It sounds like the sort of job an accountant could do. ‘Mercedes-Benz requires someone with five years’ experience working in a commercial vehicle environment. The person will have good computer and analytical skills, feel comfortable manipulating statistics and combine good verbal and written communication skills with an outgoing, creative personality.’ Further inquiry shows the job involves plenty of work with spreadsheets, analysing trends based on data obtained from face-to-face interviews.
Yet few accountants will have seen the advert. And few of those who did would have responded: it appeared in October 1998’s edition of Marketing, and Mercedes-Benz specifically required five years’ experience as a marketer.
Despite the job’s high numerical content, it was thought only someone with a marketing background would be appropriate.
Richard Payne, Mercedes-Benz’s head of passenger vehicles marketing communications, is not surprised. It would not occur to him to think an accountant could do the job: ‘An accountant deals with facts and figures, while marketing needs creative flair,’ he said. Formerly an employee with an advertising agency, a key part of his work with Mercedes-Benz is to agree and manage campaign briefs with agents. ‘Buying creativity is not like buying nuts and bolts,’ he said.
The creative team in an agency comprises an account planner, who establishes the shape of an advertising campaign, and a copywriter and art director who fill in the details. It is Payne’s responsibility to commission the right team for the job. He also has to work closely with them, explaining what he wants and commenting on their ideas to get the campaign which delivers the best results. ‘It would be two or three years before I would let someone take full responsibility for briefing an agent,’ he said. ‘I’m sure there are accountants who could do this, but it takes experience.’
Professor Tim Ambler, a senior fellow in marketing at London Business School and a member of the English ICA, is less generous about accountants.
‘There is an arrogance among those with a financial background that accounting is the language of business and that measuring is much more important than anything else. I’m not sure they are right.’
Since March 1997, Ambler has been conducting a two-and-a-half year project asking marketers and FDs how they measure the marketing effectiveness of their companies. He says there has been a lot of bridge building between the two professions over the past ten years, but it is the marketers who have moved furthest.
Marketers are now more financially literate than accountants think they are, but while the Chartered Institute of Marketing has been doing a good job in educating its members, Ambler thinks the accountancy bodies should do more to encourage marketing literacy among accountants. ‘The accountancy bodies are moving in the right direction, but incrementally.
They must take marketing more seriously – they should introduce it into the syllabus before qualification and as part of post-qualification education,’ he says.
Roger Adams, head of technical services at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, is not so sure accountants have been arrogant in the past. ‘All of us are striving to supply business with what it needs,’ he says. Although they need a broad understanding of commercial matters, accountants have a certain set of skills to contribute.
ACCA’s syllabus changes over the years have reflected accountants’ changing needs, he believes. Some areas, such as law, cannot be altered as they are a regulatory requirement. Others, such as probability theory, are considered less relevant than before and have been reduced. Marketing and strategy currently form a part of one of the final-stage papers.
The English ICA is in the process of redeveloping its entire exam syllabus.
Peter Wyman, chairman of the English ICA’s education and training directorate and a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, says a paper on business management has been proposed and marketing, along with other commercial subjects, would come in there.
Wyman also says accountants specialising as auditors or tax experts would find a knowledge of marketing unnecessary, while FDs would only need to be aware of marketing issues as far as they were raised in boardroom discussions.
Not all accountants working in industry would agree. Mark Stott, a chartered accountant with nine years’ part-qualified experience, works for Whitbread Beer Company as a marketing financial controller. Whitbread places significant emphasis on supporting its brands and takes the relationship between marketing and finance departments seriously. Stott plays a key role in making decisions about the company’s expenditure on individual advertising campaigns. ‘You need to understand how you get value from a brand, ‘There are qualitative benefits which are difficult to measure, ranging from the affinity consumers have for a brand to the fact that you are blocking a competitor.’ Decisions about a proposed campaign are hard to make; arguments can be made for no expenditure at all and for as much expenditure as possible. ‘It’s controlled risk-taking,’ says Stott. ‘Decisions come down to experience, gut feel and the weight of opinion.’ He has been working in his current role for ten months and, although he has been on a number of marketing courses in that time, he says he is still learning. ‘Marketers are very eloquent,’ he says, ‘you have to be quite influential to persuade them.’
‘I think there ought to be more marketing in accountancy training,’ he says. ‘A lot of money goes into “me-too” copying, making it difficult to differentiate between products, so brand imagery really counts. People will buy what they feel comfortable with on the basis of what they have seen advertised.’ He reckons accountancy bodies should focus more on the value of a brand, ‘not just the mechanics of discounted cashflows, but the brand’s role in the long-term life of a business’.
Like accounting, the profession of marketing is wide-ranging. The two disciplines overlap at the strategic end, since business plans containing analyses of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats will be familiar to members of either profession. Naturally, accountants will focus more on the strengths and weaknesses of the company’s finances, personnel and production, while marketers pay more attention to the opportunities and threats relating to the company’s environment. They will be concerned with the strength of demand and the activities of competitors and will talk in terms of ‘product lifecycle’.
Accountants and marketers work together when analysing the likely success of a product. Accountants draw up cost estimates while marketers assess the total demand and their market share. Marketing managers may commission market researchers to help them.
Market research is a specialist branch of marketing. Practitioners use intuition when framing questions and interpreting responses, and must be confident of their ability to analyse statistics. Their techniques include focus groups (infamous for changing the ending of Hollywood films, for instance), telephone interviews and postal questionnaires. Other techniques tell them what consumers buy, as opposed to what they say. These include Nielsen’s homescan, where families use a barcode-scanning device to record everything they buy each week.
If the decision is to launch the product, the next steps are segmentation, targeting and positioning. There are affinities here with the analytical skills of the accountant.
This area is so important that Ted Levitt, Harvard Business School professor and long-time marketing guru, says: ‘If you’re not thinking segments, you’re not thinking marketing.’ For consumer products this is where ABC1/C2DE classifications come in, as well as lifestyle and family lifecycle. Positioning involves setting the features and the price, and selecting a promotional message.
So much for the theory; experience is more important. After advertising its vacancy in Marketing in October 1998, Mercedes-Benz gave the job to Darren Newman, who was trained as a mechanical engineer and has no marketing qualifications. What really counted was his understanding of the industry: ‘I could have six degrees in marketing and still be useless at this job,’ he said.
HOW TO QUALIFY AS A CHARTERED MARKETER
The dual-qualified accountant is an increasingly common breed. The Chartered Institute of Marketing represents more than 26,000 members and 36,000 students worldwide. Aspiring chartered marketers must combine exam success with experience.
There are three sets of exams to pass: certificate, advanced certificate and diploma. Graduates with a degree in any discipline can go directly to the advanced certificate, while those with a degree in marketing can go straight to the diploma.
The advanced certificate has four papers. Marketing operations deals with business planning and strategy, while promotional practice is more concerned with tactical options. The two other papers are effective management for marketers and management information for marketing and sales; the latter should be easy for accountants as financial information covers 40% of the syllabus.
At diploma level, ‘marketing operations’ is broadened into marketing analysis and decision (a case study) and marketing and control, while promotional practice is broadened into marketing communications strategy and international communications strategy.
CIM members do not have to enter into a training contract with a firm.
They prove their three years’ marketing experience by sending their CV, signed off by their line manager, to the institute. The experience must show they have worked as a marketing manager (regardless of job title), so they know how to commission and interpret market research, even if they wouldn’t know how to conduct it.
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