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Do marketers need to be industry experts?

Jiro Osuga

The move towards specialised marketing training is provoking a wider debate over the need for qualifications, writes Mindi Chahal, for Marketing Week.

What skills and knowledge do you look for when hiring marketing executives? Do you favour candidates with generic, degree-level training? Can you see more benefit in them learning on the job, or would it be valuable for them to be versed in your particular industry before they even step through the door?

With the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) launching its first training programme specifically for the construction industry, business leaders are questioning whether this is a positive progression. Will specialising lead to more limited vision and is formal training really necessary at all?

According to Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson, anyone holding themselves up as a marketing expert should have a formal qualification in the discipline. Others, like Peter Boucher, chief commercial officer at Addison Lee, and Zoe Burns-Shore, head of brand and marketing at First Direct, question the value and weight of theoretical courses over the benefits of in-house learning.

To specialise or not?

There are certainly some sectors where training in specific insights, alongside core marketing skills could be useful.

One of the key reasons the Construction Industry Group of the CIM developed its new programme was the difficulty the industry as a whole was having recruiting the right staff.

Chris Ashworth, the group’s deputy chairman, says: “Most people’s exposure to construction is the white van man, while for people in schools it’s about working on a wet, windy building site – we want to make people realise the industry has a lot more to give.”

He believes the CIM qualification is particularly relevant for new marketing graduates who don’t understand construction and for owners of SMEs who take on their own marketing. He hopes that, in turn, the extra knowledge they can gain on the course will help promote a clearer public understanding of the industry.

The pros and cons

Although not all marketing experts are convinced of demand, the CIM is now looking into other industry sectors, with financial services and the pharmaceutical sector suggested as areas to explore.

Clare Kemsley, managing director at Hays Marketing, says: “Clearly, there is a need for marketing executives to get a better understanding of the sector that they’re in and maybe a programme that supports that is a good focus.”

However, Jane Cave, managing director at the Institute for Direct and Digital Marketing (IDM), warns that “creating learning and training environments that are too industry-specific run the risk of narrow thinking”.

Others believe more mileage could be gained from courses that focus more on business-to-business marketing (B2B) as well as the customary business-to-consumer (B2C) side.

And there’s a solid core of professionals who believe ongoing in-house training – and recruiting marketers with a personal commitment to learning about their specific sector – is the best way to keep abreast of rapid market changes.

Whichever path you favour, as the role of marketing executives continues to develop, the choice of training looks set to move forward too.