If marketing is your career choice, know where to start…

I have been asked, many times, by students who aspire to be marketers: “Where should I start?” “Which professional course should I take up?” “Which should be my first company to work with?” “What kind of a company should I start with?”

I am sure several other aspiring marketers have similar questions.

Here is my opinion based on my experience:

1. Be clear about your area of interest. Is it ‘traditional’ marketing? Digital? B2B? B2C?
2. You need to build your core competency in a particular area, while you establish a grasp of marketing as a whole.
3. Keep your eyes peeled for the agency that is acknowledged as the top 3 in their area of specialization. It could be an advertising agency, a direct marketing agency, an event agency, a digital marketing agency or an integrated marketing communications agency. Or whatever else they call themselves, or specialize in. Next step: Get yourself hired at the agency, I have always believed that the best form of training for any marketer i.e to learn brass tacks or as said in hindi ‘atte dal ka bhav janne ke liye’, an agency is the place to start your career. It is not an MBA institute, and it is not a large corporate! In one, you’ll learn everything and the only things a textbook has to offer. In the other you will most likely be just a small cog in a forest of wheels.

Chances are, you will meet many who think otherwise. That’s OK. I’m telling you what I learnt, from experience. I repeat: an agency is the best place for a marketer to start his/her career.

Now, a reality check.
– You begin with the most labourious jobs in the agency. “gadha mazdoori wali naukri”. This isn’t the pain in the neck it is made out to be. It will actually teach you to value everyone in the team who contributes to the big picture, while also teaching you how to DO the most basic marketing execution tasks. You have no idea how critical these skills are. I have seen many a top-quality ‘conceptual’ marketers who are clueless about how to plan for execution of a concept or an idea.
– You learn the art of being frugal, because you will always be faced with a dearth of budget and resources. Nobody is running around the marketing corridors emptying bags of cash.
– You will learn to work with tight deadlines, because your clients will almost never give you enough lead time for execution for that great marketing campaign they just got approval for.
– You will get exposed to multiple brands from across industry verticals (unlike when you join a corporate you will not be stuck to one brand and industry). This experience will hold you in good stead as you will always have a broader perspective while dealing with marketing challenges for your organization when you become a marketer. This also helps you make your decision about the brand or industry that you would like to choose as your future employer.
– You will understand the importance and learn the skill of team work and working in tandem or sequence as the need of the task maybe to deliver the final end output — a successful marketing campaign
– You will pick up the knowledge of ‘how to get things done’, because you will have clients throwing wild ideas and concepts that they themselves don’t know how to execute, but you will be forced to always find solutions for. Its called jugaad, and in all the jugaad-ing you will learn that nothing is impossible. YOU need to figure the way in, out and through YOURSELF.
– You will learn to work long hours at work to bring that big idea of yours to life. Marketing is not a 9 to 5 thing. As all marketers learn, good rest will have to wait till you retire.

I hope this is enough to begin with. Disclaimer: I have never considered a career in counselling and will not consider one, so you may be a little astonished with the way I advise. You may even find it counter-intuitive. Let me make the simple case for hearing me out: everything I write is based on my experience. I am sure others would have chartered a different career path and have a different perspective to share with the marketers of tomorrow. You are welcome to share your perspective and experience here.

P.S: Published first on http://sujitjanardanan.com