Why marketing outsiders are a new necessity

Evidence suggests marketing departments are not just staffed by trained marketers, with data analysts, IT programmers and business strategists becoming essential components of the team and brands actively seeking candidates with varied skill-sets.

The route to career success in the marketing profession is becoming increasingly difficult to chart. The wide range of attributes now needed to succeed, combined with the rising demands placed on the marketing function within organisations, means that more and more chief marketing officers (CMOs) are looking to bring in skills from outside the profession.

Data analysts, IT programmers and business strategists are all in high demand in modern marketing departments, suggesting that traditional marketing career paths are becoming less relevant. Data from Marketing Week’s own Salary Survey, to be published on 29 January, shows less than half of marketers in work now have a recognised marketing qualification.

Mentors from the Marketing Academy, a not-for-profit coaching and scholarship programme, agree that there is a pressing need for CMOs to recruit people with skills and professional backgrounds from outside marketing (see below). However there is also a suggestion that these specialisms should be integrated into company structures that support the traditional role of marketing and brand management.

Philippa Snare, UK marketing director at Microsoft, talks of a “T-bar effect” in which the top of the T consists of generalist marketing leaders who understand all the marketing options available to them and seek to create “useful business outcomes”. The vertical part of the T consists of specialists below senior leadership, potentially from outside marketing, who have the technical expertise needed to carry out the different tactical activations devised by the more traditionally trained marketers.

“As a result there will be deep specialisms that will command high wages, and strong generalist leaders that will be hard to find short-term and highly sought after, as not many marketers have experience in all disciplines,” she predicts.

Marketing Academy founder Sherilyn Shackell advocates having a diversity of skills and experiences in a marketing team. A requirement of becoming a fellow of the Marketing Academy is that the person must have worked in at least one other business function besides marketing, while places on the scholarship are also offered to entrepreneurs or people who joined social enterprises upon leaving university.

“The ability to analyse data is now a critical skill and ‘the customer’ has become a broad term whereby marketers are required to be involved in any function that touches the customer, be it supply chain, product development or customer service,” she adds.

Shackell suggests that certain marketing courses, such as those offered by universities at degree-level, have struggled to keep pace with the expanding role of marketing and the wider set of skills required.

Nick Constantinou, head of marketing at taxi company Addison Lee, trained formally as a marketer at Middlesex University where he achieved a first class degree in business studies and marketing. From there he moved to roles at Deloitte and IBM before taking on a series of project management positions at digital services company AKQA. He has also held roles at creative agencies McCann Erickson and Collective London, but his current role at Addison Lee, which began in September last year, is the first client-side marketing position of his career.

Constantinou says that his extensive experience in project management has proved to be a great help in his current position. “The ability to deliver on time, within budget and to a high standard is important in any job, but particularly in marketing given that the number of touchpoints that brands have to connect with people is continuing to increase,” he adds.

Shortly after joining last autumn, Constantinou oversaw the roll-out of Addison Lee’s biggest ever marketing campaign, which included outdoor advertising in London and a new website and apps. The company, which is seeking to raise brand awareness and extend its reach with consumers, is in favour of bringing a diversity of skills and professional backgrounds together in its marketing department in order to inspire creativity.

“Variety is the spice of life,” says Constantinou. “It’s the secret sauce that ensures a team is passionate, innovative and delivering world-class work. You don’t get that with people who are all from the same background, all thinking the same way.”

This view is shared by Greg Lawson, managing director of Columbus Insurance Services.

“We need people with very good attention to detail,” says Lawson. “I’m not saying that marketing people don’t have that but I think it’s important to have people who can proof-read everything carefully and check the detail, whether it’s press articles, your website or your terms and conditions.”

Lawson himself took on much greater responsibility for marketing and brand management when he moved to his current role. He began his career as a Lloyd’s insurance broker and later became commercial director of a travel insurance intermediary before moving to Columbus in 2011, where he now has responsibility for growing the brand across multiple new lines of insurance.

This oversight of the marketing operation has required Lawson to develop his technical understanding of different areas such as search engine optimisation and content marketing and to assign tasks to both in-house marketers and agencies.

“The thinking when I joined [Columbus] was that I had a very rounded understanding of the industry,” notes Lawson. “Having previously worked in a small, independently-owned business, I had lots of exposure to all the claims and complaints that customers make. It was an asset that I could use that understanding to sell our services and to try to counter those complaints.”

Jonathan Gabbai, head of international mobile product at eBay, has similarly had to work on his understanding of consumers. He has a degree in aerospace engineering and has previously worked in a range of technical roles, including as a research engineer for BAE Systems. Since joining eBay in 2006 he has developed his marketing skills and knowledge of consumer behavior while simultaneously applying his extensive experience in product engineering to help improve the brand’s offer to customers (see Q&A, below).

Other marketers, such as Linzi Boyd, have achieved success with no qualifications. After working in retail from age 15 she went on to launch the footwear brand Stride and communications agency Surgery, and published her first marketing book, Brand Famous, last year.

She says: “Businesses are looking for people who are innovative and can create a gap in the market to launch and scale a brand. That’s why companies are bringing in people from places they might not necessarily have done in the past.”

Sarah Speake

“Marketing leaders need to be qualified, but should surround themselves with a complementary mix of creative innovators, storytellers, data geeks and insight gurus. We could learn from other disciplines who wrestle less with perfection, are less risk-averse and deploy their go-to market strategies at pace.”

Philippa Snare

“We need more market analytics, financial analysts, project manager capabilities and sales leadership to drive data and direct business. More people making decisions and auctioning them online means that marketing’s role has become a direct sales engine at scale and as such we need less creativity and more analytical capabilities.”

WMS Keith Moor


“Skills acquired in management consultancies from the age of, say, 21-27 are perfect. The principle of dropping in people deep to learn very quickly is incredibly useful. It teaches the ability to consume new info quickly, establish relationships and solve problems at pace.”


QA Jonathan Gabbai

Marketing Week (MW): Your background and training is in aerospace engineering. How has this helped you in the world of ecommerce?

Jonathan Gabbai (JG): With any kind of engineering discipline it’s about being an all-rounder: critical thinking, problem solving, the ability to be analytical, and working with people from many disciplines. Aerospace engineering also introduced me to avionics and the importance of interface design between pilot and machine which had a large influence on my current role. How you convey information to a customer in a simple way is at the core of a product manager’s job.

MW: Have you had to develop your understanding of consumers during your time at eBay?

JG: Yes, I think it’s critical that you understand your customer and it’s something you have to continually work on. You do that by being the customer. It is very important that you trade on eBay, use PayPal and the other eBay services, and talk to customers by sitting in on customer support calls. This is a huge part of eBay company culture; from the CEO downwards you will repeatedly hear the phrase ‘be the customer’.

MW: What sort of people do you look for when recruiting to your team? Is it good to recruit people from different industries and with different professional backgrounds? 

JG: For a junior role, I am looking for someone who shows self-drive and curiosity: people who worked at start-ups, who have influence on social media or have experience running a website or building an app. I want people who have the ability to do things themselves and the curiosity to try new things and push boundaries.

At a more senior level I am looking for people who can demonstrate that they are ahead of the curve, who are not just following industry trends but setting them. I want leaders in their field who have demonstrated that they can focus relentlessly on the customer.