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From shock to acceptance - Planning a marketing career in a fractious economy

Whether agency or in-house the average marketer will change jobs numerous times in their career, apparently more so than other more stable industries such as medicine, accountancy and law.

According to a 2017 study by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median years that salary workers across all industries and trades worked for their employer was 4.6 years. However, this longevity varied by age and occupation with the median time spent in any one job for those aged 25 to 34 being 3.2 years.

Now, looking at Global Human Capital Trends report from Deloitte, 43% of millennials planned to leave their jobs within two years and only 28% planned to stay beyond five years.

In such an ever-changing world it’s become increasingly difficult to plan the structure and forecast of your long-term career in marketing.

Of course, there is a marked difference between staying within the same agency or firm (migrating, relocating or a promotion for example) and moving to pastures new however the data above related to a new job as being within a different business. Marketing folk, it turns out, don’t fear change where their careers are concerned.

In terms of the ‘ideal’ length of tenure, there are many factors at play including age, industry, job level, previous longevity and market conditions. A 2017 report by the BBC quoted Robert Archer, regional director of HR at Page Group said:-

"In technology, advertising and public relations, where professionals are known to change jobs every few years or even months, job hopping can be considered to be a necessity in order to keep up with changes in the market”.

However, before you switch your Linked In profile to ‘Actively Looking’ it’s important to consider what career picture you’re painting. In the BBC report, Nigel Heap, MD at Hays UK & Ireland, warned

"…there can sometimes be a stigma associated with job hopping. Constantly moving to new roles without demonstrating a good reason might make new employers wary. They may question your ability to commit to an organisation and it may appear that you cannot adapt to new environments and challenges”.

The Deloitte survey was pretty robust, too. It questioned 10,455 young workers from 36 countries born between 1983 and 1994 but didn’t look at specific industries. Apocryphally, marketers have short attention spans (surely there’s a need for some research on this - by one of the leading trade magazines, perhaps?) and the industry is tight fisted with its paycheques in the early years meaning marketing professionals tend to swap jobs more often than a chameleon changes colours at Pride.

Let’s consider the career path of ‘Sally’, a fictional graduate working in a marketing agency in Leeds. Sally is 21 and will retire at the statutory age of 65. Assuming Sally takes 1.5 years away from work on maternity leave and with a ballpark marketing job tenure at three years then Sally will have worked for twenty different companies by the time she retires.

This is all ballpark testament, of course. But a cursory glance of my own CV shows six full-time roles and four long-term interim placements over the past thirteen years. Add to that four full-time agency positions between 1999 and 2006 and I’ve managed to clock up ten ‘proper’ jobs in a 20-year career. Moves were less frequent in the past 10 years whilst in executive roles with things like shares options and long-term bonuses to consider but it’s still an average of a move every two years.

A 2018 study by Luminate Digital looked at the ways in which today’s Generation X, Y and Z professionals manage their careers and make themselves visible to potential employers.

The study suggested that whilst social tools like Linked In remain at the forefront the cream of the crop have started to shun the constant barrage of spam they receive from recruiters on such networks, instead relying on old school relationships with bona fide executive search professionals (Headhunters to the rest of us) and direct engagement with potential employers.

Having taken paternity leave at the back end of 2018 I decided I wanted to switch back to a full-time role. Running a marketing consultancy from home had its significant merits however I wanted to get back to the coal face rather than advising the geologists on the surface. Decision made, I pulled the cobwebs off my CV, invested some time polishing my Linked In profile and reengaged with my little black book of recruiters and executive search professionals. Then, I waited for the phone to ring and interview bookings to fill up my calendar.

And then I waited some more.

It turns out that between Christmas, Brexit and the current market there weren’t many C-level marketing jobs out there. Unless you’re a B2B SaaS marketer, in which case there are inexplicably thousands. But I’m not (I had to ask what SaaS meant in an interview. For a SaaS product. Interview preparation is so very, excruciatingly important) so I entered what I now know as ‘The 7 stages of job hunting’.

Ruthlessly plagiarised from Dr. Kübler-Ross’s hauntingly accurate description of human behaviours after the event of loss, my ‘7 stages of job hunting’ looked something like this: -

  1. Shock – “What do you mean you’ve got nothing? You’re [Insert massive global search firm name here] You’ve got to have something?!”

  2. Denial – “We’ve got savings. I’m enjoying being a stay at home dad. My handicap’s improved”.

  3. Anger – “I had to fly abroad for seven interviews back to back. For an interim job. I mean, come on - seriously?!”

  4. Bargaining – “I don’t mind taking a pay cut for the right role. How much? Oooh. Not too much, I guess?”

  5. Depression – “I’ve hung my laundry, watered the plants and now I’m writing a stage play”.

  6. Testing – “I’m certainly open to discussing that part time position selling the new disruptive hearing aid. In the meantime, I have consultancy briefs to tide me over”.

  7. Acceptance – “This isn’t an easy market - something always comes up eventually. I’ve just got to be patient and enjoy this period for what it is – time away from the grindstone”.

Speaking to executive search professionals to find out why the market is so slow led to responses ranging from the flippant (“It’s nearly Easter – always slow this time of year”) to the more pragmatic (“You have to feel employers and employees are bedding down, waiting to see what happens with Brexit”). One nameless headhunter, on hearing I had no interest in working for an Hispanic money transfer service for low income workers was frank in his assessment: - “No problem – in this market I’ll have loads of interest from other candidates”.

The long-term prospects for marketing careers look slightly rosier. According to a 2017 study by the Office of National Statistics, the highly skilled professions of medical practitioners, higher education teaching professionals and senior professionals in education are the jobs most at risk from being made replaced by A.I.

In the near term, the professional advice to those of you considering a job change is to keep your powder dry and only move from within the safety of your current job.

It’s pretty damn quiet out there.

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