Marketers your profession needs you

The next in our series Tales from the Front Line, insights from our very own independent marketing specialist and great friend of Sable&Hawkes

I worry about my profession. I worry that we are on a slippery slope to irrelevance. That sounds a bit dramatic, so let me clarify. Marketing has always struggled to be taken seriously by the other parts of the business, ‘It’s all expenditure and no results’, or ‘You don’t understand the numbers’, and everyone’s favourite ‘What are the colouring-in department up to?’… oh, how we laugh at that one.

The thing is, the doubters have a point.

And it’s getting easier to make that point. Just to be clear, none of this will be happening in the big grown-up world of large consumer brands where there are proper budgets, investment in research, a deep understanding of the full marketing mix and an in-built culture that recognises that marketing is an essential function of the business. These guys get it and probably always will. It’s not them that we should be worrying about. No, it’s at the level where most of us mere mortals work that it gets a bit scary. It’s the small business, or the medium-sized organisation, where budgets are measured in thousands not millions and marketers work with over-bearing, know-it-all owner/managers or CEOs … you know who they are.

Both ends against the middle

I am currently at both ends of the recruitment process (that may sound odd, but I am looking for someone to permanently fill a role where I have been an interim appointment, so I need both a job for myself and a brilliant candidate for the role I am leaving) and this exercise in trying to make both ends meet has proved to be a worrying barometer of all that is wrong with our profession.

Let’s start with my job search and Gripe number 1: the kitchen-sink job description. You know the type – the candidate will be a planner and strategist, a competent designer who knows InDesign inside out, a published brand guru, a PR specialist, a digital rock star able to drive SEO and write engaging content for all platforms, an event organiser, a market researcher, a Toyota-level project and logistics manager, and a solver of world peace … all for £25k. And you will do this all on your own as there is no mention of using external experts to help you out. Now a marketing role is varied and tests a number of skills, but to be a massive jack of all trades and master of none demeans our profession. How can you be an expert in all of these distinct fields, especially that of design, and be taken seriously? That’s right, you can’t.

Then to the search for a candidate to fill my interim role and Gripe number 2. People apply who think that writing for social media makes them marketers. We are all content creators these days, of course, which is great, but what happens when the going gets tough, the competitors step up, the economy stalls, legislation changes or customers move on? What do you fall back on then? More blogs? More tweets? Gripe number 1 leads to Gripe number 2. People who do a bit of everything in one role are suddenly the experts going for the next job up the ladder without the required skills or competence. It’s not their fault. It’s the fault of all of us associated with marketing. The world of digital has democratised skills to the point where they are no longer distinctive and, let’s face it, maybe not even necessary. Employers love this because they can now employ one person where before they might have needed two or three.

We’ve had enough of experts (apparently)

My recent recruitment experiences have just added to a growing feeling that marketing at this level is not valued, is wildly misunderstood and is slipping away from being a recognisable professional discipline. Unless we make a stand and re-establish what marketing skills are, what design skills are, what PR skills are and how we should use them, or buy them from someone who is an expert in them, then we are the last of dying breed.

How can we do this? Well we can stand up, we can make the argument that marketing matters, we can get qualified (which is my particular high horse which I will not climb down from but will horribly injure myself when I fall off it), we can mentor, coach, share, encourage, do our bit to make marketing a profession and not some glorified admin exercise, which is where it seems to be heading. Contrary to the current narrative, we do need experts.

Doesn’t the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) do that? Yes, to a point, but I worry about them too. (note to the Editor, this could be the subject of its own rant for a future Rise) They seem to have a detached view that is good at selling courses and encouraging you to buy tickets for conferences, but does very little to raise the profile of marketing or increase understanding of what marketing brings to business success when expertly executed. And the upshot is this article in Marketing Week (maybe show a headline from Marketing Week? Not sure what the copyright issues are?) where once again we have a leading marketer bemoaning the fact that more CMOs don’t go on to be CEOs. This has been going on for years and it doesn’t matter who speaks out, nothing changes.

A call to arms from down under

Our rallying call, shamelessly pinched from the marvellous Jim Jefferies, should be ‘we can all do better’. And by ‘all’, I mean everyone connected to the industry – employers, recruiters, marketers, the membership associations and industry bodies, universities and colleges, and us as individuals. Because if we don’t do more to raise the standards of individuals, increase the understanding of the profession and stop these ludicrous job ads, then what’s the point? Might as well retrain as an accountant.

And yet perhaps I have to face up to the fact that I am the one out of step. Perhaps qualifications don’t matter any more? Perhaps expertise should not be favoured over flexibility. Perhaps the internet and the adoption of social media in all aspects of our lives, plus our changing TV viewing habits mean that marketing isn’t that important any more. We will never be that profession that we so desperately wanted to be. Where’s that AAT course brochure?