Marketing's Reader survey takes industry pulse

LONDON - Budgets are being slashed, TV advertising is less effective and agencies are going to be paid less according to Marketing's inaugural readers' survey.

Thanks to a poll of this magazine's readers, who command a combined marketing spend of almost £2bn, we can deliver an unprecedented insight into how these professionals view their industry in 2009. There is no doubt that the sector is operating in difficult times as the economy continues to nosedive, consumer confidence falters and credit dries up. Indeed, many brands are facing up to unprecedented trading conditions.

In partnership with marketing specialist FoxKalomaski, we asked the country's leading marketers - our readers - to pinpoint the most pressing issues facing them today and reveal how they feel about the industry generally. From the impact of the economic downturn and uncertainty in the jobs market to sexism, pay and the environment, the confidential survey provides a candid and honest view of what life is really like for marketers.

The picture that emerges is one of contradictions - extreme frustration, yet continued commitment and satisfaction. Notably, despite the doom and gloom that is pervading every facet of their working lives, almost 95% of marketers believe they make a genuine difference to the perform-ance of their brand. Meanwhile, almost 80% say marketing is represented in their boardroom, suggesting the industry is getting the recognition it deserves.

The economy

Cutbacks, whether in budgets, jobs or pay packets, are clearly at the front of marketers' minds this year. Almost 58% of marketers are cutting back their marketing activity because of the uncertain economic climate. However, more than two-fifths (42%) are not, and 7% of these strongly disagree with retrenchment.

Although a glance through any national newspaper would leave one with the impression that marketing cutbacks are happening across the board, the survey suggests that a number of practitioners are actively challenging and avoiding such negativity. As one respondent notes: 'In these uncertain economic times, it's important to sustain marketing spend to encourage growth and maintain consumer loyalty.'

Nonetheless, many marketers have felt the force of these cutbacks on a personal level, with some having already been made redundant, going through redundancy consultations or making members of their team redundant. Some respondents are frustrated at employers' failure to understand that marketing is just as important in a recession as it is in the good times.

There is no doubt that the survey also displays worrying signs for the traditional advertising sector, which is already strained. More than 60% of respondents expect to pay their agencies less for their services over the coming year as part of an ongoing efficiency drive. 'This year will turn out to be a fair deal tougher than many expect,' notes one marketer gravely.

Perhaps more importantly, when asked to name their most-admired marketer, just a handful of respondents chose figures from the realm of advertising, instead plumping for their colleagues or leading businessmen.

As marketers - and, increasingly, external auditors - place even greater scrutiny on their costs, some in the industry believe that the days of 'celebrity' ad teams and eye-watering fees are over. 'Marketing needs to ensure that it is seen and acts as a discipline that adds to business and commercial success - not just one that cares about budgets and campaigns,' says one respondent.

Changing media landscape

Despite the downturn there are clear signs that marketers are still looking to develop their digital expertise. Almost 85% of respondents are planning to invest more in digital marketing over the coming year. On the flip-side, almost 66% of marketers believe that TV advertising is not as effective as it was five years ago. Just 4.5% of respondents strongly disagree with this view.

Contrary to the impression given in the media, the survey reveals that brands are not moving away from the green agenda in response to the economic downturn. Sixty-one per cent of respondents agree or strongly agree that green and ethical marketing will become more important to their brand over the next 12 months.

The jobs market

Historically, marketers have been criticised for tending to jump ship after an average of just 18 months to move to another company. While many commentators have surmised that the economic climate means marketers will now stay in their jobs for longer, the survey challenges this.

In fact, 68% of marketers envisage changing jobs within the next two years. Crucially, 77% of marketers agree or strongly agree that changing jobs regularly provides a faster route to senior positions. The findings suggest that marketers are less risk-averse than professionals in other sectors, and the jobs market is well-placed to bounce back during economic recovery.

However, many respondents vent their frustration over the growing specialisation in the jobs market. As one marketing director puts it: 'I find that employers have a narrow view of what will fit their brief for new roles at the present time. There is less understanding of the ability of individuals to transfer the skills of marketing from one industry to another.'

This view is echoed by another marketer, who complains that industries are too incestuous and are not taking advantage of fresh thinking from outside.

Yet another respondent complains that the marketing industry is operating 'in silos', and that practitioners' range of knowledge and skills is becoming increasingly narrow, making departments more fragmented.

However, other respondents say that while switching jobs is acceptable for senior marketers, such defections could count against junior staff. One marketer adds: 'After being made redundant in 2008, I feel that senior roles are more secure than those lower down the food chain.'

This is a view echoed by a recent graduate who says it is difficult to progress in the industry. Some also claim that senior marketers' tendency to switch roles has been detrimental to the industry's reputation.

Pay

The survey reveals that marketers are divided on whether their pay adequately reflects their skills and commitment to their company. This is different from sectors such as retail, where industry surveys have revealed major dissatisfaction over salaries. The fact that marketers are actively planning to move jobs despite being mostly happy with their pay suggests money is not the primary motivator.

However, some respondents express frustration with pay scales. One notes that pay rises at his company were capped at 10%, even for those who had been promoted - 'which is not conducive to making you want to stay, even if there are plenty of good opportunities available'.

Sexism

While marketers pride themselves on being part of a forward-thinking industry, 47% of respondents disagree or strongly disagree with the statement that there is no sexism in marketing. The dominance of men in boardrooms and senior marketing positions means that women are still under-represented at the higher end of the industry, a fact that did not escape some respondents.

Regulation

Despite the numerous headlines criticising government moves to regulate the advertising of food high in fat, salt and sugar, the industry is generally not opposed to regulation. Just 6% of respondents strongly agree that there is too much regulation of marketing, while almost 66% disagree. The results support the view that the marketing industry is far more liberal than is often assumed.

Brands

Apple is by far the most-admired brand among marketers, with 15% naming the company unprompted. Virgin comes in second with 13%, while its boss, Sir Richard Branson, is the most-admired marketer, with 15% of respondents favouring him.

Entrepreneurial brands are also singled out for praise, with Innocent voted the third-most-admired. Coca-Cola also performs strongly here, coming in joint fourth place with Nike (each taking 4% of the vote).

Interestingly, the biggest supermarket brand, Tesco, and the biggest fast-food brand, McDonald's, are the most-hated companies, each with 7% of the vote. Low-cost sofa seller DFS is the third-most-hated brand, while no-frills carrier Ryanair is tied with budget supermarket Iceland in fourth place.

There is more of a consensus on which brands deserve our admiration than on those we should hate. As well as the brands mentioned above, the latter category returned names from a wide range of sectors; these brands included Gucci, Liverpool FC and even Macmillan Cancer Support.

What you said: A selection of survey comments

On the jobs market:

'Marketers still operate in silos. Unless you demonstrate the sector or product knowledge required, you will be disregarded for a job'

'Marketing people leave roles far too quickly. They come in and change everything without a real understanding of the business, then leave'

On the economy:

'Sadly, 2009 will be all about price promotions rather than creativity and selling the brand promise'

'It's frustrating - at a time when companies should be keeping in the business eye and promoting confidence, they are doing just the opposite'

'The current climate will ensure good marketers shine. They will need to be more innovative and creative'

'Marketing is an easy scapegoat for poor sales'

'Economic challenges are an opportunity to become more creative and focused with marketing'

 On the state of the industry:

'Marketing is not as well respected in UK companies as it is in US companies'

'There are too many people in the marketing industry who are under-qualified and are therefore a poor representation of the industry. Marketing as a discipline needs to regain a focus on delivering return on investment and must leave behind the artistic delusions of so many marketers'

'Marketing needs to ensure it is seen and acts as a discipline that adds to business and commercial success, not one that just cares about budgets and campaigns'

'It's a numbers game nowadays. The creative, seat-of-the pants approach that made the industry dynamic 20 years ago has been replaced by a finance-driven, play-safe approach'

'There is too much academic theory, taught by no-hopers who lack experience and achievements'

 10 things that will surprise you about our readers' survey

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