russell parsons, marketing week; abi willstead, specsavers; julie bramham, diageo; richard robinson, econsultancy
Left to right: Russell Parsons, Marketing Week; Julie Bramham, Diageo; Zaid Al-Qassab, Channel 4; Abi Willstead, Specsavers; Richard Robinson, Econsultancy. February 8th, London.

At Econsultancy’s inaugural Marketing Capability Leaders Forum last week, senior figures from Channel 4, Diageo and Specsavers discussed learning and development against the backdrop of the latest Marketing Week Career and Salary survey results.

The survey findings illustrate the difficulties for marketers in 2024, with nearly half (46.5%) of respondents reporting that their team has been the subject of a restructure, and two fifths (40.1%)  saying they have taken on more responsibility without an increase in pay.

However, there are reasons to be cheerful, Marketing Week Editor-in-Chief Russell Parsons told host Richard Robinson, Director at Econsultancy, including the proportion of marketers that feel more confident in their ability to influence change (56.3%), or simply feel they have a greater impact on their organization (65.1%). 

The industry landscape was summarised neatly by Julie Bramham, Global Marketing Transformation Director at Diageo, who said that, whereas marketers may have once been looking for some “return to normalcy” after the Covid-19 pandemic, they are now “used to working with volatility”.

Bramham also commented on the “ballooning role of the brand manager and the marketing team” and the need to have “capability that spans a relatively complex set of different skills [such as data and AI], whilst at the very centre of it, having the holistic understanding of what marketing is.”

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Doing “better things” trumps doing “more stuff”

The number of respondents to Marketing Week’s survey that said they hire external talent to plug skills gaps in their teams (34.5%) was similar to the number that said they train existing staff (​33.8%). This represents a big shift since 2022, when the proportion hiring was almost double those that were upskilling existing staff (40.1% to 21.3%).

Channel 4 CMO Zaid Al-Qassab emphasised the importance of investing in people, saying, “You can keep hiring [more] people to do ‘more stuff’. But if you invest in them, at a fraction of what it costs to hire, you actually develop people who can do ‘better things’.”

Al-Qassab was highlighting the value in the approach he experienced at Procter & Gamble as a new graduate, where employees were “evaluated at the end of every year – 50% on the business results and 50% on what they called the organization results.” This latter measure was effectively about “growing your people”, he said.

Encouraging curiosity, and “role modelling”

When it comes to building a culture of learning, Abi Willstead, Head of Brand and Marketing Excellence at Specsavers, talked about “practical” measures her team have taken, such as “blocking out two hours in people’s diaries every Friday afternoon, to signal that we should be spending time [learning] on a weekly basis.”

Willstead admitted that allotting a percentage of time is tricky to get right. “When you think about different styles of learning, you can be learning through [the simple act of] listening to conversations,” she said, “it doesn’t have to [always] be about dedicated training… but we’re trying to instil curiosity… and a drive to learn.”

Learning “could just be engagement and curiosity and reading and finding something that people can connect to in their own time,” agreed Diageo’s Bramham. “Think about it really holistically. Learning should be being coached on the job, in a moment, it should be learning yourself, particularly from things that you screwed up. How are you helping your peers to understand [where you went wrong] and what you’ve done differently?”

The panel responded to questions about dealing with learner apathy, with Channel 4 CMO Al-Qassab describing his efforts as “role modelling”.

“Amongst me and amongst the directors who report to me, we’re quite serious about making sure we are investing in ourselves and making it very public that that’s what we’re doing – [telling people that] I am out on a training course because I am learning about ‘X’ or, [I’ve] been to see these external people because they are experts in [something] that we are not so good at – so that people get it.

“So they know I’m investing in myself and those skills, and they can see that that’s something we care about. I think a lot of people perceive that [learning] isn’t valued, and you need to show them it is.”

Measuring the ROI of learning

The panel were clear that the return on L&D investment must be understood empirically. “If you don’t have a measure that’s about how people are learning and developing, how can you possibly expect the organization you lead to think that you care about learning and developing,” said Al-Qassab.

He added that though “process measures” are easy to take (i.e. ‘Did you attend some training?’), “ultimately the measure we care about is probably revenue.”

“It might be ARPU or lifetime value or number of new customer subscriptions but it’s something like that and really that’s the only measure that counts,” said Al-Qassab, noting that one simple way to do this is to survey employees and ask them if they think the training in question is going to impact on the bottom line.

“Does that convince the company to give you more training budget? Well, if you’re not able to convince the company that having people who are more skilled is going to be good, then you should probably leave the company,” said the CMO.

Specsavers’ Abi Willstead explained a range of factors influenced by L&D investment. “Our legacy, that we want to leave in marketing, is to leave the brand in a better shape than we found it… with a community of marketers that are thriving, so this links to [measures] like the ‘great place to work’ survey that we run.”

Willstead also drew a link between investment in learning and the ability to attract the right talent to your business, which represents another return on a visible commitment to learning.

The fundamentals of marketing are unchanged (but that doesn’t mean there aren’t digital skills gaps)

As for what marketers should be learning, many in the industry will be familiar with the debate had by the panel, which spoke to Bramham’s assertion that a core set of marketing fundamentals are surrounded by a growing list of supplementary skills.

“Marketing never actually changes,” said Al-Qassab, championing the fundamentals. “It is exactly the same job it’s always been.”

Whilst the panel agreed on an evergreen definition of marketing, there was recognition that, yet again, data and analytics was the biggest skill gap in the Marketing Week survey (46.2% said it is the key skill missing from their team) with other areas such as social media and performance marketing also featuring.

“[It’s] not unique to marketing,” said Al-Qassab of the data imperative. “In all careers, the ability to use data in the digital world has become more important. It doesn’t matter if you’re a marketer or salesperson or HR person… [But] perhaps uniquely, marketing has a cohort of people where a proportion of them were not very data literate or analytical, right? They thought of themselves as purely creative. Well, tough luck, the world changed, and not just in marketing.”

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