Message to Marketing Graduates

Photo by Shoshanah (click for Flickr page)

Photo by Shoshanah (click for Flickr page)

I spent 90 minutes speaking to Dr. Nora Barnes’ social media marketing class at the University of Massachusetts/Dartmouth this morning. I try to speak to college classes at least four or five times a year, in part to give back something to the next generation and in part to learn more about what’s on their minds.

I asked the students – all of them senior marketing majors – the same question I always ask college classes: How many of you subscribe to a daily newspaper? The response was pretty typical: three students out of a class of 34.

Here are some of the things I told them:

  • Much of what you’ve learned about marketing over the last four years will be irrelevant five years from now. The field is changing too quickly. You’ve been learning about how to tell a story and position a brand, but in the future your job will be much more about listening to customers and working collaboratively on brand definition.
  • You should discard much of what your teachers have been telling you about the media. Traditional media is collapsing and what emerges from the rubble will look very different than the institutions we now know.
  • The best skills you can bring into the marketing field today are resourcefulness and curiosity. You must be willing to reinvent your skills constantly because the playing field is in a constant state of turmoil. This is very exciting for you and it’s very scary for the people you will be working for. Be sympathetic, but don’t get stuck doing things the old way.
  • Traditional media was built upon a foundation of inefficiency. The clothing retailer who wanted to reach the .01% of the population who want to buy a wedding gown at any given time has had to pay for the 99.9% who don’t. That’s crazy, but it’s the only way we could get a message across in the past.
  • The worlds of media and marketing are undergoing enormous improvements in efficiency right now. Unfortunately, efficiency is usually painful because it destroys institutions that were built upon inefficiency – institutions like newspapers and magazines. In the end, we’ll be better off, but we’re still in the ugly destruction phase right now.
  • In the last decade, Americans have shift from browsing to searching for information. This has huge implications for the way decisions of all kinds will be made in the future. Search engine marketing and search engine optimization should be part of any core university marketing curriculum today.
  • The shriveling of traditional media creates new opportunities for organizations — and that includes businesses — to fill the trust gap that’s been left behind. Businesses can become media if they so choose. Most of them haven’t accommodated themselves to that fact.
  • Trust is complex in the new world because we are losing our traditional trusted brands. I trust Wikipedia to tell me the date the Yalta Treaty was signed, but not necessarily to interpret the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. Trust is also situational. We are learning to trust some sources for certain kinds of information but not for others. It will take time for us to sort this out.
  • Today, individuals can choose to be celebrities all by themselves. They need to have something interesting to say and the knowledge to use new channels to say it. This is very cool. We no longer have to depend on others to decide if we can be important or not
  • This is a great time to be a college student getting into marketing. The old guard is struggling to learn the new tools that this generation intuitively understands. Companies like Edelman are going so far as to create reverse mentoring programs in which younger employees train senior executives. This doesn’t mean you young people know it all. Be open-minded about learning from the experience of others and be generous about sharing what you know.
  • In the old days, the marketer’s job was to media-train a few key executives. In the future, the marketer’s job will be to media-train the entire company. This will be enormously empowering for marketers.
  • Marketing’s traditional role has been to talk. Its future role will be to listen. Branding and positioning will be defined as much by a company’s constituents as by its employees. If you choose simply to talk, people will choose simply not to hear you. Marketers have an unprecedented opportunity to increase their importance in the organization by becoming listeners.
  • Messages spread from the bottom up much faster than they spread from the top down. Cindy Gordon’s story at Universal Studios is just one example. She told seven people the news and within a couple of days, 250 million others knew.

And finally: By the time you graduate, have a LinkedIn profile. And for goodness sake, clean up your Facebook profile!

    17 thoughts on “Message to Marketing Graduates

    1. Good advice for them, Paul. I’m surprised there were even three that subscribe to a daily newspaper. I hope they take note and learn to adapt, as even the world they know today will change soon…

    2. I love this. I’m going to link it on my blog. I especially like “In the old days, the marketer’s job was to media-train a few key executives. In the future, the marketer’s job will be to media-train the entire company. This will be enormously empowering for marketers.”

    3. Hi Paul – I’m sending this to my college junior! Great advice. The one suggestion I’d add is from a former colleague, whose son just landed a job after a series of temp jobs. He noted that some recent grads try to hold out for a full-time job, and turn their noses up at temp jobs. But his son’s temp jobs bulked up his resume with some work experience, and then led to a full-time position at Harvard. So don’t be too proud to start as a temp!

    4. Absolutely. My position is that any experience is good at a young age. You almost can’t make mistakes. In this economy, just being employed is good!

    5. Hi Paul, You hit the nail smack on the head. We are living in a new economy and the skills needed to survive and thrive in all areas of business and marketing specifically have changed forever. Thank you.

    6. Paul, thanks for a thoughtful post. The key questions we ask prospective PR agency employees: What media do you read, watch, follow [media savvy]? What do you read for enjoyment [literacy, curiousity]? Can you write clearly, effectively, correctly [communication skills]? What’s your social media IQ [research, social media savvy]? Although rare, when we find these individuals, we know they’ll be successful. Maybe the Renaissance is alive again.

    7. Great post!
      I really like it, I think however you shouldn’t clean up your Facebook profile.
      My view on the subject is that with time even people in HR will realize that personality is as important (if not more) than hard skills and that getting information from Facebook provides you a better picture of the person. It’s not only about drinking games, but also if the person likes to travel, who are his/her friends, what does this person like/read, etc.
      Internal communication will also change and I won’t be surprised to see FB clones popping up inside companies.
      Learn to know your employees they say.

      And for marketing people attitude is something important, you don’t want to be “clean” like anybody else.

      Just my thought as a former student that did everything the opposite way 🙂

    8. Great post Paul. I’m still workng very hard to get you to Rochester Institute of Technology where I teach. I think your messages are ones all students in all areas of communication study need to hear. I’ll be sharing this in two of the classes I currently treach. Thanks

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    10. Offer to work two weeks for free. That’s how I got the late Sue Schauppener to hire me during a hiring freeze at the Strayton Corp. (Cripes, everyone is dying I must be old now.)

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    13. I’ve been guest lecturing in a bunch of the classes in my department over the past few weeks. Sounds like we covered a lot of the same stuff. It’s amazing to see the industry change right before our eyes… I’m excited to graduate this spring… especially since I have such a head start on so much of the competition.

      Thanks for the great post! Keep waking up college students!

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