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This week I’m ‘hosting’ a stand at a sixth-form careers fair. I’ll be chatting to people aged 16-18, starting the final phase of secondary education and planning their onward path in life.

Hopefully, one of those people is you! Because – to save my voice on the night – I thought I’d write some thoughts down, and direct you here to read them in your own time.

So, if you did… thanks for taking me up on the offer, and welcome!

By way of introduction (to me + my career)…


Let me just briefly share my own experience of ‘getting into’ marketing. I’m then going to cover:

  1. Some answers to questions you might be trying to answer now.
  2.  Some tips you might want to bear in mind for the future.
  3. Some other places you can find brilliant inspiration / guidance / proper real-world advice whenever.

So, me. I now work as a Digital Marketing Executive for a global recruitment agency. Day-to-day, I manage social media accounts, write copy, work on digital campaigns, design adverts – it’s a very hands-on role.

I’ve worked in marketing, give-or-take, for around 7 years. My first paid roles were in PR / journalism at the awesome Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I interned at a few places – newspapers, video production, advertising – then, after doing a heap of applications, got a job as Marketing Manager of a mid-sized theatre & venue (which I was really fortunate to get.)

My career so far has been brilliant fun. It’s involved lots of ‘make-it-up-as-you-go’ and problem-solving your way out of sticky situations, all of which makes every day interesting.

Brand-wise, I’ve worked directly/indirectly for/with Lacoste, The Guardian, Royal Mail, Edinburgh Fringe, Berghaus, an investment bank, some charities, a TV production company, etc.

Enough about me, though – back to you!

Here’s some advice. Just my opinion. Take it or leave it. Do whatever the heck you like 😉

1. Immediate Questions: What to study, etc.


  • What should I study if I want a career in marketing?
    • Anything. Technically. There are some subjects that’ll give you a more obvious route. But marketing employers accept (even actively seek) the full breadth of academic interests into their jobs. I know people who work in marketing with/without degrees/good grades. And people who studied English / Business / Geography / Sports / Media / Psychology / Physics / all sorts. Strong academics help you stand out – but there are other ways in.
  • So… I don’t need to study Marketing? Or Business?
    • No. Not unless you want to. It’s simply not the same as Law / Medicine / Nursing / etc, where you have to jump through pre-defined hoops. Personally, I was thinking of studying business at university, but started to change my mind as I learned that people in the types of advertising jobs I thought I’d like had studied all kinds of other subjects. Marketing principles and fundamental business knowledge is utterly essential for a career in marketing, but studying for a degree is just one of many ways you can acquire that knowledge.
  • How should I choose what’s best to study, then?
    • If you want to work in marketing, just choose something that really interests you. That should lead you to the marketing specialism you’ll be best suited to. I studied English, which was great. I write every day, so I’d say it worked out for me.
  • Is it hard to get a job in marketing?
    • No and yes. (In that order!) ‘No’ because it’s a booming sector, with fascinating new applications. London in particular is an absolute power-house of marketing, so you’re in exactly the right place if you live nearby. ‘Yes’, though, because although you should be OK getting a job, it might take you a while to break into the exact area you want to be in.
  • What else should I do to fill the CV, besides studying?
    • If I were considering your job application, I’d be interested to see that you had: sold stuff; done something off your own back; set up your own ‘whatever’ online; worked in a business at any level; picked up some day-to-day marketing skills in your own time (particularly code / software / design / analytics); travelled a bit; done well at some sports; written stuff.

2. Future Tips: Things you should know about marketing


(At this point, I feel I should apologise for the length of this blog… I’m really trying to be brief. This is what happens when you work in ‘communications’!)

  • Marketing is a great career. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
  • 10-20 years after you’ve started your career, maybe you’ll get somewhere near the ‘perfect’ job. Meanwhile, you’ll need someone to pay you to live. So to start out, don’t be too proud or precious. You’re not going to be head of social media at Apple just yet…
  • …And while you head towards that dream job, all you need to do is find something you can tolerate, that pays you money, and allows you to build up the right skills and experience – use any chance you get to prove your value. I turned down (or simply didn’t apply to) opportunities I’d put in the ‘dull / uninspiring’ category, instead slogging on to find something more ‘perfect’ immediately. I wouldn’t necessarily do that again.
  • Marketing is clever selling. If you do marketing, the bottom line is always sales. Spend too long talking about a video ‘going viral’ or getting ‘likes’ and you’ll find the boss eventually demands an explanation of why it’s had no effect whatsoever on sales. Experience dealing with the pressure (and enjoying the success) of selling something will set you apart on applications and in interviews.
  • Companies are all extremely different. It’ll probably take you a good while to find the type of company that works for you. Big ones, small ones, agencies, retailers, B2C, B2B, H2H (look it up), etc etc. They all have merits and drawbacks. Start somewhere and you’ll begin to figure it out. You can even work freelance, for yourself.
  • Some marketing disciplines (I’m thinking social media, content, editorial) are inundated with applications – think 100’s of applications a day. Meanwhile, slightly different specialisms (PPC, web analytics, SEO, email, internal communications) get nothing like that attention, yet are in massive demand. I recommend focusing on the later to start with if you can. In practice, you’ll probably be working in the same office, on the same projects. And it’ll be way easier to transfer to another specialism once your foot’s in the door.
  • Training for these high-demand disciplines can be done online, from £FREE to about £100 max, in a few days. You’ll then quite genuinely have the technical knowledge needed. Showing just that level of commitment will immediately get you about the parapet – way better odds than mindlessly applying for social media jobs which you’ll never hear back from because 500 people applied.

3. Other places you’ll find advice & inspiration for your marketing career


Blogs: I found lots of the advice on Sell Out Your Soul really heartening. If you’re planning on studying arts or humanities, people (*ahem* parents) will frequently tell you that the path ahead will be tough. This blog is the antidote, showing you exactly where you can add value to the world. Also, Primer has similarly-uplifting guides – though very much men-focused.

Podcasts: Freakonomics is one of the world’s most listened-to podcasts. Though it’s economics-focussed, the overlap with marketing is significant. Listen to a few of these and you’ll become a font of ideas and real-world marketing examples. On BBC Radio 4’s The Bottom Line, Evan Davis (Dragon’s Den host) interviews business leaders. There’s lots of marketing-insider chat in the archives.

Videos: You can’t really beat TED talks.

Media: It’s worth having an appreciation of what’s going on in the ‘business’ and ‘tech’ worlds. Read those sections in any paper, or whizz through The Economist, or Forbes, or HBR, or wherever really.

Courses: Online education is exploding at the moment. I regularly take short courses online to top-up my skills and help me work better. Try, various Googleofferings, UdemyHubSpot Academy. There’s loads.

Book: Ogilvy On Advertising is written by the founder of one of the world’s most successful ad agencies. He’s seriously arrogant, which makes it a very entertaining read. It’s written as a guide to ‘young hopefuls’. Written in 1983, but still recommended by seemingly everyone (apparently nobody’s written a better guide since!)

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