Is the dearth of marketing talent a myth or a reality?

As a career, marketing holds up well against its nearest industry competitors, but the profession needs to tap into broader trends, writes Fiona Blades.

Fiona Blades is chief experience officer at Mesh and a mentor for Fringe Factory
Fiona Blades is chief experience officer at Mesh and a mentor for Fringe Factory

How often have you heard someone say "I can’t find good people" or "Are we still attracting top talent to a career in marketing?"

These questions are not unique to marketing, however. Four years ago, Finn Raben, director-general of ESOMAR, the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research, invited me to mentor a global young researcher team to see how we attract talent to the industry. Fringe Factory was born. 

Myth or reality?

Eighteen months ago the Fringe Factory board initiated a quest to establish the truth behind the industry perception that it was difficult to attract good, new talent to market research – and that colleagues in marketing, advertising and management consultancy have it easy.

If you start in that field and are computer-savvy, there’s no limit to what you can do in the field of technology

Was this a myth to bust or a reality to embrace? The team collaborated with SSI and InSites Consulting to conduct a quantitative study of 1800 people (50% undergraduates and 50% with up to two years’ work experience) in more than nine countries. And the award for the best overall sector goes to…? It was a tie between computer/ICT and government, with 12% of the votes each. 

Why these sectors? The Fringe Factory board pointed to the ‘PC Generation’: PC for personal computer and perpetual crisis. ICT scored highly on career-choice criteria important to this generation – ‘match your interests’, ‘work-life balance’ and ‘career opportunities’. As one respondent said: "If you start in that field and are computer-savvy, there’s no limit to what you can do in the field of technology." But why government? "Job security. In a struggling economy, government jobs can offer employees a bit more stability. You’ll never get rich, you’ll be comfortable." This is a generation in the midst of a recession. 

Diminishing numbers

Now let’s reframe our field of vision and battle it out between our close, service-industry competitors. How does marketing feature in the mix? Actually, rather well – in a respectable fifth place with 6% of votes, ahead of management consultancy (4%), market research (3%) and advertising (2%).

Russia has 16% wanting to work in marketing with 14% actually working in the discipline

At a global level, of those about to graduate, 69% had chosen a sector and 5% claimed to be looking at marketing, the same for management consultancy, with market research having 3%, and 2% for advertising. But what’s happened to marketing in the UK?

Out of 188 interviewed, not one was looking to work in the industry on graduation and only 1% was actually doing so, despite 26% claiming they’d consider it. By contrast, Russia has 16% wanting to work in marketing with 14% actually working in the discipline.

What should we take from this? A look at what Russia, Germany, the Netherlands and India are doing might be helpful, as all have an above-average consideration of marketing. Maybe they have good courses, better career opportunities or focus on the technological side, like digital marketing.

Overall, marketing is holding up well against its nearest competitors, but the profession needs to tap into the broader technological and social trends that make ICT and government such attractive career options.

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