Click here for Michael Page Marketing’s statement on the Top Employers Survey
The Marketing Week/Michael Page Marketing Top Employer survey shows once again that, whatever higher motives they might lay claim to, it’s the chance to make a difference with a ground-breaking, high-profile corporate brand that really excites marketers. By David Benady.
They run some of the most celebrated brands in the UK and are ardent exponents of the art of marketing. They reputedly offer excitement, innovation and passion to those they employ, so it is little wonder that marketers are hammering on their doors to find employment.
Virgin, Innocent Drinks, Tesco and Sony have topped Marketing Week’s latest poll of companies where UK marketers would most like to work. These favourites are closely followed by the BBC, Nike, Apple, Microsoft and Unilever in the roll call of the most desirable employers.
The Marketing Week Top Employer Survey 2006, sponsored by Michael Page, is our second annual online poll of more than 1,000 marketers, which asks them to name the companies where they would most like to work.
The research provides a fascinating insight into the minds of marketing professionals, whose task it is to stimulate desire and generate aspiration among consumers. It appears that marketers themselves are star-struck by the thought of basking in the limelight and are highly motivated by prestige and reputation.
Making a Difference
But the two top-placed employers, Virgin and Innocent, offer marketers something more satisfying than eminence and kudos. They claim to be companies where marketers can really make a difference to the direction of the brands, and where their ideas will be heard.
Virgin wins the accolade of the company that marketers most aspire to work over practically every measure, and by a considerable margin. Perhaps the prominence of boss Sir Richard Branson (to be seen making a cameo appearance in the new James Bond movie Casino Royale) is an inspiration. But Branson’s spokesman Will Whitehorn attributes the company’s desirability to the fact that marketers know they will • have a greater ability to influence the outcomes of their projects at Virgin companies than at many more traditional brands.
“You find companies where marketing isn’t that highly valued,” he says. “Look at the big packaged goods companies – brand managers stay for a year and don’t get a chance to learn about the brand.” Whitehorn adds that Virgin marketers tend to stay within the business for decades and can move around between the different companies: “We either take people in their mid-20s and develop their careers here or we get other people joining from a senior background.”
There are some 160 marketers across Virgin’s businesses in the UK and they tend to be hired through word of mouth and often join from advertising or design agencies that have worked with one of the group’s companies.
In a similar way, smoothie maker Innocent is seen as an entrepreneurial company with a strong set of values, though managing director Jamie Mitchell says: “People think it is a bit of a hippy fest inside Innocent, but it is not – it is a commercial business.” He believes that its strong growth since it started is a major attraction to marketing people. They have joined from a range of packaged goods companies such as Danone, Masterfoods and L’Oréal.
Not so Daring
The survey results say much about what motivates people to pursue a career in marketing. They want to take part in ground-breaking entrepreneurial ventures, although in reality they need the reassurance of an established brand in order to thrive rather than the insecurity of starting up their own business.
According to Ashwood Marketing Recruitment consultant Karyn Jepson Cotcher, marketers are becoming increasingly alienated by the machinations of established corporations. “Some of the bigger ‘blue chips’ are getting process-driven and overly bureaucratic,” she says. “They are cautious about spending money and it is harder to influence things in the organisation.”
Marketers often find that after a couple of years training they go into roles where autonomy has gradually drained away and they end up working as little more than trade marketers, arranging merchandise on retailers’ shelves. The high-end conceptual strategies are decided at head offices in Paris, Tokyo or the US, and marketers are left implementing somebody else’s approach.
Meanwhile, changes in the nature of advertising and the shift to through-the-line campaigns, rather than big TV advertising extravaganzas, has taken away some of the creative verve previously associated with big brand marketing.
Innocent market controller Heather Callan joined recently from Masterfoods and previously worked for Sainsbury’s. She explains the benefits of working for Innocent: “The energy, pace and passion gives you excitement. It is small enough for you to make a difference and you can see the effects of your product innovation and advertising in a short timescale.” She says large companies often lack this immediacy.
Perhaps this is why some of the established packaged goods companies which were once considered to be the universities of marketing training have been outpaced by the smaller, fleet-of-foot entrepreneurial businesses in our survey. That said, Unilever has risen up the table, perhaps as the memory fades of last year’s marketing massacre when it shed thousands of •jobs. Maybe the leadership of chief executive Patrick Cescau, appointed last year, is inspiring marketers to rethink their view of the company. Meanwhile, arch-rival Procter & Gamble has drifted downward from number nine to 13.
One of the survey’s more intriguing revelations concerns those sectors outside their own where marketers would most like to work. The leisure and hospitality sector tops the rankings by a long way, with 43% of the survey’s respondents choosing this area. This is somewhat unexpected as brand building for bingo halls, pub chains and budget hotel groups is hardly at the cutting edge of modern marketing techniques. It is, however, an area of massive expansion, so it is perhaps a common sense choice.
The second most popular sector to work in is packaged goods with 33% of “mentions”. Charity is on 26%, followed by automotive, retail and then television. Perhaps surprisingly, new media comes a long way down the list, with just 12% of mentions.
It should be said that our study has unearthed an element of self-deception among marketers about what motivates their choices of preferred employer. Ask them what they are seeking from a new job and you will get all manner of laudable responses such as “career development”, “a good salary” and “job security”.
More Than Just a Career
Delve a little deeper, however, and a contrasting picture emerges. As Phil Redwood, director of Fusion Communications which conducted the study, observes: “When you ask what’s important to people in companies they want to work for, they give straight, worthy answers. But when you go through the process and ask which companies and why, they say it is because they are high-profile and prestigious brands. It is more about the sexy side of the brands than the career prospects.”
This can be seen by comparing answers to the question: “How important are the following in your choice of which company to work for?” (see page 30) and “Which qualities do you associate with the company you would most like to work for?” (see page 33). In the first chart, career development is cited as most important while in the second, the high profile and prestige of the company emerge as vital.
When the respondents were asked to name a number of companies they would like to work for, some 1,760 names were suggested. Of the thousands of suggestions, Virgin was named by 248 respondents, while Innocent got 134 mentions. The fruit drink brand has risen up the ranking from last year, powering to second position from sixth last time, knocking both Tesco and Sony out of the way. At the same time, the BBC has done surprisingly well, rising from 15th-most favoured employer to fifth. This is somewhat remarkable considering the deep cuts that have been made to its marketing department. Perhaps the BBC’s high score is connected to some of the new promotions created under marketing director Tim Davie.
Alternatively, it may be testament to the increased profile of media brands all round. •Sky has appeared for the first time – in 19th place – which could be linked to its rapid expansion into broadband and the growth of its Sky Plus personal video recorder. Other media brands to excel are Google and Microsoft, which have both been propelled up the league table.
A more specific and perhaps vital question was also asked, and gave similar – though not identical – results. Which single company would marketers like to work for out of the ones they had already mentioned? Here, Nike does particularly well, coming third after Virgin and Innocent. Some take it as read that male marketers aspire to work for sports brands, while women tend to favour jobs in personal care or fashion.
Tesco, though slightly lower than in last year’s poll, still exerts a strong draw on marketers. Maybe the high-profile departure of marketing director Tim Mason to head the chain’s US operation this year has weakened its magnetic pull. But it is still considered to be a cutting-edge marketing organisation. The segmentation and targeting it achieves through Clubcard makes it a highly attractive training ground for marketers.
Close behind, Sony continues as a beacon for marketers in consumer electronics. This is testament as much to the revival plan put in place by Sir Howard Stringer as to its presence in some of the more desirable areas of technology.
The turnarounds at Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s have also helped improve their positions in the league table. Staying in the retail sector, John Lewis Partnership and its supermarket chain Waitrose have also improved their performances.
What emerges repeatedly as the key consideration is the extent to which marketers can take ownership of projects and get their ideas listened to. Car manufacturer BMW achieves the highest position among auto companies, in tenth place. A spokesman says this is probably because there is scope for creativity in marketing that may be lacking in other companies. “It is a company that is not hierarchical – in the sense that you can’t express your mind. Your ideas might get taken on board,” he adds. “It is not a question of serving your time: in design there are guys in their 20s who are really senior.”
One significant and rather surprising finding was the comparatively low importance marketers attach to corporate responsibility (CSR). When asked what is “very important” in choice of company, CSR came 15th in the ranking. That said, it gained the highest score for being “quite important”. One wonders, however, whether this is merely lip service at a time when CSR is generally being promoted as a “core” value.
When prompted, 29% of responses cited commitment to responsible practices as something they associated with the company they most wanted to work for.
All That Glisters…
Overall, the survey is sobering reading for those brands that do not operate in the public eye. As Paul Sykes, director of marketing business in the South for Michael Page, says: “How do those without high-profile brands attract the people they need? We recruitment consultants need to spend time discussing what candidates are seeking and use our knowledge to ensure people are considering all the opportunities in the market.” He says it is down to recruitment consultants to point out to candidates the advantages to their careers that can come from working for brands which may be less famous, but offer greater opportunities for advancement.
But it will be a hard sell to persuade marketers to forget their ambitions of working in celebrated companies with exciting approaches to marketing in favour of somewhere a little more serious, whatever salary it offers.