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News Analysis 3 Feb 2020 - 3 min read

Are universities creating myopic "swim lane" marketers?

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

Marketers are becoming more siloed at an early age, which could be heavily influenced by the type of courses and degrees offered by some of Australia's leading universities.

KPMG partner Sudeep Gohil, Volvo marketer Julie Hutchinson, AANA CEO John Broome and Brand Traction principle, Jon Bradshaw, discuss the impact universities are having on the country's next wave of young marketers, and suggest there may be a need to reexamine what they are being fed and revisit the key principles of marketing.

You can listen to the debate via the Mi3 podcast here.

Volvo's Hutchinson thinks university marketing courses are light on "modern behavioural economics and the theory that we’re being exposed to". But she acknowledges its not a new problem. 

"Even in my case, I’ve been taught by some legends in my practical experience," says Hutchinson.

"So being handed a book by a boss and being told to read it, that’s a moment where you know you’re getting trained and you’re getting exposed, having conversations with your strategy head at your media agency or your creative agency where they’re feeding you different pieces of information - because we don’t always sit down and read a book cover to cover."

As a result, Hutchinson says she feels a responsibility to introduce the works of Byron Sharp, Binet & Field and Philip Kotler to her team - because they may not have studied them in much depth.

Gohil thinks many marketing graduates emerge from university with either a very "general knowledge" that may not be relevant to the roles they are looking to step into, or are the opposite. So specialised that they have only "one tool in the entire tool chest".

Gohil thinks universities may be struggling to make new academic theory interesting to learn.

"I don’t really know why because I’ve been to quite a few [lectures] for things like the Marketing Academy and so forth, where people like Mark Ritson can captivate a crowd of 22-year-olds for an hour and a half talking about exactly the same stuff that we’re talking about here," says the former Droga5 boss.

"So it’s possible. It is interesting and relevant if we just put it in front of people in the right way."

Gohil also offers a counterpoint to Hutchinson's experience of being given a reading list while learning her trade might not be a positive experience for the new generation of marketers.

 "I think the idea of getting handed down a book from your boss is probably helpful but also probably slightly intimidating as well in some instances.  'Read this otherwise you’re no good to me' type of thing."

AANA CEO John Broome says there is broad range of marketing theory for graduates to consider - and that institutions may not be covering all bases.

"Philip Kotler talks about segmentation, loyalty and so forth. Byron Sharp is at the opposite end of that continuum, so it’s a complete alternative.  If some academic institutions are turning out young graduates without these alternatives, then when they come into the workforce, we as marketers have to retrain them," Broome says.

Conversations with junior marketers suggest a significant portion found the knowledge they acquired at university was not applicable when entering the workforce.

Other conversations echo the sentiment that while their degree in communications may have featured marketing-centric classes, most people found themselves working for agencies, where jobs, particularly at entry level, are more accessible.

Primarily, universities throughout Australia have marketing built into other degrees such as business, commerce and communications.

The majority of dedicated marketing courses occur in post-graduate study, which is outside of the HECS program and are generally full-fee paying courses, which often leads to a drop-off in immediate applications following undergraduate study. In other cases, students are more likely to visit post-graduate opportunities when they have earned the money by entering the workforce.

Statistically, growth in undergraduate degrees under the umbrella of 'society and culture', which primarily includes a bachelor of arts or communications, was up 2.1 per cent in 2019. However, these degrees are more likely to fall under public relations and advertising streams  than marketing.

Other bachelor degrees that are more likely to feature a heavy marketing skew such as commerce and business experience saw declines of 9.1 per cent in applications and 7.7 per cent in actual offers.

To combat this, the likes of the AANA, Australian Institute of Marketing and the Communications Council have all put together courses for young marketers and members who are looking to obtain further education in the field.

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Josh McDonnell

Senior Writer

Market Voice

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