Weekend reading: How to train your marketers

Are we on the verge of a talent crisis? CPG marketing experts weigh in on the state of training.

_MG_0024This story appears in the February/March 2015 issue of strategy.

Once upon a time, a young marketer would finish school, get an entry-level job at one of the marketing “training grounds” like Unilever or P&G, be mentored by a senior executive and slowly climb the ranks as they learned the business inside and out.
Today, that process is being upended, with millennials entering their first jobs already experts in some mediums (thanks to their online lives), eager to move up fast and not afraid to jump ship to a more entrepreneurial venture. Add to this a changing landscape that has seen more adaptation of global work, with Canadian offices scaled back to “a sales office with some supply chain capabilities,” as Kraft CMO Tony Matta said in a previous strategy interview. Are we on the verge of a marketing talent crisis?
We sat down with four CPG marketing experts — PepsiCo Canada CMO Christine Kalvenes; Exact Media CMO and managing director David Grisim (who previously spent over 17 years at P&G); Campbell’s VP marketing Moya Brown; and Unilever VP marketing Ricardo Martin, joined by strategy publisher and editorial director Mary Maddever — to hear their take on the state of training in CPG marketing today.

Wexler: Tony Matta said CPGs are no longer the training grounds they used to be. What are your thoughts on that, and do you agree?

Grisim: I remember when I led marketing capability at P&G, we’d identify a gap in the knowledge base, then align a bunch of stakeholders, develop training with a global team, deploy it around the world and then people would input it into their planning and their market. By the time it actually made it to market, it had been an 18-month period.

I think the speed of change in technology impacts marketing more than ever. You can’t do that anymore. Now we have to develop people and give them the capability to learn in their local market. The understanding of the local market is probably more important than ever.

Kalvenes: [New, young talent] grows with technology, connecting with people, selling their ideas and doing it in such a way that they leverage all the mediums around them. The new talent actually helps train some of the old talent and challenges the ways we think about the business. It’s a new model that’s evolving — traditional methods of training take too much time to bring to bear, so you actually have to leverage on-the-job training, as well as some of the new talent skill sets. It’s how we do it.

Brown: Many of the younger people grew up with technology and it is just [omnipresent].But then asking them to think about it in the context of how to build a business or a brand, it’s like they forget everything. I feel like in that context I know more than they do. It’s a really odd dynamic.

Martin: Today’s kids, they’re all editors, they’re all photographers, they’re all managing aesthetics, writing, [figuring out] a good tagline — they do it every time they post to Instagram.

I think nowadays it’s almost like [young people] who start in marketing have to self-mentor. When I started, my first boss must have done 90 [traditional] ads over 15 years, and that’s why he’s good at doing ads, and he learned this from a boss who also did 90. Today, [marketers] have probably done 70, 80, 90 digital campaigns, but they haven’t all been great.

I think it’s really challenging for today’s [generation] because it’s hard for them to find a mentor.

Kalvenes: And think about where the talent comes from. Analytics is big, so you have people from IT crossing over into marketing, and you have folks from other functions crossing over. So how do you build the foundation and the leadership learning? Some of the new marketing thinking will come in from the outside. It’s not something you train from inside.

_MG_0007Brown: If you go back 15 to 20 years when you relied on your partners [for knowledge], it was basically your AOR, and that was a very strong partnership. In the last five years, that has changed. I’m relying on Google, on Facebook, on small tech firms, and every time I talk to them I learn something new. It’s really changed the whole training piece.

Wexler: Is mentorship an outdated concept?

Martin: Today the world is really flat in terms of information. You can see all the Cannes reels on YouTube. Before you had to see [the ads during] a TV show or go to an agency or media company, so in a sense, curiosity is really [crucial] today, and mentorship is very important, but it’s a lighter hand than what it used to be.

Kalvenes: Mentorship is not about learning marketing functional excellence any longer, it’s about leadership and connectivity and learning the ropes.

The one thing millennials don’t have is an understanding of this leadership hierarchy, for lack of a better term. Organizations are still structured and led by mid-lifers, boomers, as well as gen-Xers, etc. and there’s still a certain structure and approach to things that [millennials] can’t learn on YouTube.

Grisim: I find that with a lot of the younger people, their mentors are in completely different industries. [Younger people] are not as focused on, nor do they define themselves as much as a marketer, as they do as a business person. And that might be a product of being in Canada as well, where people are learning to be more general managers versus the traditional marketer.

Martin: [Young marketers are] much braver than we used to be. They also have a much bigger [interest in] philanthropy, [they want purpose to what they do].

Kalvenes: And they’re not afraid to experiment.

Brown: Perhaps when we all started it was a little more level-set because there was this formal training [at P&G, Unilever, etc.]. It’s the people who are resourceful who are really rising up. And it’s not as democratic in terms of the training. You have to advocate for yourself, you have to demonstrate that resourcefulness.

Grisim: I see that too, being at a startup, where we recently hired three CPG marketers who [are] fearless and [they said], “I want to do something completely different.” Whereas I think for my generation, the number of people that were interested in entrepreneurship [was small. Today] they don’t see the risk, they say, “What’s the downside? I try it out, if it doesn’t work, I do something else.”

Certainly in the big CPGs, we were all with our companies for quite a while — I think that’s going to be less common with the younger generation. They start with the assumption that they’re not [staying for long], so then making the move doesn’t seem as scary.

Wexler: So the training programs in place at your companies, have they evolved to accommodate the newer generation?

Brown: I don’t know about the newer generation, but the newer disciplines and competencies like shopper marketing, social, digital — those pieces get folded in.

Grisim: I’ve seen a lot more young people getting involved in the development of others because they already had some degree of specialization, and then are able to train.

Kalvenes: That’s one of the things we’ve started to do. One of the [most junior] folks in our organization just led our whole digital and social training day and created one of the more impactful programs [for our] Doritos brand. And then another junior marketer led business case training of his own volition because he felt like it was an area he had strength. Today’s generation wants to share their knowledge, they’re a bit of a “re-generation” so they want to bring everyone along with them.

Maddever: Are the brands — in terms of building campaigns and jumping on activation opportunities at retail — losing something by not having someone senior on the brand spending a lot of time on the core fundamentals?

_MG_0003Kalvenes: I think the key is to balance the “what” and the “how.” So the “what” is all the basic fundamentals of marketing and making sure you’re building a common skill set, but the “how” is how you’re executing marketing in this changing dynamic, the points of connection that you use, the mediums, the trial and error — that’s what’s different. The benefit of global training and a standard way of doing things is you build the basic fundamentals and you come in and train people on them, but new people come in and they bring the new “how” to the table. And the new “how” is the way you succeed.

Martin: It’s easy to get trapped into trying to [learn] everything. But for me the critical thing is knowing consumers, knowing people…those deep human truths. At Unilever, for example, [people] spend a lot of years on the categories or the brands. I spent six years working on deodorants, seven years on hair care. The key thing is to know the consumer, and that’s where I think cherishing that expertise in the categories and the brands is critical because then you travel around the world, you visit the market, you learn but also you bring insights and unlock a lot of possibilities.

Grisim: I can’t imagine a 24-year-old saying, “I’ll do six or eight years on deodorants.” There’s this impatience, which makes them great at some things but also sometimes it’s hard to get the depth of knowledge.

Kalvenes: That’s the biggest change I think I’ve seen. You have to move them through critical experiences quickly because they just get impatient and bored. They’re used to [a fast pace] so you’ve got to structure things in a way that you keep them engaged and give them new opportunities while building the skill set.

Brown: Insights and research is another area I’ve noticed [has become] a challenge, because there [used to be] a lot more depth of training around insights, and now that’s almost foreign. The good thing is there’s a lot of interesting [new ways to] get at that information, but it goes back to the core understanding around how to do research effectively and have reliable data. That’s a particular area where I think you need training. It’s less “learn on the job” and more “hit the books.”

Kalvenes: That too is changing though. My background is consumer strategy and insight and it was the hardest thing for me to shift to collecting data from Facebook, etc. because [you think] that is not representative. But the reality is you can glean some pretty good insights that way if you’re willing to flex. And I think that’s the hard part about our industry. It’s really hard to flex and change with the times.

Maddever: Is this [new reality] taking brands to a place where everything is short term and immediate as opposed to building campaigns, like Mr. Clean, that last a long time?

Martin: I think there’s two things that are at play there. One is things are much faster today, so [products like wearables] appear and disappear overnight. You do get things that are a spark of light and they might stay, like Red Bull, or they might disappear completely.

Also, in this day and age, there’s [less emphasis on] primetime TV and family meals, so to be able to translate messages into different mediums and having strategic clarity of what the brand stands for and what the purpose is requires much more discipline.

Kalvenes: It’s about understanding your long-term equity and what you’re trying to build, but leveraging quick hits to get there because that is today’s consumption society. Even the people that work for you aren’t around long enough – they move to another assignment, they take on a different opportunity – so it’s about figuring out how all these little quick hits add up to something big and long term.

I think to your point, we’re learning the hard way that you can take a brand completely off course with a quick hit here and a quick hit there without a longer-term strategic direction. It’s very easy to veer off course I think.

Maddever: And this comes back to the fundamentals and the amount of time people have, working on building an original Canadian campaign. Very senior people judged the CASSIES and there were some comments [along the lines of], “Here was the insight, here’s what they did, it got results, it solved the immediate problem, but does it have legs?”

_MG_9957Brown: I think the people you’re bringing on haven’t necessarily had [the foundational learning]. Even five years ago when I was hiring externally, I was able to get people from Unilever and P&G who had that foundation.

Today, if you’re looking for someone with eight to 12 years experience [you can find that] but if you’re looking for someone [with five to six years], it can be really challenging, where they know the difference between the “how” and the “what.” And in an organization where you’re not prepared to train someone that’s had five, six, seven years of experience, you’re expecting them to come in, know, lead and run. That’s where it gets really hard.

Kalvenes: [In December we put] a premise in place – 70% [spent on] proven methods, 20% on innovation [on things that we understand and have a critical path for] and 10% test and learn. That way we keep developing, but we don’t veer off course.

Wexler: Previously, did you have a portion of the budget for test and learn, or was it that if something came up you would do it?

Kalvenes: If something came up. I just moved here not long ago from the U.S., and some of the work they’ve done [there provides the] opportunity for us to understand the ROI and test it and see if it holds true here in the Canadian market.

Wexler: Do you find the generation that’s coming up now want to be the idea generators as opposed to adaptors?

Brown: I think they want to be the idea generators, but I don’t know that they understand what that means. And that goes back to the foundational, really getting the deep understanding of how to generate insights.

Grisim: I think with new marketers too, there’s a romantic view of what marketing is — it’s like putting your feet up and [deciding] that should be red and that should be blue, and coming up with creative things. But a lot of it is digging into the numbers and really knowing your business.

At P&G, people wouldn’t even go to the bathroom without their fact book for fear that a marketing director would stop them in the hall and ask them a question on their business. So I think even in the heyday of marketing, there was a lot of stuff you had to do that wasn’t the sexy part of marketing.

Maddever: Is the problem that they don’t have the patience to learn the fundamentals, that people don’t have the time to teach them or there isn’t as much opportunity to do the original work?

Kalvenes: I think larger global companies, rather than waste our resources on global brands where we can tap into global resources as needed, we spend it on the local brands. And I think that yes, a lot of new marketers want to create their own programming, but it’s a bit of a toss-up because you can work on a smaller local brand with a smaller budget and create your own campaign, or you can work on a big global brand and customize it for your local market. Both I find are appealing to our marketers.

We rotate, so people get all the right critical experiences and build the foundation that we need. And sometimes we run into challenges. People want to rotate sooner than you would like, they haven’t fully developed the skill set. That’s the quick-hit model today and we have to learn how to evolve with it.

Brown: Do you have formalized programs to move people out of Canada and into other [markets] at a more junior level?

Kalvenes: Absolutely. We not only have opportunities to move globally, but we’ve actually created a model where we rotate across food and beverage [sides], and it’s opened up a ton of career opportunities. Two mid-level managers — we’ve just worked their career models so they could actually both move across [categories] so they learned different go-to-market systems, different business models, different challenges (a highly competitive market versus a more dominant market).

_MG_0027The PepsiCo model is actually based around critical experiences, things like working on a turnaround business, working on a small brand, moving over to an emerging market. So there’s all types of opportunities. The challenge is the aspiration of “I’ve been in the role six months, time to move on.” But the model is good, it’s just a matter of making sure you keep folks engaged and allow them to experiment a percentage of the time — that creates a little bit of that ownership.

Martin: I find the people working at Unilever Canada are very good at thinking with both hemispheres, so they’re very good with numbers and [at being] general managers, and they have very good soft marketing skills. And what I find is attractive to them, which global companies can provide, is it’s very easy to have a global career if that’s what you want.

Wexler: You talked earlier about bringing in people with different skill sets. Have your recruiting practices changed? Are you bringing in people with different educational backgrounds?

Kalvenes: Right now I’ve got an opening where I’m looking for someone who has some digital and social expertise. I’m still looking for the marketing foundation because I need to be able to rotate them through the rest of the organization. But I’m looking through some of the startup agency partners, and I’m going through different vehicles.

We’re about to have an open position on Doritos, and we’re going to Facebook and Twitter to seek candidates because that brand lends itself to that kind of thinking. We’re [also] about to have an opening on Gatorade, so we’re going to use [social] for those two brands to see what kind of talent and critical thinking we can bring in.

Brown: What propelled you to do that? Were you just not getting the right candidates through the traditional means?

Kalvenes: I need someone to help us establish our digital strategy, but I can’t just bring in a junior-level person that has built a lifestyle online. I actually need somebody who can marry brand equity together with strategy and can give me the long-term vision of where we need to go and can leverage things out of the U.S., and that helps us understand where the best return on investment is going to be. So that’s why I’m looking for the digital person beyond traditional means. We’re just starting, I don’t know if it will work or not.

Maddever: Has the level of recruits changed? Are you still getting the same talent levels?

Kalvenes: At least on our end. We’re evolving the way we’re thinking about it and how we increase our mix, bringing in some of the newer thinking, some of the younger talent. Now we look more for leadership capabilities and making sure you’ve got mature folks you can build a business with over time that can take that leadership role. So we screen a lot more for leadership talent.

Brown: I’d agree with that, and I’d say now more than ever, we look for the elusive fit. Are they really going to fit with the organization and where we’re headed? And that’s very difficult, obviously, to judge, but I think that’s even more important because we want to minimize the turnover. The calibre is very consistent, I just think our view and what we’re looking for has shifted slightly.

Grisim: I think it’s still a little bit of a buyer’s market. There are still a lot of talented people looking for work.

Kalvenes: [To Grisim:] You’re in a different field than traditional CPG, so do you recruit different types of candidates? Are you seeing different types of talent opting into your company?

Grisim: To excel in our company, I think people need to have a good foundational understanding of the CPG industry, so we’re actually hiring CPG-trained people. Two of the last three hires were considering us or Google. So they were looking for something different. They weren’t choosing between us and another CPG, they were going to be leaving their CPG anyway.

Maddever: What have you noticed over the last five years or so in terms of how long you have these new recruits? Are they moving quicker? Or are people still hanging in?

Martin: There’s a big difference [between Canada and other markets]. In Toronto, you have all your customers, suppliers and competitors within a two-hour drive from where you live. It’s a market that’s very transparent and very easy to jump ship, as opposed to other parts of the world where you actually have to move to a different city. So I think that puts an additional spin on the velocity of churn. I think it’s very high here.

People starting [their careers] tend to think it’s a good thing to move fast, but I remember an old boss told me you have to be in a job at least two years. The first year you’re learning, the second year you’re learning leadership. I don’t think everybody sees that today.

Photos by Jennifer Horn