3 Things You Need to Know About Business School: Marketing

by bcomconfidential

A recently, an acquaintance of mine who was just wrapping up high school, asked me if I had any advice for him on what to study in university.  He knew that I majored in Marketing, and wanted to have my thoughts on the matter.  I did not mince words.  Here’s my list of things you NEED to understand before making the 3 year commitment to a Marketing BCom.

1) You will not get the necessary tools to go into creative advertising

Working and pitching to several multinational ad firms gave me a clear sense of the types of people who can thrive in the ad world, and a typical marketing grad is NOT that person.  Here are a few archetypes I have encountered in the halls of the biggest ad agencies in Canada:

a) The Technologist: Computer scientists, web designers, mobile application developers, game developer

You don’t need much in the ways of a technical background to implement an ad on traditional media (TV, print and radio) – all you need is to produce it and pass it off to the media buyer.  However, agencies are getting with the times and focusing their energy on capturing consumer attention on their computers smart phones and tablet devices.

Why a BCom won’t get you there: Programming skills are acquired through years of theoretical and practical education.  After a 3 year, 120-credit BCom, you might be lucky to know how to put a PowerPoint presentation together.  No one will teach you any better, unless you seek them out on your own time.

b) The Artist: illustrators, graphic designers, film directors, interior designers

For every print ad, TV spot, web banner or retail concept, the agencies needs someone with fine-tuned artistic sensibilities to actually put pen to paper (digitally or the old fashioned way) and create the thing.

Why a BCom won’t get you there: No course in Marketing will teach you how to draw, or even give you a sense of which colors never go well together.  Unless you have prior art training, and have spent a significant amount of time doodling exquisite designs in your notebooks, your portfolio (if it exists at all) will be bludgeoned to death by a 20-page masterpiece created by someone who spent 2 years studying in a third-tier correspondence art school.

c) The Writer: English lit, art history or political science graduates

Copywriters are essential to a successful agency.  An ad with the best visual execution can fall flat on its face without just the right words to back it up.

Why a BCom won’t get you there: The average liberal arts student would have read approximately 6000 pages’ worth of narrative or argumentative prose, written by experts, during his or her undergrad year.  He or she would also have written dozens of essays or stories to further increase their mastery of language.  Conversely, a BCom grad would have spent those years skimming over dry and poorly written academic research and not doing much writing at all.  Once again, if you want to become competitive in this field, you’ll have do it on your own.

2) You will learn very little about how products are being marketed today

Google AdWords, Social Media, Mobile Advertising, online data mining – those are all things that you will likely never hear about during your BCom.  That is highly unfortunate because the 4 tools mentioned above are what entry-level marketer are likely going to be working with.

Two of my close friends work in marketing for large multinationals (one in consumer goods, the other in banking).  They both spend a good amount of their days (9-5 plus a few hours of overtime for good measure) building elaborate spreadsheets and keeping track of key metrics (and there are about 25 of them).  If that’s not enough of a chore, then keep in mind that a marketing grad might not even be in the running for jobs like theirs.  These two guys studied computer engineering and economics, respectively.

3) Depending on which school to attend, you will either be left on your own to find a job, or given limited help

 First, be sure to pick a school with an established co-op program (which unfortunately means that McGill, my alma mater, is out of the question).  It will give you the best chance to get a toehold in the job market and avoid the “no work, no work experience” conundrum upon graduation.

Second, because of the large amount of interest in marketing and advertising, many of your colleagues will be flooding employers with CVs and begging to work for free, probably because they overestimate the importance of colorful offices and free espressos.  This is bad for you – who needs to send out 75 CVs and go to 25 interviews to land an unpaid internship?  To rise above that you will need to hustle.  Business school does not do a good job to teaching hustling (which is why even Marketing is preferable to studying Entrepreneurship, but that’s another post).  You must learn to hustle on your own, and it won’t be easy.

For my next post, I’ll talk about the important, money-making skills you CAN learn in Marketing (but which most student choose not to).