Sometimes you get a wake-up call in a way you least expect, writes Nina Christian, FAMI CPM. Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Youth Marketing Conference 2019. As far as marketing conferences go it was excellent, with super insightful content. Keeping company with brands like Spotify, MTV, Broadsheet, Girlfriend, Fluff and Pedestrian was a nice dalliance away from the regulars in my marketing world!
The extraordinary presentations had been brilliantly curated, demonstrating the marketing prowess needed to cut-through to youth in a cluttered market, yet many had application way beyond youth marketing – to society and culture as a whole. Traversing topics such as the difference between Millennials and Gen Z, purpose-driven brands, the psychology of fascination with travel and changing habits in consumption and media, I left feeling abundantly full of insights and knowledge. However, these hot trends weren’t what left me feeling like a stunned mullet.
A panel of bright young university students sat on stage discussing their spending habits and priorities in life: eating out, travel, festivals and desire (or sometimes lack thereof) for cars, houses and future planning. The purpose of the discussion was, to give aspiring brands an insiders’ look into the sentiments of this spend-happy demographic. But then came this question from Prue Thomas the panel facilitator:
“What do you worry about the most? What keeps you up at night?”
Given that there had been much talk throughout the day about climate change, body image, mental health, and social impact, it was foreseeable that any or all of these could have featured in the responses – and yet, they weren’t. What came next shouldn’t have been a surprise, considering over the last 12 months I’ve dedicated the lion’s share of my professional endeavours to dissecting this topic:
“Finding a job after uni – I’m worried I won’t find relevant, full-time work”
“The possibility that my degree won’t actually mean anything in the future”
And then, this one…
“I’m worried that I spent a lot of time at uni and won’t be able to get a job I want, or worse still, that I get a job that I don’t like, and then feel like it’s all been a waste of time.”
The responses came hard and fast and even though I’ve likely heard them thousands of times over from marketing graduates in the last year, words can’t express how much these statements affected me.
43% of graduates do not find work in the area they studied in.
According to the Wall Street Journal, 43% of graduates do not find work in the area they studied in, with the figures being even higher for business-related degrees. I have been thinking long and hard since then about the mis-match between expectation and reality amongst the vast majority of marketing graduates. If a degree is meant to equip you for life, how could this happen?
While there are a lot of surface factors, I explored a number of hypotheses to get to the root cause.
- Institutions are struggling to keep up with the pace of evolution in the marketing arena. They are finding it virtually impossible, given the rate of change accelerating each month faster than the last. While teaching timeless principles is important, most marketers graduate without the understanding of how to apply these to new contexts. (Yet the option of focusing only on a particular tool or solution is also short-sighted and not a long-term solution because any marketer will constantly evolve to new technologies and new contexts.)
- Then there is the information-overload that a marketer is presented with on a daily basis. All of these new insights are positioned as “essential”, though new marketers ending up feeling exhausted with the volume of data they’re facing. It can feel like being on the learning wheel of death, yet still not fully clear on what kind of marketer one wants to be, or exactly what is needed to succeed.
- New marketers also have little to no idea how to market themselves for positions they are best suited to. This involves applying fundamental marketing principles such as understanding their “target audience” (in this context, the type of business they wish to work for), and how engaging them will address a need or solve a problem that the organisation is facing.
As valid as all these points are, and they are indeed pressing surface issues, I don’t believe they are the root cause of the problem as to why marketing graduates are feeling so disconnected to the real world – to the point that it’s affecting their mental health. So that’s beneath that? I wanted to better understand the reasons why the worries young marketers are having such a huge negative impact on their self-esteem and outlook for the future.
There is a huge disconnect
When I founded Launch Your Marketing Career – which exists to help young marketers build rewarding marketing careers that inspire – it wasn’t from the perspective of an academic seeking to validate the usefulness of my teaching, nor a recruiter whose KPI is the number of people they place into great jobs. I am neither of those. It wasn’t from the place of being a specialist in the “future of work,” or someone on the front line dealing with the fall-out of the way our marketplace is rapidly evolving. Nor as an institution fighting to maintain its relevancy in a marketplace where the way people learn is being completely disrupted.
My motivation was off the back of my personal interaction as a marketing agency and social enterprise owner with countless young marketers who were finishing their degrees, bright-eyed and optimistic, ready to take on the world – only to find the reality was polar opposite from what they had expected. They were smart. They were diligent. They worked hard. Yet the reality is… the cold hard fact… is they were largely unemployable. They had spent years under the tutelage of marketing industry greats, learning from a curriculum that has served the industry well for many years, providing the alumni with a great fulfilling and exciting career in advertising, marketing and beyond.
They were told that if you want a good job, you need a degree.
If you want to be white-collar, go and study.
Leave the “other” work (the blue-collar work) to those that don’t have the discipline to study for another few years.
The “traditional” view so perpetuated by many institutions, schools, universities, parents, relatives, friends and well-meaning society figures. So, they did just that. They spent nights and weekends in the books, paying hefty tuition fees and foregoing prime income–earning years, to be white-collar. They thought that studying for three, four or even five years would guarantee them a job. But, due to the rapidly evolving industry, many have discovered it can’t even guarantee them an interview!
And so it seems, right under their noses things shifted so quickly that many graduates, after the initial shock of not being able to even get an interview after years of study and hard work, feel they have just woken from a bad dream. Because unfortunately for them, this mainstream perception of ‘Degree = Job’ is not one not reflected by those on the frontline of hiring marketers, and facing the daily challenge of reinventing their business.
This pressure to businesses to constantly reinvent is so real it’s even spawned a new “profession” of being a “Future of Work” specialist. In many cases, these are highly educated and experienced professionals who devote themselves full time to helping businesses of all sizes and genres navigate the transition into the new post-digital cognitive era.
How marketers will be employed is changing.
Current trends by Forbes indicate that the majority of workers will be freelancers within just a few years. The fear of becoming irrelevant lurks not only amongst emerging graduates but also amongst the C-suite at the highest level. No-one wants to be Kodak, Nokia or Blockbuster.
In many cases, marketers are the biggest variable to how progressive, innovative and visible a brand is in the marketplace. In fact, nowadays, a premium is placed on marketers who can achieve results, rather than grades. New marketers with honours hoping to enter the workforce were therefore disillusioned by the fact that they couldn’t get a job easily and quickly. Salt was further rubbed in the wound by seeing others who hadn’t had formal training in their craft filling digital marketing positions with little more than hustle, grind and the most elementary understanding of basic marketing concepts.
Forget ‘white collar’ – this is a new generation of hoodies and t-shirts with clever slogans and edgy designs who have rejected institutional knowledge, studied at the Universities of YouTube and Google, and who purport (and often rightly so) that they don’t need a piece of paper or credentials.
Their certifications lay in their “results”.
All this is music to a business-owner’s ears, but a harsh reality check for those who have devoted 3-5 years of full-time study in the belief that all their hard work will pay off.
The #1 fear amongst marketing graduates I speak to (once they emerge from their studies and have a taste of the “real world”), is that they wasted their time, and will be irrelevant and unemployable.
When I heard from this talented young panel that the biggest life concern amongst those eager young students was the relevancy of their degree to the point it kept them up at night, it deeply upset me and highlighted me the importance of the work we do at Launch Your Marketing Career – helping young people feel better about themselves, their professional future, and about their life. It made me feel even more motivated about the work that initially I started as a personal passion, and has now become the heart and soul of my entire agency.
While on the surface it’s about helping marketers see opportunity, position themselves and get connected to great careers through developing an entrepreneurial mindset, the bigger part of what we do is solving a problem that is affecting the mental well being of too many young graduates. Your career prospects shouldn’t be keeping you up at night, even before you graduate and actively seek work. There’s something very wrong with that scenario.
A marketing degree is not the only core asset for a marketing career anymore. And unfortunately, after hundreds of job rejections without so much as an explanation, many graduates are questioning whether it’s even a liability – when it doesn’t have to be the case. Head knowledge is important, but there’s another type of knowledge that’s equally useful as one is entering the professional workforce… and that is knowledge of how the industry works, what the landscape looks like now, how it’s evolving, what businesses now need from from marketers, and how marketers can position themselves to capitalise on this.
The feeling of knowing you deliver value as a professional has the greatest influence on your self-confidence – and that’s the most exciting part of what we do in our own work with young marketers at Launch Your Marketing Career.
For anyone who’s ready, there is so much opportunity – you just need to be trained in how to see it.
And that, is an exciting place to be.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Or perhaps your own experiences as a marketer? Share below – I’d love to have you part of this conversation!
About Nina Christian
Nina Christian is passionate marketer and mentor to countless young marketers in Australia and around the globe. She believes believes every marketer deserves the chance to build a career that inspires and she is helping young marketers become the marketers the world wants and needs through Launch Your Marketing Career.
Her marketing agency Braveda, founded in 2000, is a boutique marketing agency (est. 2000) that has been providing real solutions to some big challenges the industry is facing, especially around how new marketers enter the industry. Braveda was named Best Marketing Agency at the 2018 Australian Marketing Excellence Awards and Nina was named 2018 Certified Practicing Marketer of the Year (Victoria).
She is also an entrepreneur with several start-ups under her belt. In 2017 she co-founded EntreprenHer – a School of Entrepreneurship for Girls, inspiring and equipping young women and emerging entrepreneurs and leaders. She is a Fellow of the Australian Marketing Institute, and Chair of the AMI State Committee in VIC. Nina is a regular speaker on the subjects of Marketing and Entreprenuership and believes there has never been a more exciting time to be a marketer.
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