Is the marketing profession, endangered?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a Profession as any type of work, especially one that needs a high level of education or a particular skill. A profession is an occupation that requires mastery of some knowledge and skills gained through either formal education and/or practical experience. A Profession is ordinarily regulated by a Professional Body which ensures that the members follow the laid down rules of engagement.

I believe those professions that are highly regulated automatically become prestigious and there is some pride that comes with being associated with such professions. Interestingly most professions in Kenya are regulated with the latest one being the Human Resource profession. The question, therefore, is who regulates the Marketing Profession.

Unfortunately in Kenya, the attitude and thinking towards marketing are that anybody can practice it irrespective of their training. In fact, the perception is that those who pursue marketing as an option in the university are those that are not very bright. This reminds me of when I was in the University of Nairobi students were fighting to do other options which they had not qualified for and the Dean of Faculty was amazed that I had qualified to do those other options but chose to do marketing. You can be sure that I and many other Marketers I know are intelligent and I managed First Class Honors meaning Marketing is not for the daft.

The thinking that marketing is a profession for anyone has led to many companies recruiting and placing people with no formal education in the area in marketing positions. In fact, some people holding high-profile marketing positions cannot tell the difference between Marketing, Public Relations, and Advertising and many equate Marketing to Sales and Advertising. It is no wonder when an organization wants to cut costs or is struggling they do away with their Marketing budget yet any organization in the dynamic and competitive environment that we operate in requires Marketing to survive.

The situation on the ground in institutions of higher learning in Kenya could be an indication that the Marketing Profession is indeed in danger and could face extinction if nothing is urgently done. In almost all universities the number of those pursuing Marketing as an option has continued to dwindle. In some universities, the situation is so dire that the option is no longer on offer for those pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce Degree since no one has shown interest in the marketing option since 2013. In our time majority of students in the universities pursued Marketing Option. Today in a class of 200 students, 55 %( 110) of the students will opt for Finance, 20% (40) Accounting option and only 25% (50) will opt for Marketing or Human Resource Management Options.

If this trend continues it will be difficult to find well-trained marketers in many years to come. Asking a couple of students why they opt for the finance option, the answer is always it’s marketable and everyone is doing it. It is however worth noting that those that pursue the so-called marketable and prestigious options end up being recruited to do the marketing they never studied in the first place. Others go-ahead to do a diploma in marketing or a Master in Marketing and this according to them qualify them to be marketers. It is also becoming difficult to find Ph.D. holders in marketing who have a marketing-related background both at undergraduate and Master’s Levels. Some lecturers even think that anyone can teach marketing even without having an undergraduate grounding in the area. This can only mean that if nothing is urgently done to the marketing profession in terms of regulation and positioning then we can as well forget about it and watch it die a natural death. 

Human Resource which faced the same challenge is now regulated and has found its space and has positioned the profession very well. They are making it difficult for anyone to practice HR without a proper grounding in HR Matters and have introduced a mandatory professional course to certify anyone practicing HR. The law has also ensured one cannot practice HR or be employed in HR without being a member of IHRM. Marketing on the other end has very low barriers and anyone gets into the profession. There is no law that regulates the profession nor are there any certifications as such for one to be a marketer. The few marketing bodies that exist are not vibrant and are rarely heard in matters of marketing.

I would, for instance, expect the Marketing fraternity to call shots during the appointment of directors in Brand Kenya Board, Kenya Tourist Board, and other key marketing government parastatals. Instead, it is assumed that anyone can market Kenya and  Kenyan products as long as they look nice and are eloquent. The marketers need to rethink of this profession and create barriers for entry for those without proper marketing knowledge and skills, today everyone is a marketer and they even lecture the skilled marketers on the subject in board rooms.

So what is the way forward? The marketing profession needs to take its rightful position in society. There is a need for lobbying to have the profession embedded in the law to regulate who can and who cannot practice marketing. There is a need to also have the various marketing bodies hold career talks in institutions of higher learning and sensitize the learners to the benefits of taking marketing as an option. The CEOs should also ensure they give ALL students taking marketing option direct attachments and thereafter jobs taking into consideration the performance. Those in interview board rooms even for promotions and merchandising jobs should refuse to employ those that have done other options to do marketing-related assignments. Let us show the world that one needs to be schooled and grounded in the area to even get those small marketing jobs.

There is also a need for a Strategic and forceful Marketing Body that would spearhead the negotiations, lobby the government as well as have a framework of how this will be achieved. Above all let the marketers be seen and heard in mainstream media articulating issues that affect this country and how best we can market our country and its products. Yes, we can!

Dr. Mary Mugo

Strategy, Governance and Management Consultant



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