The lack of socio-economic diversity in marketing is a ‘fundamental danger’

Marketing leaders share their thoughts on what needs to be done to improve the diversity of young people entering the industry and what it takes to be lead with real significance.

Some of the Founding 50 discussing plans during the inaugural School of Marketing event last month.

Marketing may be going through turbulent times, but the industry should consider that a gift according to Magnus Djaba, global president and UK CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi.

Speaking at the School of Marketing’s inaugural event for its Founding 50 ambassadors last month, Djaba stressed that the turbulence coursing through the current market is not the biggest danger to marketing in 2019. Actually the problem is trying to apply yesterday’s logic rather than fostering new ideas and fresh thinking that challenges the status quo.

Djaba, who is a member of the School of Marketing advisory board, said he expects future leaders to come from industries that do not even exist yet, but wherever they come from these people must be drawn from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds.

Reflecting on his own experience growing up on a London council estate to becoming head of one of the world’s biggest creative agencies, Djaba expressed genuine concern for the future of agencies given the “fundamental danger” posed by the lack of socio-economic diversity.

When you explain that the skills of marketing are absolutely inherent to [business] success, you see the lights go on and they get excited.

Nishma Robb, Google

“It has got nothing to do with the proliferation of media channels. It’s got nothing to do with the challenges of ‘frenemies’ who are both media owners and content creators. It’s got nothing to do with the challenges of data. Actually, they can help creativity in so many different ways,” he stated.

“But it is definitely to do with the fact that we do not pay people a lot to start in this industry. That bothers me. It’s a challenge, because what it means is the working class people we saw come into this industry in the 1970s are gone and it’s going the other way because in order to afford to live in central London you have to have come from a certain background to get paid that sort of money.”

Djaba urged agencies, and the industry in general, to get together to tackle the high financial barrier to entry preventing people from diverse backgrounds exploring a career in marketing.

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He also discussed the key characteristics he believes are essential to become a game-changing marketing leader. He stressed that being a great leader is not about trying to be the cleverest person in the room, but about possessing the ability – and will – to make everyone around you cleverer.

“That doesn’t involve telling people what to do, it involves pulling something out of people. That is what leadership is fundamentally and I think that can come from anywhere and all walks of life,” said Djaba.

He is looking for leaders who can create a shared agenda with a firm moral compass, but who also love the impossible, are ready to embrace fear and describe themselves as dreamers with discipline. Having a different kind of make-up which does not look like the people who came before is the most interesting thing, Djaba added.

Changing perceptions

Fellow School of Marketing advisory board member Nishma Robb, ads marketing director UK at Google, believes marketers have both the responsibility and opportunity to embrace change and help shift perceptions, especially among young people.

This is an important consideration for the Founding 50, who have been selected as ambassadors to help spread the word about what a creative and dynamic career marketing can be.

Addressing the School of Marketing event, Robb recalled her own route into marketing and what little she initially knew about the profession beyond a love of storytelling originating from childhood. She recognises the same lack of understanding about marketing in the young people she meets while hosting careers talks in schools.

If the School of Marketing is to encourage more young people to think about a career in marketing, Robb stressed that making the message relevant to their lives will be crucial.

“I go out to talk to schools a lot about careers and opportunities and still people say ‘I’m not sure what marketing is? Isn’t it just an ad? They don’t really think it’s for them, they don’t understand it, but when you start to unpack some of the things that can be done, its purpose and why we’re doing it you start to gather the room,” she explained.

“When I talk to them about things like YouTube and things they love they start to open up and understand what marketing is. When you explain that there are all sorts of ways you can tell stories and the passion needed to grow businesses and that the skills of marketing are absolutely inherent to their success, you see the lights go on and they get excited.”

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

Thinking about how to convey this message to young people, Direct Line Group marketing director, Mark Evans, emphasised his belief that curiosity is the number one skill in any marketer’s toolbox because it means you keep challenging the status quo.

Speaking to the Founding 50, Evans, who also serves as chair of the School of Marketing, explained that this curiosity needs to be mixed with resilience, kindness and a thirst for personal development.

The marketing leaders of tomorrow will need to think deeply about the nature of leadership, considering when to lead from the front and when to create space for others to thrive, said Evans. He also stressed that all development plans should be orientated around people’s passions and build on strengths rather than weaknesses.

“What is your spike? What are you disproportionately good at? What do you find easy that others find really hard? That’s at the heart of your development plan,” Evans advised.

Lastly, he urged the young marketers not to be driven solely by success, but to think about how they can achieve success and significance simultaneously.