Finishing a university degree is a tense and stressful period in any young person’s life. A melting pot of final exams. The pressure of choosing a career path, then finding your first job. And the ultimate prize of having to pay back the exorbitant tuition fees that allowed you to enjoy higher education in the first place.
But this year, things are even tougher, with the uncertainty around whether students will be able to collect a degree at all – and whether anyone will be hiring if they do.
According to TopUniversities.com, some courses may be deferred, other students will have their degree estimated from coursework and previous exam grades, and some will have to sit their finals online. It’s a mire, and one that’s likely to continue once you leave your friends, switch off daytime TV and attempt to beat the herd to claim your first job.
Meanwhile, agencies and client businesses across the land have had to furlough staff, and ‘redundancies’ is a word being thrown around with the casual abandon of a cliché in a creative brief. These are tricky times, indeed.
But enough of the doom and gloom. Let’s park that right here. The world keeps spinning and the marketing and advertising industries will survive and thrive, albeit under the banner of their new favourite buzz phrase, the ‘new normal’.
So, for the benefit of those graduates coming through from university in whichever roundabout way that eventuates, I’m going to examine whether marketing is still as desirable career as it was when I bullshitted my way to a degree in geography 20 years ago. Let’s have a look at the cons and pros.
In the traditional sense, marketing still has some way to go on diversity, according to the 2020 Marketing Week Career and Salary Survey. The rather woeful diagnosis was that 88% of the 3,883 respondents identified as white with only 4% identifying as mixed race, 5% as Asian and 2% as black. Gender equality data is more encouraging, as 60.9% of all the survey respondents were female, however this is countered by the fact that women are hopelessly underrepresented as you look at more senior positions.
That said, under the second dictionary definition of diversity, that which covers “a range of different things”, a marketing career is hard to beat. Unlike other, more staid professions, no two days are ever the same.
It feels like the late, great Terry Pratchett modelled his Discworld universe on the marketing and advertising industries: a large disc resting on the backs of four elephants, standing on the back of an enormous turtle swimming in space.
Cash (part 1)
As a graduate, you may hear the advice from the great and the good in the media that money shouldn’t influence your career choices. ‘Do what you love’, ‘follow your dreams’ and ‘money shouldn’t be a decisive factor’ are all wonderfully ethereal yet fairly unhelpful nuggets of wisdom – wholeheartedly useless if you have the best part of forty grand in student debt to pay back. This is about compromise – aiming for a job you’ll love whilst accepting that a highly paid, desirable position on day one of a marketing career is as rare as rocking-horse shit.
Marketing and advertising salaries start on the low end of professional careers – in part because they’re highly sought after, so it’s a buyer’s market – but progression and associated pay increases are far from linear, so it’s worth looking at the long-term view.
So far, perhaps I’ve not painted the most appealing picture. But hold on – here are the positives.
If you have a creative itch that needs scratching but don’t have the talent, trust fund or exceptionally good luck to be an artist or writer, then a marketing career remains top of the tree for those whose minds are brimming with fountains of ideas and rainbows of abstract thought. Nowhere else will you have the chance to launch depth charges of brilliance onto TVs, laptops and phones around the world. It may be brilliance about bog roll, but even those campaigns will make you brim with unbridled joy.
You’re unlikely to engage, interact, socialise and battle with a more eclectic bunch of misfits in any other career. A smorgasbord of thinkers and doers whose candle burns brightly at both ends.
It’s fun – not always, granted – but I can’t imagine any other career in which I would have charted a 727 jet on a credit card to go to a beach party in Ibiza, or been in a pop video with Beppe from EastEnders.
Marketing is about the communication of ideas to influence the thinking and purchasing habits of consumers, so whether you choose to go down the creative, account management or in-house route, you’ll have a hand in swaying popular culture – sometimes creating culture from scratch.
It may be for social good via a charity client or something less warm and cosy like ‘influencer marketing’ or an on-pack promotion. But if you take a moment to consider what external forces affect your decision-making as a consumer on an average day, a great percentage would have started as an acorn of an idea amongst marketing professionals.
Cash (part 2)
Most marketing businesses and departments are meritocracies in which the cream rises. There are agency owners and CMOs who are still in their 20s and, for most people, the chances to progress are directly linked to a blend of brainpower, hard work, collaboration and a little bit of luck on the way. The earning potential is incremental so if you can stomach the tricky first couple of years then the financial payoff becomes significantly more rewarding.
Thankfully, the days of unpaid placements petered out (for the most part) with Power Rangers and Pulp, and there are a plethora of graduate marketing schemes advertised on Google alone. Add in LinkedIn and specialist grad recruitment agencies and you have a start point, but it’s still highly competitive.
In this game, the goal is to remove objections to your application as much as it is to shine – getting through the door to impress employers in person should be your sole focus. So take the time to hone your CV, polish your portfolio and check everything three times – accuracy and attention to detail are prerequisites, so typos are punished quickly and mercilessly.
If the traditional grad schemes don’t bear fruit then make a list of the 30 or so companies you admire the most and craft a personal, well researched email to the most senior member of staff you can get hold of. Explain your interest in their business and, crucially, where you believe you could add value.
Ask them to meet you for a coffee so you can ask them a couple of questions about their business and how they got where they are, and – voilà! – you’ve just manufactured a first-round interview.
Marketing is a necessity. Yes, that sounds like the arrogant assertion of someone trying to sell you something, and it is. Someone will always be trying to sell you something.
Ever since a snake took a stake in apple futures in the Garden of Eden, selling for profit has been a thing. And those with a quiver full of marketing savvy, people skills and commercial nous will not just be able to sell a client’s products, you’ll be a stone cold expert at selling yourself, too.
Harry is the founder of Brand Architects, a brand and marketing consultancy. Currently bunkered down like everyone else, he’s available to take on brand architecture, channel marketing, copywriting and strategy briefs. You can contact him at Harry@BrandArchitects.co.uk or connect on LinkedIn.