A Google search for 'marketing qualifications' returns a plethora of listings from training providers all claiming they can ease the path into marketing or up the career ladder. To avoid drowning in the mire, the best approach is to concentrate on those qualifications most widely recognised by employers.
Topping this list are those offered by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), with its Diploma proving the most popular choice (see box below).
About 17,000 people across 100 countries sit the CIM's exams each year.
Today (Wednesday), the organisation will award its 65,000th CIM Diploma, with the vast majority of its students having been sponsored through the course by their employer.
Since 2000, the CIM has also held the responsibility for awarding the Communications Advertising and Marketing (CAM) qualification. This course is widely recognised and nationally accredited. Unlike the CIM Diploma, which suits practising marketers, CAM can serve as a gateway into communications, according to CAM co-ordinator Maria Garcia.
'The main difference (between the two) is that CAM is aimed at people who want to work in marketing communications, so there is a greater focus on media and advertising,' she says. 'Most students are communications officers.'
For those with a specialist interest, an appropriate qualification will stand them in good stead. For public relations, those held in the highest esteem are awarded by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, for market research it is those from the Market Research Society, and for direct marketing it is those offered by the Institute of Direct Marketing (see box, page 10). All offer training for undergraduates and postgraduates.
An avenue worth exploring is gaining online expertise, an area in which recruitment experts claim there is a shortage of candidates to satisfy client demand. Kevin Dunbar, regional director at Hays Marketing, adds that employers often ask for 'database and analytical skills, CRM knowledge, financial nous to demonstrate marketing's return on investment and an understanding of the legal issues surrounding marketing'.
Anton Dominique, academic director at the London School of Marketing (LSM), says employers are now more demanding because marketing is becoming a broader discipline. While the industry's mantra has always been the four Ps - product, price, place and promotion - Dominique believes that, traditionally, the focus has been only on promotion.
'Now marketers must manage the product portfolio and channels, while maintaining the customer relationship and communicating with all key stakeholders, including the government, pressure groups and shareholders,' he says.
Dominique also argues that because of the need for these skills, UK employers are more inclined to take on business and marketing graduates than those with non-vocational degrees.
Jonathan Wiles, regional director at Michael Page Marketing, agrees.
'I would strongly advise students looking at undergraduate courses to choose a vocational degree,' he says. 'Competition for marketing jobs is fierce, and graduates with degrees such as business studies or economics stand out more.'
A degree from a traditional university may still help candidates get through the first round of the applications process, but the deciding factors for landing the job will be their ability to demonstrate transferable skills, an interest in the chosen area and relevant work experience.
After university, employers that sponsor marketers to sit qualifications want them to study in a way that is directly relevant to their role. In response to this, LSM has introduced tailored assignments. 'Employers want to see a tangible return on their investment, so we now have one 6000-word assignment that is based on their organisation. The student has to demonstrate how they intend to apply the skills and knowledge they have learned on the course to their job,' says Dominique.
Although the CIM is campaigning hard to professionalise the discipline, the situation remains far removed from other industries in which 'chartered status' is a pre-requisite for entry.
So, how important are qualifications in practice? In a stance mirrored by many other big brands, British Gas supports employees who want to sit qualifications, but they are not a pre-requisite for joining its marketing department. According to Janette Bell, British Gas' marketing director of home services, 'a focus on the consumer and a passion for the customer' are more important than qualifications.
'We have a diverse range of skills in our marketing department. There are those who have followed the conventional route into marketing and those who have come from quite different backgrounds, such as ex-British Gas engineers,' she adds.
Similarly, Barclays does not have a strict policy on marketing qualifications, but believes they stand potential candidates in good stead. 'The fact that someone has taken the time and trouble to achieve a CIM qualification would tell us that not only do they have a certain understanding of marketing, but also that they are keen to apply themselves and better their job prospects,' says a spokesman for the bank.
Recruitment experts stress that employer attitudes toward qualifications vary from sector to sector. 'In blue-chip companies, where marketing is core to their business, they have well-oiled internal marketing programmes, so the value put on external qualifications is lower,' says Bruce Levi, marketing and commercial director at recruitment consultancy Stopgap.
In general, therefore, experience is more important than qualifications when applying for an FMCG position.
By contrast, marketing qualifications are deemed essential in many roles in small and medium-sized businesses, where in-house training is not often on offer.
The professional services sector does, however, require marketing candidates to hold recognised qualifications. Marketing posts advertised at law and accountancy firms, for example, frequently stipulate that a CIM Diploma is a necessity. 'Because of their own professional backgrounds and qualification-rich working environment, they value qualifications more than other sectors,' says Levi.
Qualifications also carry greater importance in the public sector, especially with the government drive to ensure senior civil servants receive sufficient training as part of its 'Professional Skills for Government' agenda. 'This puts an emphasis on making sure people are qualified,' says a Cabinet Office spokesman. 'Each department has its own recruitment procedure, but qualifications can help show that you meet a particular competency.'
Hays Marketing's Dunbar believes marketers do not need to hold more than a degree and CIM Diploma, unless they want to specialise. The way to land a directorship and a place on the board, he says, is via qualifications that provide strategic skills.
'An MBA, for example, moves marketers up a strategic level and demonstrates quanitfiably that they have strategic ability and financial expertise,' he says. 'After all, marketers are often criticised for not being financially literate enough.'
If marketers start to talk the language of the boardroom, more invitations for them to take a place at the top table may follow. The number currently managing this is low; only 10 FTSE 100 companies have a marketer on their board.
With this in mind, from next year the LSM is to offer a Diploma in Management Consultancy. 'Marketers need to link the outcome of marketing to a corporate objective, which is not currently happening.
That is where consultancy skills help,' says Dominique. 'This course will develop their marketing and management skills and help them get on the board.'
CASE STUDY: CHARTERED INSTITUTE OF MARKETING
The Chartered Institute of Marketing offers four qualifications for marketers at different stages of their careers, explains chief executive Christine Cryne. The Introductory Certificate in Marketing equips students with basic skills and is suitable for those with little or no experience.
The Professional Certificate in Marketing is a useful introduction for those in a junior marketing position or who wish to move into the profession from other backgrounds. The Professional Diploma in Marketing has been designed to meet the needs of those already responsible for managing the marketing process and looking to move into a mid-level position, as well as those who wish to build on the knowledge acquired at Certificate level.
The Professional Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing provides marketers with the skills they need to identify and create value for their business through a strongly differentiated positioning. It is intended for those who aspire to work at a strategic level, or who need greater awareness of doing so. Companies that support the CIM's courses include British Airways, MD Foods, Air Miles and Shell.
JENNY HODGE was working for office equipment company Olympia when she took her Professional Diploma in Marketing. The course opened her mind to a raft of disciplines, such as statistics and economics. Since graduating in 1996, she has become more familiar with forecasting, budgeting and economic analysis, but is grateful for the grounding her studies provided.
MARIA SOLARI is an in-store support manager for Solanum, the potato category managers for Waitrose. She says the extra insight she gained from studying for a Professional Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing means she can now contribute much more when discussing merchandising or planning an in-store marketing campaign with the Waitrose team.
Non-CIM marketing qualifications
Chartered Institute of Public Relations
The CIPR awards two qualifications: the undergraduate-level Advanced Certificate and the postgraduate-level Diploma. The Diploma is the most popular and widely recognised by employers in the public relations sector.
The CIPR's fees cover tuition, examination charges and arrangements, tutor contact, a resource pack and a copy of the two core texts. Costs range from £1968 to £2197, depending on the venue. Its website, www.cipr.co.uk lists, the venues and the university courses that are approved by it at undergraduate level.
Companies that support the courses include Thames Valley Police, AstraZeneca and Westminster City Council.
Market Research Society - The MRS offers several qualifications, all of which have been put together in consultation with employers. The most popular and well-known is its Diploma. This currently tests the skills that market researchers already hold, but is being phased out by 2007. A Diploma being launched in January will be taught in universities by tutors and via distance learning. It will focus on developing the skills of market researchers who have two to three years' experience. The cost of the course varies by venue, but will be about £3500.
The MRS website (www.mrs.org.uk) lists accredited undergraduate courses; companies that support these include Ipsos, NOP, BMRB and TNS.
Institute of Direct Marketing - The IDM provides a range of courses, including those dedicated to expanding marketing disciplines such as digital marketing and contact centre strategies. The IDM's most widely recognised qualification is its Diploma in Direct and Interactive Marketing.
The Diploma can be studied via evening lectures, an intensive course or distance learning. It comprises 10 modules and costs from £2275 to £5600.
Undergraduates can also apply to attend the IDM's summer school - an intensive five-day course, which takes place in June. Details of universities that offer the IDM's Certificate in Direct Marketing Principles can be found on its website (www.theidm.co.uk).
Companies that support these courses include Halifax, Dixons, IPC Magazines, Orange and Unilever Bestfoods.
GRADUATES KEY SKILLS - Strong analytical and financial aptitude. - Good oral and written presentation. - Relevant experience. - People management. - Creative imagination.