more and more marketers so it feels like there is a good track record and it’s improving all the time.”

Indeed, Diageo’s CEO Ivan Menezes is a former marketer.