Spotlight: Overcoming marketing’s image problem

Spotlight: Overcoming marketing’s image problem

With an increasing number of roles, and more specialisms than ever before, are marketing teams on the path to a skills shortage? Worst still, might they already be in the midst of one?

Marketing is a profession that has to contend with — and keep abreast of — continuous waves of change and advancement. However, under that swell of change is a constant drum beat: ensuring people have the core skills they need to deliver the marketing the business deserves.

The issue is one of the most hotly debated topics, with the press, leading trade bodies and marketers up and down the country all voicing their opinions on it on an almost daily basis. So, on 28 January, CIM hosted a debate at the House of Commons to discuss the motion: ‘The marketing sector is heading towards a skills crisis’.

The debate, attended by over 200 industry leaders, recognised that marketing is an increasingly competitive sector, with marketers needing to master more skills than ever before. However, ensuring your own skills, as well as those of your team, is no small feat. The marketing function is under pressure to demonstrate its value, whilst the organisational lines between departments are blurred as technology advances, customer expectations increase, and Brexit throws out questions as yet unanswered.

However, with four and ten school leavers interested in a career in marketing, it might be that it is not an issue of having too few people. As Gemma Butler, marketing director at CIM, proposed on the night, “In its quest to keep up, marketing has only succeeded in creating more confusion and more roles than it needs, which has driven a perceived need for more skills.

“In most cases, organisations do not know or define the role they want marketing to play, and therefore the roles and skills needed to deliver against the strategy and objectives,” she continued. “How can we declare a skills crisis when we do not know what skills we need?”

Nevertheless, for Richard Kenyon FCIM, director of marketing and communications, Everton Football Club, it is telling that only 5% of UK marketing directors sit on the Board of FTSE 100 companies. He argued that this is not due to an irrational bias on the part of chairmen and CEOs, who might believe that marketers are not good enough to be in the room. Rather, this has become a reality “because there are not people within their business demonstrating the value, or – if we are being blunt about it – deserving to earn a seat at the top table.”

If this is the case, it seems a total repositioning of the marketing function might well be necessary – in both Boardrooms and classrooms. “If young people – millennials and younger – saw our profession as the creative, digital force which works across all business units to bind diverse departments together and lead business growth – as it should – then we would be in a much better place,” Kenyon concluded.

Also proposing the motion, Russell Parsons, Editor of Marketing Week, cited their recent career and salary survey, which found more than half of marketers (53%) say they have not studied a marketing-related academic or professional qualification of any kind. A couple of years ago, it asked people whether they thought it necessary to have a qualification of any kind. Only 43% agreed.

Indeed, Parsons suggested that lack of appreciation of formal training and skills is the cause. He proposed that marketing is not just about bravery, curiosity and boldness: “It is about having commercial acumen, understanding of profit margins and gross margins. You need training to understand this. It is the way we all improve and ultimately move the discipline of marketing forward.”

Opposing the motion alongside Butler was Michelle Carvill FCIM, author and founder of Carvill Creative. She pointed out that 13,500 students – which includes both students and studying marketers in role – took CIM assessments last year. However, to try to control the requirement for training or introducing a ‘license to practice’, would be a mistake in her view: “Marketers take their expertise into the fabric of organisations, not necessarily as a label associated with the marketing department nor as a traditional linear function.”

Uncertainty – not just over the role marketing plays within the business, but also externally, as organisations navigate disruption in the face of Brexit uncertainty – certainly seems to plague the marketing function. However, as Butler concluded, “Uncertainty has not caused the marketing profession to crumble, but conversely to strengthen – to build more competence, more skills, more job roles and opportunities, and to embrace digital technologies.”

As the delegates at the debate upheld, it is time to stop re-branding marketing, and instead start redefining the role that marketing plays in delivering business growth.

CIM is a member of the Debating Group, which has been holding debates in the House of Commons since 1975, bringing marketers, politicians, journalists and the public together to discuss topical issues that surround marketing. To gain access to events such as this, find out how you can become a member of the world’s largest professional marketing body now.

CIM Ally Lee-Boone
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