Editorial: Marketing can't be dead-end job

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Wanted: Top managers at ad agencies. Wanting: Top management posts for marketing executives. Both signal imminent danger for the advertising and marketing industry.

A recent Spencer Stuart survey of chief marketing officers found that while 44% aspire to the lofty positions of president or CEO, there was little hope they would advance that far. Sadly, they are hampered in their career path by the perception that they lack financial acumen; that they are not viewed as "broad business people"; and that marketing is not seen as a route to the top.

"There's been almost a devaluing of marketing and what it brings to a company," commented Ian Rowden, VP-chief marketing officer at Wendy's International. "A lot of that has to do with the definition of marketing, and in some cases it's very narrow." Indeed, one finding of the survey is that CMO positions are viewed as a staff function rather than a strategic driver.

At the same time, agencies are scratching to find good top managers, and several plum posts remain unfilled. Gavin McElroy, partner at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, New York, blames agencies for overlooking, and failing to cultivate, good candidates already in-house. Instead, he said, they are looking to harvest talent from non-agency companies that have a culture wholly foreign to their own. "The raw talent is there," said Sharon Spielman, managing director, Jerry Fields Associates. "But it has to be invested in and cultivated."

The same is true on the marketer side. Dismissing or devaluing the marketing function as not strategic and not a route to the corporate suite is a serious mistake. Not only does it undercut talented marketing managers who deserve to advance, but it is a powerful deterrent for future generations to embrace marketing if it is relegated to the ranks of dead-end staff job.

It is incumbent on both marketers and agencies to change their mind-sets and recognize and develop talent already within. The industry's very future depends on it.

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