When I was 14 I wanted to be a journalist. I was obsessed with Smash Hits; I devoured every word, looked up to every writer. I wanted to write about pop stars in surrealist prose full of in-jokes.
But at some point over the next few years I, unconsciously, accepted that such a career was not for the likes of me. I lived in West Leeds in a council house on an estate. I was the son of a postman and dinner lady.
No one in my immediate family had done A-Levels, never mind gone to university. My school teachers ushered people towards vocational courses or into youth training schemes for a handful of professions. Journalism was not among them.
It was difficult to envisage how I got from where I was to a career in journalism. A job at the Yorkshire Evening Post seemed a stretch, never mind Smash Hits.
Before I leave an impression of a childhood dream thwarted by circumstance, of a life and career determined by class, I need to add that my very supportive and loving parents never once said: “Don’t come here with your pipe dreams, it’s the mines for you, young Russell.” If anything, it was the burgeoning early 90s club scene in Leeds that put paid to academic success and ambition beyond the weekend in my most formative years.
But still, what I didn’t have was precedent or compass of example.
Clearly, something changed between the early 90s and now. If you will indulge me a little more of my adult life story.
After working in a supermarket when I left school, I belatedly entered further education then employment at a bank. I was paid well enough but bored. As the 21st century dawned, I headed south where, by a quirk of shared housing and mutual friends, I met a couple of journalists. And journalists who sounded a bit like me, had had similar life experiences.
I had, to put it another way, found role models.
After a further year of not much of anything, I went back to college to study journalism and the rest, as they say, is history.
Role models and routes into a profession are two topics we are tackling this month. In our annual Career and Salary Survey we asked, for the first time, demographic questions of gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status, as well as where in the country people worked. Coupled with answers to questions about seniority and career starting points, we have been able to begin to tell a story of how diverse the marketing profession is. And where there are issues.
It has always been anecdotally thought that marketing was predominantly made up of white, middle class and, at the senior end, male marketers. And that opportunity centred in London. Our survey, the biggest of its kind in the UK, confirms this assumption.
The data should make for uncomfortable reading for everyone in marketing. As with any intervention, reflection and action needs to follow. The findings, and suggested solutions, should also provide inspiration for everyone to sit up and resolve to do better.
Our reporting is not just an exercise in highlighting marketing’s metropolitan bubble. It’s about taking steps to ensure a sustainable future.
The need to extend and broaden opportunity is an imperative. Diversity offers a wider perspective, staff that better reflect the people and places that make up your customer base, and present a larger potential demographic pool of talent. It is business not benevolence.
The importance of appealing to more people in more places on more occasions, communicating a sense marketing is a conceivable career, and not exclusive to the degree educated, comes across very clearly in our reporting. We have written extensively about the lack of awareness and poor perception marketing suffers from in schools and colleges. The next generation of prospective marketers either have no clue what marketing is, or don’t think very much of it. We also discussed last year how many marketers had stumbled into the industry after completing their degree.
The recruitment pool of degree educated, white, middle class talent from the South East is likely to get smaller. Fishing in it almost exclusively is plain daft. Brands need to engage with those for whom a marketing career might never be on their radar, or those who might conclude that it’s not for the likes of them.
Apprenticeships and widening access to work experience are both key to creating a more inclusive culture, as pointed out by some of our contributors. And there’s plenty of work brands can do themselves.
I would also encourage brands to support the work of The Marketing Academy Foundation, which offers apprenticeships to those that might otherwise be excluded from a career in marketing purely because of their background. Elsewhere, the School of Marketing, the Marketing Week supported social enterprise, is dedicated to raising awareness of marketing in schools.
As several people discuss with us, and I found out, role models are key. For those from ethnic minority backgrounds in particular, the number of people to look up to in senior positions are few in number. Marketing Week needs to do better. To feature more people from diverse backgrounds. As editor, I am committed to doing this going forward.
A few years into my career, I realised my experience and voice were of value. I call on everyone reading this to do what they can to ensure marketing feels possible, accessible and full of potential. Geographical focus is more difficult to counter, in the short-term at least, but there’s plenty more everyone can do to make marketing feel inclusive.