How leading client marketers get to the top

We recently examined a selection of the UKs top client marketers, choosing over 50 names at random to get a sense of their career paths to the top.

Hayley Spurling

We were immediately struck by the fact that whatever sample we looked at, in each case around three-quarters (76 per cent) are male. While this is undoubtedly improving year on year, it is a call to action that’s hard to ignore. When you look at those women that do make it to the top – women like Syl Saller, Sarah Warby and Amanda Mackenzie – their talent alone makes the case that more female leadership role models are needed.

It’s also intriguing that around one in five (20 per cent) made it to their current senior role in 15 years or fewer: a rapid road to the top that shows just how talented many top marketers are and how fast the road to the top can be.

Many of the marketers on the list are natural networkers joining the Marketing Group of Great Britain and other circles; they also find time to give something back, inspiring ambitious young professionals through mentoring schemes such as the Marketing Academy and capability development though initiatives such as The Marketing Society’s International Marketing Leadership Programme. Perhaps more could be encouraged to do the same?

The growing professionalisation of the sector, meanwhile, is highlighted by the fact that 56 per cent have a marketing degree or qualification – this might be surprising, but opportunities to obtain qualifications are increasingly available and organisations are keen to ensure marketing teams have all the necessary skills and capabilities at their disposal. Capability development in the function is now par for the course – with organisations well aware of the need to drive customer-centred growth.

There’s always a debate about how valuable it is to get varied experience of companies and industries versus building deep expertise and moving around less. ‘Company lifers’ are increasingly rare, backed up by only 10 per cent of these marketers having stayed with one business their whole career and a third (34 per cent) have worked for five or more companies. The one-company-marketer is, basically, a thing of the past. Whilst we can't predict the future trends it's safe to say that variety is the spice of life!

On the other hand, half (50 per cent) have only ever worked in one sector – sticking with brands in a particular field such as FMCG or travel or telecoms. But as we see the power of marketing increase in sectors like financial services or telecoms, where recruitment from outside the sector (especially from FMCG) has been prevalent, we would expect to see more future industry diversity within the group of marketing professionals who are at the top of their game.

In fact, in time perhaps the pendulum will swing in the opposite direction and we might expect to see more FMCG marketers with diverse backgrounds represented in the top marketing positions, as FMCG looks outside its sector to those with tech/service brand backgrounds to accelerate their capabilities in delivering standout customer experiences in this evermore complex marketing environment.

In addition, 50 per cent were internal promotions and 50 per cent came from outside. There’s no doubt that certain companies have a reputation for bringing in an external hire when filling at the top, but the fact that half came from within shows some top companies are successfully building capabilities and developing their talent internally not just getting their chequebooks out for top end search – though that clearly has a value too for the right job.

Lastly, we found that 42 per cent of the top 50 marketers we looked at have worked in global roles. One would expect this, given that brands both large and small can have an international presence. A good number have done both local and global roles, and as every marketer knows, getting the global-local model properly tied down – with the capabilities to deliver it – is tricky.

Those who get it right, able to operate at both ends of that tricky dimension, seem unsurprisingly to have what it takes to make it to the top of the profession – so well done to them all.

Hayley Spurling is brand director at Brand Learning

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