do marketers need a degree

question of the week

Do marketers need a degree?

Kellogg's has dropped requirement for marketers to have degrees. Pepsico is also eschewing degrees when recruiting for marketers. So what shapes a great marketer?

By Dani Gibson

PepsiCo’s CMO of international foods, Mustafa Shamseldin recently revealed that he wants to recruit marketers from "outside marketing" to help his teams think differently. Shamseldin was following close on the heels of Kellogg's which is dropping the degree requirement for marketers - meaning marketers will no longer have to possess a degree to work there. The cereal and snacks giant has said the move is part of its drive to become a more inclusive employer.

The route to marketing has traditionally mirrored that of most professional services; undergraduate course followed by a graduate training scheme. And to many brands and businesses, a marketing degree is proof of academic attainment and a commitment to learn and succeed. Unlike medicine or law, however, it is not necessary to have a related degree to enter the marketing profession - as in the case of Shamseldin at Pepsico, who graduated with an engineering degree. Also, there is the added issue of long-term decline in the number of graduates entering the marketing industry. [The latest The Advertising Association report reveals the number of people working in marketing and advertising fell by 14 per cent between 2019 and 2022]. It is an opportunity, perhaps, to start drawing from a more diverse pool to find future marketing leaders.

We asked the industry to weigh in on the debate.

Pete Markey, chief marketing officer at Boots

For me great marketers are shaped by what they learn hands-on doing the job. I have a degree and it has helped me, so has my MBA by giving me core knowledge that I can directly apply to the world of work.

But I don’t think not having a degree should hold you back – the right business will give you the skills and training you need on the job to grow into your marketing career. That why at Boots we’ve put most of our senior marketing team through the mini MBA in marketing and have our own online marketing training academy in partnership with Econsultancy.

Phoebe Barter, group brand director at Aviva

I don’t think you need a marketing degree to be a great marketer. To be a great marketer, you need curiosity, energy, creativity and a feel for data. To be a really great marketer, you need to be fascinated by understanding your audience.

Yes, a marketing degree will give you that grounding, but you can also learn that on the job. I’m lucky to have an Economics and Marketing degree. Did it help me? Yes, definitely. But what probably helped more was learning along the way, asking endless questions, and the golden rule of success: keep showing up and trying your best!

Zoe Eagle, co-chief Accenture Song Creative Business, UK

Just as we know that brilliant creative ideas can come from any corner of an agency, the same can be said for great marketers stepping into the industry from various backgrounds. Our industry has always thrived off curiosity, strong character, and a willingness to get stuck in. None of which necessarily come via the traditional university route. Great marketers are inherently curious about the world, interested in human behaviour - and in the current climate they need to welcome the chance to be lifelong learners.

Removing barriers such as university degrees in our industry is a brilliant nod to the continued commitment we must give to talent from diverse backgrounds, so that they feel like they can thrive. The marketing and advertising landscape is more fast moving than it's ever been against the current backdrop of tech and AI, and with this we need to look at the types of qualifications we prioritise to make sure they’re relevant.

Up-skilling, short-courses and industry events are becoming increasingly compelling ways for marketers to stay afloat of trends and change. As leaders, we need to encourage our talent to look at these routes as a means of staying informed and being given the chance to help shape the future of our industry’s creative output.

Anna Vogt, chief strategy officer, VMLY&R

Some of the best people I have worked with don’t have a university degree. Some of the best people I have worked with have a university degree. Some of the best people I have worked with studied marketing and hold an MBA. People make jobs a success, not a degree.

As Dave Trott once said: energy beats talent. I think he’s absolutely right. The people that make a success of their job have energy, passion, and are self-starters and team players. For me personally, the thing that got me hired into advertising and kept me going for over 17 years is my career as a swimmer.

Of course, University can help identify and hone your predisposition to those skills. But so can an apprenticeship or starting your own business at 18. There are, and always will be, different routes in and different ways to thrive.

Simon Gregory, joint chief strategy officer, BBH

It's a great idea. It's not a new one but it's an important one. Difference in, difference out. It’s probably daft not to do it.

However, this enthusiasm comes with a plea: if you're moving away from academics then please focus on training new recruits properly. Which clients can put their hand on their heart and tell me they know how System1 works? Or how to get the most out of research without the moderator's deck? Or why NPS might not be selling pizzas?

The benefit of a degree is, in my view, the forced focus and investigation of a subject. You read about it. You play with it. You learn the arguments for and against. You try to contribute to it. You build such a thorough base of comprehension that you create your own informed opinion on it. And then you get tested on it.

If we’re going to use (and pay vast amounts of money for) tools and models to help guide our work then it’s imperative that we both understand and know how to use them.

We're in the market of art and science; if we're winging the latter we're doing both our brands and the industry a dis-service.

Helen Matthews, chief people officer, Weber Shandwick, EMEA

Great marketers need to be in tune with their audiences and bring insights, empathy, high-level communication skills and creativity to solve problems. With an increasing emphasis on core skills (previously referred to as soft), there is a need to balance the ‘how’ with the ‘what.’

Kellogg's move is a smart one. If we are truly going to change our industry, be more open and inclusive, we need to look at how we attract and retain emerging talent through a different lens, removing obstacles to that. With the cost of university education becoming increasingly inaccessible to so many, we’re in danger of missing out on swathes of creative, smart and innovative talent who might have taken a different route to gaining skills, passion and knowledge.

It’s also important that we don’t take a binary view of what routes to education and skills are taken; of course, there are specialist roles where a university degree is beneficial, or indeed a prerequisite. But this is a moment in time, to be honest with ourselves about the reasons we’re asking for a degree when looking at our roles and talent strategies. Marketing is absolutely one of those roles.

Juliet McLaren, executive creative director, Brave Spark

I think this is a brilliant move from Kellogg’s. Removing any barriers to entry into our industry is key – marketing is changing and it’s time to challenge tried and tested methods.

We’re being marketed to everywhere we look, so knowing what works on a human level, and what doesn’t, shouldn’t require years at uni. Emotions first, programmes and systems can be taught later.

What’s important to remember is that getting new voices means more questions for the people hiring them. So it’s a challenge for managers to adapt, as it’ll likely require more patience, listening and learning too. Those managers and organisations who actually want to give the time are the ones that will end up with the strongest teams and the best work as a result.


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