Marketers are increasingly recognising that continued learning during their career is beneficial, both in helping them to perform their duties and enhancing their career. The chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Anne Godfrey, has claimed that CIM members have salaries £5,000 higher than non-members.
Some marketers actively pursue further qualifications such as the CIM diploma while others prefer a more on-the-job style of learning. “At The Prince’s Trust, I’m lucky enough to spend a large amount of my time talking to the entrepreneurs that we support,” says marketing and communications director Paul Brown. “I’m convinced I get more out of the sessions I spend with them and talking to scholars in my position as mentor at The Marketing Academy, than they do.”
Experienced marketers who have benefited from taking more process-oriented courses advocate undertaking learning as early as possible. Andrew Turton, marketing director at dairy company Fage, explains: “I had on-the-job training when I was at Unilever so when I took the CIM course it was with a view to improving my chances of getting interviews. I would recommend taking it as it sets you apart from other candidates as well as giving practical insights if you haven’t worked in marketing before.”
Monisha Saldanha, head of brand extensions at Guardian Newspapers, had the opportunity to take a sponsored MBA at Harvard University after her undergraduate course. She says that, although academic, it was a good way to test live business problems in an environment where mistakes could be made. “The Harvard case study approach has helped because it’s never theoretical. They are real dilemmas that companies have faced. You can learn from everyone’s experience by being able to discuss options with a group of 80 smart people,” she explains.
Some marketers feel that the experience they gain of processes and theory on the job is sufficient and that their time is better served gaining knowledge about some less obvious but no less important skills.
“I did a Landmark personal growth programme over two years, finishing in 2005,” says Turton. “It’s not for everyone but its effectiveness lies in understanding how people perceive you rather than how you perceive yourself. It’s something that is rarely taught at college or in the workplace but it is a core skill that is undervalued in the UK.”
Joseph Liu, senior brand manager of global strategy and communications for Häagen-Dazs, also values education that is outside the core marketing agenda. “Part of my effectiveness as a marketer is to have a strong team. For me, the ongoing development of my skills is to be an effective people manager. You need to take the time to invest in both the hard and soft skills.”
Above all, marketers are seeking to turn professional and personal development to financial advantage. The job market is highly competitive and salaries are being squeezed.
According to the January 2013 Marketing Week/ Ball & Hoolahan salary survey, marketing directors earn on average £75,345 while marketing managers earn £36,767. Executives are seeing qualifications from the CIM diploma to MBAs as critical points of difference. However, in austere times there is an investment quid pro quo to be made.
Many companies are willing to subsidise postgraduate qualifications but are just as anxious as employees to see returns from the investment. For employees who cannot find corporate sponsorship, the decision to shoulder course costs is significant.
Basic one-day courses can cost £500 plus VAT while fully accredited courses can be £4,000 and upwards. A 21-month Executive MBA from Henley Business School, for example, costs £34,000.
Liu funded his £4,000 accredited course and completed it through a combination of working in the evenings and using his holiday allowance. He acknowledges it was not seen by his company as being core to his day-to-day work. “If the company had provided an internal coach training opportunity, I would have considered it but there was a great benefit to going externally. I was exposed to fresh ideas and people who think differently.”
Liu says that the development has become a passion that he is now able to explore personally as well as professionally. He has used his accreditation to create an independent coaching consultancy that he manages in his spare time.
Executives taking a qualification as intensive as an MBA are likewise hoping to see some return on investment. The QS TopMBA.com applicant survey released in May 2013 revealed that students’ average salary expectations had dropped from $123,500 to $113,000, while the age of applicants has been rising since 2008.
Some companies have found that employees gaining an MBA is a catalyst for them to move on to greener pastures. They are therefore reluctant to sponsor a qualification as expensive as an Executive MBA without some assurances.
“If both parties are willing to invest, whether it’s time or money, it needs to be a shared investment and reward,” says Turton at Fage.
Barnaby Harrison is head of marketing at Sky’s Oddschecker.com. He says he had to pitch his CIM training to the business. “I was keen to do it and wrote a business justification from both a business and personal standpoint. Happily, Sky agreed to fund the whole course but had the company not agreed I would probably have paid for it myself.” He adds that management within Sky supported him with time off where necessary and allowed him to test his learning on other business units.
Legally, companies do not have to finance courses, but if they do, they can ask for the course fees to be repaid if the employee leaves within a certain period after the training has been paid for, says Michael Sissons, consultant employment solicitor at Cubism Law.
Sissons points out that there is no single method of ensuring that both employer and employee meet their obligations when investing time and money in training. He adds that the most prudent route to ensuring it is successful for all concerned is to discuss the objectives and what each party expects their returns to be.
For marketers with a certain level of experience, the need to take high-level courses such as MBAs may have diminished but that does not mean the learning process should stop. “My learning now is not degree-focused but I try to do the odd short course here and there,” says Saldanha. “For example, negotiation was a key part of my role at eBay so the company sponsored me to undertake learning. It’s not something I would have proactively gone after myself.”
Marketers agree that learning is essential but it is also a commitment. Liu says: “Any professional programme is going to be time and energy intensive. Working on a global brand is very demanding. My course took most weekends and evenings and fatigue does become an issue.”
Harrison adds to the reality: “Maybe I undertook the diploma a bit naively without realising how full-on it was. But I’d recommend anyone who has got goals to do it. It’s a brilliant catalyst.”
Saldanha has found through her programme of career-long learning that it is as important to “pay it back” as it is to acquire knowledge. “The good thing about having Harvard as a background is that it creates a network and now if I have an issue, I have a group of people who can talk me through it. Most people are happy to share their experience. Mentorship is a great way of learning from people who know what they’re doing.”
Head of marketing
Now mid-way through his CIM Diploma, Barnaby Harrison is a happy evangelist for postgraduate learning. “It has boosted my confidence in my ability to make decisions. You can become a little blind from being at the centre of a business for a long time; it wakes you up and gets you to see things anew,” he says.
Harrison notes two particular areas in which he is benefiting from the course. First, it offers a creative environment for discussing real business challenges, and, second, it lets him engage in future modelling beyond results-driven constraints.
“Unlike in a university environment where you examine case studies that are helpful but largely irrelevant because you don’t know that business or care about the outcome, here you can take an academic model and see it in practice in your world,” he explains.
“Using marketing, leadership and
planning, you have to do a strategic audit of the business from an external and internal perspective. You have to pick holes in it and address those problems.”
Oddschecker is part of Sky Betting and Gaming but is run separately. This month, Harrison takes on the role of head of acquisition and winback, working across the six other brands within the Betting and Gaming group. He feels strongly that his work for the diploma has been the biggest factor in taking him further up the career ladder.
He explains: “I’ve been awarded that job based on my reputation but the CIM course is why I have got the confidence. It would be interesting to know if management looked at my CV and saw the diploma or saw the results of it in my work. My suspicion is that it was on results. But if it was an external move, then having the diploma on paper would have made a big difference. Marketing is a competitive field and one where you need to do as much as you can to stand out.”