Now is the most exciting time to be a marketer

Much has changed in the five years since the Marketing Academy launched and marketers have never had as much opportunity to start steering businesses.

Sherilyn Shackell

When I launched The Marketing Academy five years ago, we were in the middle of the worst recession to hit the UK in 50 years. The markets were in a mess and companies were cutting costs. Growth was becoming a distant memory and the commercial atmosphere was tense at best and terrified at worst. During a time of uncertainty, volatility and more than a little chaos, I decided to set up a voluntary, non-profit organisation focused on developing talent in the world of marketing, media and advertising. On the face of it, not the sanest move.

To get through the recession, I believed companies were going to have to invest in two things: talent and marketing. Companies would need the most engaged, skilled, committed and talented people possible and innovation, creativity and demonstrable customer-centricity were the things that would dictate which companies would make it and which wouldn’t. It was apparent that exceptional leadership would be the central pillar of success.

I still believe these things to be true. Marketing has gone way past pretty pictures, colours and pantones and moved straight into the boardroom. The scope of its remit now includes technology, innovation and data. The pace of change in the industry is close to lightning speed and the need for people to function well under pressure and to be agile, adaptable and expert in all things is overwhelming. It is probably the most exciting time ever to be in marketing.

The need for marketers to operate at the absolute peak of their ability is still paramount. Everything The Marketing Academy does is to serve this need, including finding ways for more people to benefit from what we do. During the last five years, we have had six cohorts of our flagship scholarship programme and we have also launched four additional programmes: Merlin’s Apprentice, for 18 to 24-year-olds; The Fellowship Programme, developed exclusively for CMOs; The Merlin Lectures, for anyone interested in marketing; and one Down Under, entitled The Australia Leaders Programme. All our programmes are aimed at enabling people to be the best they can be. They all utilise the knowledge, wisdom, insight and experience of C-suite business and marketing leaders, are delivered face-to-face and are all free.

The biggest benefits are still to come. We are using our fifth birthday party as a forum to unite the entire industry in creating its legacy. At our first ever fundraising event on 3 December, we are launching a £1m fund to create 50 apprenticeships in marketing, media and advertising. Our Merlin’s Apprenticeship programme gives young people a foot on the ladder in a 12 month salaried role, which includes work experience, qualifications and mentoring.

But what about the future? The industry is evolving fast and the companies that put customers at the heart of every decision will thrive. We have already seen companies responding to the growing desire of their customers for transparency, ethical business practice and demonstrable purpose. Excellence in marketing, media and advertising is becoming the key driver to business growth. Boardrooms are wising up that customers should have the biggest seat at the table, and funnily enough, so should good marketers who have always put the customer and consumers at the heart of their decisions. Never before has there been so much opportunity for marketers to start steering our businesses.

The creation of the Fellowship was a move to ensure that CMOs were able to bridge the divide from marketing silo to boardroom customer advocate. Every year we look at our programme curriculum and evolve the content accordingly. This year, our Australian cohort learned to code with Decoded; our scholars had lessons on purposeful business; and our fellows enjoyed masterclasses on developing shareholder value and operational excellence. Hopefully we are doing our bit to develop the skills and stretch the ambition of the industry’s finest talent.

We are committed to the continued development of new programmes and partnerships in the UK and around the world, enabling more people and companies to benefit from the things we do because when companies combine brilliant marketing with outstanding leadership, they will be unstoppable.

Things I’ve learnt along the way

  • Technology is great for speed and efficiency but when it comes to human communication it’s a killer of warmth, empathy and humour
  • Turning 50 years old is rubbish but spending time with exceptional, talented, high energy, enthusiastic people makes you feel much younger
  • Australia is only a day away (but flying economy is really, really bad)
  • The world really is a small place – I was walking along Sydney Harbour and literally bumped into a UK Academy mentor
  • Dare to dream, take one step to make the dream a reality and magic will happen.
  • Everybody should to learn to code
  • Mentoring cannot be done properly without actually looking into someone’s eyes
  • Life’s about juggling balls, some are made of rubber such as your career, but family, friends, health are made of glass. If you’ve got to drop one, make sure it’s the one that bounces.
  • Whoever said ‘A good idea can be had by one, but it becomes great when nurtured by many’ was a genius

Marketing Week is a founding partner of The Marketing Academy. To find out more about its 5th birthday party click here.


This is part of a series of columns written by our Vision 100 inductees, who will share their experiences, best practice and thoughts on what makes visionary marketers and organisations. Marketing Week’s Vision 100 in association with Adobe is an exclusive club of the brightest, best and most visionary executives.

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