Debate: Are senior marketers underrepresented in the classroom?

Topic sentence: Based on your and your institution’s classroom experience, are senior marketers underrepresented in educational programs?



Jake HirdJake Hird
Director of research and education

I think the short answer here, as a broad sweeping statement, is yes.

Specifically looking towards professional development in a more practical sense, as opposed to more academic education, there are a couple of issues

at play. The first is the problem that, as research has demonstrated time and time again, there are a few senior marketers who overestimate their abilities and knowledge – so simply don’t particularly invest in educating themselves further.

But I think that the biggest problem is generally due to lack of time and support from within their businesses. Already marketers are expected to go beyond the marketing department in their roles – marketers increasingly seem to be finding themselves shouldering responsibilities from PR, sales, customer services, HR and more. Sitting inside this are also the added pressures and responsibilities that usually follow as professionals (in any line of business) progress up the career ladder: budgets, staff, internal politics, upward management, targets…

And this is without even focusing on the complexities from technology which is arising from within what should be their core focus.

Digital is exacerbating problems for marketers and given how fast the landscape is evolving, the difficulty marketers have in being able to keep pace is usually very visible. But this isn’t for lack of wanting to learn and develop these new skillsets – it’s the restrictions they often find set against them in the workplace.

More often than not, they simply run out of time.


Wayne BinneyDr Wayne Binney
Marketing discipline leader
Deakin Graduate School of Business

In general, senior marketers are underrepresented in tertiary education programs. However, we need to take a closer look at what we mean by the ‘classroom experience’ in commenting on this issue.

At our institution, about half of the students enrolled in postgraduate courses complete their studies in the off-campus mode. Offcampus study is now far more sophisticated than the old ‘external studies’ programs. Those enrolled off campus are offered a study program that is comparative to that which is offered to the on-campus student cohort, providing learning experiences for those who could not normally attend regular classes, e.g. busy marketing managers!

There is particular interest in the applied skills of senior marketers, rather than the actual course content they have learnt due to it becoming quickly out-dated. Teaching management skills to cope with the rapidly-changing demands of the business environment is now a key component of most tertiary marketing courses.

It is clear that senior marketers are now being ‘forced’ into upskilling as their staff, colleagues and clients expect that they remain abreast of continual changes occurring in the business environment.

The level of one’s seniority may determine needs around upskilling. Typically, we find that it is middle managers who are more likely to undertake comprehensive marketing courses. Senior marketers are prone to select short, executive type courses to learn specific skills.

Unfortunately, few of these types of programs are now available following the GFC, which perhaps presents an opportunity for industry bodies and education providers working in partnership to target the specific needs of senior marketers together.

Con StavrosDr Con Stavros
Associate professor of marketing
RMIT University

I don’t believe this is the case. In my experience postgraduate courses – where you would expect to find senior marketers – are a particularly unique form of education, and not just because of the depth of knowledge required.

It is not unusual to find a senior marketer in a room sitting alongside someone making a dramatic career change from an entirely different field.

In these instances those with practical marketing experience help provide valuable industry insights and applications and at the same time they benefit from different views and skills that other students bring. As an educator it is part of my role to facilitate this interaction and while it can be challenging, it is clearly very rewarding to the participants to have these multiple perspectives.

While I have noticed that postgraduate qualifications are now becoming more of an entry ticket to senior marketing roles, and therefore students are seeking such skills out as part of their early career planning, the presence of senior marketers has not diminished in the classroom as a result but merely been transformed.

In many instances we are seeing senior marketers taking guest lectures and leading industrybased student projects, bringing their knowledge to educational programs and at the same time allowing them to tap into the current thoughts of the typically motivated and aspirational students (and academics) that make up such courses. This provides a win-win for all concerned.

Finally, keep in mind that the barriers to entry for marketers to engage in relevant educational programs in Australia are relatively low. Affordable, practical and high-quality opportunities are in abundance and so there is little excuse for any marketer not to engage in maintaining and improving their skills right throughout their career.


James FitzgeraldJames Fitzgerald
Program director
Social Media Knowledge

No. Our one and two day training courses have been attended by thousands of marketing, comms and media professionals over the past two years.

Naturally we experience a mix of attendees in terms of seniority. However, there doesn’t appear to be a significant underrepresentation. Similarly, SMK operates training courses in all state capitals, approximately every two months, and we have observed no obvious bias state to state, based upon seniority.

I believe senior marketing/comms professionals will take the time out of the office to attend face-to-face training courses if they feel they will come away with real insights and actionable takeaways. There are some very passionate educational providers in Australia and vendors providing real practical advice, guidance and up-to-date information, as opposed to tired rhetoric and clichés, that are undoubtedly helping keep many senior professionals abreast.

I would argue that if there is an underrepresentation it is probably born from a perceived lack of insight or credibility from senior marketers towards educational vendors, rather than an unwillingness to learn. I know anecdotally from talking to numerous SMK training alumni that they often come away from other training courses, conferences and webinars feeling underwhelmed.

Keeping content up to date is very challenging in such a dynamic space. Training materials can literally change from weekto-week, for example when Facebook changes its policy and Twitter rolls out a new feature.

With technology and connected devices turning the way we market and communicate on its head, it has never been more important for senior marketers to be up-skilling. By the same token marketers are notoriously busy and time poor, so if educational providers wish to coax them away from their desk and into the classroom some need to up their game.