News & Views

Opinion / Paving the way to the top

by Contagious Contributor
Sherilyn Shackell founder of The Marketing Academy on why meaningful human connections are vital to ensure that the industry has the input, development opportunities and encouragement it needs to thrive

With the constant evolution of all things ‘digital’, the role of marketing is changing. Marketers are fast becoming masters of data analytics and are required to understand more about social media than Mark Zuckerberg. And there's more; marketers are now involved with more corporate functions than ever before; requiring knowledge of technology, finance, customer services, product development, innovation etc. And that's on top of their day job. It’s no longer sufficient to sit in a ‘marketing’ niche. Truly effective marketers need to be key strategic players across the whole organisation, to literally imbibe the company in its entirety.

And yet, five years ago the marketing function started being tested and stretched beyond recognition. We were in the midst of a crippling recession with marketers under unprecedented pressure to sell to cash strapped customers. In addition to their broadening role, there was a growing concern in the industry that the leadership skills needed to run these brands and companies successfully were diminishing. The industry's emerging talent was just not getting the input, development and encouragement it needed to thrive.

Against this backdrop, there was a growing urgency to address the skills deficit; paradoxically at the same time as budgets were being cut for training and development and one-to-one input was being replaced by technology. As businesses were struggling to make a profit, the marketing function was suffering from a schizophrenic perception. On the one hand it was viewed as the voice of the all-important customer, on the other it was seen as peripheral to the business – an indulgence, rather than a necessity.

In this environment, leaders were asking how they can bridge gap; bring marketing out from the cold and equip marketers with business critical skills. The answer was found in good old-fashioned coaching: uniting the leaders of today with the leaders of tomorrow.

In actual fact, meaningful human connections are the bedrock to success in most aspects of our lives; all the more so in the corporate world. Creating a platform for successful CEOs, CMOs, and agency presidents to share their knowledge, experience and wisdom with high potential individuals is a powerful brew. The challenge is to evolve the act of mentoring, from a ‘nice-thing-to-do’, to an integral and intrinsic part of a leader’s role. There needs to be recognition that supporting the next generation is as essential as serving the present one. For this to work, mentoring should be structured, assured and used to nurture talent.

In a similar vein, training needs to be delivered in the real world. Theory is all very well but in today’s fast paced industry, talented marketers need to be taught by real practitioners, at the top of their game. This is why The Marketing Academy is committed to identifying, supporting and nurturing these shining lights and providing them with the most influential role models.

My conversations with CEOs and CMOs have taught me that training must encompass the full breadth of a company’s operations. After all, a great marketer isn’t one who works in a silo, who knows their discipline alone – but is a central cog in all aspects of the business; and can demonstrate positive impact, across the organisation. It is not enough to be trained in social media strategy for instance; talented marketers need to be comfortable advising on mergers and acquisitions, discussing complex finance conundrums and delivering shareholder value. To take responsibility at the helm, they need to believe in their ability to lead. Such authority needs to be grounded in rigour, rather than puff; curiosity rather than complacency. A good leader will develop new ways of viewing old problems, ask more questions and understand all the levers that make the business what it is.

Great marketing is an essential and powerful driver of growth. Accomplished marketers are invaluable. As champions of the customer, investing in the current generation of emerging marketing leaders is the cornerstone of success.