Why marketing needs to take a new look at old mentoring
Marketing professionals keep getting younger and their audience keeps getting older. Rob Morrison channels his grumpy old man and discusses the importance of mentoring programs.
First, a quick anecdote.
My first ever marketing boss was an amazing woman named Barb Noonan. It was the late 80s and Barb had already smashed through her fair share of the glass ceiling.
She was managing a large marketing budget in a very large organisation. She was making multi-million dollar decision almost daily. She did everything by the book. Planned the right way. Got to stakeholders at the right time. Refused every short-cut.
Clearly, she left a lasting impression on me.
Flash forward 30 years and I’ve just had a conversation which made me worry for our profession.
I was chatting with a ‘soon to be retiring’ member of staff. Much consulted. Much admired. He was often the calm, wise head in a room full of youthful exuberance.
That’s what happens when you’ve been in the business nearly 40 years – not the industry, the business. You help the organisation avoid making expensive mistakes.
Now I can hear the rumblings of the Gen Ys and Millennials from here. ‘How boring! How can you stay in one place that long?’
‘Sorry, what did you say? I was checking my Snapchat.’ (Ok, so that was a cheap shot, but you get my point.)
My worry is this:
Without the wise heads, what will stop marketers making the kind of mistakes Barb Noonan stopped me from making? Because truth is, the profile of the average marketing department is getting a younger and younger.
Want a scary number?
When I graduated in 1988 there were only three Universities offering Marketing degrees – UNSW, Macquarie and Mitchell (nee Charles Sturt) in Bathurst.
Now, you can study marketing at more than 25 tertiary institutions in NSW alone, offering 153 different derivations, including among the – wait for it – sandstone cloisters of Sydney University. Shock, horror.
Every year, more and more universities are pushing out more and more graduates. And in a business environment, where every dollar saved drops to the bottom line, grads have serious appeal. But does that really mean we should be giving the kids the keys to the car? Without training?
I’m lucky. I work for a marketing organisation that has recognised the value in both the enthusiasm of youth and the wisdom of experience. We run a serious mentoring program.
Our juniors get a training budget and regular access to industry experts. The aim is to build their skills and their confidence so they deliver first time, every time.
But I fear we’re in the minority.
Because I know a lot of the hard-head mentors are now missing. Maybe it’s ageism or maybe they’ve just decided – like my friend – to move onto their next phase. But Marketing is worse for it. More major decisions are being made by younger and younger marketers. Decisions which are impacting where millions of dollars in budget are being spent.
This is in spite of our target audiences getting older. Want another scary fact?
ABS estimates “over the next 40 years, the proportion of the population over 65 years will almost double to around 25%.”
So younger and younger marketers will need to understand an older and older market without the help of older marketers. So it’s not impossible to imagine more mistakes. Product development mistakes. Pricing strategy mistakes. Media choice mistakes. And, yes, creative execution mistakes.
Maybe I’m just forgetting that marketing departments have always been filled with youthful upstarts – even when I was one. Maybe the industry will go back to the fundamentals which got us here – understand the customer first.
Maybe, with the amount of data now available to marketers, behaviour will be the basis of decision-making – not assumption.
Or maybe we all need to acknowledge the need for great mentoring programs.
Across the industry, not just across your company. That way the next generation of marketers will know the importance of trailblazers like Ogilvy and Bernbach, Jobs and Branson, Zuckerberg and Sorrell, Musk and Droga. Their successes and their failures.
Of course it could be that now I’ve clocked up over – gulp – 25 years as a Marketer, my perspective has become a bit twisted. Maybe I’m now the grumpy old Clint Eastwood character that Barb Noonan had to railroad against for all those years.
Can you see me shouting ‘get off my lawn?’
Actually, don’t answer that.
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