Managing a marketing career is academic

There is no substitute for grabbing your career with both hands and being in control of your own destiny. Mentors from The Marketing Academy talk through their tips for success.

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Aviva Premiership Rugby Schools Programme

“It’s incredibly important to recognise that no-one is better at managing your career than you. Advisers can help along the way but it’s a huge mistake to expect others to manage your career for you.” Wise words from Camelot UK managing director Andy Duncan.

Duncan is a mentor at The Marketing Academy, which was created to help promising marketers in the early part of their careers. Marketing Week – a supporter of the initiative – spoke to several mentors to get their tips for climbing the career ladder.

The right attitude

Many marketers agree on one thing: the right attitude is central to building a strong career and that begins with taking control – and responsibility.

Simon Devonshire, a director at Wayra, which is part of Telefonica, takes this one step further: “As a marketer you have to become self-sufficient quite some way below chief executive level. Many youngsters I’ve spoken to spend a lot of time traumatised about how they’re perceived in the pursuit of flattery. I’m not looking for people who are spoon-fed.”

Taking these comments on board might lead marketers who are just starting out to believe that what is required is a strong sense of self and a go-getting attitude. To some extent this is true but the mentors also agree it is possible to swing too far in the wrong direction.

“You need a fair degree of tenacity, common sense, entrepreneurial spirit and chutzpah. I like people like that but I don’t want foolhardy. It’s about bringing an energy to work,” says Amanda Mackenzie, chief marketing and communications officer at Aviva. “Graduates always tend to want to run before they can walk, so my advice is to temper that to make sure you’ve learned what you need to.”

People skills

Marketing is essentially a business about people. The ability to get on with those people, to support them and have them support you is critical to job progression and a great deal of that comes down to attitude.

However appropriate the attitude, it will not be enough to propel a marketer through the ranks if they cannot demonstrate the real value of their contribution.

On the surface, it’s a hard nut to crack. Even at chief marketer level, there is a constant battle to provide proof of worth; to demonstrate exactly how much the role contributes to the financial health of the organisation. And yet, it can be done.

“When I climbed the ladder at Procter & Gamble, I was taught that marketing was both a science and an art,” says Nicki Sheard, the BBC’s brand director for audio and music.

“I think you need to be able to do both. You need to be able to turn on the creative charm, but at the same time you need to root that in hard data. People tend to have a preference of one over the other but the best marketers do tend to have skills in both. You need to demonstrate intellectual rigour.”

Wayra’s Devonshire is a fan of the elevator pitch, even for employees. “You have to be acutely focused on what you’re going to deliver next week. The look of horror when I ask someone this in the elevator – I can see them searching for the answer. They should just know.

“To shore up your capabilities you need to be in the habit of weekly reporting. It’s not for the boss’s entertainment, but your own development and it will boost your confidence. You need to have a track record and build up a catalogue of achievement, because at some point you’re going to have to make a snap judgement. You’ll be paralysed by the decision otherwise.”

Getting experience at a marketing-focused business early on can help, according to Mackenzie. “I worked in advertising agencies to begin with but moved quickly to work with Mars. They work very strategically. The key thing is to learn how to think, then you can turn that ability in any direction.”

The National Lottery: Camelot’s Duncan believes in managing careers

The right fit

It has become something of an urban myth that the average marketing director is like a cat on a hot tin roof when it comes to job longevity. Periods of 12, 15 or 18 months have been talked about, suggesting that the best career tactic to aim for is the ability to interview well, parachute in, make your mark and be on your way as if it somehow demonstrates dynamism and a deep, varied experience base.

Most senior marketers however, are more concerned with seeing candidates who show an ability to apply themselves, understand where the best experience may be gained and who are interested in what the job can do for them – not just how it looks on a CV, says Camelot’s Duncan.

“Growing and developing in a job is very important. If you’re standing still, it’s a warning sign. It’s quite straightforward: be attuned to whether you are growing and meeting your goals or objectives.

“From time to time you have to be patient. If you feel that things aren’t moving as fast as you’d like but you’re still honestly gaining experience, be sanguine. That in the long run will stand you in good stead.”

There is no stigma attached to remaining in a large organisation for many years, as long as you take advantage of what that multi-brand environment offers. But employers also value candidates’ ability to take considered risks and test the water elsewhere.

Aviva’s Mackenzie explains: “Take a look at your ‘packaging’. If you deviate from the norm, that’s fine but you have to be exceptionally good to stand out. If you want to be taken seriously, think about the messages you are sending out.”

BBC’s Sheard warns: “Careers can go wrong when people move for the wrong reason. There is always the temptation to go for the next job but you should think ‘what will it do for me?’. A lot of people move for more money before they’ve really thought it through. Be clear that you can’t get everything you want in a single job. Be willing to accept compromise and have conversations with your manager about it.”

Sponsored viewpoint

Miranda Sambles


Miranda Sambles
Marketing director
Mars Petcare

When people are starting out in their careers, it’s really important to think about building critical leadership and functional experience. A lot of the focus is on the functional but what’s most important is how they can apply skills to different challenges.

Leadership skills become more and more important as marketers progress, so it’s critical to have worked across various business segments. They have to think of their career in a modular sense – how has what they have done before set them up for the future, for example.

Being humble is crucial to getting on. You can be confident and competent but if you’re arrogant you won’t succeed because people won’t support you. Not just bosses but your peers. It’s a very competitive environment but if people feel that you are openly vying with them, you won’t find that support.

It’s a good idea to get a big business on your CV but it is also good to show progression within that company. I don’t think people should change jobs just to get promoted because it implies that they can’t get promoted in their existing position.

Marketers shouldn’t be afraid to move but they have to realise that when leaving a large FMCG for a smaller business, for example, employers will want to understand why. It’s easy to see why a marketer might want to move to a smaller, more entrepreneurial company as there is a set of skills to be used there that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. But you should always aim to be moving to a brand that has a good reputation and is a company where you can learn.

If a marketer is thinking about the dimensions of their current job – the market, the category, the size of the brand – it is important to think about how one of those dimensions might be changed in another job. Don’t try to change every dimension quickly – there needs to be enough to offer and to learn.

The ability to network and show creativity are important. Even if the brand is not a stellar part of the portfolio, showing that it is a little gem that doesn’t need lots of money or support will get the team on your side.

If you can use that creativity to get support from the sales team and achieve results together that are disproportionate to the resources invested in it initially, then both teams will get noticed.

Getting noticed is key. Unless people know about you, they can’t form an opinion and career visibility is important. It can be daunting to take the leadership position on a project but treat it as a privileged opportunity to demonstrate what you’re capable of.


Emanuel Gavert

Emanuel Gavert
Global innovation manager, Mondelez, and former scholar at The Marketing Academy

Really understanding what you want from your career – not just what you think youcan do – helps you to focus and make the right choices.

This is an extraordinary and exceptional time to be a marketer. There is no clear blueprint for how to get it right, so there’s an opportunity to do something truly original. Focus on what you enjoy doing and also dare to test new things.

Doing a Marketing Academy scholarship left me with a number of tools that I can use, which I probably wouldn’t have gained otherwise.

It gave me an awareness of myself and taught me about how what I do affects others. It helped me to recognise what I truly love doing and what I’m good at and I’ve developed an awareness about what being good at something actually means. I also feel spurred on now not to settle for less.

An important learning for me from the Academy has been about focus – to cut out the noise and to realise that really great ideas come easily through a process while mediocre ones don’t.

I have also learnt that actually doing less allows creativity to happen. Doing this allows two other critical elements to fall into place – curiosity and simplicity.

By trying to communicate in the simplest way, it’s possible to be absolutely clear in your mind about what you’re trying to achieve. And above all, dare to ask for help.


Rahu Patel

Rahu Patel
Head of brand and advertising, Avios, and former scholar at The Marketing Academy

As marketers, we tend to be quite clear on the vision for the brands we work on. However, being just as clear on our own personal vision is not something we spend a lot of time defining, or reflecting on. Even when we do write down our career goals, it’s often difficult to realise and accept that there are many roads towards achieving them.

When you don’t get the performance review you were hoping for, the pay rise you expected, or that promotion you were after, it is in our nature to ask why. Relying on someone else to fulfil our career goals is something we all subconsciously fall into the trap of doing sometimes. The challenge is to recognise the signs and regain control.

The biggest benefit of a programme such as The Marketing Academy scholarship, is that it gives you time. Whether that is a coaching session, a one-to-one meeting with a chief marketing officer, or just an informal chat with a fellow scholar, it gets you away from the day job. Aligning what you are doing today, what you may consider doing next and how this helps towards your vision is a precious skill gained by scholars.

It may sound simplistic, but a philosophy of taking responsibility is one of the key learnings of the programme. Once you accept this mindset, it can be very empowering. It is about actively making choices, not waiting for things to happen or relying on others, and choosing to respond in a different way when things don’t go right.

Top Tips

  • Work for a company that shares your values – it’s easier to fulfil your potential. Andy Duncan, managing director, Camelot
  • Be entrepreneurial – qualifications are well and good but you have to get out there and show what you can do. People who are constantly achieving do it because they can’t help it. Simon Devonshire, director, Wayra
  • Marry youth and tenacity and a fresh view of the world with an ability to think. But don’t be afraid to speak up with charm and present yourself in the best way possible. Amanda Mackenzie, chief marketing and communications officer, Aviva
  • Really understand the business you are in. The single biggest thing you can do is a brilliant job. Nicki Sheard, director of marketing, BBC Radio


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