Career Switching

Marketing—For Both Fun and Profit

stock_student4“Marketing is where the fun is,” says William Carner, who teaches marketing in the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin. In a nutshell, companies that apply marketing successfully identify the needs and wants of their customers and provide products and services that satisfy those needs and wants better than the competition.

“When you’re in finance, you just do finance; when you’re in accounting, that’s what you do all day,” Carner says. “But when you’re in marketing, you literally have a hand in every part of the business, and that keeps you challenged and involved.”

To his point, in addition to the Principles of Marketing and other discipline-related classes, marketing students, more than any other business major, need to be well versed in all the other business disciplines. “You’re going to learn about the myriad of activities that are involved in getting a product to the market and making it successful—new product development, pricing, advertising, distribution,” says Carner. Within all of those activities are healthy doses of accounting, finance, management, and operations capabilities, which marketers need to fully develop if they are going to advance in their careers.

Sheila Bravo agrees. Now president of her own marketing firm, Bravo followed a standard brand management career path in the consumer goods industry. As she moved up the career ladder and her responsibilities increased, she gained a holistic view of the total business—she moved from tracking expenses to forecasting them, from executing plans to creating strategies.

“Vlasic owns a portfolio of pickle brands, and I had the opportunity to manage many aspects of those businesses,” she says of her job as a brand manager at Campbell’s (the parent company). “When launching a new product, I decided everything—how we positioned the product in the market, how much product to order, which suppliers we used, how much to sell the product for, and even what kind of technology needed to be in the pickle plants.” She recalls, “One time we ran out of a crop of cucumbers because of a hurricane, and I had to determine how to allocate the remaining product.”

Carner points out that the experience a marketing professional gains in running businesses is the reason that more marketing executives end up being CEOs of companies than executives from any other discipline. “That’s because marketing is not just about cute ad campaigns,” adds Bravo. “It’s about delivering profits to the bottom line.”

But what Bravo most enjoys about marketing is the positive impact her products have on people—how delighted consumers are with her products. In fact, when she worked on brands where there wasn’t an emotional connection, she felt there was really something missing. Through her work with Vlasic Pickles, Godiva Chocolate, Mrs. Paul’s Frozen Seafood, and Pyrex Ovenware, Bravo discovered people have a lot of passion for pickles and chocolate, but not so much for fish sticks or bake ware. Take pickles, for instance. “Most people have a fondness for pickles,” she says. “From childhood, the concept of pickles is that it’s a funny food that you take on picnics and other family outings.”

“Personally, I need to be excited about the business I’m marketing, too” she says. “For me, it’s not just a job—I become really devoted to the product.” Bravo, who launched the Vlasic Sandwich Stacker, got so attached to her product that she truly felt offended when she found other brands in the refrigerators of family members or friends.

Whether you’re interested in consumer products, business services, or industrial goods, marketing may be the career for you if you’re serious about business, but want an entertaining job too. Generally, Carner says, students in marketing tend to be a little more creative and outgoing than the average business student, and that’s because it requires a great deal of communications skills. “You need to figure out how to communicate in a way that motivates people to purchase something,” says Bravo. And marketers are involved in positioning products and advertising them, which call for originality and outside-the-box thinking.

If you’re in school and curious about how you can prepare for a job in marketing, aside from taking the right courses, just glance around you—marketing is arguably the most visible of the business functions. It’s everywhere, and almost anything you do can teach you valuable lessons in marketing, if you’re attuned.

Bravo says her college job as a clerk at a convenience store laid the groundwork for her impressive career in marketing, which took her from an entry-level position at a small outdoor advertising company, to the brand management track at consumer packaged goods giant Campbell’s, to vice president-marketing at World Kitchen in about nine years.

“You can learn something from every job you have,” Bravo insists. “Working at 7-11 taught me how to interface with customers; an internship at the Better Business Bureau helped me to develop good communication skills; and a part-time assignment at an advertising company gave me exposure that led to my first real marketing job.”

But even before you’re out in the workforce, you can turn your experiences into steppingstones for your marketing career. Once she figured out that she was interested in marketing, Bravo joined the student versions of national organizations like the American Marketing Association and Sales and Marketing Executives. She subscribed to industry publications like AdAge and Sales and Marketing Management, immersing herself in the jargon and issues of the field. And she began volunteering for marketing roles in the social and professional clubs she belonged to. “I made sure that everything I did followed my career path.”

Bravo encourages students to start networking early. “Networking at this stage is not so much to get a job, but to understand what’s out there and get yourself known to people who may eventually hire you,” she says. Students can ask for “informational” interviews with various types of business people in different industries who can help them understand the types of jobs available and decide which ones are most appealing to them.

Because every industry is different, students need to understand what marketing means not only in different industries, but also in companies of different sizes. “For instance, in a small company, an entry-level person can get her hands into a lot of different pots and will be seen more,” Bravo says.

Students graduating with undergraduate business degrees in marketing can expect to find jobs in sales, research, or communications, says Carner, all elements of marketing. “Many people will say they don’t want to do sales, but I’m not talking about working on a retail sales floor,” he clarifies. “Many entry-level positions involve business-to-business sales, and these jobs prepare you for more advanced positions.” Later, an MBA degree will give you the skills and credibility to move into more strategic marketing roles.

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