Variety can spice up your skills in marketing

Marketers should not feel limited by their roles or industry sectors – secondments and the right training can provide a repertoire of skills that are transferable across businesses.

Adapting to an unfamiliar industry is a challenge that most marketers encounter at some stage in their career. When moving from the coffee industry to cars or from fashion to financial products, marketers must ensure they select the right training tactics to suit the market in which they work.

But gaining diverse experience alongside formal training also allows marketers to learn new skills and consumer insights that are valuable in all business sectors. This is true for Vicki Smith, who is on secondment as sales and marketing director at Bath Rugby Club. Smith was placed with the Premiership rugby union side after her permanent employer, Merlin Entertainments, decided it would be advantageous for her to experience life in a new industry.

“Because Merlin is a big, worldwide company, it is very pro-active in developing staff,” says Smith. She will return to her role as sales and marketing director of Thorpe Park, a Merlin-owned theme park, after her secondment finishes at the end of the Premiership season next March. The placement was facilitated by Merlin chief executive Nick Varney, who is on the board of directors at Bath Rugby.

Although she knew nothing about rugby before the secondment, Smith believes this has been an advantage that has allowed her to focus exclusively on the commercial side of the job. Bath Rugby did not previously have a marketing director so part of Smith’s role has been to introduce a more professional approach to sales and marketing within the club.

When you’re coming up with an idea of what you stand for, you need to involves as many people as possible

“It’s been interesting to see the cultural change,” she adds. “Bath Ruby has one owner – Bruce Craig – and while he is a very successful businessman, he is not from a consumer-facing background. So [bringing] education about marketing and why it’s effective has been a big change for me culturally. We’re seeing the benefits now.”

The secondment has also helped Smith to develop different skills. Instead of promoting roller coaster rides, she notes that she is marketing “living assets” – in other words the rugby club’s players. This requires a different approach to PR whereby Smith must think carefully about how she can generate interest in the club using the personalities and profiles of its players. Her role also requires a more forensic, community-based approach to consumer targeting than at Thorpe Park.

“That’s been one of my biggest challenges – to identify where the potential audience is and attract more youngsters because we need to develop the new generation of Bath Rugby fans,” explains Smith. “The focus is on CRM – far more than in my previous background where it was mass media, above-the-line marketing. Here it is about CRM, social media and our community teams going out and engaging with kids, schools, etc.”

Implementing this strategy has required Smith to oversee internal changes within the club. Managing a team of six people, she has sought to further the development and training of the marketing personnel, as well as encourage a more professional approach to marketing across the organisation. Smith hopes this approach continues under a new marketing director once she returns to Merlin.

“One of the key things I’ve learnt is the need to understand the cultural differences between organisations and the vision of the stakeholders,” she says. “One size doesn’t fit all. If I’m honest, I perhaps thought I could roll out something I was used to [at the start of the secondment] but in reality it doesn’t work like that and culture has a massive affect on how you adapt.”

Elliot Moss, director of business development at law firm Mishcon de Reya, also highlights the importance of an organisation’s internal culture. Since joining the firm from advertising agency Leagas Delaney in 2009, he has worked at building a distinctive brand identity that combines clients’ personal and business needs. Although he does not have a legal background, he believes it is not important as his role involves finding creative solutions to business problems (see Q&A below).

An example of law firm Mishcon de Reya’s short animations used to instil brand values among staff

The firm invests heavily in staff engagement, producing regular newsletters, podcasts and short animated films that inform employees about business developments and remind them about Mishcon de Reya’s brand positioning. Lawyers are given instructions on how to handle pitches for new business and training in how to present the firm’s services when speaking on the phone.

Moss says this level of engagement is important in professional services industries. “When you’re coming up with the initial hypothesis of what you stand for, you need to involve as many people as possible. Your product is the delivery of services from people, so the people need to live the brand.”

Moss has an extensive background in advertising, having worked for Leo Burnett for 12 years prior to Leagas Delaney. He notes that the transition to an in-house position at Mishcon de Reya was made easier by the transferable marketing skills he has built up during his career.

“I’ve always been interested in ideas and strategies that solve problems for business,” he says. “I was never fixed on the solution being a 30-second ad or a poster – I always believed there was a multiplicity of ways of solving problems. Mishcon de Reya has been a delight because it’s enabled me to put into practice all the things that I used to tell my clients that they didn’t always do. I’m now the person behind the levers that we use.”

Moss suggests that marketers can continue to develop their skills by remaining open to new ideas. For example, he encourages his team at Mishcon de Reya to keep abreast of the latest debates and theories in marketing and to undertake formal learning where relevant.

“I’ve got a team of around 28 people and I’m constantly sending them on training courses,” he says. “We also do tutorials where I take seven or eight people and get them to read a book and write an essay and we talk about those things as you would at university. That keeps things fresh and alive – there’s always a new book worth looking at or a new theory coming out of Harvard or wherever. It’s about ongoing learning.”

A secondment at Bath Rugby Club enabled Merlin Entertainments’ Vicki Smith to gain new skills and understand the role of culture on marketing strategy

The recent Marketing 2020 research project, of which Marketing Week is a partner, casts doubt on the extent to which marketers are receiving sufficient training. The survey by consultancy EffectiveBrands finds that around a third of marketers globally receive no formal training. The average is 1.75 days per year (see box).

Donna Cosford, HR manager at restaurant chain Ping Pong, says it is difficult to “blanket train” head office positions within her company. Instead the business takes a bespoke approach to senior management training in which it seeks to support people’s personal development goals.

“A member of the team recently told me that they wanted to get a qualification and would the company help,” she says. “I’ve told them to go away and look at colleges near their home or in town, present a comparison of options and I will then look at what we can do to support them.”

Where the company does run management training courses, it seeks to engage a broad cross-section of employees including office support staff and restaurant chefs. This fits with the company’s wider strategy of cultivating a strong internal culture across the business in which all staff members feel a close connection with the brand.

For example, the company takes regular soundings from employees so they can share their ideas or problems with head office, such as through an internal Facebook page. In addition Ping Pong recently held an event at its Oxford Circus restaurant in London in which senior management figures including the chief executive and marketing director waited on tables and kept the kitchen running while regular staff got the night off.

“Employees can understand the brand all we like and we can train them to do everything but if they don’t feel valued and recognised, it will have an ongoing impact,” says Cosford. “It’s a big, broad picture, rather than just giving them a handbook.”

The training gap

One of the standout findings from the recent Marketing2020 research project is the dearth of training available to marketers within their organisations. The study, of which Marketing Week is a partner, shows that only 25 per cent of people globally believe that the central marketing function within their companies provides other employees with marketing skills training on an ongoing basis. The research, led by consultancy EffectiveBrands, involved a surveyed of over 10,000 marketers and other professionals from 92 countries during summer 2013.

In addition, 54 per cent of UK marketers receive less than two days of formal training per year. This figure rises to 88 per cent in underperforming organisations, meaning those where revenues are growing at a slower rate to competitors.

Jon Iwata, senior vice president of marketing and communications at IBM and a member of the Marketing2020 Advisory Board, believes marketers must work collaboratively across their companies to enhance internal engagement with their brands. Less than a fifth of people currently believe that marketing works closely with HR on ongoing recruitment, retention and development plans, the research shows.

“We’re going to have a much greater degree of collaboration with human resources,” says Iwata. “It will be more than messaging to employees; it will be actually influencing the criteria of hiring, onboarding, management, training, development, recognition and reinforcement – the rituals and practices that define any corporate culture. We will be partners guiding the cultures of our companies.”


Elliot Moss
Director of business development
Mishcon de Reya

Marketing Week (MW): How have you adapted your marketing skills from your advertising agency background to an in-house position at a law firm?

Elliot Moss (EM): My attitude to the world of communications has never changed. My career has always involved integrated communications and I’ve always been agnostic about the channel that you use to find the solution. At Mishcon I have a great canvas where I can use all the things that I believed in theory and can put into practice. I’ve developed those skills to the point where they’re an action rather than something that I used to tell clients to do. It involves the same thing, which is thinking hard about business problems and then applying creative solutions..

MW: Do you believe marketers should continue to undergo formal training in their careers?

EM: I always want to learn, but learning takes many different forms. I’m often asked to deliver a lecture or a training programme and that in itself is a really good learning because it means you have to assimilate all the things you put together, articulate them and coherently take people through them. I don’t think you stop learning. If the principles behind marketing are rigorously taught, then what you’re really doing is applying them in the context of new technology and what’s possible. I think those principles are sometimes forgotten.

MW: How do you ensure that employees of Mishcon de Reya are engaged with the brand?

EM: In the legal sector, you can’t do segmentation like in the FMCG world – we have 5,000 clients at any one time that could range from a person with a grievance against their employer to a multinational about to buy a company. So what we’ve done since 2009 is relentlessly communicate internally how to describe what it is our lawyers offer. We walk them through training programmes to help them rehearse their messaging. That covers what they do, what their practice area does and the message of the firm and is layered in that way. You can never say the same things often enough internally.

The three big challenges

1. Developing knowledge A new job can mean products, customers and industries that marketers are unfamiliar with.

Marketers must first get to grips with what they are marketing and to whom, and understand where their brand sits in the market.

2. Building contacts Marketers moving into an unfamiliar business sector must get to know the agencies and experts who can inform and support their brand strategy. Having a strong internal team is also vital in understanding the brand culture.

3. New technology A change of job can require new skills to suit a particular role. This is daunting when marketers must master unfamiliar technology, but intensive induction training and on-the-job coaching can help to bridge the skills gap.