I was talking to a marketer who had been working at a top beverage company and had moved to a more senior role at a tech firm. I asked him if the jobs were the same—was the role, the responsibility, the importance of marketing (and the potential impact) similar? He quickly responded with an emphatic “no”. We then went on to talk about the differences. At the end of the discussion, I asked him if, knowing what he now knew, he would still made the decision to switch firms. And he replied “no”.
So why did this individual switch companies and industries? Although he was working for a highly respected beverage company, it wasn’t a “hot” tech company. This marketer’s assumption was that if the jobs were the same, why not work for a “cool,” up-and-coming firm in a sexier industry. And yet, his (like many marketers’) basic assumption—that all marketing jobs are the same so why not go for the cool brand—is fundamentally flawed.
I recently conducted a study to understand which companies do the best job training and developing marketers who go on to make it to C-level marketing roles. I then took this list, and using LinkedIn data, analyzed the number of marketing alumni from each firm who are currently CEOs. In other words, how good are these firms at preparing marketers to be able to ascend to CEO roles? See here for more insight on the first study. To see the list of the Top 15 firms that prepare marketers to become CEOs, click here.
One thing that fascinated me about the firms that executive recruiters believe are the best “employer brands” (those with reputations for developing the strongest marketing leaders) is that they are not the same companies that young marketers think are the best. Early-career marketers often prefer companies that are in fast-growing, trendy, and buzz-worthy industries. In my discussions with marketers, I have found that some default to those companies that they have an affinity for as a consumer. They don’t naturally think of financial services (e.g., Amex, Capital One) or CPG (e.g., PepsiCo, P&G, Clorox) or retail (e.g., Target, Walmart, Amazon), etc. These long-standing leaders simply aren’t top-of-mind. And frankly, bleach, credit cards, and deodorant don’t seem like exciting products (in this article, I explain why the product shouldn’t matter).
However, there is a key disconnect. The choice of company to work for is often based on brands that young people love even though they are not the best launching pads from a career standpoint. At one level this makes sense. If you can’t discern which companies offer better training that leads to better career options, why not choose the brand that you personally enjoy or the one that pays the most or is in the location that you desire. As one young marketer said to me, “I don’t want to work on soup.” For this individual, a big part of the decision was based on the attractiveness of the product. He was allowing his passion (or lack thereof) for the product to trump the learning, preparation, career, role responsibility, and potential for long-term career opportunities. Given no other information or perspective, his decision-making criteria makes sense. After I pointed this out, he started thinking differently.
However, as somebody who studies C-level marketing career paths, there are clear differences in the training, preparation, and career options that these different companies provide. They tend not to be equal in terms of career options and outcomes (see here for more insight). And in many cases, the least “sexy” firms may actually provide the best career paths.
photocredit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
If you go to work for a firm that views marketing as the leading P&L function (e.g., Kraft Heinz, Clorox, General Mills, Unilever, P&G, Clorox, PepsiCo, etc.), you learn how to create, develop, and manage a business. If you are the brand manager of Yoplait at General Mills or Zyrtec at Johnson & Johnson, you are held accountable for developing and implementing the strategic plan to deliver the revenue and profit targets. Thus, you learn how to create and lead profitable growth delivery through finance, operations, sales, product development, and marketing decisions and actions. This prepares you to become a general manager of a business unit or a C-level marketing leader, a CEO, and ultimately, a board member.
However, if you work at an agency developing social media campaigns, you are developing just one aspect of just one of the 4 P’s (to put this simply)—promotion. You tend not to determine the brand’s strategic plan…or lead development of the short and long-term innovation pipeline….or make decisions regarding pricing or strategic partnerships. You are developing campaigns that promote the brand. Even then, as an agency representative, you typically don’t make the decision; you provide recommendations to your client’s decision makers, who happen to be the marketers at General Mills or Kraft Heinz or P&G or Johnson & Johnson.
Both jobs matter. Both are important. One isn’t more or less important than the other. However, they are different in the work, knowledge acquired, and long-term career options they provide. While quarterbacks, wide receivers and punt returners are all important football players and critical to winning football games, they learn different skills. These different skills prepare them to take on different roles. Likewise, working in a marketing role with P&L responsibility versus one that is staff (agency example above) simply doesn’t provide the same education, skill development, or career path.
Christine DeYoung, Partner at DHR International, a leading executive recruiting firm suggests: “Not all marketing roles are the same. I find that junior marketers tend not to understand this and so they focus on which company brand they prefer. This really isn’t the best way to choose an employer. You want the one that has the best reputation for developing C-suite capable marketers…the ones that have a system for developing young marketers and have a track record for producing stellar leaders.”
Join the Discussion: @KimWhitler