marketing educationEvery month, we publish spotlights highlighting members of the PR Dream Team.

It’s a Q&A-style interview and we host at least five members every month.

Recently, we featured Kendra Corman who went from a bachelor of arts degree to a masters in accounting, to an MBA, before she ended up in marketing.

Her path to marketing got the PR Dream Team talking (well, texting. Or Slacking?).

Seán Stickle asked:

I’d actually be interested to know what college degree (or grad degree, if any) the members of the PR Dream Team graduated with before they ended up in PR?

Overall, the PR Dream Team answers weren’t as obvious as you would think. Very few had degrees in marketing, PR or communications.

So, this week’s Big Question asks: what’s your major?

More specifically: what are the best degrees for a career in marketing?

Like law or engineering degrees, many educational journeys are designed to build a foundation.

Where did your educational path to marketing and communications start?

Be Prepared

Lindsay Andrews DID focus on marketing and communications on her educational journey, but ultimately her tips lean toward preparedness and experimentation:

I have a degree in integrated marketing cmmunications from the University of Mississippi—a relatively new degree concept for undergraduate students.

It encompasses all aspects of PR, communications, marketing, advertising, business, and a little bit of everything in-between.

Everything you need to succeed in the world of marketing.

It was by far the best thing I did for my career because I got a taste of every aspect of the career field which has greatly benefited me in my current job.

Despite my pretty simple sounding title of “Marketing Manager,” I dabble in a variety of areas because I work for a smaller law firm and I am the sole in-house marketing arm.

Tip #1: Get a degree in something that makes you well-rounded and doesn’t cover just one topic. It will give you a better perspective for projects in the ‘real-world’ that will come your way later on.

Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to try something new because the ability to learn and experiment with different areas of interest will be the best preparation for a career.

Marketing Education: Creativity and Real-World Experience

Thierry Godard notes that when it comes to marketing, there is more to it than education:

The greatest thing about modern marketing is that it’s such a diverse area of practice that almost any background can excel at it.

The only real requirements are a passion for learning, empathy, creativity, and an ability to wrangle numbers in spreadsheets.

Some of the most talented marketers are increasingly coming from the STEM fields where success is reliant on logical thinking, collaboration, and clearly framed experiments.

The latter is a crucial skill for modern marketing teams who are looking to analyze data quickly without the help of external teams, and rapidly deploy tests across thousands of pages or channels in real time.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum are students who have a degree in journalism or film, audio, or video production.

Creativity still remains the heart and soul because storytelling is at the core of any great marketing campaign or pitch.

Students who can successfully match this with more technical skills will remain at a huge advantage compared to traditional marketers, and MBAs.

For the real go-getters, skipping college and focusing on marketing your own product, service, or eCommerce business is a huge advantage.

The real world skills learned through trial by fire are more valuable than a degree, and cost a whole lot less.

Technology and Critical Thinking

Olin Downs went, dare I say it, down a unique path for his marketing education:

I graduated undergrad Summa Cum Laude in information systems with a minor in philosophy.

After a year of law school, I decided I’d prefer to deal with the business aspect of things rather than the legal side.

I went on the get my MBA with an information systems emphasis.

I believe my technological knowledge coupled with the critical thinking that comes from philosophy and law school provided me a firm foundation for marketing.

More specifically, search engine optimization and pay-per-click.

My technology background gave me insight into how the algorithms and back-end systems work for SEO and PPC.

My critical thinking skills allowed me to take a deeper look into the data to produce better results through hypothesis and testing.

Marketing Education: Woulda Coulda Shoulda?

Kimberly Crossland’s marketing education choices were the right ones, but she can’t help wondering if they were the “best”:

I have a major in marketing and international business, but more and more I’m starting to believe the best degrees for marketing are psychology and English.

Maybe Kimberly can give us some context as to why she has come to think that in the comments below!

Never. Stop. Learning.

We’ve often discussed the merits of lifelong learning.

In the same vein, many respondents note that whatever they didn’t learn before, they’ve picked up along the way.

From Randy Ksar:

I got my education in business administration with a concentration in management information systems.

I use my entrepreneurial skills all the time.

That said, I learned all my job duties on my own, since they didn’t have any digital marketing classes at the time.

Mary Deming Barber:

I majored in English at a liberal arts school so I got a broad-based education with a very heavy dose of learning to think, listen, and converse.

Once in public relations, I became accredited as assurance I knew the fundamentals of the profession.

Bill Smith:

My BA from the University of Toronto was a double major in political science and history. This was followed by post-degree certificates in PR and digital strategy and communications management much later on.

The rest I picked up on the job.

Marketing Education: It’s About Storytelling

For the aforementioned Seán Stickle, anything that improves upon our ability to tell stories is a solid marketing education:

Modern marketing is principally about effective storytelling (while allowing for the crucial technical aspects of market analysis, pricing strategy, psychographics, etc.).

So, any major that will help develop a person’s competence in storytelling is a good one—whether that’s journalism, classics, literature, etc.

Broadly speaking: the humanities and liberal arts.

At my college, we used to say that anything studied historically is a humanity—because you end up studying the questions that people ask and how people wrestle with understanding them (more important than any particular and provisional answers).

Which is a superb grounding for the transcultural empathy that good storytelling requires.

Marketing Education: The Hiring Side

Interestingly, most responses focused on what the respondents themselves took in school when it came to their background and marketing education.

Which is great, because that’s what we asked!

However, Kendra Corman (the PR Dream Team member who triggered the question in the first place), put aside her marketing education and commented on what she looks for in a marketing hire:

Right now, if I am looking to hire someone it depends what I need them to do, but they need to be able to write and write well.

I love to hire journalism, English, and communications majors.

I sometimes have to spend a bit more time with them on the metrics and measurement, but it is a lot less time than I need to spend with the people who can’t write.

Jen Novotny agrees:

I have a degree in journalism, with an emphasis on PR and advertising and business minor.

That said, I am starting to think more and more that we do need people with liberal arts degrees and STRONG writing skills.

There are graduates coming out of the J-school who have NO regard for AP style, grammar, or punctuation—and it makes me crazy.

And I agree with Kendra. You can teach analytics, but it’s very difficult to teach someone how to write well.

Marketing Education: What does Best Mean?

Clearly, “what is the best…” questions are designed to create conversation. They can stir the proverbial pot.

Because what does “best” mean, especially when it comes to education?

Yes, some educational paths (medicine, law) have a hierarchy.

There are schools and training we want to see in people who are required to make life and death decisions.

But when it comes to marketing, there’s not one educational background that is considered the best.

Storytelling is key. And education can make it better. But did education give birth to, or elevate your most valuable marketing skill?

Maybe. Maybe not.

(Don’t you love when I end a Big Question like that? Nothing better than getting a solid “maybe” in answer to a burning question)

Either way, it’s clear that our respondents are always eager to keep educating themselves, one way or another.

Up Next: Speaking of Marketing Education

In an age of online information, there is easy access to learning resources for just about any subject or discipline.

But is that the best way to learn?

Online learning is efficient. It’s accessible.

I, personally, find it very effective. Best?

If not, why? What do you (did you?) like better about a “traditional” learning experience?

The next Big Question asks:

What is the big difference between learning online or in a traditional classroom?

You can answer here, in our free Slack community, or on the socials (use #SpinSucksQuestion so we can find you).

Mike Connell

Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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