It is five months since Marketing Week launched its Opening Up campaign to democratise marketing careers.
Over that period, we have learnt a lot about the recurring problems with apprenticeships, the power of mentoring and the practical ways brands can promote social mobility. The past five months have also included news of a Marketing T Level, set to kick off in September 2025, which will offer young people the chance to combine study with a “substantial industry placement” of at least nine weeks.
While momentum is building, the organisational challenge often believed to be involved in supporting talent from diverse socio-economic backgrounds can leave brands reluctant to make real change happen.
Yet, it’s clear that acting now to democratise marketing will only benefit your brand, business and the wider industry.
Here are some key action points:
1. Investigate the Apprenticeship Levy
A good first step is to find out if your company pays into the government’s Apprenticeship Levy. The levy equates to 0.5% of an employer’s annual wage bill and only applies to businesses with an annual wage bill of more than £3m. Any unused levy expires after 24 months and is returned to HMRC.
Indeed, last year alone more than £250m in unspent levy went back to the Treasury, which could have funded more than 25,000 apprenticeships.
If your business does pay into the levy, how is this money currently being used? Is the cash being used to fund apprenticeships within the company, or is the money being left untouched?
If your company has too small a wage bill to pay into the levy, there are other ways to access funding (outlined below).
2. Tap into internal (and external) knowledge
If you know your brand is a levy paying organisation, is the money being used to fund other apprentices beyond the marketing department? Are there any lessons you could learn from the way apprenticeships are run in the wider business that could be applied to marketing?
There may be an opportunity to collect case studies of successful apprentices, which you could present to the marketing department to show the value of having someone in the team who can hit the ground running, mixing their day job with room to learn.
If there are no apprentices in your organisation, look for external case studies of successful marketing apprenticeships from brands such as Nationwide, Marks & Spencer and organisations like the Market Research Society.
3. Test and learn
As a levy paying company with unspent funds, it might be time to consider levy share.
Under current rules, levy paying businesses can donate up to 25% of their unused levy to other companies to fund apprenticeships. This can be achieved through levy swap platforms, such as Co-op Levy Share. The free online match-making service enables large businesses with unused levy to help SMEs fund apprenticeships for underrepresented groups in terms of race, gender, disability, sexuality and geography.
Direct Line has already pledged £325,000 in unspent levy to fund apprenticeships via Co-op Levy Share at autism charity Autism Initiatives and is supporting 10 apprentices at Greater Manchester Fire Rescue Service.
Less formal arrangements can be set up between companies, for example a large organisation that wants to support a charity or social enterprise.
Media owner Clear Channel is working with apprenticeship provider School of Marketing to donate 25% of its Apprenticeship Levy to SMEs, charities and social enterprises. The money will be used to fund the training of marketing apprentices, who will in turn be mentored by Clear Channel marketers.
4. Utilise demand for internships
Has your company thought about developing a strategy to attract marketing interns from diverse socio-economic backgrounds? The idea is to think beyond university students and grad schemes.
Would it be possible, for example, to introduce a marketing curriculum for a paid internship, which aims to be fully diverse?
In September, the Guardian kicked off its first six-month paid internship within marketing. The intern will work with the brand team on understanding the Guardian’s identity and editorial mission, supporting on marketing campaigns and digging into customer insights.
Requiring neither a degree nor previous experience, the new recruit will also help develop internal comms for the Guardian’s 1,500 plus employees, manage media enquiries and learn how to improve the user experience of internal platforms.
Crucially, the intern will receive the equivalent of a £27,000 annual salary pro-rated to a six-month contract, a move taken to ensure the internship is open to as diverse a talent pool as possible.
For this role, the Guardian actively encouraged applications from candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual and gender orientation.
Potential recruits were asked to submit their CV and a short supporting statement outlining why they were eligible, alongside a description of their favourite (non-Guardian) ad campaign of the past year.
The intention is for this programme to become a six-month rolling internship. While not all businesses can commit to a marketing internship programme on this scale, there are lessons from the process that could apply to other brands.
5. Think differently
Beyond formal internship programmes, there are other ways to connect young people to marketing which may require thinking a little differently.
Browne Jacobson turbocharged its social mobility agenda five years ago after it became clear the recruitment model wasn’t working, a decision which saw the law firm top the Social Mobility Foundation’s 2021 UK Employer Index.
Prior to the onset of the pandemic, Browne Jacobson wanted to open at least half of its work experience places to people with no connections to the firm or any other law firm, looking specifically for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and universities in social mobility cold spots.
When the pandemic hit the idea pivoted to an online experience. Kicking off in April 2021, the FAIRE (fair access in real experiences) work experience event offered 16- to 19-year-olds access to 50 leaders in the legal profession, including within marketing. Some 7,500 young people took part on the day.
While the lockdown era has thankfully ended, the success of the FAIRE online programme is testament to the fact brands can find different ways to reach young people. This is particularly important when trying to get the message out there about the diverse careers available within marketing.
6. Reimagine recruitment
Brands which are serious about welcoming diverse talent into their organisation may want to rethink their hiring processes.
Browne Jacobson, for example, excludes personal details from CVs and applications to remove bias and uses rare contextualised recruitment, which takes into account the grades an applicant is expected to achieve from their school or college. Crucially, all qualifications are cut from CVs.
The Guardian has already removed the prerequisite of degree education for its marketing executive roles, the thought being that stipulating for a degree on entry-level positions may prevent the media giant attracting a diverse range of candidates.
When it came to hiring a marketing intern, the process of evaluating applications was carried out in collaboration between the Guardian’s HR department and a representative group of people from a variety of backgrounds. A similar mixed panel was involved in the selection day.
Second only to Browne Jacobson on the Social Mobility Foundation’s 2021 ranking, KPMG has introduced Grow, a talent development programme for colleagues from lower socio-economic backgrounds, with parental occupation used as a key measure. Based on this insight, the professional services firm KPMG overhauled its recruitment programmes, particularly for middle management and senior hires.
Once talent from diverse socio-economic backgrounds has made it through the door, it is essential the business culture is one where they feel welcome and valued. KPMG offers training for all colleagues on socio-economic backgrounds, the aim being to educate the whole team about the bias that can play out in the workforce.
7. Embrace mentoring
The support of a mentor is something senior marketing leaders frequently cite as key to the success they have achieved. Yet, often mentoring can feel closed off, something for those in the know or senior enough to access such support.
A good question to ask would be, does your company have an existing mentoring programme and can you get involved?
If not, there are many schemes available such as Mentoring Gen Z, the brainchild of School of Marketing founder Ritchie Mehta.
Aimed at helping young people find a route into marketing, since launching in January 2021 the free nationwide mentoring programme has reached more than 2,000 mentees and 80 mentors. It might that you could qualify as a Mentoring Gen Z mentor, or simply promote such a programme to young people within your network.
If you are thinking of devising a mentoring programme in your organisation, could there be a role for alumni to play a part? M&S is harnessing its ‘M&S Family’ alumni network, matching former employees with existing staff based on their personal skills and career ambitions via an online platform.
There are so many practical ways to broaden access to marketing for people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, be it mentoring, internships, apprenticeships or overhauling recruitment. The most important thing is taking the first step.
Marketing Week’s Opening Up campaign is pushing for the democratisation of marketing careers. Read all the articles from the series so far here.