Take the right course of action

The pace of change, especially in digital technologies, means marketers must update their skills on a regular basis.


Marketers used to agonise about what time of day to send emails to customers and the effectiveness of their online banner ads, but the world of five years ago was remarkably simple compared to today’s increasingly fragmented media landscape.

Marketing teams now have to grapple with marketing automation platforms, retargeting techniques and mobile devices of varying shapes and sizes, while consumers, increasingly, demand a seamless multichannel experience.

It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that most marketers only feel somewhat confident about their skills standing them in good stead for the next three years. According to the IDM’s research carried out in conjunction with Marketing Week, 57 per cent say they could improve or acquire new skills.

“It will be tough times ahead if marketers do not upskill,” warns Gracia Amico, global ecommerce director at fashion retailer Hobbs, who stresses the fast-pace of change.

“Pay-per-click and search marketing are very technical, and both social and content marketing are so important now, because they are how you get [high up] in search results. Marketers need to learn more,” she explains.

Amico bemoans the fact that marketers at the fashion retailer are separated, physically, within the office, with a clear online or offline split. “I previously worked at Arcadia and it was the same there,” she says. 

It’s good to network and to see what other people are doing. That can inspire you to take a different action

She tries to mentor her team members, who tend to be quite inexperienced , “to take them on a journey”. However, she notes that those who take the initiative for their own training requirements really stand out.

James Lawton-Hill, head of marketing at printer manufacturer Brother UK, agrees that mentorship is key for marketers who want to get ahead and stay ahead. Especially so, he says, when you consider the fact that some marketers receive little or no formal training.

Lawton-Hill has a team of 23 and says that, when it comes to a first managerial post, in particular, a mentor can be invaluable. “You do need to learn from your peers,” he says. “Having at least one or two mentors is priceless, whether they come from within the company or are external. They can teach you things that you can’t learn from a textbook.”

Flybe’s former director of marketing Simon Lilley also believes that “nothing can replace the reality of working with a brand” – no matter how much technical training a marketer chooses to undertake. And he adds that his is the voice of experience, having travelled up the career ladder partly via the route of taking qualifications.

“We all have to work in a fluid environment, with rapidly changing consumer behaviour,” he says. “Yet many junior marketers enter marketing teams from other departments because it is deemed as perhaps the sexy and exciting place to be in a company, and they arrive with no formal marketing training.”

Person-to-person training is key at Fox’s while Avaya (below) uses three dimensional avatars for some training initiatives

This opinion is backed up by research from Effective Brands, which finds that 37 per cent of UK marketers, more than one in three, receive no formal training. “Most marketers overestimate their skills and don’t keep up-to-date with training, even in the basic skills,” claims Chris McElligott, head of marketing at UIA Insurance. Using the analogy of the medical profession, he says: “You wouldn’t want to be operated on by a doctor who had not been trained.”

McElligott believes that the average marketer does not understand the nuances of traditional direct marketing techniques, let alone search engine optimisation and pay-per-click. But he says that, with a wealth of information available online for free or little cost, his team is encouraged to keep abreast of current trends by reading articles or seminal textbooks on marketing issues. However, he is clearly a believer in the power of formal training courses, too, and notes that two of his team are currently studying for IDM certification, while another is starting a CIM course.

Yet many marketers say that, when making hiring decisions, it is experience – or lack of – that is the potential deal-breaker, no matter how good a candidate’s qualifications may look on paper. This is a common complaint of graduates in today’s intensely competitive jobs market, especially for aspiring marketers looking for their first job in the field.

So, increasingly, training is about staying in touch with the wider marketplace, trends, and technical advances, and taking the initiative wherever, and whenever, possible. Fiona Lomas, brand controller at Fox’s Biscuits is another believer in seeking out person-to-person training or mentorship.

“If you see a natural influencer or presenter, but you’re not great at presenting, look to someone who is and ask them for some time, ask about their tactics,” she says. “And always look at what the competitors are doing too.”

But she admits being concerned about what she terms “the five-year skills challenge” for her own career. “I’m an ambitious person,” she says. “My five-year plan is to try to get to board level. And there are places in the hierarchy where you have really got to take a leap and make a mental step change.”


She says that her approach is to make pockets of time for ongoing learning, and that she subscribes to news feeds relevant to her job, while leaning on her agencies for support. “The agencies have come on leaps and bounds in digital. It can be siloed client-side,” she says, echoing Amico’s concerns about marketing teams that are structured in a way that fails to reflect today’s multichannel, and increasingly digital, landscape.

But while the pace of change in terms of technology is in some ways making marketers’ lives more difficult, it is this same technology that can help organisations to deliver effective capability programmes, or “learning interventions” as they are known at accountancy firm Deloitte. For instance, it operates an internal social network and marketers are encouraged to post interesting or thought-provoking articles on the internal, educational resource.

Annabel Rake, Deloitte’s brand and marketing director, stresses the need to take a structured approach, pointing out that structure and discipline are critical given that the firm has a team of around 120 people in marketing in the UK.

“We have identified that we need to upskill some people in terms of digital transformation,” she admits. She also points out the value of secondments to ‘stretch’ people, noting in particular the importance of the area of client care, which is critical in the professional services arena. For this reason, she values being a member of PM Forum, a membership community developed specifically for professional services marketers.

And, while Rake says that Deloitte offers training in classrooms as well as ‘lunch and learn’-style interventions, Claire Macland, vice-president, international marketing, at business communications systems provider Avaya, adds that it is important that marketers recognise that training does not always have to take the well-trodden path of classroom-based learning.

Even an informal conversation with a more senior colleague can be a form of training, while the use of particular skills on a day-to-day basis is also a means of keeping up-to-date and should be related back to an individual’s personal development plan wherever possible, to point this out, she says.

Macland also notes that working in a large company and one equipped with state-of-the-art technology can help to leverage training initiatives at scale, noting in particular the value of video conferencing and its ability to bring colleagues together from different geographies. Avaya also uses three-dimensional avatars for some training initiatives, making the most of its status as a networking technology provider, and enabling global teams to come together in a setting as close to real-world as possible – without incurring travel costs.

Macland agrees that today’s marketers may be guilty of over-estimating their skills. “If you look at the whole area around social, the impact of technology on marketing, marketing automation and digital marketing, these areas are very fast moving,” she warns. Macland believes that “no company spends enough time” on developing initiatives to ensure that employee skills-sets are kept up-to-date.

There’s a lot of free knowledge out there: programmes, seminars, networks… explore all routes as 8 out of 10 times there’s a free or low-cost solution available

Jeremy Brook, global lead for digital strategy and media innovation at Heineken, says that the brewer has started leveraging high quality TV show formats produced specifically for training purposes, which feature guest speakers. He says that this is a format that can be “flexed”, in that it can be viewed on mobile devices and posted on the intranet. Brook claims that, as such, it is well worth the production cost. “It’s about walking the talk as a principle, investing in content,” he adds.

At Heinz, integrating training initiatives into the day job is one of the key pillars of capability development, according to Colin Haddley, director of strategy, insight, capability and marketing services at Heinz Europe. He believes that seeking tangible outcomes is the key to success with training and the food giant has been working with marketing capability specialist Realise to develop bespoke training ‘missions’. 

He notes that, having run five such missions over the past two years with the Heinz UK marketing team, he has received consistent feedback with regards to what marketers value in terms of training: learning that can be applied on the job, simple tools and templates, and examples and case studies.

But Haddley does also warn that it can be easy to invest a lot of time in developing content that may actually “overburden” its audience. “Concentrate on how it will be used,” is his advice. “Seek to create habit.”

Of course, certain sectors will necessitate a greater emphasis on the development of specific or highly technical skills sets. For Naresh Chouhan, UK marketing director at global mobile network provider Truphone, which is entirely business-to-business (B2B) focused, there is an overemphasis on the ‘softer’ skills in marketing training. “I believe marketers should be able to code and to handle [CRM platforms] Salesforce, Eloqua, and SAS,” he says. “Particularly in service-oriented businesses. That is a big ask but it is fundamental to how marketing is done now.”

He points to “simple A/B testing” as an example of a technique he believes all marketers should be well-versed in, noting by way of example, that Truphone releases a new version of its website every week and runs different versions of a campaign according to which messaging proves to be most powerful. “Previously, that took ages and would delay time-to-market. For me, the learning comes from trying things out and reiterating quickly,” he says.

Of course, the B2B sector tends to involve a particularly complex and multi-layered path to purchase, but it is also the case that today’s consumer landscape is increasingly fragmented and the worlds of B2B and B2C are merging closer together. Within this context, those marketers who are not receiving any formal training may have to take it upon themselves in 2014 if they want to stand a chance of keeping up with the pace of change.

Case Study


All marketers at Asda go through a bespoke CIM course that is designed to bring theory to life with a series of real-life Asda examples about how to – or how not to – deliver marketing communications.

Head of social Dominic Burch says that the aim of the programme is to deliver something practical as well as theoretical. “Rather than a generic course, we have designed something tailored to Asda but which also offers accreditation at the end,” he explains.

“There’s one all-day session on digital, and one element of this is social, which I deliver.”

So, for Burch, formal training is helpful but it should be combined with practical, down-to-earth information that can help marketers attach theory to their day job.

He also says that he finds going to industry conferences can help to ‘calibrate’ his thinking. “It’s about having a healthy paranoia and it’s good to network and to see what other people are doing. That can inspire you to take a different direction.”

He admits that, with Asda being owned by American retailer Walmart, regular trips to the US have been a benefit in terms of keeping his knowledge up-to-date.

“The US guys are six to 12 months ahead in some areas,” he says. “In California, there is an attitude that anything is possible and some of the conferences there are really inspiring. The challenge is to action the insight.”


Keith Moor
Chief marketing officer

Business training departments can be very traditional. Organisations can get really twitchy when it’s not an MBA or something that is in the technical training box.

But the value I see is in allowing people to become better leaders and managers. Marketers often sit at the centre of an organisation and it’s important for them to learn how to involve people, but to stay resilient too.

Now that I have a team of 75, the difficult bit is adding the magic. It’s about the way you think and being able to bring people with you. Marketers are not just order takers.

In 2008, training budgets were squeezed very quickly. My budget went down and has not come back up since – and it’s the same with the marketing budget.

So there’s more impetus on the individual. But there’s a lot of free knowledge out there: programmes, seminars, networks. My advice is to explore all routes as eight out of 10 times there’s a free or a lower cost solution available.