Market View / Careers and Workforce

Market View: Make Continuing Education a Priority for Marketing

If marketing is a 'profession,' then treat it like one; create development programs and maybe even certification.

By John Stanton, Contributing Editor

I was recently talking to some executives about a food conference. In the course of the conversation they said they were just too busy to read or go to educational conferences. Their companies have downsized and added others' jobs to the executives that were remaining on the staff. They're now doing the jobs of two or even three people.

This is why so many practicing food marketing executives don’t keep up with their professional reading and development—they are “too busy.” It's a huge error that as an industry (and a profession) we do not make it a priority to stay in touch with recent developments. The fault clearly lies with the top management that appears to be more consumed with quarterly results rather than the growth and pervasion of the company.

How many top managers would trust a surgeon for an operation if they found out he or she hadn’t had any additional education since they graduated from medical school? I doubt anyone would, but this is an unlikely scenario because the medical community mandates continuing education to stay certified (just like accountants, dietitians and almost any other professional group).

As Peter Drucker once said, “In a fast-changing world, what worked yesterday probably doesn’t work today.” The dilemma we have is that most of what we have learned, and most of what we have done may not be what will make us successful in the future.

I have raised this issue before and the usual answer is “We tell them to read more,” or “They can take courses if they want.” But this is only after they do everything else that must be done. These are the people who don’t even take all of their vacation time! While their answer is “no time,” the real answer is no corporate priority.

Food marketers have no professional association that certifies what constitutes being a professional food marketer. Over the years I have met many people who have had responsibility for millions of corporate marketing dollars and never studied the very field they were in. I am not an advocate of getting traditional academic degrees such as MBAs in order to be good at what you do. But I do believe that we should have a way to provide a modicum of knowledge on the profession that we are in.

I recommend that every food company establish a standard for the food marketing staff that specifies exactly what type of information they should be intimate with in order to be a practicing food marketer. They should be able to show this either via seminars, course work or evidence of individual reading. They should be required to take an exam or do something to show they really understand the topics and issues they are working in.

When I ask executives in seminars to define marketing, I get as many different answers as there are people in the class. It would help everyone if all the people were on the “same page” as they go about marketing their products.

Additionally, companies should have a professional development plan that demonstrates that the marketing professionals are staying up to date with the profession, just as every other professional group requires.

Some companies have regular lunch seminars on new and pertinent topics, some have speakers come in and discuss issues and a few use things like conferences where everyone is available to have a truly educational update people on the profession. I once saw a small company that had an Oprah-like book club for business books. They would all have to read the “book of the quarter,” then they would meet one afternoon and discuss it.

One of my favorite events was the Campbell Soup global marketing conference held years ago. All the company marketing people would get to gather and listen to speakers (like David Ogilvy) and share experiences both positive and negative. It was cut to save money. Now look at the company!

However, the real commitment comes from top management that must make time and money available for their marketing managers to get and stay educated and trained. How many times have you heard a top manager say that his/her people "are the most important assets this company has.” Yet those same people treat virtually every other asset in the company better than they treat people.

There is no substitute for experience but I also think an experienced person who is not in tune with the current climate can be as much of a drag on the decisions a company makes as an asset. We have to stay current in our profession or fall behind.

Walt Disney is alleged to have said, “In this volatile business of ours, we can ill afford to rest on our laurels, even to pause in retrospect. Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly on the future.” At least beyond the next quarter!