Mentor Network: Marketing as a Career Option – Kath Sharfman

Marketing is a fascinating, multi-layered field spanning advertising, branding and communication. As such, it will appeal to a broad range of people, diverse strengths and skills and an appreciation for science and art. 

First up … what is it?

If you Google “What is Marketing”, you’ll get hundreds of definitions, some of which you need to study Marketing to understand. Marketing can be advertising, it can be all kinds of communication and a whole lot more…  anything from branding that helps position a business correctly in the marketplace, to an advertising campaign that launches a new product and also improving the way customers experience the products and services they have signed up for. 

What I can say is that Marketing is instrumental to the success of any business; from getting traction when a business launches to its continued relevance in the years that follow.

Are you interested? Take the test…

If you answer Yes! to ANY of the questions below, Marketing may be for you.

  • Do you have a keen interest in people and what makes them tick? 
  • Do you like words, design and creative problem solving?
  • Are you interested in how brands show up? 
  • Are you fascinated about what makes a business successful?
  • Do you like encouraging people to try new things?
  • Are you keen to understand how and why advertising works, and what results matter?
  • Are you curious, even downright nosy and do you love learning? 

So… If you’re a fit, what now?

It’s fair to say the Marketing job market is competitive. You’ll often be up against someone with extensive marketing qualifications. Consider what courses you could take to boost your chances and demonstrate your enthusiasm for the field before you get on the ground experience if you can. 

What are your options when starting out?

  • Apply for a full time permanent role in a marketing, advertising or specialist agency providing services to clients.
  • Join an organisation’s in-house marketing department, sometimes even structured like an inhouse agency.
  • Create your own gig and be an entrepreneur, choosing how, when and where you work around the world for projects and clients to suit your needs.

The agency route…

An agency typically has teams including account management, strategy, creators and campaign managers. 

What would you want to do in an agency?

Here’s an overview of the typical roles…

  • Account management: You communicate with the client, write briefs and project manage campaigns. You have the best knowledge about your client, have great communication and interpersonal skills and can guide the client on how much the work costs and how long it will take.
  • Strategy: You work across teams to help find the right solution for the client. You find the insight to solve a creative challenge or business problem. You are a thinker and a trend watcher.

Here’s a broad run down of the other teams the account management and strategy folk will work with:

  • Creators: You have ideas and apply your craft, you often have vocational qualifications. Team members include a Designer (graphic, digital or interactive), a Copywriter, or a Programmer. Together or alone you create anything from a social media video, billboard poster or a radio script to a website or a press release.
  • Campaigners: You are an activity specialist such as a Social Media Manager, Advertising Campaign Managers or Public Relations specialist. You manage the marketing made by the creators in the marketing channels you focus on. You know your focus area well and have strong input into what is created and how it is received by the client’s audiences. 
  • Insight experts: You are helping track the performance of the marketing across all the activities, working with data analytics to help others learn more about how their marketing is working. 

These roles can and often are combined. There are no hard and fast rules. 

Client-side marketing, the inhouse way…

The Marketing department’s responsibilities include:

  • creating, executing and being accountable to the marketing plan that will meet the business’ overall objectives
  • being the brand custodian, making sure the brand is represented correctly across all touchpoints
  • managing the agencies working on your campaigns 
  • championing the customer’s experience of your business
  • gathering insights to share, for example, with the Product, Sales, Innovation and Finance teams.

Marketing departments vary in size and scope but may have a Chief Marketing Officer, a marketing manager responsible for a specific product, a digital marketing manager, a brand manager and someone or a team responsible for customer satisfaction. 

And your own gig economy?

It’s an option. People are choosing to freelance as Marketing specialists and generalists in order to work remotely or on specific assignments for agencies and clients.  Often they do so after having gathered real on the ground experience in an agency or client-side.

Marketing, as well as business as a whole, is in transformation. So we know these options will keep changing…

Where do I start?

When job hunting, the key is to start somewhere and build your experience from there. 

You can always change it up once you’ve started and know more about what you’re interested in. It’s so much easier to find out what you’re passionate about when you’re on the ground. 

Also. Don’t be shy to ask for help and advice. Start networking. Find out who amongst your friends and family knows someone that may have connections or advice. 

Kath has over 20 years of digital experience and 12 years in executive management with both start ups and global corporations. She is a member of the African Advisory board at the CMO Council and consults to businesses ready to launch, scale or reinvigorate. She has headed up marketing in Africa for Tencent, ranked in the top 10 largest companies in the world. As a marketing agency leader, she has worked for local and global brands in the UK and South Africa, including HSBC, HRH the Queen, MI5, Capitec Bank, Kauai and Woolworths.

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