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Deep Dive

Marketing's black hole: Emerging and experienced marketers at Arnott's, Baiada-Steggles, IAG and AANA dissect a worrying decline in marketer capabilities - it's urgent

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

9 March 2020 6min read

L to R: Baiada-Steggles' head of marketing Yash Gandhi, IAG CMO Brent Smart, Mi3's Paul McIntyre, John Broome of the AANA and Arnott's assistant brand manager James Shepherd

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

9 March 2020 6min read

If engineering and science professionals - and graduates - lacked the basics like their peers currently do in marketing and communications, carnage would prevail. So what’s going on with marketers and the universities producing the next generation of leaders? Three years after graduating from Sydney University, Arnott’s assistant brand manager James Shepherd dukes it out with IAG CMO Brent Smart, Head of Marketing at the $2.5bn Baiada-Steggles group, Yash Gandhi and AANA CEO John Broome on why marketers must be better - and how. 

“A lot of the people I’ve kind of interviewed or come across … not everyone, but a lot of them ... are quite tactics-focused and strategy comes afterwards, which is the wrong way around. It’s the tail wagging the dog.“

- Yash Gandi, head of marketing, Baiada Poultry

The tail is wagging the dog

There is a rising debate about the capabilities that are missing within the marketing community and within marketing talent. Do we have a problem?

“We do,” says AANA CEO John Broome. “Whether you’re on the demand-side or the supply side.”

Yash Gandhi, head of marketing at Baiada Poultry, the firm that owns brands like Steggles and Lilydale, can attest to that, having built out a marketing team in the four years  since swapping M&C Saatchi for the $2.5 billion chicken behemoth.

Gandhi thinks too many marketers coming through the ranks are forgetting the basics - or never knew them to start with – due to an unhealthy obsession with digital and tactics over strategy.

“We’ve got this vague idea of, ‘Oh, let’s do something sexy in digital’ but [are] forgetting the fundamentals, the strategy,” says Gandhi. “It’s always strategy before tactics.  But for now, for whatever reason, a lot of the people I’ve kind of interviewed or come across …not everyone, but a lot of them, are quite tactics-focused and strategy comes afterwards, which is the wrong way around. It’s the tail wagging the dog.”

Brent Smart, former chief exec at Saatchi & Saatchi New York, now CMO at IAG, agrees.

“I think we got a bit obsessed with digital capability over the last few years. A lot of the training went into that as opposed to the fundamentals of marketing. I am sure [that side of things] is important, but I think having a well-rounded understanding of marketing fundamentals is critical. I don’t think there’s been enough focus on that over the last few years.”

To address that within his own sphere, Smart says he is focusing on building capability in two key areas:

“Number one, effectiveness. I’m a disciple of Binet and Field. But there is so much incredible evidenced-based stuff now in the effectiveness space and I think any marketing team needs to really tap into that and apply it in a really practical way,” says Smart.  “So we’ve built out an effectiveness capability, which I think is really important for any modern marketing team.”

The second area is strategic capability.

“I spent 20 years in agencies.  I didn’t once come across a client that has as good a strategic capability as the agencies I’ve worked with. Many marketers rely on their agencies for strategy and I thought, ‘Why do that? Have it in-house.’  So we’ve built a strategic capability that I think is as good as any of the agencies we worked with,” says Smart. “We’ve got agency planners, media planners, data planners.  They just not only stretch our thinking, but also stretch the thinking of our agencies and give them the best briefs that they could possibly have.”

“I think when people are going into university, they’re getting into very defined, narrow swim lanes - so digital marketing, social media, whatever it happens to be. That’s not equipping you to actually tackle business challenges where you need core fundamental skills.”

- John Broome, CEO, AANA

Closing the skills gap

How is it that marketers are leaving higher education without a thorough understanding of the basics?

“It has become too specialist,” suggests the AANA’s Broome. “I think when people are going into university, they’re getting into very defined, narrow swim lanes - so digital marketing, social media, whatever it happens to be. That’s not equipping you to actually tackle business challenges where you need core fundamental skills, those commercial skills for example.

“You need skills right across the four Ps [of price, product, place and promotion] to be able to solve those business problems.”

Hence the AANA launching its Brand Masters Program – a modular training course to cover the core fundamentals of marketing aimed primarily at those with 3-5 years experience.

“It’s by marketers, for marketers, so it’s objective, it’s impartial – we’re not selling anything here,” says Broome.

“It’s made up of five modules starting off with how do we get all the information and data that’s coming at us and get some real insights and real springboards for growth for the business.  We’re looking at how you develop brands and how you use brand to drive business growth.  And then through that, the tactics of creativity, media,” says Broome.

The modules also look at closing the loop – demonstrating that marketing investment is working. Do that, says Broome, the non marketers and finance people, “should see marketing as an investment, not an expense.”

 

THE PULSE

Quick question: Marketers: are you confident you have a solid grounding in the fundamentals?

Choices
Skill up or go home

James Shepherd, assistant brand manager at Arnott’s Shapes, was part of the Brand Masters pilot. He says young marketers should take all the training they can get their hands on.

“You should probably leave marketing if you’re not going to skill up and train every single opportunity you can,” suggests Shepherd.

“It’s a perfect opportunity to link it in back with my core fundamentals of the internal program we’re doing at Arnott’s. From the taster that we got in the pilot, it looks like we’re going to get a lot of external people in to actually talk about their fields and to give us an education of the specific parts of marketing that they are experts in,” he ads. “So, I’m really really excited about that.”

 

“Being moved around into different reams and business partners so that I can establish and really effectively grow the areas that I need for by next role … that is one of the big things that has made me loyal to Arnott’s.”

- James Shepherd, assistant brand manager, Arnott's Shapes

On the job

Shepherd is the most recent marketing graduate on the panel. He thinks universities provide a reasonable grounding in the basics - “the Ps” of marketing. But three years into a marketing career at Arnott’s, Shepherd says there is no substitute for real world learning.  Graduates that do not put in “one or two years” workplace experience during their course may struggle, he suggests.

When entering the workplace, he says good management and structured learning is critical in ensuring young talent fulfils its potential – and sticks around.

“I came into the business as a 22-year-old, so for me, training was everything. Being moved around into different reams and business partners so that I can establish and really effectively grow the areas that I need for by next role … that is one of the big things that has made me loyal to Arnott’s.”

Prior to M&C Saatchi, Yash Gandhi completed an MBA at University of Technology in Sydney and majored in international business management and marketing.

Uni, he says “was great” in terms of learning how to work with different people and teams. “But apart from that, pretty much everything I’ve learned was on the job.”

 

“We’ve done such a bad job marketing marketing.  If we want to attract the best young talent to our industry, we’ve got to fix that.”

- Brent Smart, CMO, IAG

Why marketing needs to start marketing

IAG’s Brent Smart goes further. He thinks ad agencies are “the greatest training ground” for marketers – because you learn how not to do marketing.

“I think where I learned most was working with clients, good ones and bad ones,” says Smart. “I probably learned more working with the bad ones than I have working with the good ones.  That experience really lets you work out how to do it.” 

Smart also says agencies provide a solid commercial grounding for marketers, which he thinks is “one of the big gaps” in marketing capability.

The other big gap, he says, is leadership.

“We need to see less marketing managers who are managing marketing and more marketing leaders who are really leading their organisations and leading their brands,” says Smart.

Meanwhile, if the sector is to attract the brightest minds versus the lure of tech and entertainment categories, Smart says marketing needs to start following its own playbook.

“Marketing has done a shocking job marketing marketing, right?  The things I read about marketing, CMO tenures are the worse. In the C-suite,  marketers aren’t taken seriously by boards or CEOs.  We’re calling ourselves silly things like growth officers and experience officers like we’re not even proud to be marketers anymore,” says Smart.

“We’ve done such a bad job marketing marketing.  If we want to attract the best young talent to our industry, we’ve got to fix that.”

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By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

9 March 2020 6min read

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