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According to a new study, one-third of VPs of marketing arrive at the top marketing post because of their experiences in marketing: marketing communications, PR and corporate communications, events marketing, lead generation, marketing strategy, branding, SEO marketing, and the like. But what backgrounds do the other two-thirds of marketing executives come from?
In her career book, Getting to the Top: Strategies for Career Success, executive search consultant and careers expert Kathryn Ullrich not only shares groundbreaking research on career path categories to VP marketing and other functional disciplines in marketing and sales, but also shares a ton of real-world executive examples to highlight career paths and leadership skills needed for advancement.
Ullrich studied the career paths of VPs of marketing, looking at resumes in her search database to categorize the backgrounds of executives reaching Chief Marketing Officer or VP Marketing titles. With an executive search practice based in Silicon Valley, Ullrich's database takes a skew toward high technology companies though contains both marketing executives from major corporations as well as start-ups. According to her research, the career path categories to reach the role of VP Marketing are as follows:
Beyond the third of executives with marketing backgrounds, a quarter of VPs of marketing have deep domain expertise, whether in an industry or other specialization ranging from high tech, healthcare, consumer packaged goods, or financial services to small-medium business marketing, mobile applications, consumer products targeting teen boys, online payments, or many more. A marketing executive with deep domain expertise understands the target customer extremely well, including how best to market the company’s solutions to that target market.
And while most people think that being a generalist opens more opportunities, Ullrich as an executive recruiter finds that having a defined domain expertise can actually make an executive more attractive. She says that companies seek candidates with specific domain experience and therefore executives need to think about specific areas in which they excel.
The next category VPs of marketing includes former strategy consultants and investment bankers who bring strategy and analytical rigor to the role. Marketing done well includes analytic measures of fairly subjective marketing activities. With the prevalence of search engine marketing and social media, we’re seeing marketing becoming even more analytical.
Cross functional and sales background categories involve working in other functions, whether at a different level or a lateral move. Imagine the marketing executive who sells an information technology product. A stint in the IT department, where you work with and go to lunch with your typical customers, provides incredible insight into the psyche of your customer. You’re learning what their major concerns are as they approach their jobs, what products/solutions they admire, and messaging that will work with your customers outside the company. The background in the sales organization is obvious as a person gains first hand knowledge about selling to customers. What do you do as a marketing executive to gain knowledge about your customers?
As an added benefit, working outside your functional area builds your network and exposure within the company for future opportunities and promotion.
With this knowledge of paths to VP of marketing through various career categories, Getting to the Top points out that you can now understand how to position yourself during your career and possible experiences and skills needed during your own advancement.
About Kathryn Ulrich
Kathryn Ullrich is a Silicon Valley-based executive search consultant and author of the award-winning book Getting to the Top: Strategies for Career Success(Silicon Valley Press, 2010, $19.95). She also leads Alumni Career Services at UCLA Anderson School of Management. Contact her at email@example.com or visit www.GettingToTheTop.com.
About Matt Krumrie
In addition to writing resumes and cover letters, Krumrie has published over 2,000 career and job search articles for the Star Tribune, Flexjobs.com, Ziprecruiter.com and more.