Young marketers: Budding talents pushing for progress

Ambitious young marketers are rising to senior roles with the aim of effecting change.

Channel 4’s What’s Cooking? From the Sainsbury’s Kitchen launched in February 2013

Marketing leaders of the future must be a diverse bunch with commercial sense, according to Mondelez International and Mars, which have told Marketing Week they are looking to take on graduates with broader business knowledge.

Mars has adapted its management development programme to reflect the number of applications it receives from “entrepreneurial and commercially astute” graduates, says HR director Amanda Davies.

Sarah Ellis, who aged 30 is head of consumer PR at Sainsbury’s, agrees that today’s marketers are best served by gaining diverse experience across different business functions. She advocates thinking about the bigger picture.

“You can do your job in such a way that you’re really focused on the experiences you are gaining. That means thinking about who you are working for, who you are gaining access to and the extra things you can take on that will broaden your experience,” she says.

Ellis began her career at Boots on a business management leadership scheme where she worked on different placements, including being in-store, in the procurement department and in marketing. She went on to work at GlaxoSmithKline and Barclays before joining Sainsbury’s in 2011.

Ellis is a proponent of the ‘70-20-10 learning philosophy’, which means that 70 per cent of a marketer’s learning comes from doing the job itself, 20 per cent is from coaching and mentoring and 10 per cent from more formal learning. “Some people believe that 70 per cent is a bit of a cop-out because it’s basically just doing your job,” she says.

Ellis adds that it is vital young marketers have confidence in their own beliefs and values, particularly when it comes to leading teams or departments. She took on her present role in January and is heading up a number of projects including the new Channel 4 daytime TV series What’s Cooking? From the Sainsbury’s Kitchen.

“When you take on your first leadership role it can feel quite daunting and intimidating but I learned quickly that it was important for me to lead by example,” says Ellis. “That means demonstrating behaviours that I feel are appropriate and that I want to endorse and develop. It also means being credible in terms of your experience and ability to add value.”

The latest TV campaign by continues the story of Lucy and Ben

Other young marketers are already taking on board the idea that they must think bigger than their departments alone. “We need to find common ground to ensure we link marketing objectives with business objectives,” suggested a group from the Marketing Academy, the mentoring scheme supported by Marketing Week, speaking at the ISBA conference earlier this month.

The alumni also called on all marketers to sign up to a series of new commitments for improving their work. This included developing a shared language that would do away with jargon and better demonstrate the contribution of marketing to business growth.

They also want to align profit with social purpose “to ensure our actions speak as loudly as our words”. At a time when the business world is looking for new insights and innovation to help drive growth, young marketers believe the time is right to make their voices heard and show how what they do contributes to wider business purposes.

Ellis is one such professional on a path to broader management, having completed an MBA in 2010. She is also attending a one-week leadership course at Harvard University this year with the help of Sainsbury’s and the Women in Advertising and Communications London Future Leaders’ Fund, which she won last year.

“Both of those courses are not marketing-specific – they’re about general management and leadership,” she says. “That helps to give you credibility because it demonstrates that you appreciate that an organisation is more than just the function that you work in. The more you understand about other areas, the more you can have a good strategic view and understand the levers that you need to pull as a business.”

Bryn Snelson, marketing director at flash sales website SportPursuit, agrees that having a diversity of experience is important for career progression. The 30-year-old began his career as a management consultant before working at dating site eHarmony as part of the launch team for the UK arm of the business. He became marketing director and later UK country manager at eHarmony before taking on his present role at SportPursuit last month.

Snelson says his background in consultancy has equipped him with “a powerful problem-solving and analytical toolkit” and exposure to the financial side of business. But without formal marketing training, he has honed his marketing skills through active learning on the job.

“I think a lot of the marketing skillset is easily learnable – it’s not a maths degree or rocket science, but what it does need is a real thirst for learning all you can,” he says. “That means learning from inside your own business but also from looking at other companies and the campaigns they’re doing.”

Sport Pursuit
SportPursuit’s Bryn Snelson has a consultancy background

Snelson is working on a major growth plan for SportPursuit, which offers cut-price deals on a range of sports labels. The plan includes a target to triple the membership base of the site within a year and a multi-channel marketing strategy aimed at building brand awareness. Snelson says his experience at eHarmony will help him as he looks to grow another online business.

“EHarmony is a nationally known brand and is active in many channels including TV, digital, social and PR,” he adds. “Exposure to brands that are truly multi-channel just accelerates your learning far quicker.”

This ability to ‘learn by doing’ is becoming more important as the number of formal marketing training placements declines. At this month’s ISBA conference, BT Retail boss Gavin Patterson was among those to suggest that the volume of graduate opportunities at FMCG giants like Unilever and Procter & Gamble are fewer than they were 20 years ago. As a result, he said “people need to piece together themselves” the experience they would have gained on a graduate training scheme.

Yet for all the talk of a “shrinking talent pool” there remain plenty of instances of businesses that are willing to invest in the long-term development of young marketers. For example, Jessica Reading joined in 2005 – her first job after university. At that time, the company had around 50 employees and the marketing department consisted of herself and one manager. Today, the business has 750 people and Reading leads a department of 25 as director of marketing and user experience.

Reading, 31, says both good fortune and a strong work ethic have contributed to her quick rise in the company. “It’s been a combination of being in the right place at the right time, as well as sheer determination,” she says. “I’m a perfectionist, I like to be the best in anything I do and I give myself a hard time if I’m not. That has definitely helped me along the way.”

Within 12 months of joining the company, Reading played a key role in relaunching the website and in 2008 she led the business’s first TV brand campaign. This year, she has overseen the launch of a new advertising campaign that continues the story of Ben and Lucy, characters that were introduced to viewers last year.

Reading agrees that being true to oneself, while remaining open to new ideas, is vital for young marketers in senior positions. “When I first started I didn’t know anything about marketing, planning media campaigns or growing a brand but I’ve been through that transition now,” she says. “I suppose the biggest challenge I face from being a young manager is that I’m constantly learning.”

Bryn Snelson

“People don’t expect you to know everything and you won’t – you just won’t have the experience base. People are very flexible and willing to accept that if you’re open and honest, and they will more often than not help you through that. I don’t think it undermines your position if you admit to not knowing something.”
Bryn Snelson
Marketing director, SportPursuit

Jess Reading

“I want to learn from people just as much as people want to learn from me and I like to give people freedom to be able to develop themselves. As a young marketer, you don’t always have a reference point where you can say ‘when I worked in such a place we did this’. That means you have to be willing to learn on the job.”
Jessica Reading
Director of marketing and user experience,

Sarah Ellis

“There’s a danger when you start your first leadership role to try to be someone you’re not and I don’t think that works. I’ve always tried to be true to who I am and what I believe in and set a clear vision for what I’m trying to achieve. That helps to engage people in why that is inspiring and their role in that vision.”
Sarah Ellis
Head of consumer PR, Sainsbury’s



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