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News Analysis

By The Drum | Administrator

August 10, 2006 | 6 min read

The working world has had a certain love-hate relationship with the student fraternity. On the one-hand the stereotypical student is perceived as a lackadaisical waster, not realising that higher education should be a place of education and fulfilment, and not, as it is for many, just an excuse to enjoy a drink or two. On the other hand skilled, talented students that are specialising in specific sectors are in demand to keep the industry fresh.

However, one thing that isn’t often considered is how students view the professional world that we operate in.

A recent survey by the Training and Development Agency (TDA) which questioned 2,100 graduates between the ages of 21-40, saw marketing and advertising rated as the fourth most boring industry to be working in.

Now, many that work in the sector might claim that marketing and advertising is many things, but dull is certainly not a word that most would associate with the ad industry.

Yet of those graduated questioned that have recently moved into their specialist area, it is only sales, manufacturing and admin workers that separate marketing and advertising from the top spot as most boring sector of employment.

Rated as 7.7 out of 10 in the boredom stakes, placing it fourth in the top 15, why then are many graduates, who have spent years studying in the aim of landing a job in marketing, not finding fulfilment in their dream roles?

“The last thing marketing is is boring” says Alasdair Gibbons, client services director of Clayton Graham Communications. “However, there is probably expectancy amongst graduates that they will be involved in high level strategy and campaigns from day one. This is akin to a graduate straight out of medical school being asked to do a heart transplant. It doesn’t happen. The excitement in marketing comes as they move off the entry level and move up the ranks and enjoy greater responsibility and involvement.”

Lesley Alexander, manager director of PR at IAS Smarts, feels that people should make the most of their work, despite initial perceptions: “A job is what you make it. There is always a challenge there if you look for it. If I think back to when I started out in the industry, I wasn’t a graduate, I was employed in an admin capacity, but I looked for things that I could do that eventually got me into an account handling role. You look for the opportunities yourself. There has to be a realisation when you graduate that you are starting out on the first rung of the ladder. The best way to get an appreciation of what the role involves is to do a couple of work placements so, at least, you have an understanding of what you’re getting into. That’s really what I tend to look at on CVs when people come in - who’s actually got off their backside and looked for work placements and gained some experience of the industry.”

Fiona Jamieson of recruitment consultants Quantum People was surprised to hear the report’s findings: “This is a vibrant and interesting industry, and there are many people wanting to get into it. The reason that starting salaries aren’t always that high is because so many people want to get into the industry.”

Jamieson continues: “We get a hell of a lot of people wanting to get into the industry who’ve got no experience of marketing whatsoever. We have been inundated with graduates. We receive applications from people who are degree educated who have been told if they go to university and get a degree, they’ll be fine and get a job in anything they want. That isn’t the case.”

However, John Thomson, senior lecturer in marketing at Napier University, believes the fault lies with employers as marketing students are well prepared for what to expect when they graduate. “In education terms the students are made very well aware that marketing, as a discipline, has to stand up against other professions like accounting or human resource management and, to gain credibility, marketers need to think in a strategic and analytical way, how they can be of value to an organisation,” he says.

Chris Hannah, a designer at Clayton Graham Communications, graduated from Glasgow Caledonian Communications and Mass Media in 2003 has a different view. From the side of a graduate. “My course gave me an insight into various marketing activities including advertising where I now work as a designer,” he says. “My particular course gave me an understanding of what happens at later stages but was not particularly relevant to my current profession. I think some people believe that this industry is all about long lunches, wearing jeans, late starts, brainstorming in the boozer, ideas on the back of fag packets. It’s a lot more competitive than I had initially imagined.”

Kate Bruges, JWT’s director of professional development and a member of the IPA, warns that graduates often drift into a black hole after the ‘honeymoon’ period. “The kind of people you are recruiting, given the nature of our business, should be self starting,” she says. “As a business that allows you to take a lot of initiative quite early on, you want people who are comfortable in doing that. If they’re quick thinking and they have a lot to offer, you should make sure there’s plenty out there for them to grab. Don’t let them fall into the black hole once that honeymoon period is over. Make sure you’re clear on what your plan is for them. Make sure you spend some time being clear with the people who are going to be their line managers as to what you expect from them and evaluate their line-managers on how well they have developed and motivated that person.”

Gareth Howells, creative director at Newhaven, which has a history of recruiting newly qualified graduates, believes that they need to be more grounded in their expectancy. “There is a sort of glamorisation of the business we are in,” he says. “It’s not easy. In fact, it’s hard work. That glamorisation of ‘oh my God, advertising’s easy, it must be fun.’ It’s not, it’s fucking hard work. You’ve got to be good at it and you’ve got to be prepared to put the hours in. You’re expected to work and I think a lot of people get the wrong end of the stick and think it’s all a bit glamorous. It’s not.”

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