Why your recruitment needs to adapt

84% of companies lack marketing talent, so new career paths must be found.

The rise of technology and data in marketing is creating a need for new types of marketer, new strategies for recruitment and new pathways into the profession. They are needs that aren’t currently being met, according to new data from recruitment company Roberts Walters, which finds that 84% of businesses are experiencing a marketing talent shortage, 81% say marketing applicants lack the right skills and nearly a third are unable to meet client expectations as a result.

As Unilever chief marketing officer Keith Weed argued at The Advertising Association’s LEAD conference earlier this year, it is no longer just young creative professionals who see marketing and advertising as their natural career choice.

“Getting great people in is a huge challenge. If you can’t get great people, you won’t do great things,” he said. “When I started all the great creatives went into advertising but not anymore; we need to find new ways to engage.”

Is there a traditional route in?

A number of today’s senior marketers entered the discipline without a traditional marketing degree or training, but what has changed is that while they were probably exceptions when they began their careers, now it is no surprise to see marketers coming from a diverse range of educational backgrounds. According to data from Marketing Week’s annual Salary Survey, published in January, only 44% of the UK’s marketers now have a recognised marketing qualification, with 55% intending to take one while already in work.

“I got into marketing by accident, as a number of people probably did,” says Alison Orsi, vice president of marketing, communications and citizenship at IBM UK and Ireland.

HomeAway’s CMO says it is important for marketers to build a solid foundation that gives them the right attitude towards learning

Orsi studied geography at university and took an administrative job at IBM before leaving to travel, and returned realising she could combine these interests in a marketing role. However, a formal qualification in marketing was needed before Orsi could join the team and she was advised to take a course at the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM). She followed this up with a master’s in business administration (MBA).

Recruiters could therefore be limiting their companies by seeking out just applicants with business-related degrees and conventional marketing training. Orsi also believes that education doesn’t end at employment and says that in order “to be successful as marketers we have to be prepared to continually update our skills”.

This is a mindset that Digital Cinema Media’s (DCM) marketing director Zoe Jones adopts in her role. Coming from a history degree with a passion for media, Jones took on marketing roles where she gained journalism qualifications and continues to merge marketing and communications at DCM.

Jones joined the company at a time of “digital transformation”, she says, and so uses her skills for the task at hand. “I don’t think you are ever too old to learn new tricks. I’m not a digital native but I am quite proud that I have kept digital-savvy and I can’t let that go for a second.”

A point that Weed at Unilever hinted towards is the increasing need for science and technology backgrounds in marketing in order to get a handle on data and marketing technology – not attracting creatives. However, this does not mean that marketing departments should not be looking for a creative spark in the scientists they hire.

Zoe Harris, group marketing director at Trinty Mirror Group, completed a chemistry degree at university but believes that her technology and science background lends itself well to the marketing discipline.

Harris says: “Science is all about a hypothesis. You have to be strict in how you try and prove something but there is also an elementary level of lateral thinking. If you look at scientists in general the breakthroughs that they make come from a creative thought or spark.

“Even before we were in the digital age, being able to prove, and prove in different ways, that a campaign was working and what level it was working at has always been part of what marketers have had to do,” she adds.

Alternative educational routes could prove valuable to the marketing industry. Mariano Dima, chief marketing officer of holiday rental company HomeAway, is an engineer by vocation as he “always liked to build things as a young boy”, and believes marketing also satisfies this urge through designing and building products and propositions.

The London School of Marketing recognises that it takes more than marketing qualifications to have a successful career

Over his 20-year career he has has been responsible for helping Levi’s to expand beyond its 501 jeans to become a retail brand, launched contactless payments for Visa and held marketing roles at major corporations including PepsiCo and Pentland Brands, which owns Hunter and Speedo.

“When you start in engineering you start to understand how to build products from end to end,” says Dima.

Dima’s informal education in marketing started in the working world. “You understand how businesses works when you are exposed to challenges,” he says. “I don’t think there is any degree that explains everything in your role.”

Dima believes that marketing is about building a solid skills foundation which gives you the right attitude to learn and the stamina to face challenges. Jennifer Cheung, head of marketing at Mind Gym, also finds that most learning in the professional sense comes from outside school, but also believes that the education system should teach young people what to expect from the world of work.

“Politicians say the softer skills, such as getting on in work life, should be taught in schools. It is all about how you navigate office politics and professional conversations, and use skills that are going to help you get on in a working environment.”

The increasing volume of publicly available thought leadership and research is another reason that marketers who are self-taught in the principles of the profession can now succeed, says Chueng, who predicts that this pattern could continue for millennials. “Learning doesn’t come from a classroom anymore – learning is blended. Depending on their self-motivation that is how they will learn best as well,” she says.

However this style of learning marketing skills on the job requires flexibility from employees, as the marketing profession is getting more complex thanks to proliferating online media platforms and connected devices. The need for flexibility and discipline is therefore more important, according to Jacques de Cock, faculty member at the London School of Marketing.

De Cock says professionals need to prioritise “the ability to change as your market changes, as competitors change and what you have to do in your job role changes” and adds that a marketer “is not someone who wants to find the best way of doing things and relax by doing that time and time again”.

Despite offering structured courses for professionals looking to gain marketing qualifications, the London School of Marketing recognises that these alone won’t equip someone for a career.

“Where education is structured, working life isn’t necessarily,” says de Cock. “[Courses] give you one thing to do at a time. In real life, everything gets intermingled and it’s more complex and confusing.”

IBM, among other brands, has worked with the Government and training company e-skills UK to launch a digital marketing apprenticeship

However, for a marketer, an education in the dynamics of the business you are in is invaluable. HomeAway’s Dima learned while at Levi’s that as a marketer there is a need to understand all business dynamics – including products, pricing and distribution. Experience of other markets also provides an education for marketers that can only be learned from doing the job.

Dima adds: “The core skills and capabilities that you want from a marketer are about understanding the role, country and town, the differences of cultures and how customers engage with communications and products in a different way.”

Jones at DCM adds: “Having different experiences in different-sized companies can really help marketers evolve. The challenges are very different as I have had the experience of working on a lot of big business pitches and working really closely with the sales teams.”

This also taught Jones that marketing and sales needs to be aligned. “It’s really critical that they work closely together. Ultimately every company wants to make money and if you don’t understand where sales are coming from you’re not a good marketer.”

Creative versus analytical

The question remains, though, which skills are most vital for marketers to have in today’s industry. Are creatives and analysts merging into one hybrid role? Is there still tension between the rational and emotional aspects of marketing strategy?

De Cock at The London School of Marketing says: “The ability to review, adapt and be very results-orientated rather than purely creative will become slightly more important.”

Marketers increasingly need to have the ability to look at numbers and derive insights from to which to devise a strategy or adapt an approach. “You can only get a good online marketing strategy by trial and error. You can’t define one on a piece of paper, you have to go out there and interact with people and get feedback. If you’re not a little bit analytical you’ll get overwhelmed by it,” says de Cock.

But the creative side is still needed; after all, “you can have the best data in the world but then come up with the dullest campaign”, says Orsi at IBM. “It’s about balance. Whoever has the best algorithm and can use it in the most compelling way to provide the best experience is going to win.”

Orsi believes the marketing industry “absolutely needs to continue having creatives” because marketers still need to be able to surprise and delight customers and to be able to tell stories, but she admits that perhaps the way they do that is changing. “We want to be able to tell creative stories using data and perhaps it’s less about a great strapline but more about designing a great experience,” she says.

Cheung at Mind Gym adds “It isn’t necessarily going to be a role for just the maths or the science grads, because you’re not just crunching data. You are mastering the technologies to help you make sense of that data, so you still need the human ability to define what the data is going to help you do and make better decisions. You are still going to have to create and craft something for the market.”

Data will therefore provide a platform for a new kind of creativity. What is important to balance this is a data-driven approach with market instinct based on experience, according to Dima.

There is no longer a typical route into marketing for people who have these abilities, and although qualifications are useful to give marketers a structured approach to the industry when working life starts, a flexible attitude is needed to keep up with the changing discipline.

Dima says: “The [marketing] profession is richer now that it was before – there are more tools to understand how things perform but creativity is important to cut through the clutter.”

Cultivating the right skills

Finding young candidates with the ability to succeed in the modern marketing profession is no longer simply a matter of taking on impressive, creatively minded graduates and then training them up in the principles of marketing.

Marketing requires more numerate professionals and those with technical skills such as engineering and computer science, so employers also need to think about how to encourage people into marketing from these backgrounds, as well as promising youngsters who don’t take traditional educational routes.


Apprenticeships are a method of appealing to young people who are unlikely to pursue higher education but may still possess the skills and attitude to succeed in a marketing career.

The government has just launched a digital marketing apprenticeship framework, devised in partnership with training company e-skills and brands such as IBM and Procter & Gamble, with several companies now offering these. It adds to existing apprenticeships in general marketing disciplines.

Educational materials

Developing your own syllabus for use within the education system can encourage students to develop skills relevant to the marketing profession, and to see marketing as a potential career. Through its Curriculum Pathways programme, for example, software and analytics company SAS awards qualifications to university and school students in areas such as computer programming, business analytics and data mining.


One way to increase awareness of the careers open to young people is to take part in activities centred on schools. The Feeding Britain’s Future scheme does this by organising site visits, and CV and interview mentoring sessions. In 2014, the programme lasted for the whole month of September, with food and grocery businesses such as Unilever, Mondelez and Tesco participating.

Skill requirements change because no profession and no industry ever stays still. If you think about how marketing has changed, being able to understand a customer as an individual has moved to being able to understand that customer as an individual in context.

You have to have multiple skills but you should have something that is your unique selling point, something that you stand for and stay true to while continuing to grow. You are never too old to learn new tricks. I’m not a digital native but I am quite proud that I have kept digital savvy and I can’t let that go for a second.

Marketers need to be self-motivated and self-managed because a good marketer has to not only plan and do but also review. A good marketer will treat every advert as an experiment and from the result he or she adapts what to do. The ability to review oneself, to be constantly on the look out, intellectually curious and to evolve all the time are important characteristics.

Obsession about customers is important in the sense of really understanding them and getting to know their motivations at a level where you start to drive business transformation because of it. Marketers need to understand and nurture customers to build a long-lasting relationship.