Talent: Fortune favours the brave in the new marketing world

The wide-ranging skills marketers now need demand a fresh form of career strategy.

Talent: Fortune favours the brave in the new marketing world

The recession is no longer an excuse for career stagnation. Marketing recruitment is recovering as businesses boost their brand teams following the deep cuts they made following the financial crisis.

Some believe corporations overreacted, slashing marketing teams by up to a third in their panic, but now realise that marketing is essential to competing in the new, chaotic, digital world order. This shift is great news for marketers who feel they are stagnating in roles at companies that fail to reward them properly or adapt to change.

However, the recovery is making the war for talent increasingly fierce. Recruiters report a serious shortage of people with digital marketing skills and say employers are issuing very precise job specifications. Only candidates who tick every box will be shortlisted for some roles.

Experience in social media, ecommerce or running a Twitter feed is not necessarily enough to secure the desired marketing jobs. All these skills need to be tempered with an understanding of consumer motivations.


There is a danger that the thirst for digital skills could lead to 'digital natives', who are familiar with these areas but lack a wider business understanding, being over-promoted. That's why many brands look for multi-skilled marketers who have worked across different areas, including digital, and can bring that experience to the essential task of getting closer to consumers.

Pete Markey (right), chief marketing officer at RSA Insurance Group, which includes the brand More Th>n, says service businesses are taking a rounded view of customers and expect marketers to do the same. 'It's all about the customer. There's channel convergence, but customers don't see you in silos of direct marketing, online or call centres - they just see one brand, so you have to organise along customer lines. It's not a linear customer journey like it was 10 years ago, we have multiple touchpoints,' he adds.

When recruiting, Markey looks for marketers with a broad range of experience and skills. 'Fortune favours the brave, so marketers should snap up the chance to work in other parts of the business. Personal development is becoming more important. Your job title says one thing, but you have to widen your skills base,' he says.

This means marketers may have to work in different areas, possibly even deferring a promotion in favour of a stint in a different role. Markey says that when hiring, he would often like to take on two candidates for a role because of their complementary skills. 'If I could combine those two people together, it would be great,' he adds.

Defensive tactics

A tell-tale sign that movement is returning to recruitment is an increase in counter-offers made by employers to stop marketers defecting to other companies. Margaret Jobling, marketing director of Birds Eye UK, who presides over a marketing team of 37, has faced three such situations over the past year. She's offered a marketer a job, they have then tendered their resignation to their incumbent employer, who raises the stakes by offering an instant salary increase.

'If you bring someone in to fill a role, it is going to cost you more,' she says. 'It is a question of how you lock people in to your company quickly. Good people continue to be highly marketable. There are a lot of good people out there, but some are sitting tight and are happy with their lot.'

Jobling has held top marketing posts at Cadbury, where she was director of marketing for Cadbury Dairy Milk, Sara Lee and Unilever. She believes marketers trained in some of the big FMCG companies can be insulated from the realities of the job market, as there are always new waves of talent from graduate recruitment teams ready to fill roles that are vacated. This may create the misleading impression that there is little movement in the profession overall.

Once they leave the company, however, they will be exposed to a highly competitive job market. Jobling believes it may be difficult for some classically trained marketers to move from those cloistered, brand-centred environments, where the most they are expected to know is gross profit, to a hard-nosed, sales-led culture. She cites Birds Eye as a case in point. 'There is an expectation of commercial acumen that they understand here; you need to know the ins and outs of your P&L,' she says.

At the coal face

While some believe that companies are finding it difficult to hire top-class marketing directors, Jobling disagrees. 'It doesn't feel like there is a shortage of marketing directors,' she says. 'The challenge at that level is making sure you've got a good skill set with financial skills, business acumen, leadership skills, experience in insight and trade marketing and a good interface with the sales department and the category. There's a lot of complexity the higher you go. You aren't at the coal face, so you need breadth and depth of experience to have a business and functional perspective.'

While most observers agree that the recruitment market is recovering, there is still residual sluggishness in it, and nervousness among candidates. Paul Sykes, managing director of recruitment firm Michael Page Marketing, says some employers are struggling to fill roles. This is partly because they cannot find candidates with the necessary skills in digital marketing, especially ecommerce. Nonetheless, as recruitment rallies, he believes this will ease as more marketers start to look for new jobs and the merry-go-round of job-switching speeds up. 'Clients are looking for a 100% skills match, but there are slightly fewer candidates around, because talent gaps in certain skills are exacerbated by a lack of confidence,' he adds.

Career trade-offs

Even so, some believe that the big companies are still not doing enough to secure their brightest talent. While major FMCG businesses provide a comfortable and predictable career path, which acts as an anchor, for many marketers at such organisations it seems easier to get a promotion and pay rise by looking beyond their current employer.

Zaid Al-Zaidy, chief strategy officer of TBWA\London and a former Unilever marketer, says: 'People are doing their careers in little sprints rather than a marathon. It is easier to progress outside your company. What suffers are the brands: they lack continuity. There is an opportunity cost - a £10,000 pay rise over here versus an opportunity to improve your CV over there.'

He claims the biggest gap is for the marketing polymath, a honed, modern executive with a complete skill set. One way for companies to develop and retain staff, suggests Al-Zaidy, could be to second marketers to other companies where they can boost their skills, then recall them. 'Unilever could loan brand managers to Virgin Media in return for tech-savvy marketers to help make the staff rounded and fresh,' he says. Of course, such a skills exchange would be difficult to sell in the notoriously competitive hallways of the world's biggest brands.

Despite all this, many recruiters are hungry for marketers who have been graduate trainees at big FMCG companies. Recruiter Moira Benigson, founder of The MBS Group, says: 'What we yearn for is training at Unilever, Procter & Gamble, L'Oreal or Mars - then, digital experience, preferably at an entrepreneurial company, so we have a mix of corporate and small start-up experience.' However, she adds that there is a 'huge shortage' of people with these digital skills who can work in major multiples, predicting that it won't be long before a digital marketer rises to become chief executive of one of the big supermarkets.

Businesses are realising that in a commoditised, crisis-ridden world, a strong brand is a powerful way to mark the difference between success and failure. Marketing is emerging as a route out of stagnation, but the practice is being transformed by convergence, falling demand, heightened competition, rising costs and the need to prove ROI.

Nevertheless, marketers with the right combination of 'soft' branding experience and 'hard' accounting skills are in demand. Even if they don't want to leave their companies, they can use an alternative job offer as collateral to boost their salaries. That's a good situation to be in.


Moira Benigson, Founder, The MBS Group (right)

I used to think that marketers were very extrovert and dynamic, and there was a correlation between that and success, but it is not always the case. Sometimes they are more thoughtful and strategic, and being extrovert is less important. Of course, management skills are essential because you are managing external consultancies such as ad agencies, media agencies, design shops and internet specialists. You need your internal team to be carefully managed.

Ursula Colman, Managing consultant, Brand Recruitment

A chief marketing officer is someone who understands both the traditional and new-media ends of the market. It depends on the industry, but it is an advantage to have good broad skills with professional qualifications, such as an MBA or CIM degree. It is always good to have that mix between theory and practice, and qualifications can you help you get shortlisted for jobs. Gone are the days of the senior marketer who does things on gut instinct and what has gone before. You hear of more marketing directors with a background in customer research. Marketing is increasingly seen as a key driver of how to grow sales in a tough environment, and marketing people on a company board have to be assertive as companies are having to change the way they do things. It is marketing insight that shows the direction of travel, so having a strong personality at board level is important in getting across those difficult messages.

Grant Duncan, European marketing officer, practice head, Spencer Stuart (right)

There is a shortage of high-quality, focused international marketing talent. So what makes a good international marketer? They need financial competence, a focus on data and the ability to communicate and inspire. They may have international exposure from an early age through family - perhaps in the armed forces or a background where they moved around a lot - or through university. You could say it's about having international 'in your blood'. On the personality side, you need to have humility and a low ego, and a willingness to listen and learn about local markets. You need open-mindedness, boundless intellectual and cultural curiosity and sensitivity. The true marketer is constantly wired into what is happening. A global marketer is expected to deliver local nuance, so you need plenty of overseas experience - perhaps three to five years in one market and five in one or two others.

Nicky Stapleton, Owner, Veritas Partnership

Marketers are being asked to be a lot more commercial these days. They get the money for new campaigns if they can prove the return on investment. It is easy to go to an agency and say 'Here is a £3m budget, let's run around looking at photoshoots', but marketers are being asked 'How do you know that promotion is a hit with the consumer and brought more people in to buy the product?' Previously, marketers tended to just do the 'fluffy' stuff; now they are having to listen to the demands of retailers and manufacturers and deal with increasing costs.

It is hard to recruit for some of the innovation and insight jobs, as a lot of marketers don't want to develop a product then hand over the project to a brand team. If you are working on a brand as a marketer, you want to see it through. Chief marketing officers need to wave the flag and get people following them, and they are quite extroverted in terms of creativity. They are action-oriented and intellectual at the same time.

Paul Sykes, Managing director, Michael Page Marketing (right)

Marketing is going through a fast period of evolution with the growth of digital and social media. Businesses have to evolve into the digital age, which requires leadership from marketers. You need the ability to develop people, to make sure you hire, train and develop talent well. The theme that recurs with employers is one of navigating through this period of change. That requires a chief marketing officer to have the ability to lead a department and visualise what it will look like in future. You need to have the vision to take it from where it was five years ago to where it will be in five years.