Dominic Grounsell
May 12, 2016

Why the marketing industry is failing to attract the best and brightest talent

The marketing industry is nothing without the right talent. The global marketing director of Travelex believes we're not doing enough to face up to the massive challenges ahead

Why the marketing industry is failing to attract the best and brightest talent

One of the things that plays on my mind most as a marketing director is talent. Having the right people is obviously critical to our ability to win in our markets.

Given that, I think we have some cause for concern as an industry, as we are facing into some real challenges in terms of our ability to hire the kinds of people we need to drive our businesses and industry into the future.

Over the past 10 or 15 years, the world of business and marketing has changed beyond measure. The rise of the digital economy has driven an explosion of data and new tech and this has completely changed the context in which marketers are operating.

We now find ourselves in a new reality and this is having a direct impact on the composition of marketing departments.

Hiring generalist marketers with traditional "soft" conceptual and qualitative skills like branding, insight and marcomms development remains important, but we now also increasingly need people with 'hard' quantitative and technical skills.

These are the people who can deal with the tsunami of data, the complexity of the analytics and the technical nature of most digital marketing channels. These people typically have backgrounds in science, maths, engineering and computer science, which isn’t typically where most marketers have come from in the past.

Three problems of marketing talent
Over the past 10 years, as I've worked in increasingly data, digital and tech driven businesses, I’ve had to hire more and more of these hard skills people. It's proven to be very difficult. These are not easy people to hire into marketing roles. Across a bunch of painful recruitment drives I have concluded that we our industry is suffering with three key problems. Luckily, they are marketing problems — so we should be able to fix them.

1. Industry profile
The first problem we have is one of brand awareness. We're just not on the radar of these people early enough.

The guys I meet regularly tell me that they weren't courted by marketing businesses or corporate marketing functions at university.

They were approached by consultancies, tech firms, accountancy and corporate finance functions, but never marketing. So from the very earliest point when career choices are being considered, marketing isn't on the radar. It's not seen as meaningful career path.

So... We have an awareness problem.

2. Image problem of the "coloring in" department
The second problem we have is one of brand perception. And this is a problem we have most definitely caused ourselves.

While we all know that marketing is a very diverse and rich function, what do we talk about constantly? Advertising! Creative! We are obsessed with ads and slapping ourselves on the back for this campaign or that.

Now, I am not saying that great advertising isn't important. It clearly is. My issue is that it is far from the only thing we do. I actually spend a very small amount of my time worrying about ads day-to-day.

Like most marketing directors, I am mostly focused on more fundamental areas like strategy, commercials, products and working with the rest of the business to deliver for our customers.

Given that, to only celebrate the advertising part of my job, is like running a marathon and only celebrating the last mile of the race.

The problem with this myopia is that it paints of distorted image of marketing to the wider world. It positions marketing as the "colouring in" team.

The team that cares more about winning a Cannes Lion than getting into the Harvard Business Review. It suggests we aren't commercial and serious and, for people who have no interest in doing ads, it suggests that marketing is a one-dimensional function and, therefore, not somewhere they will be able to find a suitable role.

So we have a brand perception problem.

3. Losing out to the makers
The third and final issue we face is one of brand salience. As I am seeing our industry losing its cache among a lot of the younger, top talent I meet.

Increasingly when I speak to high-potential young people, they don’t want to work in marketing. They want to work in product and develop the next great app or digital service. Instead of wanting to be brand managers, they aspire to be product managers — the guys out there coming up with new ideas and who have the skills needed to conduct all the other functions, including marketing, to launch new digital products and services.

This creative/technical/coordination role was traditionally marketing’s domain, but that is changing. In tech businesses, product managers are often seen as the rock stars.

Beyond the increasing appeal of product roles, I also see a move away from people wanting to follow the traditional marketing paths. The old rite of passage — training as an FMCG generalist — seemingly holds less and less appeal now that so many more paths have opened up.

Many young people I meet don't want to work in a big stuffy corporate with legacy brands. They want to work in cool tech businesses like Google, Facebook and Uber, which, incidentally, are businesses that actually do very little marketing.

If they don’t aspire to bigger tech companies, I am finding that they either work in start-ups, where they have more freedom and more enjoyable cultures, or they want to start their own businesses thanks to the explosion of entrepreneurialism than tech has enabled.

So we have a growing salience problem.

There are no easy solutions to these problems in my view, but it is all our responsibilities to ensure that a career in marketing continues to be the exciting and relevant choice for top talent in the future.

If we fail to find ways to attract the kind of talent that can help us win in a data driven, digitally focused, technology obsessed world, we will be unable to keep pace with changes in the market. We will ultimately be unable to deliver the results we need for our businesses.

Dominic Grounsell is global marketing director of Travelex

Campaign UK

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