It’s time to market marketing

If the marketing industry wants to attract the best talent in future it must do a better job at promoting itself as a career destination.

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“Marketing seems to be the in thing. It’s regarded as the centre of all the activity in a company and graduates think it’s an exciting and glamorous job.”

This is a reflection on the huge volumes of applications for the handful of marketing positions at Cadbury, from a 1982 Marketing Week article on the state of the job market for graduates.

Written at the dawn of Margaret Thatcher’s deregulated, commerce-led economic revolution, it paints a picture of an employers’ market, where companies got to cherry pick the best of the best. It’s difficult to argue that the queue would be as big and the hopefuls as enthusiastic now.

Marketing Week has been investigating whether marketing is considered a destination career by those at university and school, and how it ranks against the competition. It should be sobering for the HR and marketing directors responsible for attracting future generations of marketing leaders.

Our wide ranging study with ‘student affinity network’ Unidays and our own focus group of school-age children find marketing perilously low in the pecking order of desirable professions. Just 3% of university students think marketing offers the best career opportunities, a finding mirrored by the children we spoke to at a North London comprehensive school.

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

It also finds that the perception of marketing is poor, if people even know what it is. Marketing is confused with advertising, which is not well thought of, and is far from the thoughts of those gearing up for a career.

Young people have always rejected what they would see as manipulative coercion, it might be argued. Indeed, back in the 1990s, when I was at my most impressionable, I laughed heartily with the sentiment delivered by the late comedian Bill Hicks: “If you’re in advertising and marketing, kill yourself.”

Marketing is confused with advertising, which is not well thought of, and is far from the thoughts of those gearing up for a career.

The results of our survey, however, shouldn’t be brushed away as the musings of the young and naïve. Countless studies show high levels of cynicism and mistrust about marketing among young people, while tolerance for campaigns is low. Add to this the plethora of career choices presented by the digital age to the analytical, the creative, the strategic – once the natural marketers of tomorrow – and it makes for a potentially toxic brew.

The great irony of all of this is that there has never been so much variety to the job of marketing. So many more platforms where a marketer can spread their creative wings, more data to challenge the numerate, technology adoption to attract the digitally inclined – as well as the opportunity to drive business growth, of course.

The ‘product’ is the right one: the job is varied, it’s exciting and it can influential. But it’s time to do a job of marketing on marketing.

To borrow the sentiment of Professor Byron Sharp, more category buyers need to be reached. As analysed in another feature, apprenticeships are a means to attract potential marketers at a younger age, and people that wouldn’t ordinarily think of marketing as a career option.

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

Making marketing apprenticeships happen

Yet, marketing has been under served. The efforts of The Marketing Academy Foundation and the IPA should be applauded. The push needs to be more concerted across the industry to make marketing apprenticeships happen in greater numbers.

Meanwhile, the biggest recruiters of marketing talent need to cast their net wider. It’s no longer enough to pitch a stand at a graduate recruitment fair, safe in the knowledge that marketing is the “in thing”, and then stand back and wait.

The industry as a whole – particularly those with big stakes in marketing’s future – need to get out, talk marketing up, explain the variety, explain the opportunity. And not just among university students, at schools across the country. This is necessary to make sure that you get socio-economic diversity, a range of life experience and a pipeline of candidates.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has just launched its #ThisIsEnginnering campaign, positioning the profession as desirable and vital in ways probably never considered. Although that campaign was a response to a chronic shortage right now, the marketing industry shouldn’t be sitting on its hands.

At this stage there is only anecdotal, whispered talk of recruitment shortfalls in marketing. But there is talk. It’s something that needs addressing now.

The problem is not insurmountable. Looking over 40 years of marketing as Marketing Week hits that significant milestone, one thing is clear: a marketer is a great thing to be. That’s going to increasingly be the case. We just need to ensure it remains a destination career for people today and in the future.