Marketers’ training is as essential as marketing

Many marketers have found to their cost, the marketing budget is often the first thing to be cut when times get tough. The second is the money allocated to training, which is still viewed by many organisations as a discretionary area of spend. So, in a downturn, the marketing department often takes a double hit.

There is always a cost issue attached to training, however big the organisation, because it tends to be allocated against an individual’s budget, rather than being seen as for the good of the organisation as a whole.

However, just as research shows that companies that continue to invest in marketing activity through a recession are better placed to take advantage of the upturn, there is similar evidence to support continued investment in training. Our financial benchmarking of member agencies shows a direct correlation between learning cultures and profitability.

Training and development is critical to retaining top talent. The main reason people move on is because they aren’t learning any longer. Cost is not the only factor in what observers believe is a falling commitment to training among marketing departments. Another big issue is that marketers are much busier, with wider remits, greater responsibility and smaller teams, making it more difficult for them to take time out for training. Nearly 40% of the delegates booked on MCCA training try to cancel or reschedule their course up to five days before it is due to happen.

Not making time for training could be a serious misjudgment on the part of marketers, not least because the more complex and demanding their roles become, the greater the need for training. Over the past 10 years, the proliferation of digital platforms, the fragmentation of media, the rapidly changing marketplace and the growing requirement to demonstrate accountability have wrought a transformation of marketing that is unparalleled in any other profession.

The best organisations understand this, and, while they naturally desire value for money from their training budget, they have found that careful targeting of that budget has yielded more positive results than the more traditional scatter-gun approach.

The days where the marketing team would spend a week away at a nice country hotel are gone. Now the emphasis is on getting individuals to take responsibility for their own training as part of their career development. In short, Unilever has returned to an integrated approach to training. Not only does such learning make better use of marketers’ time, it is also far more effective at embedding knowledge.

What we call ‘self managed learning’ is more powerful than trying to impose something on someone. It is about developing an enquiring mind that prompts people to go off and find out about things that interest them, or that plug a skills gap. That might involve deciding to go on a course, but equally it might involve getting on the phone to the agency to tap into their knowledge and expertise.

One marketer have taken ownership of their learning and seen the benefit. A qualified marketer found when he joined HSBC 17 years ago that while he was good at developing management and leadership skills, he was weaker on marketing skills. Though the organization has supported his marketing training needs, the impetus has come from the marketer himself.

Demand is running high for training in the specialist media that her agency offers through the training academy it set up five years ago. The training, which distils the latest thinking on all aspects of media communications and planning, including direct and digital, is aimed at all levels of client personnel.

It gives clients a more complete understanding of the media landscape, which allows them to get better value for money from their media spend. This sort of integrated learning is more effective than traditional training in building and embedding the capabilities of marketers needs to compete in 21st-century organizations. What marketers need is relevant, good-quality and tailored learning opportunities, rather than the old one-size-fits-all broadcast approach.

Too few firms turn to their incumbent agencies or professional associations for specialist help, preferring the ‘quick fix’ of an expensive commercial organisation. The growing influence of procurement functions, whose cost-focused approach has resulted in fewer retained agencies, exacerbates the problem. Marketers have to spend time educating new agencies that would be better spent on developing their teams with the help of long-established partners.

However, marketers, too, are guilty of short term thinking. With the tenure of the average marketing director standing at about 18 months, some are arguably more concerned about making progress in their career than developing their team. Marketers, who think they are too busy or important to learn themselves, or develop their team, could be their own worst enemies.

Marketers have to keep themselves market-competitive , both inside and outside the organisation. Unilever has grown and survived by winning in the market place, and experts are needed there to sustain that. Perhaps one of the top priorities for all marketers should be to book themselves on a time-management course.

Coca-cola operates in a challenging market with demanding and complex commercial expectations. This can lead employees to consider de-prioritising their training and development needs.

As an organisation committed to growing and developing the talent and capability of employees at every level, Coca-Cola’s HR team works hard to ensure that training is tailored, relevant and integrated, with both career progression and business success.

The company uses a blended approach, which includes e-learning, classroom courses, secondments and on-the-job training, much of it delivered through the ‘Coca-Cola University’. Training covers leadership, personal development and competency skills. The Coca-Cola ‘way of marketing’ is aligned to a competency framework, supported by classic training as well as experiences and events designed to build marketing capabilities.

The four marketing capability objectives are: to create, capture and transfer knowledge around the world; develop world-class marketers through recruiting and training top talent; work with agency partners to foster a global marketing community; and be innovative. They try to maximise the effectiveness of training by partnering with third-parties where relevant and possible.