Career planning in a crisis

7 May 2020 by Sandra Lawler

Career planning in a crisis


Sandra Lawler Marketing, Leadership, Career Advice...

Career planning in a crisis

On the right path? A unique time for reflection

Covid 19 has been a unique and challenging experience on many levels and whether or not you have been made redundant, or you feel secure in your position, you may be at a point of introspection and reflection. For marketers, there are several compelling reasons to spend some time reflecting on your career plan right now.

Firstly, a crisis affords a good opportunity to reflect on your career and re-evaluate the path you are on or if you are starting out, the direction you want to take.

What do I really want to do? What energises and excites me? What plays to my strengths? Does the work I do matter? Does it have meaning for me? Do I have a sense of purpose? Does it benefit society and the environment?

These are questions to ask throughout your career, and most especially at a time when the fragility and preciousness of life is thrown into sharp relief. None of us know how long we get to spend on this planet, so now is as good a time as any to plan a career that will excite and empower your potential.

Secondly, there will continue to be opportunities for marketers in the current market.

Although in the short to mid-term the recruitment market will undoubtedly remain depressed due to the impact of the lockdown, there will continue to be a number of potential job opportunities for marketers in several of the sectors which are experiencing strong demand during the crisis, such as FS, Retail, Food, Agri, Tech (for example EdTech and MedTech), Pharma and Healthcare.

There is also strong demand for specific specialist  areas such as communications (internal and corporate), e-commerce, digital marketing, social media and content, as every business which can, moves over to or amplifies their trading online …all the while seeking to engage their employees working remotely or at some kind of frontline and managing their reputations.

Contract opportunities will also increase as many businesses will have to shore up marketing teams with interim managers, contractors or consultants to cover critical marketing roles during maternity leave, parental or sick leave or to deliver key projects such as e-commerce, digital transformation, organisational reviews, customer audits, CX, brand and product development, commercial partnerships and innovation.

Internal opportunities will also arise. In a time of external recruitment freezes companies must look to their internal talent to resource or back fill, which can offer an opportunity to broaden your experience or bag a promotion.

Thirdly, as Marketing is a multi-disciplinary, ever evolving profession there are many options and paths to choose from, so it is important to consider which area of marketing is right for you and what the long term career development opportunities are in that discipline.

“Marketing” is an umbrella term encompassing a wide number of ever evolving and brand new specialist areas, as well as traditional skill sets such as: Strategy, Planning, Innovation, Research, Insights and Data, Brand management, Product management, Creative, Advertising, Proposition development, Pricing and Revenue Growth, Internal and Corporate Communications, E-commerce, Digital Marketing, Social Media, Content, PR, Experiential marketing, Trade marketing, Base management, CRM, Omni-channel management, Customer lifecycle management, CX, UX, Sales enablement, Lead generation, Media planning and buying, Campaign development, Marketing programmatics, Sales and distribution….

The guiding North Star in terms of considering which area is right for you should be first and foremost your own interests, passions, and strengths. What intrigues, excites, and energises you will inspire you to success. This may lead you down a specialist path or you may find that you want a generalist role which encompasses a broader number of marketing disciplines.

Both options offer great career development opportunity, but you should consider your long-term goal and the long-term prospects in that area of expertise. Is my specialist area recognised as a vital function in organisations and will it likely lead to a Director level role one day? If not, it is still very much a legitimate career choice if it’s what you want to do, but your career plan may need to include diversifying your experience along the way, if you aspire to a broader leadership position.   

Examples of good diversification strategies can include:

  • If you are a specialist, diversifying in terms of sectors can offer long term good career prospects
  • If you are a brand or communications marketer but currently do not have any commercial KPIs, then you could consider taking on a role with commercial or sales responsibility
  • If you are a strategic planning, research and insights specialist, then you may wish to consider a brand or commercial role or moving into analytics for a period to broaden your options going forward
  • If you are a digital marketing and social media expert, you may want to take on a digital sales role to get closer to the commercials and/or move into a role which gives you experience in strategic planning if you aspire to be Marketing Director one day
  • If you are a generalist marketer, embrace new technologies and emerging specialisms to keep relevant. Volunteer to participate in new projects such as being the customer lead on a digital transformation project, leading on the integration of a new CRM system, developing a new e-commerce platform for the business etc. You will diversify your experience on mission critical projects, people will see you as expert in the area and if successful, you will have more opportunities internally and externally going forward.
  • And if you wish to stay in your specialist area then you can consider diversifying by changing sectors, thereby increasing the number of job opportunities you can consider going forward.

What of aspiring CEOs? If this is your goal, no matter what your starting point (specialist or generalist) actively seek opportunities, as you grow your career, which combine strategy development, customer and digital with significant commercial responsibility (sales, revenue, P&L). It is difficult to make it to the top position unless you have the financial and commercial acumen and track record for the job.

Finally, the responsibilities, remit and perception of marketing can differ widely between industries and companies which can adversely or positively affect career ambitions.

When it comes to career planning you need to carefully consider which environment will best nurture your talent and support your career goals.

The reality is that most organisations which are not great brand houses really struggle to understand a multidisciplinary and ever evolving profession like marketing. Many fail to grasp the potential of marketing to drive their growth and as a result the remit of marketing and the career development opportunities can vary widely per company and sector for marketers.

In some sectors marketing sits at board level and is a C-Suite position with a P&L (FMCG, Drinks, Retail, Telco). In these sectors marketing is seen as a crucial function with enterprise responsibility for designing strategies to deliver profitable business growth through customer insight, brand strategy, innovation, product and proposition design, omni channel management, pricing and distribution, communications and customer experience. Typically, CMOs and Marketing Directors in these sectors will have P&L responsibility and run their brands, products, services or segments as a business.

The CMO/Marketing Director role is akin to that of a CEO which means that not only do marketers have to be experts in the customer or customers, they also have to be finance experts, strategists and technologists who understand in the era of relationship building the ways in which they can connect with consumers.

Clearly, younger marketers coming up the ranks in this type of organisation are in an environment which is equipping them with the skills and experience to take on significant strategic and commercial responsibility within an organisation at a later stage in their careers. So, if you aspire to general management it would make sense to prioritise working for a company or sector which offers marketers this career path.

Compare that to other sectors (Tech, Utilities, Professional Services, Education, Agri, Healthcare, Manufacturing & Construction where, although notable exceptions exist, marketing typically has less board level representation. Marketing in these sectors can be pigeonholed into a support or tactical role in the organisation, often excluded from key strategic and commercial decisions. This is likely to frustrate your ambitions if you want to run the organisation one day.

However, some of these companies or sectors excel at specialist functions for eg. B2B marketing, Digital Marketing, experiential, communications, lead generation, sales enablement, marketing programmatics – all hot in demand areas in sectors like technology. If you want to specialise in one of these areas and go deep in it, it makes perfect sense to opt for a brilliant brand in one of these sectors.  

Please bear in mind though, if your organisation doesn’t appoint marketers into senior level leadership positions, and you want to grow in responsibility and influence as you build your career, you will have to consider a move outside the marketing department in order to gain the commercial or operational experience necessary to be considered for promotion internally.

So carefully select the organisations and sectors you choose to work in based on your career plan. The onus is always on you to take responsibility for ensuring that the career choices you make are aligned to your career goals and empower your potential.

Of course as recent events have demonstrated, life has a way of playing havoc with our best laid plans, and often chance (sometimes disguised as a crisis or bad luck) will offer different opportunities and alternative exciting career paths to follow, so don’t expect things to always go according to plan or worry when they don’t.

In summary, as a marketer, it really pays off to do some career planning. It will help you define your North Star, give you a sense of direction and help you make conscious career choices. It’ll ensure you get to keep doing work you love, in an environment which values what you do and which enables you to achieve your potential and career goals.

Happy career planning!