Marketers on Board

1 September 2006 Paul Gostick

Businesses are not taking full advantage of the potential of their marketing departments. The profession is severely under-represented at board level, something it has to work hard to redress, writes Paul Gostick, chairman of The Chartered Institute of Marketing.

Having seen the marketing profession evolve, and having witnessed first hand the positive value and impact of a well-executed marketing strategy, I can safely say that UK businesses have a desperate need to have more marketers on their boards.

"UK businesses have a desperate need to have more marketers on their boards."

Marketing is a profession that is built around the customer. Marketers are trained to study, to analyse and to predict the behaviour of the customer.

The marketer is the one individual within the organisation who understands best the most important and vital stakeholder, the very lifeblood of any business: the customer. No wonder marketing is often referred to as being the heart of the business.

Unfortunately, there are still those who think that marketing is just about promotion – and they're not just the engineers and accountants. HR departments often have little or no idea what marketing is about, yet they are in the front line when it comes to hiring marketers.


Naturally, senior management is preoccupied with the company's financial health and overall wealth. Therefore, one might expect them to be concerned with how it is generated, but in fact, they devote nine times more attention to spending and counting revenue than wondering where it comes from and how it can be increased.

Engineering-led companies tend to make things and then spend a fortune trying to sell them to prospective customers, usually with little success because they have not understood the market. Accountants, on the other hand, tend to count revenue and manage the costs, yet have little or no clue where the revenue comes from.

A pile of money does not just grow, no matter how many times you count it. Marketing can make it grow by understanding customers, defining true market segments and creating differential propositions for each segment. If you want to know what your future cash flow will look like, investigate where it comes from – the market.

"A pile of money does not just grow, no matter how many times you count it."

No longer just a means for preaching to the converted, marketers are now able to identify the needs of those customers who in the past had never entered their segmentation circles.

By executing carefully planned strategies and campaigns, targeted at well-defined customer segments, marketers are not only capable of attracting customers to the product but actually guiding which products need to be developed in order to meet the demands of the customer

 Including a marketer's perspective in the main decision-making process is probably the closest thing to having a real customer sit at the board table.


Unfortunately, in spite of having achieved all these positive developments, the old tag of marketing being a 'promotions tool' still lingers on. There are countless business organisations that feel quite safe in restricting the role of their marketing department to one of a sales support function.

Individuals working in such departments often find themselves on the receiving end of a never-ending stream of promotional requests from other areas of the business. However, the more able marketers have had some success in carving a place for themselves either on the board, or within some other circles where they know that their views will help shape the direction the business is to take for the future.

That a mere 11 of the FTSE100 organisations have a marketing executive on the main board is indeed a poor reflection on how the profession is perceived in the UK. Worse still, latest research has highlighted that even on the second-tier board, 13 of the FTSE 100 organisations have no marketing director or equivalent.

What is needed is a change in the corporate mindset: an appreciation that marketing is central to business success, not just a peripheral activity.

"The marketer is the one individual within the organisation who understands best the customer."


So, is the poor representation of marketers on FTSE 100 boards a fair representation of business as a whole? Not necessarily so.

According to findings from the spring 2006 Marketing Trends Survey, conducted by Ipsos / MORI for The Chartered Institute of Marketing, smaller businesses scored better when trying to secure marketing budgets, compared with the scenario in larger organisations.

Furthermore, the survey revealed that 82% of organisations with a turnover of £1m or less had a marketing function on the board, compared with an overall total of 57%. All indicators point towards a strong correlation between the size of the organisation and the influence marketers wield.

Change can only be brought about if marketers themselves step forward, which they have, but the process has been gradual. Marketers must take on the dual role of not only marketing their organisation, but also marketing their skills and the input they can provide to the value-creation process.

By showcasing the best of what their profession has to offer, these professionals will be opening the door for future marketers. It is one of the most sought-after professions in the UK today, yet marketing is still in its infancy in terms of true recognition.


In reality, marketing is more than art and creative thoughts. Marketing is steadily beginning to emerge as a real science, where articulation with numbers can be as crucial as the play of words. Those marketers skilled enough to justify their strategies in the language of the board and who invest the most in developing their professional skills will be the ones who are best equipped to rise to the challenges of the board.

"Unfortunately, there are still those who think that marketing is just about promotion."

So how do marketers prove their worth and win that coveted place on the board? To this end, The Chartered Institute of Marketing offers a number of services to marketing practitioners in order both to support them and to elevate their status within the organisation.

The areas we cover include world-class professional qualifications in marketing and sales, opportunities to network with fellow practitioners, information and database support for members, and lobbying to get the voice of the profession heard.

Again and again, it must be emphasised that a place on the board is not a right. It is a place that has to be earned. The organisation must be made to appreciate the value that marketing brings to the end products. Other areas must actually feel a strong need to take the advice of the marketer when making critical decisions – not because they have to, but because they want to. In other words, a demand needs to be created, just as with any service offered in the marketplace.