Sunday 18 August 2019

Marketers' quest to enter the boardroom gains momentum

'Armed with a BComm, Peter landed a plum job in the marketing department of a large multinational drinks company in London' Stock Image
'Armed with a BComm, Peter landed a plum job in the marketing department of a large multinational drinks company in London' Stock Image

John McGee

I meet Peter for an after-work drink about four or five times a year. Peter (name changed) works as a marketing director for a leading company in Ireland. We became friends at UCD during the grim mid-1980s, when unemployment in Ireland was high and the so-called 'brain drain' saw many college graduates move to the UK, the US or further afield.

Armed with a BComm, Peter landed a plum job in the marketing department of a large multinational drinks company in London.

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Within a matter of months, he was travelling all around the world and generally enjoying the perks that came with the role of brand manager.

But it also exposed him to the world of marketing and advertising, something which he had never contemplated back in his UCD days.

His parents had hoped that he would get a job with one of the big accountancy firms. When pushed, Peter will admit that he is, in many ways, an accidental marketer.

Several job changes later, and with a young family in tow, he moved back to Ireland during the heady days of the Celtic Tiger to take up a senior marketing role with a subsidiary of a UK-headquartered company operating in the FMCG space. Two years later, in 2009, the manure hit the fan and all Irish-based marketing functions were moved back to Blighty, leaving him in the lurch, without a job for six months, and with not a head-hunter to be seen.

What is particularly interesting about his career path, however, is that he has rarely stayed more than three years in the same job. When I want to wind him up, I tell him that's because he gets rumbled after two years and it takes another year for his employer to get him out the door.

But Peter is like many others working in the marketing industry. While it's fair to say that most of them relish the challenges that come with their jobs - particularly in the digital age - and they recognise the value that marketing brings to their employer's bottom line, they rightly feel that their work is too often taken for granted and undervalued in the boardroom.

And when it comes to promotion further up the executive ladder, there is a perception that they lack the necessary financial and strategic skills to be even considered for the top job.

Because of this, the life span of marketers like Peter is typically no more than three years with the same company. The reason they move on often has more to do with a sense of frustration, combined with the prospect of new challenges, rather than being rumbled.

It's an age-old problem within the marketing industry and one which the Marketing Institute of Ireland (MII) has been acutely aware of for some time, according to its chief executive Tom Trainor.

"Just like other professions, we believe there is an opportunity for marketers to contribute at the most senior level within their companies. Yet the profession has been held back by perceptions of a lack of competency in key areas like commercial savviness and financial literacy. We think companies should capitalise on marketers' in-depth understanding of their markets, customers, products and positioning; perspectives that are critical for strategic decision-making. We believe that such perspectives are essential at the most senior levels of the organisation," he says.

To try to combat this perception and to equip marketers with the prerequisite skills that would allow them into the boardroom, the MII recently launched a slightly tongue-twisting initiative called the Marketer Pathways Competency Framework, following a consultation period with over 50 senior marketers and academics.

In a nutshell, the framework provides a structured professional development tool-kit for marketing professionals of all levels, which will also identify competency gaps and support the ongoing professional development of the marketers.

To make it a success, Trainor says, the marketing profession must generate "a continuous pipeline of highly qualified executives with the requisite competencies to claim the most senior executive positions and create the business impact that fully realises the true potential of the business. This means that senior marketing executives must become leading candidates for chief executive officer positions."

It's a very worthy and long-overdue initiative but it is also being viewed by the MII as a long-term project, and its success (or failure) will have to be judged in a few years' time. But at least it's a start.

For people like my mate Peter, it's probably a bit too late, but for the younger up-and-coming breed of professional marketers - as opposed to the accidental ones - hopefully it will help them prise open the door of the boardroom and teach those pesky CEOs and CFOs a thing or two.

n With tracker mortgages dominating much of the headlines this week, EBS - which is owned by AIB - has taken a leaf out of the McDonalds vs Burger King playbook with a cheeky outdoor campaign created by BBDO Dublin that takes a firm swipe at Bank of Ireland's ongoing 'Begin' campaign.

"Before you begin, look a little further," EBS urges aspiring mortgagees. As part of its efforts, EBS is even targeting billboards close to Bank of Ireland branches, including one in Donnybrook.

n With more burrito restaurants throughout Ireland than you can shake a sombrero at, the up-and-coming creative agency The Public House has just picked up the account for Boojum, the Belfast-based chain which now has 18 stores around the country.

Set up by former Ulster rugby player Andrew Maxwell, it joins a list of clients at The Public House that includes Irish Distillers, Paddy Power, 123.ie and Epic, the Irish Emigration Museum.

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