The relevance of marketing degrees is much debated across the industry. Is it better to learn the technical knowledge before going into the workplace, or is hands-on experience actually far more enriching? Questions still remain over whether the content of degree programmes is keeping up with the lightning-fast pace of change in marketing.
More than half of marketers (53.8%) say they have not studied a marketing-related academic or professional qualification of any kind. Marketing Week’s 2019 Career and Salary Survey, which questioned 4,415 marketers, shows they clearly find their way into the profession via a wide variety of routes. Just 25.7% have a marketing undergraduate degree as their highest qualification, and 16.3% a marketing master’s degree, diploma or doctorate.
Of those who say they have studied a marketing degree, just 32.2% found it very useful, with 55.9% describing it as fairly useful and 11% not very useful. Similarly, 35.9% of marketers who have studied a professional qualification – whether from the Chartered Institute of Marketing or another organisation – describe their course as very useful, 50.3% fairly useful and 12.6% not very useful.
Chris Chalmers, marketing and digital director at Express Gifts, would expect the number of people who consider their marketing degree very useful to be much higher, especially given how much effort and money they have invested in the qualification.
“It’s 20 years since I did my marketing degree, but I would say it was really useful to me in the early part of my career and gave me a really strong frame of reference,” he explains.
“For me, now, I definitely look back and think my degree was useful, but do I find it useful today? No, my experience is far more useful to me now than the degree that I did all those years ago.”
Having taken a business studies degree majoring in marketing, Sarah Wood, former marketing director for north-west Europe at Edgewell Personal Care, believes greater satisfaction in such courses comes from access to placements in industry.
“I know when I’d had a year at 3M on my marketing industrial placement I felt ahead of those on degrees that hadn’t had that year out. It adds so much – not just about marketing, it’s more about going to work, interacting and the way companies work,” Wood notes.
She explains that a big positive of her degree was the fact that it enabled her to tap into a broad skillset, from retail marketing to law to market research, meaning she felt well qualified to work in marketing, as well as other aspects of business.
Her first job after graduation was as a medical sales rep for GlaxoSmithKline, which Wood felt like she had to do before going into marketing.
“A couple of decades ago, it was almost like you needed to ‘carry the bag’ and go out and get face-to-face with the customer before you could then go back. So in my mind the first jobs I was looking for were sales jobs before I went back to marketing,” she explains.
Experience is what matters, especially later on in your career, according to Nationwide CMO Sara Bennison. She does not actively look to hire marketers with a marketing degree, preferring to find people who have the kind of brain that combines the rational and emotional angles of the job, and have the gift of seeing lateral solutions to business problems.
“I suspect those who take marketing degrees can experience a huge gap between the theory and the reality,” Bennison adds. “While the theory is a useful bedrock for all of us, in real life things are a little more chaotic than the case history may make it appear, which can be a shock to the system for some.”
Is marketing becoming ‘gentrified’?
The Career and Salary Survey statistics suggest that, regardless of subject studied, marketing is an industry of the degree-educated. Just 9.9% of marketers have not studied a degree of any kind. This figure breaks down to 1.9% whose highest qualification is a GCSE or O-level, 6% A-level, 0.4% an International Baccalaureate, 0.1% an Ordinary National Diploma (ONC/OND) and 1.5% a Higher National Diploma (HNC/HND).
As an employer, Chalmers puts a high value on experience rather than looking for marketers with a marketing degree or other qualification. He argues that the low level of marketers entering the profession without a degree is a missed opportunity from an apprenticeship perspective.
During his time as marketing and ecommerce director at Thomas Cook, a role he left in August 2018, Chalmers recalls how the apprenticeship programme created a pipeline of great talent. The apprentices combined a willingness to learn with a real understanding of digital.
“I think there should be more grassroots entry into marketing. I’ve always believed you’ve got to be prepared to get your hands dirty at almost all levels of marketing to truly understand how best to market,” Chalmers adds.
In marketing more than any other department, having a diversity of backgrounds and expertise is the key to success, agrees Stephan Croix, chief sales and brand officer at Pizza Hut Europe. He believes that marketing teams need a mixture of people who are very academic, highly pragmatic or have experience from lots of different fields often only remotely related to marketing.
“I think also the way marketing evolves is really important. Right now the industry is trying to recruit performance marketers and that’s a topic that was probably not taught in a marketing degree five or 10 years ago, yet that is a skill that is really important to have in every department,” Croix notes.
“People are joining the team who are not traditional marketers. There are the data scientists and performance marketers who add a lot of value for the commercial part of marketing, but then psychology is a really interesting field for marketers if you think about understanding the consumer journey, extracting the right insights from consumers or crafting strategy.”
The data reveals that the point at which marketers decide to pursue a career in marketing differs depending on whether they studied a marketing degree or not.
For those with a marketing degree the decision came early, with 22.8% deciding to pursue the career at school. However, it was when they were studying marketing at university that the vast majority (61.8%) of these respondents decided it was for them, compared to 14.7% who were drawn to the profession while employed.
Those who say they have a professional qualification tend to have come to marketing later, with just 10% deciding to pursue a career in the marketing industry at school, compared to 39.7% at university and 41.9% while employed.
Looking at the low number of respondents who opted for marketing as school children, Chalmers sees an opportunity for brands to go into schools and show young people what a career in marketing really looks like, something Marketing Week is currently helping to facilitate via the cross-industry School of Marketing initiative.
“It’s an interesting one for brands to consider how you activate that level of aspiration at grassroots level and school age to build that pipeline of talent,” he notes.
Croix points out that marketing is often a less tangible career prospect for young people to understand compared to professions such as medicine or engineering, where the career path is much clearer.
“Very rarely do you hear a kid say ‘when I grow up I want to be a marketer’, so that also implies that some people need a bit longer to find themselves professionally and understand the passion from a professional point of view,” he adds.
Wood believes it is wrong to assume great talent will just “fall into” the profession and has seen first-hand that exposure to marketing from different business sectors often leads to a real love of the discipline.
She explains how at Edgewell people from the sales team would often cross over to cover maternity leave within the marketing department, which opened their eyes to the true scope of different roles on offer. However, she admits that given marketing is so broad, it needs a PR job if young people are going to understand the discipline better.
“Marketing isn’t one job, it’s hundreds of jobs and actually there can be something that will really suit you whether you are more of a commercial marketer and you’re managing the P&L of a product range, or whether actually you’re doing something more specialist,” Woods adds.
Life beyond marketing
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the data shows that marketers who decided later in life to pursue a career in marketing were more likely to have worked in another profession first. Of those who say they have a marketing degree, 39.9% have worked outside the marketing function, compared to half (50.8%) of those who say they have a professional qualification.
Having previously worked in another profession is a big plus point, says Croix, as cultural diversity, combined with a diversity of skills and experiences, are “absolutely crucial” in marketing.
“Marketing is evolving as quickly as our society because marketing is really about being relevant to consumers,” he notes. “As a marketing team in any organisation it’s important to stay 100% contemporary and aware about what’s going on, and in that respect it’s great to have diversity of people and skills.”
This all plays into the way we approach our careers in 2018. Croix argues that whereas in the past we typically had one career, nowadays people have four or five careers in their adult life. As change is becoming the norm, acquiring transferable skills that could lead you to marketing is crucial. This attitude informs how Pizza Hut approaches recruitment.
“We recruit for the mindset and behaviour and that is really key because we want somebody to be in the business for a long time, somebody who can grow within the culture,” he explains.
“The technical skills are much easier to train up and again marketing changes so fast. So an open mindset to learn and stay curious all the time is almost more important than the technical knowledge you can acquire.”
Chalmers agrees that the cross-pollination of skillsets across different disciplines is essential in marketing, especially as the profession moves further into the digital space. Mathematicians, for instance, who have honed their craft in finance can be powerful marketers by virtue of the science needed in some of the new emerging channels, he explains.
Marketing has a broad catchment of potential talent because it is such a diverse industry, says Wood, who believes it is a real advantage if marketers are able to pick up additional experience along the customer journey.
“It’s almost like the brand funnel going from awareness down to advocacy. If you’ve got experience anywhere along that then that’s brilliant, whether it’s in market research or insight, or sales where they understand about taking the marketing message to the retail customer and making it work in store,” she suggests.
With careers now stretching over multiple decades, whether you studied a subject-specific degree or came into marketing from another profession, diversity of thought and transferable skills are the key to longevity.