Put your talent in the spotlight

Marketing Week and IDM research shows the strategic importance of training to optimise business performance.

Sponsored by The IDM

Nearly 90 per cent of marketers perceive barriers to professional training and development from their employers, according to a survey conducted last month by Marketing Week and leading training provider the Institute of Direct & Digital Marketing (IDM). Organisations must take a strategic view of the development of their marketing teams or risk missing out on the benefits that come with an engaged, motivated and confident work force.

Eighty-eight per cent of the 1,600 marketers who answered the survey say they perceive barriers to professional development within their organisations.

This is despite the fact that when their companies invest in their training and development, nearly half feel more valued by the organisation, 59 per cent feel that their skills have improved and 64 per cent feel more confident in their role.

It is no great surprise to the IDM that training investment causes marketers to feel more positive about their role and employer. Not only is there feedback to that effect every day in IDM training suites, but during the four years that the institute has been involved with Marketing Week’s annual training supplement, it has heard the views of many marketing professionals from both sides of the management fence. Examples include “We need to keep, inspire and grow our marketing talent”, “Motivation is about being seen to be successful, valued and an expert. It’s not about money”, and “The best way to motivate and retain people is to care, listen, develop them, give them opportunities and reward them”.

These are some key phrases from the senior managers and HR professionals the IDM has interviewed in the past four years, the sentiments of which are clearly borne out in our 2014 survey. When asked to rank a range of motivating factors behind their desire to self improve, the top two reasons given by respondents are to improve skills and to feel more confident in their current role, closely followed by job satisfaction. Only 10 per cent rank a pay rise as their biggest motivation.

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And when asked what benefits they actually achieve after training and development, 64 per cent say they feel more confident in their role, 63 per cent that their reputation has improved and 39 per cent achieved greater job satisfaction.

The good news is that, despite the unrelenting pace of change in today’s environment, the majority of marketers feel that their current skill set enables them to perform well in their present role, with 97 per cent either very satisfied, satisfied or somewhat satisfied that their skills are up to the job.

But they are not complacent. It seems marketers are acutely aware that improving and updating their skills continues to be critical for the future. Over two-thirds (64 per cent) believe they will need new skills in the next three years, with only 9 per cent complacent enough to believe they already have all the tools and techniques they will need.

All of this suggests a quiet confidence amongst today’s marketers that just one year ago appeared to be lacking – perhaps because of the realisation that marketing is no longer a single discipline or a standalone function. Rather, today’s practitioners need to be flexible and multiskilled, and comfortable shifting quickly from one discipline to another.

At the same time they need to remain ruthlessly focused on their end goal and ensure other functions within the business are on board with marketing objectives. It is a daunting prospect 
and several levels of responsibility higher than the average marketer’s from previous generations.

Taking responsibility

It is fortunate for the profession, and testament to the overall motivation and drive of marketers as a group, that the overwhelming majority appear to be taking responsibility for their own professional development. And they are using a variety of resources and activities simultaneously to do so.

Unsurprisingly, with the volume of knowledge available at the tap of a screen, most marketers (74 per cent) name self-study as the most common form of developmental activity that they undertake (learning via online resources, for example, or from journals, webinars or forums), on-the-job is the second most common learning method, while 57 per cent choose formal training and/or qualifications to keep skills and knowledge sharp.

Other learning activity includes events, conferences and exhibitions, and coaching or mentoring. Quite rightly, marketers are making the most of whatever learning resources are readily available to them. The high importance attached to formalised training and qualifications suggests that not only do training courses help steer learning in the right direction by bringing together the most relevant and up-to-date knowledge, but that they are also important in helping marketers develop the real, practical skills to help them put theory into effective practice once back in the workplace.


Unfortunately for the profession however, most employers appear to regard professional development as an individual responsibility, not an organisational one. Survey results reveal that higher management are involved in only 25 per cent of decisions about training needs, and only 8 per cent are made by higher management and HR alone.

This suggests a lack of strategic planning behind employee development and no clear development paths for employees. Furthermore, only a third of marketers surveyed say they had reached their current position via an internal promotion, the majority (63 per cent) having been recruited from the outside to plug an organisational skills gap.

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It appears therefore, that when a skills shortage has been identified, companies look to recruit rather than develop existing talent.

This could be dangerously shortsighted. Quite apart from the positive effect on employee engagement and motivation that investment in professional development can have on a workforce, greater marketing capability across an organisation results in better marketing performance and a positive and direct effect on return on investment.

Of course the lack of higher management involvement in professional development decisions is by no means true of all organisations. Many, including those the IDM works with in the ongoing development of their training and event portfolio (and those who help inform articles such as these), have well-structured employee development plans in place for their marketers. They recognise that an effective marketing function can ultimately increase an organisation’s strategic value.

The profession is extremely fortunate that so many marketers take responsibility for their own professional development. But if organisations want to truly optimise business performance, they need to take some of that responsibility themselves. Inspire, grow and keep your best talent. Why would you want them to go anywhere else?