What You Need to Know About a Career in Marketing


Man in suit running - career in fast-paced marketing environment

Making choices about your future and your potential career path is rarely easy.  Many people don’t have a clue what they want to do or what their options are, and worse still, there’s a lot of bad advice along the way!  I feel that I am extremely fortunate to have fallen into a career that I both enjoy and have been proven good at but my path to get here was pretty random!

First of all, careers advice in my school was pretty atrocious.  The only careers advice I ever recall getting was a one-off questionnaire that we had to complete, the outcome of which was that I should be a Librarian!  To this day I have absolutely no idea what aspects of my skill set or personality could possibly have come up with that.  And aside from anything else, I question how realistic it was as a career choice as I wouldn’t imagine it would be the sort of job that would have vacancies very often or massive progression prospects (no offence to Librarians and please correct me if I am wrong!).

Thankfully I have had the pleasure of working with my old High School in recent years, and careers support is something that is taken much more seriously now.  I know that a lot of time and effort is put into preparing students for their future, both by teachers and local businesses that give up their time to carry out talks and workshops.

As I said above, my career path was a bit random, and whilst for me all came good in the end, it’s not a completely uncommon story.  To give you an overview, this is how it went:

  • I always knew I was meant to go to University. Whether this was pressure from the school that I went to, aspirations from my family, or genuinely something I wanted to do, I’m not really sure, but at the time it was the only option there really seemed to be.
  • After A-levels I made, what I thought was a very mature decision, to take a year out. My reasoning was because I had always been one of the youngest in my school year.  Looking back, I’m not sure where this came from as being one of the youngest had never been a problem for me previously.
  • I landed myself in an Admin job in a glamorous car showroom, strangely in the Marketing department. At the time I had never even taken Business Studies as a subject, either at GCSE or A-level, so I actually didn’t really know what Marketing was.
  • The job turned out to be a bit rubbish in all honesty and certainly didn’t ignite my desire to work in Marketing. It did, however, make me re-evaluate my options, and at the end of the Summer I decided to go to University after all, through the UCAS clearing system.
  • A couple of weeks later I found myself at the University of Stirling in Scotland, studying Sociology, Business Studies and Education. Like I said, I had never studied Business as a subject before and didn’t have a clue what Sociology was.  The addition of Education was just because, initially, we had to choose three subjects…like I said, totally random!
  • Anyway, over the four years at Stirling, I eventually dropped the Education, then Sociology, and I took modules in the various areas of Business, until I decided to ‘specialise’ in Marketing in my final year. I think it is thanks to the system in Stirling that requires you to start broad and slowly refine your degree path that this happened to work out for me.  I guess I could quite easily have gone down a totally different route and carried on with Education or Sociology instead, but by luck or by chance, Marketing is where I ended up.

In some ways I am glad that I ‘fell’ into Marketing the way that I did, but for those considering career options, or for those that might think Marketing might be for them, I have put this post together to give a ‘warts and all’ overview of what it really means to work in Marketing.

 What is Marketing?

First of all, I have written a fairly comprehensive blog post previously on what Marketing is so I highly recommend that you start there.

The main thing you need to know is what Marketing isn’t…I couldn’t tell you the number of times that someone has thought that Marketing is ‘Advertising’.  To a person outside of the profession I can understand this because it is probably what they are exposed to in the most obvious sense – on TV and radio, in magazines and online.  In reality, advertising is a very small element of Marketing.  Unless you work in an advertising agency, advertising in its most literal sense is a very small part of the job.

Skills Required for a Career in Marketing

  • Ability to Embrace Change

“Marketing’s job is never done. It’s about perpetual motion. We must continue to innovate every day.” – Beth Comstock

The ability to react quickly to changing market conditions is imperative.  Someone that resists or fears change will never survive in a Marketing role since there is no constant in the profession.

  • Continuous Learning

Although not unique to Marketing, you must be willing to continually learn.  New technologies emerge, markets develop, customer behaviours change and so Marketing techniques have to adapt.  You cannot possibly keep on top of these changes if you do no read widely and study or self-teach.

  • Multi-Tasking

This leads me to the ability to work on a number of projects simultaneously, and similarly the ability to switch between tasks seamlessly.  Again, if you prefer structure and repetition of duties, Marketing most certainly isn’t for you.  On the other hand, if you can handle a fast-paced environment and can work to deadlines then Marketing could be a fitting career choice.

  • Attention to Detail

For me, this is the ultimate must-have skill in Marketing.  Because the role is so fast-moving there is often little time for second opinions and in-depth proof-reading.  You must have a very strong eye for detail and be able to self-edit on-the-go.

  • Creativity

Whilst not absolutely imperative, creativity will be a very welcome bonus in a Marketing position.  Many related roles, such as graphic design, do the majority of the hands-on creative work, however, having a certain level of originality yourself helps immeasurably in Marketing, from campaign idea generation, to cutting costs by creating artwork yourself, to writing effective design briefs when employing external designers.

  • Communication

Communication is also key.  The ability to convey your thoughts both verbally and in written form is essential, since so much of the job revolves around persuading, educating and influencing.  A natural flair for written communication, in particular, is essential because this is not something that is easy to teach or learn.  In my opinion, you either have this ability or you don’t.  Mediocre content just won’t cut it.

  • Passion

Again this characteristic could apply to many occupations but is of particular significance in a Marketing role.  As the person ultimately responsible for promoting the brand, you must be passionate about the business in order to be a true advocate for the Company.  If you do not love what you do, are not devoted to the Company that you work for, or do not live and breathe everything that your brand stands for, then you will find it difficult to excel.

  • Subject Choices

My advice to students making choices about careers is that subject choices for Marketing don’t really matter.  Few universities in the UK specify particular subjects as entry requirements to study Marketing.  Take the subjects at GCSE and A-level that you enjoy the most as you are more likely to do well in them.  If you are truly meant for Marketing you will naturally sway towards relevant subjects, such as perhaps English.

One final point I think is important to raise for the sake of transparency and reality, is that, although English language is the primary skill required for Marketing, more and more data and analytics are playing a role in Marketing. If someone had told me that at the start of my career it might have put me off (I’ve often been heard saying “I don’t do numbers”) but I have learnt to manage this and can now fairly competently work with data, albeit that it is not a skill that comes naturally.

Marketing Department Structures

Whilst I will outline three main structures for the purposes of being concise, Marketing department structures can vary significantly depending on the organisational size.

  • In large organisations, the Marketing function might be divided up by area. For example, there might be a person or team responsible specifically for digital marketing, one for brand management, one for events, and so on.
  • In huge corporates this might be taken a step further, whereby there could even be individuals or teams within each overall department. For example, within the digital department, there could be web teams responsible for website design and maintenance, those in charge of driving traffic to the website and others specifically in charge of the Company’s social media.
  • The final structure is more typical within smaller Companies, where it is not uncommon for one person or a very small team to be responsible for all aspects of Marketing. The latter has certainly been my personal experience.

As you can see, simply stating a list of items that are included within the remit of the job is therefore difficult, since the role changes from industry to industry and from Company to Company and from Marketing professional to Marketing professional.  As well as this, it sounds like a cliché to say it, but genuinely no two days are ever the same in Marketing, and every day involves a great deal of multi-tasking.  In fact, I can’t think of many other professions that have to be ‘specialists’ in so many areas.

If you are considering a career in Marketing, think about the type and size of company that you would ideally aspire to work for.  Working for a small business is completely different to working for a large organisation.  In a small business everyone has to ‘muck in’ and do things that don’t necessarily fall within their official job description – you have to be very versatile.  In a large organisation you might be more likely to stick within the confines of your job description but the opportunities to move around within the organisation might offer you more possibilities for progression and travel etc.  You could ask yourself if you want to be a BIG fish in a SMALL pond or a SMALL cog in a very LARGE wheel.

Marketing Influence

The other thing that people don’t expect is the influence that Marketing has in areas other than simply promoting the business, product or service to customers or potential customers.  Of course it depends on the size of the organisation and the internal structures in place, but a general Marketing role will often include Marketing to other shareholders, staff, prospective employees and agencies.

Similarly, a Marketing team will align closely with pretty much every other department within a business – finance, sales, customer service, HR, and so on.  In order to understand the true Marketing requirements of the business, the Marketing Department must seek to understand how the rest of the organisation ticks – what its strengths and weaknesses are, who the key influencers within the business are, and most importantly, what their customers want.

Marketing lies at the heart of the customer experience, is important in employee engagement, and of course has to work closely with Finance when setting budgets, assessing financial viability of projects and understanding cash flow.  Also, because Marketing can often be classed as a ‘back-of-house’ function, the Marketing team need to have two-way communication with those that are customer-facing, such as Sales personnel and service providers, in order to understand the customer profile.

Is Marketing Glamorous?

Another semi-myth about Marketing is around the perception that it is glamorous.  Whilst yes it can be very glamorous at times, this is the exception rather than the norm.  Most of the ‘glamorous’ aspects of the job might not necessarily be what people think.  For example, directing a photoshoot sounds glamorous but the reality could be getting up at 5am to stand in a field wearing wellie boots on a winter morning when it’s -2 degrees Celsius!

And Finally…

Hopefully this article, derived from a mixture of my own personal experience and from observing and learning about other professionals in the Marketing industry, has given a broad view of the Marketing occupation.

My final advice is, do your own research into the specific roles within Marketing and find out what it really means to do that job on a daily basis, not what you think it means.  If you can speak directly to the people that do those jobs, or get some work experience, you will be much better informed to make decisions about your future.

If you are considering a career in Marketing, feel free to get in touch with any questions that you might have.  I am always happy to help an aspiring Marketer to steer their career in the right direction.

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