The Monday Interview - "So, what's it really like working as a... marketing consultant?"

marketing consultant

Welcome to this week’s ‘The Monday Interview’.

Ever wondered what marketing is all about? A lot of people do. Over the years that I’ve been involved in careers work, I’ve seen no end of clients wishing to break into this competitive career area. And many of those who are at the very start of their career planning know little about what is actually involved in this essential business operation.

Well, luckily we have an expert on hand today to help clarify exactly what marketing is, along with providing us with some useful tips on how to get started in marketing.

Claire Kerr has been working successfully as a marketing consultant for over 20 years. For the last 7 of these, she has been running her own consultancy www.kerrmunications.co.uk which focuses in particular on marketing communications. In today’s interview, she tells us the good and the not-so-good points of her job, and highlights the growing importance of using social media in this fast moving industry.

Thanks, Claire, for this fabulous interview and for teaching us so much about what is really involved in marketing. Now, repeat after me everyone: “it’s not just colouring in”…


So, briefly, what is your job?

“Currently, I’m a self-employed, freelance marketing consultant, and I have been doing this for the last 7 years. Before that though, I held a number of roles in marketing: from marketing assistant right through many different job titles up to marketing manager.”

How did you get into it?

“I really fell into marketing by accident; it was never a design of mine. I graduated from university in 1988, when it didn’t particularly matter what you studied and degrees were only just starting to become vocational. My degree in politics pretty much counted for nothing, except the fact that I was clever enough to go to university! I left not knowing what I wanted to do or how I wanted my career to pan out. In the summer, after graduating, I saw an advert for a marketing assistant in the local paper. It was for Canon. They were asking for A ‘levels, not a degree, so I was unsure whether I was overqualified. In this case, being overqualified was probably an asset, because I certainly didn’t excel in the marketing department. I don’t even think I really knew what marketing was at that time, and in the interview I recall answering that it had “something to do with advertising”.

Describe a typical day.

“Marketing - or in particular, marketing communications, as I do - is extremely varied, so a typical day is very hard to describe. Whether you’re working for a company “in-house” and doing its marketing, or working as an agency doing the marketing for several companies at a time, it’s probably the same though. To give you some examples, today I researched and wrote a blog post for one client, then spent some time looking into security equipment for products on display at another client’s trade show. I wrote some web copy for a third client, started to outline a marketing plan for a fourth client and arranged a meeting with a prospective new client. I work for several clients at once, but even in an in-house situation, my work was as varied, encompassing: PR, advertising, direct marketing, email marketing, social media, internet/digital marketing, content marketing, events, database management, etc.”

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“I really love the variety of the work itself. A lot of it is about researching and sourcing products and services - a market research company, or a marquee hire company or a photographer - which suits my inquisitive personality too. I entered into the world of marketing not really knowing what it was all about, and nearly 25 years later, I’m still here, and still enjoying it.”

And the least?

“As a freelancer, I find it really hard chasing companies for payments. It just doesn’t sit easily with me that people would try to not pay me for the work I have done for them (thankfully not the case with any of my current clients!). But as for marketing in general, I think what I enjoy least is that it isn’t well valued in the work place. There are very few marketing directors on the boards of companies. If your discipline is finance or operations, and sometimes human resources, companies will have a board place for you, but rarely is the same true if you’re a marketing director. So there is a limit to how far up the corporate ladder you can travel. That’s one of the reasons I set up on my own.”

What are the common misconceptions that people have about the work you do?

“I have a very lovely and very valued friend who has always - teasingly - said that marketing is about “colouring in”. Others have said that it’s just about creating brochures. While creativity and literature production are a part of marketing, the further up you progress, the more it is also about strategy and planning. A company’s success is, in my opinion, hinged on its marketing plan, and so marketers ought to be more valued and respected.”

What are the main skills you need to work in marketing?

“Listening and communication skills are probably the greatest assets a marketer can have. Marketing is all about understanding what the customer wants and delivering it to them (profitably). If you don’t listen to your customers, you will never be able to translate what you sell into tangible benefits that they want and can relate to. Additionally, a great deal of marketing these days takes place on the social media platforms. This is where the communication skills come in. Instead of the hard sell, a skilled marketer will engage in conversation and communicate with interested parties.”

Tell us a little about the benefits that come with the job.

“Marketing is pretty well paid, but it is quite difficult to get into these days - not like back in the 80s, anyway! If you are qualified (with a marketing degree or a qualification from the Chartered Institute of Marketing or similar), then it’s easier and also better paid. In some larger companies, with regional branches and a salesforce that needs supporting, a company car is often one of the benefits as it’s pretty much a necessity that the marketing staff work closely with the sales force. Otherwise, benefits will depend entirely on location, type of company and type of marketing you are doing.”

What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?

“My first piece of advice would be to get some experience and also some relevant qualifications. Either gain a marketing degree, or study for a further education marketing qualification (in my opinion, preferably from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, as it is well-respected as the industry body). And also make sure you undertake some intern or paid work experience. Experience is invaluable in marketing.

My second piece of advice would be to not even consider marketing as a career if you can’t spell or write coherently. There is a lot of copywriting in marketing, even for internal communications, and so it pays to be articulate and to know your grammar!

Finally, you would do well to use Twitter or LinkedIn to make sure you know what’s going on in marketing in general. Join some relevant groups, follow some marketers, marketing magazines and journalists on Twitter, and keep abreast of what’s happening. Technology and tactics move pretty quickly in the marketing world, so you will always need to be up to speed.”

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

“I’m really happy doing what I’m doing. I don’t particularly want to be the MD of a 20-strong marketing agency; nor be a board-level marketing director in a global conglomerate. I enjoy working with my handful of clients and helping to promote them so that their businesses are successful. My success at marketing them ensures their success, which in turn guarantees my own success. What’s not to like about that?!”

AND JUST FOR FUN…

First in the office or last to leave?

“First in the office - I work from home.”

Tea or coffee?

“Coffee. Currently served up by a Nespresso machine - sans George Clooney though, unfortunately.”

Staff canteen or packed lunch?

“Lovely home-cooked food (but leftovers sometimes too).”

The lift or the stairs?

“Stairs sadly. No lift here!”

Out after work or straight home to bed?

“Straight home to … more work. One of the disadvantages of working from home is that you can never really switch off.”