When marketing marketing to the next generation remember the 4As

Marketers need to think about access, awareness, aptitude and altitude to ensure young people from all backgrounds have the understanding and skills needed to pursue a career in marketing.

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There is a wonderful book written by the late Paul Arden, ex-creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, called ‘It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be’.

I remember picking it up off the shelf at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh as a student. After a quick flick through the pages I started to get a tingling sense of inspiration. I found myself looking to the horizon and imagining all that I wanted to be. What could I achieve? Where would I leave my mark? What would be my legacy? It was a magical feeling.

I believe Arden intended this book not just as a piece to demonstrate advertising excellence, but as a showcase to the world of what a brilliant, vibrant and dynamic industry he represented. A place where we all can be as good as we want to be.

His premise was that someone’s starting point is less important than their trajectory. His illustrations demonstrate that with hard work, persistence, curiosity, creativity and risk-taking anyone can rise to the top of the marketing game.

Arden is completely right. After all, marketing is an industry of ideas, insights, innovation and ultimately impact. Quite like no other. So much so, that Rory Sutherland once famously said we operate in an industry where just one idea can justify someone’s salary for a year or even a lifetime. And as we know, ideas can and should come from anywhere, so it makes sense that we ensure we have the broadest representation of talent across any industry.

But let me not sell our industry short, as it goes way beyond being an ‘ideas factory’ and uses the widest spectrum of skills (both hard and soft) of any discipline. You can be a creative or a product maker, an analyst or a distributor, a detailer or a big plan maker, an orator or reflector, and I’m just touching the surface. It’s one of the most exciting career routes anyone can have where each day is different and almost all challenges require a ‘head’ and ‘heart’ solution. I love it.

Meet the brands refusing to let Covid derail their talent pipeline

Making an impact

I often get asked, ‘why should I get into marketing?’ and my answer is always the same. The function acts as a growth engine and is at the very nucleus of every company. I often think marketing is the closest you can get to being an entrepreneur and acting entrepreneurially within an organisation. So it’s really a great place to be for just about anyone who wants to make an impact. And it’s therefore plain to see that for an industry like ours to retain its shine, we do need people from every walk of life to infuse their passion into our space.

But herein lies the greatest risk. The reality is we are in danger of squeezing the very lifeblood out of our industry and depriving some of the most under-appreciated talent an opportunity to leave their mark.

You see, young people, particularly from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds, are finding it increasingly difficult to get into the industry and thrive. The truth is through our (often subconscious) actions we are affirming the opposite of Arden’s desire and accepting that how good we are is more important than what we want to be. That context, education, background and ‘where you start’ all matter more than they should.

For an industry like ours to retain its shine, we do need people from every walk of life to infuse their passion into our space.

I’m not having a go, after all I don’t think we set out to be this way. However, it’s often our subconscious and subtle actions that lead to this situation. Maybe I’m an idealist but I believe we have a collective responsibility and ability to take just a few vital steps to change things and live up to the principle that Arden so graciously instilled upon us.

The question is, how? Research conducted by the School of Marketing shows there are four reasons why we as an industry are failing these individuals – the four As.

  • Access: Young people feel marketing is very much a ‘closed shop’, with very few access points and archaic recruitment practices that are biased.
  • Awareness: Young people have a range of misconceptions about what marketing does, how the industry has evolved and the various roles that exist.
  • Aptitude: Young people feel they do not have the right skills, knowledge and experience to be successful in the industry.
  • Altitude: Young people do not see a long-term future within the industry due to a lack of role models that look like them.

We have started on the journey and hope you will join us in doing the same.

Addressing the issues

The first major issue to tackle is access. We as an industry have got comfortable in where we find our talent, the methods we use to assess talent, the institutions we like to see on their CVs, the course titles that appeal to us, the familiarity of candidate backgrounds and the help we may give those who we know, over those we don’t.

We need to get out of our comfort zone and actively seek too ‘pull’ in talent from places and spaces we have not been before.

Today, there are so many different types of career entry routes to explore, a good one being apprenticeships. These form the perfect blend of ‘earning and learning’ for young people as well as an immediate value-add to an organisation. It also helps equip them with real ‘on the job’ skills, making them more confident and overcoming the aptitude issue we have seen.

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This is one of our main focuses at the School of Marketing and we have helped hundreds of employers find the right candidates.

Another great (cost effective) route is the Government’s Kickstart programme where you can employ a young person at no cost to your business for a period of time. Get in touch with your local Gateway provider to help source the right individual. We formed a vital partnership with one provider, the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and Community. Founder Francesca James said: “We can positively impact thousands of young people from all backgrounds, give them a vital first step into the industry.”

I would encourage you to look for more ways to bring in diverse talent who may not require a full-time role but prefer a freelance option. It’s a great way to trial people and forge strong relationships over a period of time. Remember, we will all need to think broader than expecting individuals to have certain grades or institutions on their CVs. In fact, many progressive organisations have abandoned the need for a degree altogether when they recruit.

In the research, we identified that young people lack awareness of the industry and what is involved. It’s a simple case of ‘not knowing what you don’t know’. So we need to all do more to help educate young people of the types of opportunities that exist in marketing. A great way to achieve this is through mentoring young people. It’s one of the single most worthwhile things we as marketers can do. By forging these connections, we can not only build their confidence but also demonstrate the different roles available that match their skills.

This is why the School of Marketing is immensely proud to run the UK’s largest marketing mentoring programme called Mentoring Gen Z. Each week we connect leading CMOs to young people for free, as a way to act as a bridge between them. So much so that Margaret Jobling, CMO of NatWest Group, recently said: “The impact has been tremendous; not only for mentees who have gained invaluable access to some of the leading organisations across the UK, but mentors have learnt as much about the current challenges and issues young people face. This ‘reverse mentoring’ has led to changes in the way senior leaders think and act with how they recruit diverse talent.”

Many progressive organisations have abandoned the need for a degree altogether when they recruit.

Finally, we can all help by creating role models for young people to demonstrate what success looks like in our industry. It’s a way for them to see a reflection of themselves to know they can make it here. A great way to achieve this is to get out into the community (perhaps into an area you would not typically go) and engage with young people. Through consistent and shared experience young people will begin to form emotional ties with our industry and naturally want to be a part of its growth.

At the height of lockdown, Mark Evans, managing director of marketing at Direct Line Group, and myself created a podcast called The Places We’ll Go Show as a way to help demonstrate the undulations in even the most successful people’s careers.

We learnt it’s typically how people are able to transform the low points in their career to achieve new heights that set them apart. We had Seth Godin on the show who shared his wisdom on creating marketing role models. With over 65 episodes now available, it’s a real demonstration of how taking small steps each week to help others can help us all travel a huge distance over time.

How Covid ‘supercharged’ P&G’s search for young talent

I do believe we all have a role to play in arriving at a solution in this area and genuinely make Arden’s words come true. That we can all be ‘as good as we want to be’ in our industry. So I hope you will join me in turning the four As into the ‘four answers’ to help young people get into the industry.

Here is what we can all collectively do:

  • Access: Recruit from beyond the ‘milk round’ and use alternative entry routes such as apprenticeships to find great talent. Look beyond traditional qualifications and hiring practices and give young diverse talent a chance to prove themselves using short-term projects, internships and freelance gigs.
  • Awareness: Get involved in helping to promote our industry to a diverse range of young people, through mentorship and other opportunities to speak and form relationships with them.
  • Aptitude: Promote ways in which young people can learn ‘on the job’ skills and get them to be action-oriented so they understand first hand what it takes to be a successful marketer.
  • Altitude: Be a role model for young people and show them how to forge a successful marketing career by highlighting the realities and qualities needed to be a high achiever in our industry.

I want to leave you with a final note of inspiration from the legendary Sarah Jenkins, managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi, who said on our show: “I hope in 10 years time we are not having the [diversity and inclusion] conversation. We must accelerate our way out of this, we can create change quickly and I expect we must all double down on our efforts to get there.”

Let’s hope for all our sakes she is right and we all take action.

Marketing Week is looking at what marketing’s opportunity is to lead and how to realise it a series called ‘The Power to Transform’. Ritchie Mehta will be appearing at the Festival of Marketing’s Transform event in March, which will provide further insight into how to realise marketing’s potential. 

The Power to Transform



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