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All Roads Lead to Education

9 min read.

Alan Cox, CEO

by Alan Cox, CEO


In last year’s Outlook, we addressed the marketing industry’s credibility problem. We referenced the fact that 73% of global CEOs believe that marketers don’t have the ability to generate growth.1

In the meantime (in June 2019), the IPA and the Financial Times published a global report called ‘The Board- Brand Rift,’ which reveals that over half of business leaders, including 30% of senior-level marketers, rate their knowledge of brand-building as average to very poor. The report concluded that there is a worrying lack of confidence in brand management, both within and beyond the marketing department. It went on to say, ‘The skill of brand- building, a fundamental creator of value, is declining.’2

This is hardly a surprise given the findings of a survey commissioned by Marketing Week last year, which found that more than half of marketers in the UK (54%) say they have not studied a marketing-related academic or professional qualification of any kind. Just 26% have a marketing undergraduate degree as their highest qualification, and 16% have a marketing master’s degree, diploma or doctorate. Of those who studied for a marketing degree, just 32% found it very useful.3 The situation is similar in this country, and, as reported last year, only 13% of marketing professionals in the Republic of Ireland have a strong commitment to continuing professional development.4

This is a critical problem. The inconsistent standard of marketing education across agency and client disciplines and the lack of a recognised professional qualification are holding the industry back. The evidence keeps piling up, but few practitioners seem to be engaged.

Meanwhile, marketing investment is often deprioritised due to unconvincing business cases prepared by agencies and marketing departments. Furthermore, executive opinion seems to be the pre-eminent factor in decision-making rather than scientific evidence, and trust in our occupation continues to lag behind other professions because we do not demonstrate mastery of marketing science. All roads lead to education.


An industry-wide commitment to develop a series of professional qualifications across all aspects of the marketing profession is required.

Standards need to be set for practitioners in analytics, creative, direct marketing, digital marketing, ecommerce, marketing management, media planning and buying, PR, research, sponsorship and strategy. Over time, such a commitment would build a new generation of comprehensively educated, trained and trusted professionals.

Figure 1 below summarises a proposed skills philosophy that has relevance for all disciplines.

It goes beyond the knowledge required to do a specific job, and requires more of professionals than their expertise in a chosen area. It is essential that all practitioners also have a grounding in the business of marketing and a deep understanding of the pivotal role creativity plays in building businesses.

Regrettably, many stakeholders feel that there is ‘nothing to see here’ – they believe that there is no education deficit and that, in any event, it should be the role of employers to train practitioners – not universities. This indifference explains why the problem exists in the first place.

Also, the debate regarding the role of employers in training is immaterial, because very few companies have a credible commitment to training anyway, and it is impossible for many businesses to afford the cost of providing the kind of comprehensive tutoring required.

Isn’t it strange that this attitude to training and development is commonplace in an industry that invests in excess of €1 billion each year in marketing communications? Imagine our outrage if accountants, architects, dental hygienists, electricians, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists and teachers had the same attitude. Would you allow an untrained architect to design your home?


We need to address this situation with a renewed sense of purpose and develop a long-term strategy to fix the problem. To start a dialogue on the issue, we established a steering group of marketers, agency practitioners and media owners last year to discuss and debate the problem. There was general agreement that action is required.

Various ideas were discussed including the possibility of establishing a new school of marketing, but this did not get the group’s backing. Instead, the committee was in favour of an approach that addresses learning and development requirements at each career stage – junior, mid-level and senior – with the following three-point strategy:

1. Establish an entity that would provide accreditation for existing undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes

2. Establish a requirement for graduates to maintain an annual commitment to continuing professional development to maintain their professional qualification

3. Establish a chartered practitioner programme for senior marketers

The steering group also spoke of the important role that the Marketing Institute plays in education and the excellent work that has been done with the Marketer Pathways project. The next step, therefore, was to present the three-point proposal to the Board of the Marketing Institute; this happened in November.

At this meeting, I proposed that the Marketing Institute should be the lead stakeholder in this endeavour and that a new entity should be established (under the auspices of the Institute) to make it happen. This would be true to the Institute’s purpose, and the organisation has the credentials and reach to make a success of it. The Board said they would consider the recommendation.

So, that’s where things stand for now. There is no quick fix. Like everything else in life that’s worth doing, it will take a long-term strategy to make meaningful change, and success will be measured in decades.

What will that success look like? Ultimately, the goal of this initiative is to build a profession that is respected, admired and recognised for its creativity and ability to drive profit for business. I hope you agree that is something worth aiming for. In order to keep things moving, we will reconvene the steering group in Q2 to discuss progress.

In the meantime, let’s get back to the other burning issues of 2020 that are set out in this report. I hope you find Outlook 20 thought-provoking and useful. It covers the important matters that we foresee from the perspective of our nine Practices in Core: Creative, Data, Investment, Learning, Media, Recruitment, Research, Sponsorship and Strategy.

If you would like to discuss any of the content,
please feel free to call me on +353 1 649 6458.

Best wishes for the year ahead.



1. Fournaise Group, 2011
2. The Board-Brand Rift IPA & FT, 2019
3. MarketingWeek Career and Salary Survey, 2019
4. Core Research Marketing Professionals Survey, 2018
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