Do marketers specialise too early, meaning they lack the skills to step up to boardroom level?

Do marketers specialise too early, meaning they lack the skills to step up to boardroom level?

The Marketing Society Forum: Developing a wide skill-set might provide more opportunities for career development and earn marketing a place at the top table.

Each month The Forum questions members of The Marketing Society on a hot topic. For more on membership, visit


CHRIS FREELAND, Chief operating officer, TMW 

The opportunity to specialise early on varies widely between organisations, but I don't think that doing so makes marketers less of an asset in the boardroom. The specialisms brought to the table are only one important aspect of an individual's contribution - others, such as people skills and operational exposure, are equally valuable and can be developed regardless of how early a specialism has been undertaken.

It is the sum of many parts, both from a collective and individual perspective, that makes a cross-functional team an effective board. There will be no issues as long as the board, as a whole, doesn't lack any specialisms deemed vital at that level to enable the business to operate effectively - and, critically, that the contribution of each board member is valued and respected.


SANJAY PATEL, Marketing strategy and planning director, Heineken

Great marketers run their brands like a business, which means they need to make it their job to understand all areas of the business.

The best senior marketers are analytical, strategic, have strong management skills and can build coalitions within the company to deliver plans. Marketing should sit at the heart of the business, which gives people a chance to get a 360 degs view and interact with all its functions.

Specialising in marketing and developing the skills that you learn by working in a brand-led FMCG business are ideal for providing a platform to operate at board level.


GRANT DUNCAN, European marketing officer practice head, Spencer Stuart

Only a few marketers will make the transition to board level. This is partly because of the lingering perception of marketing as a cost centre rather than an engine of growth and profitability. Compounding this, marketers too often find themselves isolated and far from the core processes, perceived as experts only in brand-building, brand equity and consumer insight.

To be seen as vital to business strategy, marketers need to develop greater commercial awareness and take on more financial responsibilities. They must be willing to test themselves in unfamiliar roles such as sales, supply chain or even finance. These will equip them with the right set of skills and experiences to understand the pressures and challenges that come with the top job and, along the way, to contextualise more convincingly marketing's contribution to business success.


PETE DAVIS, Managing director,

In some businesses, there is a danger of marketers being too wedded to one area early on.

When I joined Nestle I became a commercial graduate, spending my first 30 months working in field sales, account management, category management and on brands. It really benefited my understanding of business; the virtual team's needs (sales, design and production) and other departments' requirements of marketing.

An old colleague once referred to marketing as an "ivory tower". That's changed, but I can say that some of the best marketers I've worked with have come from a wide range of commercial and, in some cases, production and factory roles.

The more exposure you give future managers, in marketing and other departments, the better your chance of building strong senior management via effective collaboration and a solid foundation.


JEREMY ELLIS, Marketing director, TUI UK & Ireland

It depends on the type of business. If it's marketing/brand-led, getting expertise in this field early on - and remaining close to how it is continually evolving - is important to ensure that you have a thorough understanding of the various levers to pull.

Making it to board level in manufacturing and the service industries usually requires a much broader understanding of how the business functions and the diversity of the product offering, to ensure the marketing activity focuses on the most-effective unique selling points. Also, most operationally led businesses tend to look for a proven track record in P&L ownership for the top jobs.


THOMAS DELABRIERE, Marketing director, Mars Chocolate UK

In most of the companies I have worked for, marketers have to develop numerous skills very early on in order to be successful.

It is particularly true of Mars UK, where the role of marketing is to create and lead a culture around growth into the entire business. As a consequence, marketers have to develop and use skills that go well beyond the traditional brand-positioning works or copy developments. They are supported by a collaborative culture where personal development is a key focus area.

From a career perspective, it all starts with the Mars graduate programme, which gives an amazing depth of understanding of how the business operates, the role of marketing and other functions, as well as massive responsibilities in very different areas.

It is the total opposite of specialising too early. I cannot think of a better way to start a career toward board level.

Each month The Forum questions members of The Marketing Society on a hot topic. For more on membership, visit