Degree v Apprenticeship • Orchid

Degree v Apprenticeship

Degree v Apprenticeship

What value a marketing degree?

As my boys grow up I’m aware that very soon they’ll be considering their choices for the future.  What subjects to take; what career path to follow.  I think the reality is dawning on them that the professional footballer route may not be as easy to achieve as they once believed.

So what if one of them wanted to follow in my footsteps?  Perhaps take over at the helm of ORCHID one day?  The million dollar question is: would I advocate them going to college to study a marketing degree? In my heart of hearts I think the answer would be no.  Likewise, if they wanted to do anything other than a career that necessitates it, I do think nothing quite beats on-the-job apprenticeship experience.

This isn’t to undermine those institutions that offer very notable degrees on the subject.  But having worked in the industry now for more than twenty years and seen a number of candidates wanting to rise through the marketing ranks, I think that in our industry there are fundamental non-taught skills that create the foundation of a good marketer.

For me, those non-taught skills have to be:

1. Common sense and a passion to learn;

2. The ability to manage and understand people;

3. Inquisitiveness;

4. Being brilliantly organised;

5. Being able to step back and see the bigger picture.


I’ve seen too many candidates for a role who, on paper, would fit the bill.  Fresh out of university with their media or marketing degree and a healthy crop of A levels under their belts.  But when you dig deeper to get a feel for their non-taught skills, you so often hit a brick wall.  You talk to them about what inspires them; what they read, watch and listen to to expand their thoughts and opinions; who they admire and would like to emulate and they stare back at you blankly.  ‘But I’ve been to college; I’ve got the qualification; give me a job!’.

I was asked to meet a young chap the other day who is keen to develop in his marketing career.  He wanted advice about the CIM qualifications to supplement his existing degree.  When I asked him what book he was currently reading he replied ‘I don’t have time to read’.  When I asked what inspired him he couldn't really think of an answer, other than the latest FIFA 15 release.  And in that moment I felt really sorry for him because unless he fundamentally changes his attitude, he will never be a great marketer.

Marketers have to have a burning passion for life, a desire to learn and a drive to understand and expand their horizons.  Without that, how can you ever hope to work with a client, regardless of industry, and have the discipline (and the know how) to knuckle down and understand their challenges in order to make meaningful, creative recommendations in the context of a business need?

My plea to all those budding marketers out there is to start expending some real energy on developing your non-taught skills.

Read, read and read some more: research reports; news; articles; insights; social media.  Expand your knowledge, your opinions and your ability to influence.

Learn to tell stories.  Really fantastic stories.  The future of marketing will be in creating content, founded on brilliant stories that bring a brand to life and help the customer respond to narrative that has quickly grasped their attention.

Go out and meet people.  Build relationships.  Build networks.  Understand how relationships build trust, admiration and credibility.  Work out what makes people ‘tick’.  It’s relationships between customers and companies that maintain sales, not hard-sell manipulative tactics.

Track trends.  What’s happening in the world, your neighbourhood, your industry? 

In my mind, knowledge is power and experience is king.  The world of marketing is evolving rapidly and technology is shaping our future whether we like it or not.  Taking three years + out to sit in a classroom versus learning on the job and expanding your experience, network and non-taught skills? I know which I would choose to keep me ahead of my peers.


Author: Sam Watts