Marketing’s looming crisis: Why the industry must work harder to attract the next generation

As marketing slips down the list of aspirational careers for young people amid a lack of awareness and poor socio-economic diversity, the industry will need to take a stand to ensure it can attract the next wave of talent.

Do young people still see marketing as a desirable career destination? The answer to this question is crucial in guaranteeing a pipeline of fresh talent entering the industry.

The reality, according to an investigation by Marketing Week, is that the lack of information out there explaining the diverse opportunities of a career in marketing puts the industry at a distinct disadvantage in the minds of young people. Marketing also has to contend with a perception problem among the younger generation that it is intrinsically linked with advertising, which Generation Z notoriously either distrust or dislike.

If young people do not find out about marketing at school or see role models working in the sector in their early lives, how can the industry expect to attract a diverse talent pool in the future?

To discover what UK students think about marketing, Marketing Week commissioned student affinity network Unidays to canvas the opinions of 8,405 UK students aged 18 to 24. More than half (51%) say marketing was ‘never’ or ‘hardly ever’ mentioned at their school, with just 1% reporting that marketing was talked about ‘a lot’ during their school days.

When asked which industry they think offers the best career opportunities, 16% of respondents say medicine, followed by business management (12%) and engineering (11%). Marketing is singled out by just 3% of young people, performing only slightly better than sales and languages (both 2%).

Students questioned believe medicine (14%) and business and management studies (14%) will set them up for the best career in the long term, followed by engineering (9%) and law (8%). Marketing is the lowest-rated degree for delivering the best possible career, chosen by only 2% of respondents.

Despite concerns about the ability of marketing to deliver career success, 57% of those questioned say they would consider a career in marketing, showing that the profession still has the chance to influence their decisions. The opportunity to be creative emerges as the biggest advantage of a marketing career (71%), followed by designing advertising campaigns (51%) and growing companies and the economy (46%). Students are least likely to associate a marketing career with helping them to progress to the role of CEO (13%).

READ MORE: Russell Parsons – It’s time to market marketing

To get the opinions of even younger students, Marketing Week also surveyed a mixed class of 25 Year 9 pupils at a North London comprehensive school to find out what those aged 13 and 14 think about marketing ahead of choosing their GCSE subjects.

Tellingly, none of the children surveyed believe marketing offers the best career prospects and only 4% would consider a career in marketing. Art and design (20%), business management (20%) and law (20%) emerge as the most popular sectors.

This lack of interest in the discipline could come from the fact most young people do not know what marketing is, with the majority describing it as “selling stuff”. They also link it closely with advertising, which they say is “boring”, “interruptive” and “too repetitive”.

When asked to describe what marketing is, the responses vary from “selling things and designing adverts to grow your company. It’s good for the economy, but it doesn’t interest me”, to “marketing is used to create, keep and satisfy the customer. It’s a good way for people to look at your product.” Another believes marketing is “advertising your product or yourself to the best of your ability. Being able to sell an idea or product. Used in the right way and without fraud, it can be very useful.”

However, while these children are in the right ball park to some extent, others confused marketing with the financial markets, describing it as an “international platform for selling stocks”.

Of the job itself, students see it as an “easy way to make money”, but a “very stressful, boring job” and one that “doesn’t appeal to the lifestyle I want to pursue”. A small handful offer a more positive view, suggesting marketing could provide the opportunity to be creative and “design and target things that people need”.

The issue is that the industry is relentlessly middle class and if you don’t have class diversity, you’ve got a homogeneous population.

Daryl Fielding, The Marketing Academy Foundation

Fifty-two per cent of pupils associate marketing with the opportunity to grow companies and the economy, followed by the opportunity to be creative (44%), design advertising campaigns (44%) and work with celebrities/the media (40%).

The careers that interest the class most, however, include being a vet, actor, football player, graphic designer, game developer, doctor, lawyer, translator and chef. Earning a good salary is by far the most significant sign of a successful career (56%) to this age group, followed by having a good work/life balance (36%), the opportunity to be creative (24%) and helping people (24%).

Both sets of research suggest that marketing needs to do a better job of marketing itself to young people.

Opening up marketing

Our research clearly shows the low level of awareness about the breadth and scope of marketing among young people. If this continues, the danger is only people who have relatives or friends in the industry will consider becoming marketers, radically limiting the profession’s socio-economic diversity.

Daryl Fielding, CEO at the Marketing Academy’s new charity The Marketing Academy Foundation, directly links this lack of awareness and the limited routes into the profession with the industry’s overall failure to deliver class diversity.

“The issue is that the industry is relentlessly middle class and if you don’t have class diversity, you’ve got a homogeneous population,” she explains.

“A big barrier to access is unpaid internships. If you’re from a working-class background you can’t afford not to work, but you don’t necessarily have an uncle at Saatchi & Saatchi. Another issue is the lack of awareness.”

The Foundation is focused on enabling young adults from challenging backgrounds to begin a career in the marketing industries by finding and funding jobs, including year-long apprenticeships.

READ MORE: Why brands need apprenticeships to widen access to marketing careers

Olivia Gold, senior fashion marketing coordinator at Debenhams, believes the industry needs new voices.

Opening the industry up to new voices is also a priority for Olivia Gold, senior fashion marketing coordinator at Debenhams, who runs her own blog ‘Life of a Marketing Girl’.

“Marketing as an industry is very reclusive, as in you only know if you know,” she states.

“That’s where the divide is. It is a creative industry, but it’s quite isolated. When I look at the networks and opportunities for marketing it is all top-tier, there’s nothing for the entry level or people with two years’ experience. That’s where the barrier is, because studying it is one thing, but finding a career is a whole other thing.”

Gold has experienced an influx of messages from young women wanting to know how she got into the profession, having herself started off in PR with a view to moving into marketing. She advises them to be resilient, work hard, know their own worth and be prepared to make a change.

She says: “It has been an isolated industry, there aren’t people like you, but now you have to be strong enough to say ‘I’m going to be that person that goes in and implements change’.”

Marketing as an industry is very reclusive, as in you only know if you know.

Olivia Gold, Debenhams

The lack of socio-economic diversity within the creative industries was originally laid bare two years ago by a joint piece of research carried out by Goldsmiths, the London School of Economics and the University of Manchester.

Published in April 2016, ‘Are the creative industries meritocratic? An analysis of the 2014 British Labour Force Survey’, found that while 34.7% of the UK population aged 23 to 69 had a parent employed in a routine or semi-routine occupation (working class), this figure was just 18% in the creative industries.

By contrast, 50% of people working in the creative industries come from professional and managerial backgrounds (middle class), versus 29.1% in the wider population.

Looking specifically at advertising and marketing, only 19% of people in the industry come from a working-class background, while 30.8% are from middle-class backgrounds. Furthermore, just 17% of marketing and sales directors have working-class backgrounds, compared with 33% originating from the middle class.

Twenty per cent of advertising account managers and creative directors enter the industry from working-class environments, compared with 29% from middle class backgrounds. For marketing associate professionals the split is more even, with 23% drawn from working-class backgrounds versus 27% coming from the middle class.

It was this piece of research that inspired creative agency Atomic to launch its ‘Cannes to Canvey’ project in June last year. Inspired by his own working-class roots, Atomic creative partner Dave Henderson gave a presentation about marketing and advertising to Year 9 and Year 10 students at the Cornelius Vermuyden School on Canvey Island, Essex during the 2017 Cannes Lions Festival. Working with The Marketing Academy Foundation, the team plans to extend the project to more schools this year.

Talking to young people when they graduate is too late, says Atomic’s head of new business, Jack Williams, who believes that the marketing industry needs to get back to the grassroots.

“It used to be a flourishing industry and aspirational to work in marketing and advertising. It used to be something you desperately wanted to get into, but as people have progressed it has been handed down through generations and kept in a bit of a bubble,” he says.

“People see advertising as the Mad Men, but they never think it’s a career like being a lawyer or a builder. There is a process that goes into it and there are a lot of different things you can do in marketing and advertising, but until you start telling people they will never know.”

READ MORE: P&G’s Marc Pritchard calls for an end to the ‘archaic Mad Men model’

According to Williams, every recruitment consultant and headhunter he speaks to identifies a “massive talent shortage” in the industry following the 2008 financial crisis as young people have stopped coming into the sector. He puts this down to the big advertising agencies cutting their graduate schemes, arguing that simply shifting existing personnel around it is not good enough.

“The problem doesn’t get solved simply by rebalancing the staff mix within your company,” Williams insists.

“That’s just shifting pieces around the table and not adding anything new. There is so much demand for existing talent from diverse backgrounds and it’s impossible just to redress the balance by doing something internal. You have to go out there and take a stand.”

Early learning

For most young people, taking a GCSE in business studies is their first opportunity to formally learn about marketing. A total of 92,742 children sat a business studies GCSE in the UK in 2017, according to the Joint Council for Qualifications, 54,716 of whom were male and 38,026 female.

Depending on the examination board, GCSE marketing content spans topics such as identifying customer needs, types of segmentation, market research methods, understanding the competitive environment, the 4Ps, product life cycle, PR and promotion, ecommerce and the integrated marketing mix. For the Edexcel paper, marketing is one of five key topics that together make up 50% of the qualification.

The number of students taking A Level business studies was 30,023 in 2017 (male 17,977, female 12,046). The curriculum focuses on the decision making needed to improve marketing performance, the ethical and environmental influences on marketing decisions, market conditions and competition, as well as the interrelationship between marketing and other functions. Marketing, people and global business is one of the four key themes in the Edexcel course, representing 35% of the total qualification.

According to Mark Mitchell, head of business studies and economics at Greenhead College in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, around 40% of students taking his A Level business studies course studied the subject at GCSE. Young people are accepted on the course if they have a grade 4 (grade C) in maths and English, have three grade 5s (grade Bs) in other subjects, and can explain their interest in the subject during an interview.

People see advertising as the Mad Men, but they never think it’s a career like being a lawyer or a builder.

Jack Williams, Atomic

Mitchell explains that even among the students who have taken business studies at GCSE their knowledge of the wide-ranging scope of marketing is far from complete, though he believes interest in both economics and business courses has grown significantly over the past 10 years.

“If you talk to any typical student they’ll tell you that marketing is advertising, whereas it’s such a broad umbrella. If students say they need to do ‘more marketing’ in a business exam I hate it because it’s an umbrella that covers so many things. It is such a vague and broad term that I don’t think students understand it,” he explains.

“However, those who know a little bit about it thrive on the creative side [of marketing]. I would say marketing has a positive image in young people’s minds.”

Whereas a decade ago 90% to 95% of all students studying at Greenhead College went on to university, now that figure is closer to 80%. The remaining 20% go on to study apprenticeships, some of which have a marketing element. Of the students who go on to university from studying business, 45% choose a business-related course, 15% of which opt for marketing.

Changing the perception problem

Nationally, 82.5% of marketing graduates are employed after completion of their degree, according to statistics from Graduate Prospects published in November 2017. Of this number, 51.1% go into marketing, PR and sales, 12.6% into retail, catering and bar work, 8.9% into business, HR and financial and 8.4% into secretarial and numerical roles.

Newcastle has seen steady demand for its marketing courses.

At Newcastle University, programme director for the marketing degree Dr Eleftherios Alamanos has seen steady demand for both the marketing course, which takes 60 to 70 students, and the marketing and management course, which is closer to 120 to 130 students.

He agrees there is a common perception among students that marketing is about promotion and advertising. “People don’t realise the strong element of psychology, because it’s about understanding consumers,” acknowledges Alamanos.

“So every marketing course will have consumer behaviour modules to discuss and learn about the psychology of consumers in order to produce products and services that meet their needs and desires.”

In 2016, 95% of UK-based Newcastle University marketing students progressed to employment or further study within six months of graduating, with the majority going into marketing roles.

“Marketing roles are in big demand,” says Alamanos. “Every company will have a marketing department regardless of what the company does, what products or services they are delivering. There is a demand for marketing professionals out there.”

This opinion is shared by Jody King, divisional manager at Reed Marketing and Creative, who far from experiencing a drop in talent on the brand side, reports that the number of advertised marketing jobs increased by 6% in 2017. She argues that talent is changing, with demand growing for digital marketing executives and digital content managers as the profession moves closer to both tech and sales.

When it comes to inspiring young people, King believes it is important to show them how marketing impacts on every aspect of their lives, from logging into Facebook and watching videos on YouTube to looking at a poster when they get off the train.

“Someone designed that; it’s marketing. Somebody positioned it, the content of it and how it would look to people. I don’t think people realise marketing is all around them,” she adds.

“At the moment, marketing is seen as creative and glamorous, and the people who work in marketing absolutely love it. But if [Marketing Week’s negative findings represent the] perception of young people, it’s frightening to think what the future holds for marketing careers.”

If marketers want to safeguard the future of the profession and enrich it with diverse, fresh talent, they must get out there and talk about the wide variety of opportunities a career in marketing holds, before it is too late.