Different class: How the marketing industry is coming together to inspire the next generation

Marketing Week is partnering with a new education platform on initiatives supported by top marketers, to get young people excited about careers in marketing – and we need your help.


One of the most pressing issues facing the marketing industry in 2018 is the need to secure a diverse pipeline of talent. While marketing was once seen as an exciting career destination for young people, it has undoubtedly lost its lustre in recent years.

A pitiful 3% of students aged 18 to 24 think marketing is a good career option, according to exclusive research carried out earlier this year for Marketing Week by student affinity network Unidays. Furthermore just 2% of those asked describe marketing as the best career for long-term success.

However, the study suggests the problem starts much younger, with more than half (51%) of students stating that marketing was ‘never’ or ‘hardly ever’ mentioned at their school.

The marketing profession clearly has severe difficulties marketing itself to the next generation of potential talent. This is why Marketing Week is participating in new industry efforts to ensure a marketing career is in the consideration set of as many young people as possible – and we want readers to get involved too.

Gen Z nowadays feel that brands shouldn’t be talking at them, but collaborating with them.

Paul Polman, Unilever

Alongside education company Learn Et Al and Pearson College London, we will be supporting the launch of the School of Marketing, a new learning platform and series of educational initiatives for young people from all backgrounds across the UK. It has the backing of key industry figures including Unilever CEO Paul Polman and top marketers from the likes of Direct Line Group, Microsoft, Santander, IBM and Google.

We are also committing to help recruit, promote and support the Founding 50 – a group of ambassadors from the industry aged under 30, who will go into schools to demystify marketing for students, help shift their preconceptions and raise awareness of careers in marketing.

READ MORE: Marketing Week backs drive to get school kids interested in marketing careers

Marketing’s falling esteem

The lack of information offered to young people is causing marketing to slide down the list of attractive careers for young people. Research carried out by Marketing Week shows that, if school children have heard of marketing at all, they tend to associate it with advertising and view it in a negative light, a common belief that has the potential to stunt the diversity of future marketing teams.

Polman, who is a member of the School of Marketing advisory board, tells Marketing Week: “Younger people, who are social media- and brand-savvy in many ways, possibly also associate the terms ‘marketing’ and ‘advertising’ as being quite traditional and connected to mass marketing. Our Gen Z generation nowadays feel that brands shouldn’t be talking at them, but collaborating with them.”

He believes the time is right for a “reinvention and re-education” of what marketing is in 2018. This opinion is shared by Direct Line Group marketing director and School of Marketing chairman Mark Evans, who wants to see a shift in how the industry communicates with young people.

“Successful consumer-led businesses are driven by marketing, but who would know that, unless there were some sort of examples to jar the wheels of the current understanding?” Evans asks.

“There’s a job to be done to change that perspective and help people realise that there is so much more to marketing, from very left-brain to very right-brain, and everything in between.”

READ MORE: Russell Parsons – We need your help to avoid a future recruitment crisis

The School of Marketing aims to provide school students with insight and advice from marketing leaders, as well as information on the latest trends. The programme will kick off with an interactive course consisting of five modules exploring the foundations of marketing, including case studies, videos and interactive exercises set by the UK’s top marketers.


Through a number of projects students will get to experience the real-life challenges being faced by marketers. To bring this to life, the programme is working with Unilever brand Wall’s on a project to help it develop a new ice cream. Students will be asked to submit a two-minute video explaining their dream ice cream and brand, as well as a marketing plan, in a bid to win a year’s supply of free ice cream.

The School of Marketing is also teaming up with education company Pearson on a series of accredited short courses that will be distributed to further education colleges nationwide.

The two broad aims of the content are to inform and excite the next generation, and address the misconceptions about marketing, according to the dean and managing director of the School of Marketing, Ritchie Mehta.

“We’re trying to give kids a really good understanding of what’s hot in marketing, so what the future of marketing looks like. The aim is to get them thinking about the key skills they would require in order to have a very successful future career,” explains Mehta.

Growing up in rural Scotland, Mehta says the possibility of having a marketing career was so far removed from his reality that he was only able to explore it as an opportunity once he had left. He went on to pursue a marketing career at HSBC, RBS and Direct Line, before founding education company Learn Et Al.

We fix the emerging skills gap and more people are fulfilled in marketing careers, so marketing as a whole benefits.

Mark Evans, Direct Line Group

His ambition for the School of Marketing is to bridge that diversity gap, as he believes the marketing industry is guilty of being London-centric and therefore failing to adequately represent the views of consumers across the country.

Evans says the long-term goal of the programme is to encourage young people to have marketing on their consideration list, which will build up a swell of demand for marketing careers over the next five to 10 years. He wants to show young people that marketing is the “ultimate future-proof career”.

“The long-term goal has to be that more people find fulfilling careers in marketing and it enables them to achieve their full potential,” says Evans. “We fix the emerging skills gap and more people are fulfilled in marketing careers, so marketing as a whole benefits.”

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

The rallying cry

The launch of the School of Marketing comes at a time when marketing as an whole is searching for greater diversity of thought.

The ambition to bring diverse people into marketing inspired Google’s UK ads marketing director, Nishma Robb, to get involved with the project. She argues that with trust in advertising at an all-time low, marketing needs to recognise the part played by its failure to commit to diversity.

“Think about the whitewash that has been created by advertising, the perceptions we create about diverse people, how we perceive different classes and women,” says Robb.

“We’re only ever going to change any of that if we change the make-up of the teams that create the work. Because as hard as we push, the reality will come down to diversity and making diverse work that is fantastic, relevant and effective in every sense.”

Robb argues that it is not just about improving the bottom line, but about creating a better world, which can only be achieved by recruiting and nurturing new talent, and progressing them into leadership.

Microsoft commercial marketing director and Marketing Week columnist Helen Tupper is among the marketers providing course content for the School of Marketing. She argues that unless marketing makes itself attractive to young people with diverse skill sets, the industry will need to work harder to engage these people later in life.

“Let’s say you’re top of the class at age 14 in maths – marketing could be a great profession for you. You might be an analyst,” Tupper points out.

“I think saying that will bring more diverse people into the business. We’ll have different skill sets and we do need that for marketing. I need part scientist, part creative, part strategist and it’s very hard to get that from one person.”

Polman agrees that in today’s digital world it is crucial for marketing to attract an increasingly broad range of skillsets. The Unilever CEO also believes marketers should consider the fact younger generations feel drawn to brands that align with their passions.

There is an opportunity to break down some of the awful misconceptions about marketing, like that it’s making people buy things they don’t need, that it’s harming the environment.

Professor Byron Sharp, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute

“If younger people understood earlier how brands can affect change through intelligent and purposeful marketing, then it is much more likely that they would choose to pursue careers in the marketing function,” says Polman.

READ MORE: Unilever CEO – Brands are stupid not to be forerunners on purpose

Professor Byron Sharp, director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science and a School of Marketing advisory board member, agrees the world of business can seem “mysterious” to young people. He adds that compared to other professions marketing does not present the same “mental availability” when they are thinking about potential careers.

The School of Marketing, Sharp argues, is an opportunity to get marketing on their radar by talking about different career paths and confronting some of the common misconceptions.

“There is an opportunity to break down some of the awful misconceptions about marketing, such as that it’s making people buy things they don’t need, that it’s harming the environment,” Sharp explains.

“I would hope we can teach young people that marketing does much good for the world; that it’s a noble profession, as well as exciting and well paid.”

For more information on the School of Marketing and the Founding 50 visit www.schoolofmarketing.co