“What does a PR person actually do,” I asked.
Without knowing it at the time, this was the first step of my career in marketing. The idea came to me largely by chance and my personal career development was as haphazard as a ball’s journey in a pinball machine. It’s crazy to think that 11 years later, I’m still pursuing the same passion for bringing brands and customers closer together.
As the great Steve Jobs said, sometimes you can only connect the dots looking back. So I’ll share with you how I got into marketing and how you (unlike me) can have a well thought out career journey.
Make sure you want a marketing career
For me, it all started with a random conversation. One of my friends, a high-school senior, was planning to do PR in university. It sounded cool – I’d be able to talk to interesting people, appear at events, put my writing skills to work. And I wouldn’t have to deal with math because yuck, math! (That last one didn’t turn out the way I planned.) So I decided I’d study the same.
In retrospect, basing such a decision on a single talk with someone who still doesn’t even study the profession is not smart. Today, I’d do it differently. I’d talk to people. I’d try to find someone in the same field, buy them a coffee and talk. Hell, I might buy fifty coffees. (I’d, too, be happy to answer what digital marketing looks like nowadays, so drop me a line.)
Can you imagine yourself in the shoes of the person you talked to? And more importantly, do you see yourself being happy in the shoes of the person you’ve talked to?
To answer these questions, you need to be sure what are your values and your ideal career plan. There’s a long list of exercises about professional development planning that will help you make sure the marketing field is something you want to get into.
I won’t go into the details of how to make the final decision – you’re fully equipped to do it on your own. But if marketing is your thing, it’s now time to double down on knowledge and experience building.
Pinpoint your niche
I started off my communications career in event management. To be frank, this was the first offer I got when I was a junior in university, so I didn’t really give it much thought – hey, it’s experience, right?
Several years later, I realized event management is not my field. The stress of it all, the constant phone calls and the lost weekends were not something that balances itself out with the thrill of an actual event gone well. At least for me – I know great professionals who thrive in such an environment.
I’d say I could’ve figured it out earlier. But you can only connect the dots… yeah, you know 🙂
My point is, marketing is a big-big country. There’s brand management, corporate communications, there’s promotion development, there’s content, there’s community management, product marketing… So much to try!
To get off to a flying start, think about your core interests and how they overlap with different marketing sub-fields. I really mean it! Create a list of your strengths and interests and compare them against the different marketing domains. Once you have everything in writing, it’s easier to compare:
Based off on that, pinpoint what niche you might be interested in and start there.
Plan how to become a T-shaped professional
Thinking about so many marketing domains is enough to get your head spinning. But fear not! There are only 2 fields you really need to master.
Which ones, you ask? That’s a harder question to answer. You have to define them on your own – hopefully, through some value assessment and through some experience.
The point is, nobody expects you to know everything. You should have a basic understanding of the core marketing skills, but you should excel only in a few. That’s what we call a T-shaped professional.
The T-shaped marketing professional has three degrees of knowledge:
- Base knowledge: you need to have at least a basic understanding of these fields. They will include the oldies and the goldies like storytelling and behavioral psychology, as well as the new and trendy stuff like UX and HTML.
- Marketing foundation: you need to have a deeper understanding of these skills, which may include machine learning, analytics, copywriting or statistics. We’re now getting closer to the core marketing skills, but still, are touching the surface.
- Channel expertise – acquisition and user lifecycle: the first part of skills here is related to tactics that fall squarely in the marketer role like SEO, performance advertising or social media. The second group of skills has to do with the new trend that lets marketers work on the full customer funnel – activation techniques, customer lifecycle management and more.
More than marketing
As you already noticed, marketing is more than a way to attract users to our product. It’s also a way of retaining and delighting those users. With the rise of growth marketing, we are expected to work on all parts of the funnel. That’s why Growth Tribe put many different digital skills in the growth marketer’s skills roadmap:
A “T” or a “P” or an “M”
Many people assume there’s only one true way of developing your marketing skills. But there’s a good point made by Buffer that marketing people will do deep specializations in different fields depending on their role or interests. Here’s an example of what a PR Strategist’s skills framework would look like:
And here’s what my profile looks like:
Of course, this histogram of skills doesn’t come straight away. After all, you can only connect the dots… you know that already, don’t you? 😉
Becoming a T-shaped professional requires experience and time – not only to get that deeper knowledge but also to get a feel for each domain and learn where you thrive and what’s not your cup of tea.
Find the right education
In marketing, you need to learn constantly. The field is developing so fast it’s hard even for experienced professionals to keep track. So education doesn’t only happen at the start of your career anymore.
The good news is there are much more options to learn.
No matter if I’m a recent grad or someone transitioning into marketing, I’d always dedicate my time to two main directions.
Old knowledge that still holds up
Social psychology, influence mechanisms, storytelling, copywriting… All of this is old-old news. But that doesn’t make it less impactful. It gives you a strong foundation. It can actually give you an edge against fancy “growth hackers” who only chase short-term success.
As a podcast addict, I’ve listened to hundreds of interviews with high profile marketing professionals. When asked about their favorite books, they always quote some old foundational reads. Examples include Cialdini’s influence, Hopkins’s Scientific Advertising, and Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.
Never forget the classics. Otherwise, you risk losing the strategic perspective in a vast sea of new channels, hacks, and experiments.
It’s easy to see the digital landscape is developing with lightning speed. It might be harder to comprehend how hard it is to keep ahead of the curve.
I’ve been in marketing for more than 10 years now. And every day, my routine consists of listening to 2 marketing podcast shows on my daily commute and going through 50+ marketing articles on blogs, social media, news aggregators.
There’s an increasing digital skills gap between what you know now and how quickly the technology landscape is evolving. Here’s a slide from a Growth Tribe presentation that shows pretty clearly what we mean by that:
This clearly shows that even if you’re good at “traditional” digital marketing domains like SEO, e-mail marketing, or social media, you now need to get more technical, go into development, machine learning, and more.
If you’re ready to learn, here are some of the places I’d recommend starting with:
- Google’s Digital Garage
- Udemy’s Marketing courses
- Google’s Academy for Ads
- Google’s Analytics Academy
- Facebook Blueprint
- HubSpot Academy
These will give you a head start and also show a potential employer you’re really serious about marketing.
The good news is that the skills gap leaves a lot of room for new entrants in the job force – what you know and what you’ve done is more important than what university you went to and how many years of experience you have.
The bad news is once you’re on the treadmill, you need to keep running. It doesn’t stop – and the pace is now getting even faster.
Welcome to our robot overlords!
You’ve already seen I mentioned AI, machine learning, and automation. Let’s first get this out of the way: I’m highly doubtful that the marketing profession will disappear any time soon.
Still, as a marketer, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with some AI-specific topics. On the one hand, you need to know how all of this crazy AI stuff works – at least on a general level. Then, you should make sure you have the right complementary skills. You can’t beat AI, so why not work together with it, providing the skills that are still hard to master:
- Soft skills like customer empathy, semantic nuance, storytelling.
- Hard skills like data science, discerning between good insights and bad data.
My favorite data person Avinash Kaushik has a great piece on marketing career development in the age of AI and automation that will give you additional perspective.
Practice is a differentiator
My early career might’ve happened haphazardly, but the key benefit was that I started working as a marketer at age 19. This gives me a strong advantage – there aren’t many 30-year-olds with 10+ years of professional experience.
So the best advice I can give you is: get stuff done!
- Find an internship – even if it’s unpaid, you’ll gain valuable experience. What’s more, you’ll gain inside knowledge of what that specific marketing field looks like. You’ll also forge some handy connections.
- Volunteer at a local organization – they are surely understaffed and they will gladly accept help, even if it’s coming from a person with one completed online course behind their back. The best option is to find an organization that does something you’re passionate about – then work is not a chore, but a pleasure.
- Help friends – in the age of startups, you surely know someone starting a business. Help them out! It’s not just good karma – it will also guarantee you a lot of freedom of execution and breathing room to test new stuff.
You may think only paid experience matters, but you’re deeply mistaken. A potential employer will recognize your unpaid efforts as proof of your drive to learn and your proactivity. Those sometimes matter more than the right certificates.
Above all else, find your calling
I’m keeping this as the last point, but it’s the most important one. Find something that truly makes you happy. We have only about 80,000 working hours in our lives, so you’d better make them count.
Make sure you’re following your Workplan and your Lifeplan and you’ve found a position that corresponds with your values. Benefits and higher pay are easy to find, but doing something that matters is rare. To find out what really matters to you, follow the steps I outlined for creating a professional development plan.
And don’t forget to have fun
If you’re just starting your career in marketing, don’t take it too seriously. If you mess up and take the wrong turn in your career, you will lose some time, but you’ll also learn an invaluable lesson.
I’ve been through 7 different positions in 11 years. Still, I don’t think about any one of them as “time lost”. They’ve all helped me learn how to better follow my passion.
Share your journey
It’s hard to travel alone. So I’d love to hear your journey in marketing – share it in the comments!