Why marketers want to leave their job and what will make them stay

Staff turnover has been consistently high since Marketing Week launched its Career and Salary Survey 20 years ago, but the reasons for moving job have changed as work-life balance moves up the agenda.


The marketing landscape may have changed significantly during the 20 years Marketing Week has published its annual Career and Salary Survey but how much has working in the industry?

The gender pay gap persists, tenures are still short, and money is still on everyone’s mind. Yet there is flux too: different sectors have risen to the fore and are chasing the talent with higher salaries. Meanwhile, both employees and employers are thinking more carefully about how work balances with life.

Tenure and reasons for changing jobs

Job mobility is famously high within marketing. When Marketing Week first conducted its survey in 1998, 32% of marketing directors planned to leave their job within the next year, while an additional 49% said they would in two to three years. This high rate of change has remained fairly constant. In 2008, 68% of marketing directors planned to leave their job within the next three years and the following year, even against the background of the recession, 78% of marketers expected to change their job within this time frame.

This year, 81% of respondents suggest they are likely change jobs within three years, 38% of which will do so by the end of this year.

“In a fast-paced, ever-changing industry such as ours tenures are indeed short and it doesn’t make for a particularly relaxing existence but you learn to live with it,” says Barnaby Dawe, who has just stepped down as global CMO at Just Eat.

“The length of tenure of senior marketers often reflects the speed of change at a company,” he observes. “If there is always something new to shoot for then people will stay, if it’s ‘more of the same’ people will get bored and move on.”

Dawe’s personal strategy has been to move for opportunities where he’ll be stretched but where he can add value. “The cultural heartbeat of an organisation is key for me,” he explains. “Obviously, everyone wants to be paid well and in-line with market rates but I tend to take jobs that are meaningful, exciting and where I can make a difference.”

READ MORE: Just Eat’s CMO on adapting his leadership style to avoid being like ‘a bull in a china shop’

Perhaps unsurprisingly, marketers’ main motivation for finding a new job are better pay and more opportunity.

In 1998, looking for a new challenge was the main reason 69% of marketing directors and 67% of marketing managers were considering leaving their current role. While still important, better financial remuneration was less of an issue for marketing directors compared to marketing managers, with 47% in search of higher pay next to 62% at manager level.

If there is always something new to shoot for then people will stay, if it’s ‘more of the same’ people will get bored and move on.

Barnaby Dawe, Just Eat (formerly)

Aside from 2004, marketers have continually cited the appeal of a new challenge as their biggest motivator for leaving their current role. That is until 2014 when the tables turned in favour of better financial remuneration, with between 65-69% of marketers citing money as the main reason for looking for a new role over the past five years. By contract, the draw of a new challenge has gone from 62% in 2014 to 55% in 2018.

Alison Esposti, marketing director at storage company LoveSpace, thinks this might be down to the fact people are increasingly interested in the ‘side hustle’ – having a day job but working on a passion project on the side.

“I wonder if people are looking outside of work for more fulfilment. Side projects are becoming much more common now, and if you can’t have a flexible, freelance role, then sticking with the corporate gig means the day job really does have to pay the bills,” she says.

READ MORE: Helen Tupper – How to choose a side-project that will benefit your career

A dynamic environment breeds significant career change, in the experience of Helen Tupper, Marketing Week columnist and commercial marketing director at Microsoft UK. “It leads to more ‘squiggly’ careers where movement between industries and from agency to client, full-time to freelance becomes more viable for individuals who are less restricted and have more options to shape their career,” she says.

“You’ll be faced with more options about where and how to work than ever before, so you need to be clear on your career must-haves so you’re not overly influenced by the ‘shiny objects’ a role or organisation may present you with. Choosing your moves consciously, based upon these factors will lead to happier career choices.”

Working environment

Getting the work-life balance right has risen up the agenda for marketers over the decades and today many have the option of flexible working in various guises, including working from home and job shares. But while flexible working has become increasingly important to marketers over the years, employers are not keeping pace.

Marketing Week didn’t ask people about flexible working specifically until 2003, at which point 54% of marketing directors said it was important, however respondents weren’t asked whether this was an option to them or not. In 2004, again 54% of marketing directors said they valued flexible working, yet just 18% were given the option. By 2008, this had risen to 23%.

Skip to 2015 and 71% of marketing directors said flexible working was important, but it was only a reality for 39%. What’s more, 19% of women and 10% of men suggested they’d consider moving jobs in order to get more flexibility.

Technology has made it easier for people to work remotely meaning they’re not restricted to office hours, but the option to work flexibly is not increasing in line with marketers’ desire to do so.


Patrick Cairns, CEO of ready-meal brand Charlie Bigham’s believes the attitude of employers has transformed over the past 10 years. Despite what the figures suggest he says “it would now be unusual for employees not to be able to have some degree of flexibility”.

Arguably employers should be more concerned about an employee’s ability to deliver good work rather than how and where they get it done, which is a transition Cairns has noticed.

“There is now much more emphasis placed on outcomes rather than inputs; there isn’t the clock-watching culture that there once was,” he says. “All the same, teams need to get together and often there is some fixed element in people’s week to make sure this can happen.”

Kristof Fahy, chief customer officer at Hostelworld, says: “I was lucky enough to work at Orange [from 1999 to 2005] and we were actively encouraged to work flexibly and use the technology that we were selling.

However, he believes the ability to work flexibly depends on how the overall company and managerial culture has evolved. “I try to encourage an output-based philosophy, in which case flexible working isn’t an issue at all,” he says. “However, if you are a retail firm that has always had a shift-based system, the idea of working from home, or flexible working, might be harder.”

For an industry with high staff churn as well as a long-hours, the adoption of a more open-minded flexible approach to working is an important step. Better online collaboration tools can underpin that going forward, according to Barnaby Dawe. “Technology has enabled people to work more flexibly,” he says. “Organisations now showcase their work-life balance credentials as a means of attracting talent.”

The vast majority (87%) of this year’s respondents say flexible working is important to them, but it is only available to 43% of marketers, and just 34% have actually used it in the past year.

So companies are going to need to do more to accommodate marketers’ wishes, which some forward-thinking businesses are already starting to address.

Belinda Moore, marketing & communications director at E.ON explains how her brand supports flexible working through adaptive working patterns and job-shares. A typical example is a mother of young children taking a more flexible, job-share approach to manage her family and work commitments better, who then changes to a different working pattern when her children grow older.

I try to encourage an output-based philosophy, in which case flexible working isn’t an issue at all.

Kristof Fahy, Hostelworld

“There’s clearly a benefit to our business in terms of our diversity of colleagues, widening our skills base and importantly giving us a better reflection of the needs and wants of our customer base,” she says. “It also means we can hang on to colleagues who might otherwise have had to make an alternative career decision. Potentially they [they would have lost] out on progress or development in their career and we, as a company, [would have missed] out on those skills and experience and the investment we’ve also made in their career thus far.”

Today, 22% of female marketers and 12% of male marketers cite flexible working as a reason for changing job.

The pace and evolution of marketing means that a career in the industry is certain to offer up challenge and opportunity in equal measure. Combining analytical rigour with the ability to think creatively, marketing spans a remarkable spectrum of skills from creative and design to data science and AI and everything in between.

Arguably, the marketing sector has not evolved at the same pace as marketers’ expectations when it comes to pioneering the future of work. Like many industries, it has failed to close the gender pay gap; and in a bid to retain efficiencies it has been slow to adopt a more flexible approaches to work.

But it’s clear forward-thinking businesses are open to change, so it’s now incumbent on marketers and those in leadership positions to ensure it happens.