Professionals or pretenders?
South African marketers constantly bemoan their lack of status, but seem unwilling to do anything about it, writes Howard Fox.
Much has changed in South African marketing over the past two decades. We’ve rejoined the world economy; media has proliferated; the net has become precedent. One constant remains, though: Marketers’ steady refrain about lack of representation at board level, the general lack of respect for the business specialisation of marketing, and the fact that we just aren’t seen as a profession.
And yet, when there is an opportunity to be recognised as a profession – to receive a professional designation rated at the high end of the national qualification framework – the marketing community is apathetic. “What’s in it for me?” they ask. “You want me to pay an annual fee to retain my professional status?” they moan. Or simply: “It seems like a lot of work, I think I’ll hold off until it becomes a necessity.”
What is it that gives us, as marketers, an excuse for not being professional? Here’s a silly analogy, but one I hope will finally get the message across. Let’s say that, as we commute to our offices, we drive across a number of bridges. Personally I know very little about bridges, and clearly it’s impractical for me to complete an engineering degree and inspect every bridge to ensure it is fit for purpose.
Even suggesting that, of course, is rubbish. Major engineering endeavours like bridges are undertaken under the auspices of a professional engineer, an individual certified as sufficiently qualified and who has agreed to a code of conduct and to constantly update his knowledge. I find that very comforting … so comforting that I don’t ever question the professionalism or competence of engineers in South Africa.
Multi-million rand strategies
Having safely negotiated our way into the office (and over the bridges) with commendable lack of drama, we marketers finish off our multi-million rand strategies which propose the investment of very large sums of shareholder’s funds – and on which the financial future of the organisation (and its employees) rest. Not quite the literal “life and death responsibility” of a civil engineer. But, in a marketing context, close.
I will leave it to your collective experience as to whether we marketers receive the same unquestioned professional trust that our engineering colleagues do, or a somewhat lesser response, when we present our plans in the boardroom.
So, if we want to be recognised as a true profession, let’s act as one. Let’s build a significant base of Chartered Marketers; individuals who have been certified as sufficiently qualified and experienced to hold a recognised professional designation. Let’s be marketing professionals who have agreed to a code of conduct, to be held to account by our peers and to constantly update our knowledge.
Why would we do otherwise? Yes, there is a cost, as well as the hassle of fulfilling the continuous professional development requirements. And possibly the benefit to the profession may currently exceed the benefits to us personally. But if we don’t, do we deserve to be recognised as professionals truly worthy of the boardroom?
First published on Marketing Web 09 September 2010