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Great marketers learn indiscriminately and with reckless abandon


By Katy Howell, chief executive

August 13, 2019 | 5 min read

Everyone says they want to learn. From the intern in an interview, to the seasoned pro in a career development meeting. Learning is number one on the talent agenda and according to the stats, it’s what 70% of the workforce, of all ages, wants from their employment (not sure what the other 30% want then, maybe more office doughnuts?)

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Great marketers learn indiscriminately and with reckless abandon

Our arena is constantly changing, allowing us and our work to take new shapes and thoughts almost daily. If you’re not excited by the idea of adaptation, if the constant fluidity of our marketing playground doesn’t thrill you, then you will never survive and thrive here.

Most of my indie agency friends provide learning lunches, training sessions, mentorships and so on in a bid to attract and retain the talent. But it is not nearly enough. Spoon-fed learning rarely makes a true impact on a career.

Marketing is a craft. Creativity is hard work. Well, it is if you want to make a difference.

The key to being a frickin’ brilliant professional is to constantly learn and love to learn. This is something that requires personal effort, a bucket load of self-investment. Yet given we spend on average 2,128 hours at work a year, I figure you may as well enjoy the job, advance your career and make that difference. So be brave and do more than what’s put in front of you. Be reckless and try everything, be indiscriminate and step outside your filter bubble.

Get your nose in those bloody books

Of course, everyone learns on the job. From processes and ways of working to the sessions put on by your agency. This is important, but this is work-focused ‘orbital’ learning. (or as I like to call it: doing your job!) The most successful people I know are those who go out of their way to read that new neuroscience book, or download that podcast on the metrics behind attribution modelling – oh and they and actually listen to it too.

There’s no longer a teacher to corral you, or a lecturer threatening you with failure, this type of learning is entirely up to you. You’ve got to do all the heavy lifting yourself - finding those books to read, the podcasts or audiobooks to listen to, or the videos to watch.

Don’t coast through a conference

Whenever I get the chance to go to a conference or big industry event, I nearly always take a moment to stand at the back of the room and watch the audience. It always surprises me how many people are faffing with email or social, or staring into space.

Be present. I mean really concentrate. Actively listen to the talks, the questions, the atmosphere. I doodle. I draw boxes and arrows and connect up the talk, looking for ideas and opportunities: uncovering the things that will improve what we do.

It is not enough for your agencies investment in a conference to be the only time hear expert speakers. Go to free industry talks, at colleges or evening events. Why not go deep on a topic or be different with something lateral – maybe attend that lecture on correlating eye-tracking to mood for digital marketing, also called emotional marketing (entirely not made up, you can read a blog here, and a journal article on that here). You get the gist.

Get your arse out of the office

Networking is more important than ever when you live in an age of copy and pasted LinkedIn CVs. Start going the extra mile and buying that extra round, because the more and more people you get to know in this industry, the greater matrix you build. Within that matrix are layers of insight, wisdom and knowledge, not to mention the connections you build. Every person you meet that’s been here longer than you, works in a different industry, or is just plain interesting – talk to them!

Marketing is a job where you have to have passion. After all, this is THE creative industry and recycling the old only works for so long. If you’re struggling with your passion, then that’s the perfect opportunity to reignite that fascination in work by meeting people outside of it!

Across the years, I have learnt more, imagined more and been inspired more, by the people I meet, the books I read and the talks I hear. I ask lots of questions; I am genuinely interested in what they say and why they say it. I learn all the time. This deeper, more invested learning pays off. If you ever wondered where good ideas come from then watch the RSA video. It is by collecting lots of snippets of knowledge that ideas are generated.

I believe you should learn indiscriminately and with reckless abandon, for the duration of your entire career. If you’re in the world of marketing, and I mean really devoted to being in it, then accept that you’re in this for the long-haul. Now go learn.


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