Friday 18 October 2019

John McGee: 'Education shake-up can boost marketing's results'

Core CEO Alan Cox. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Core CEO Alan Cox. Photo: Steve Humphreys

John McGee

You can count on two hands the number of directors of Irish-quoted companies with practical hands-on marketing experience. If you trawled through a list of directors of the thousands of privately-owned companies, you may even struggle to fill a page in an A4 notepad.

Given the hugely important role that marketing plays in delivering growth for companies and their brands, this boardroom marketing deficit is somewhat troubling.

Many Irish and international surveys and conferences over the past 10 years have sought to shed light on the numerous challenges facing the marketing profession and how it is perceived internally and externally. Others have focused on why marketers have failed to get their feet firmly under the boardroom table, while some have looked at the shifting balance of power among senior management within many organisations. Whatever the reasons, it would appear that marketing has a problem.

A global survey carried out in 2012 by the Fournaise Group, for example, found that 75pc of CEOs believed marketers lacked the ability to generate growth for their companies. More worryingly, 80pc said that they didn't trust marketers, yet 91pc said they said they trusted their chief financial officer and their chief information officer.

Some of the more common threads that have emerged from the different surveys and debates in recent years revolve around the need for marketing needs to embrace the language of the boardroom, regain some of its business credibility, recognise its value in driving business growth while at the same time championing the customer at every turn.

No pressure then.

Against a background of sweeping changes in consumer behaviour, seismic shifts in how their marketing budgets are being spent and a flood of 'martech' solutions to ponder and keep up with, is it any wonder that many marketers are swamped and that the average shelf-life of a marketer in the same job is between two and three years?

Another common thread that has emerged in the wider debate has centred on the role education and, in particular, continuing professional development (CPD) should play.

"Marketing practitioners on both the client and agency side do important work that often succeeds, but many people in the industry are not trained to know why, nor are they skilled to build a business case for their marketing campaigns in the first place," says Alan Cox, CEO of Core, Ireland's largest marketing communications group. "Too much advice is being given and too many decisions are being made based purely on opinion, rather than marketing laws and facts."

Writing in the 2019 edition of Core's annual Outlook report, he notes that only 21pc of marketers considered themselves to be completely up to speed when it comes to proving the effectiveness of their marketing endeavours while just 13pc have a strong commitment to CPD. The result, he says, has led to some poor marketing investment decisions being made.

Cox believes that some of the problems have to do with the way marketing is taught in Ireland, particularly in third-level colleges. Many of the marketing courses, he says, are too theory-based. There is also a lack of business case training as future marketers need to be able to build detailed analytical cases to back up their marketing efforts.

Despite the fact that more than €1bn a year is invested by marketers and their brands in advertising, many of the courses on offer don't offer any meaningful coverage of media-buying or planning.

The most obvious way of dealing with some of these challenges is for the marketing industry to engage with academia to develop a draft competency framework which, he hopes, everyone will buy into. Indeed work is already underway by the Marketing Institute on this front, he says.

However, he has also floated the idea of a new independent post-graduate college for marketing professionals which would be set up by key stakeholders in the industry. This would issue a 'licence to practice' for all marketing practitioners who would also be obliged to follow through with compulsory CPD training, similar to other industries like insurance, banking or accountancy.

The college, which would serve as a centre of excellence for marketing, would provide students with a compulsory foundation in general marketing in the first year, with more specialist subjects to follow in year two.

It's an interesting approach to tackling many of the problems the marketing profession is confronted with.

While some third-level colleges will inevitably see it as a threat and there is likely to be some blow-back, maintaining the status quo is not really an option if marketers really want to play footsie with their colleagues from finance and sales under the boardroom table.

Sunday Indo Business

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