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Real-World Education for Modern Marketers

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You Need Marketing Bootcamp!

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World class cellists and pianists descend on Meadowmount boot camp, located in Westport, N.Y., every year for a grueling summer of practice, drills and more practice. And these are some of the world's very best and up and coming talents. If the world's best musicians need the rigors and training of boot camp, shouldn't we consider something similar to become a world-class marketing professional?

As marketers we're always looking at creating competitive differentiation for our products, services and companies. But are we paying attention to enlarging the skill gap between ourselves and our fellow marketing professionals (either within the company) or within the larger job market?

According to "A Boot Camp for Budding Virtuosos," Business Week, August 21, 2006, "every summer 220 young violinists, cellists, and pianists head into the woods" of NY to a special boot camp called Meadowmount. It's here that these musicians learn their craft through a strict set of drills, scales and hours of practice.

According to the article, "musicians must be awake and practicing by 8:30am, and the must spend five hours a day in their tiny, un-air conditioned bedrooms in individual practice." This isn't camp Griswold---it is hard work, and these students aren't at Meadowmount for socialization and pool parties!

We could easily dismiss these musicians as over achievers. However, we'd be remiss if we didn't note that these are some of the worlds best musicians, trying to get better–after all Meadowmount has produced the likes of Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell and YoYo Ma.

So what separates the elite musicians from the rest of the crowd? As noted in the Business Week article, researchers led by Florida State University professor K. Anders Ericsson, studied musicians at a Berlin conservatory. The students were divided into three skill levels, including one group identified by the faculty as having the best opportunity to become world class soloists.

The results, according to the article were "clear cut, with little room for any sort of inscrutable God-given talent. The elite musicians had simply practiced far more than the others."

In the marketplace for talent, there will always be individuals with loads of natural talent, just as there will be professionals who have to work a bit harder than their peers to produce similar results.

However, no matter how much talent you have as a marketer, there's always room for improvement, and always room for practice and refinement of the skills that make us world class marketing professionals.

What business books on leadership, finance, operations or the like are you reading to become a well-rounded executive? Which marketing research studies and publications are in your back pocket? What executive education courses have you recently completed? Are your public speaking skills sharp? Have you benchmarked your skills against your peers? How about against those working in world class marketing organizations like GE or Microsoft?

The article notes another attribute of elite musicians is not only repetition of "tough spots," but also an "intensely self-critical" attitude where players constantly identify weaknesses and look for improvement opportunities.

So, until there is a real marketing boot camp similar to Meadowmount, you can always take an inventory of your skill sets and embark upon a plan of self improvement.

It's a jungle out there, and the global talent pool for marketing professionals is only growing with economies like India and China entering the mainstream. What are you doing to maintain your "personal" competitive edge?

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Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.

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  • by Rob Fields Wed Aug 23, 2006 via blog

    You're definitely onto something here, Paul. Another great example is the Marsalis brothers: Branford was always the more talented, but Wynton worked harder. However, the slight disincentive is that marketing is a "team" activity, versus one of individual accomplishment like music. In many cases, where one person is weak, another, stronger team member can make up for it, to the extent that such deficiency doesn't apply too much drag on the overall effort. Most companies do have annual performance reviews, but something needs to be done on a regular basis to get people to focus on their own development more. For the time being, such a disciplined effort towards personal development seems destined to remain the province of the few and the focused.

  • by CK Wed Aug 23, 2006 via blog

    Great post. Enjoyed the BizWeek feature, too. I think every question you've asked here is spot on and while I could list what I'm doing to hone my talents and skills (the MBA, the ongoing courses, the pile of books, etc.), I think it's better to include one question that I see as missing -- especially since I find it to be the most important maybe you'll include it: What, as a marketer, are you doing to get closer to your markets? It is about them (the customer) after all. My answer? I'm tapping social-media tools to listen to them, research their preferences and better understand their needs. Funny how much they surprise and enlighten you. To think I've spent all this money on grad school and wonderful books...and yet the free tools insight me most and give me a robust competitive advantage because so many marketers aren't listening. Hope they start to. That said, I'm still reading all the great books and attending seminars as they help me grow as well (and I'm a geek for all things marketing).

  • by Lewis Green Wed Aug 23, 2006 via blog

    I love the idea. We do have a number of accreditation programs from organizations such as the AMA, PRSA, IMC, and IABC which you did not mention. Are you comfortable commenting on these? While I am a "can-do" kind of guy and a positive thinker, I think it fair to mention some possible barriers. So here are a few that give me pause: 1. Costs to attendees vs ROI 2. Location 3. Faculty 4. Institutional and Administrative Funding 5. Attendees time away from their business 6. Attendees time away from my clients I hope your post receives more response. This is worth discussing.

  • by Roy Young Thu Aug 24, 2006 via blog

    May I make a shameless plug for MarketingProfs' Virtual Seminar Program? We are now doing 3 or 4 online seminars every month on a wide variety of topics. These are 90-minute sessions with a subject matter expert brought to you at your desk. This month, we featured a 90-minute seminar with Seth Godin on his new book, Small is the New Big. Learn more about our seminars at and click on the Seminar button on the top navigation bar.

  • by Jason Sherman Tue Aug 29, 2006 via blog

    Paul, Wonderful question and a perfect metaphor. As both a marketer and musician, I can tell you that the humility and discipline that typifies musicians simply isn't found in spades among marketers. But, there's a more insidious problem...marketers are widely regarded by CEOs as unable to lead innovation in their companies. According to the now infamous Spencer Stuart study, the average tenure of a CMO is 23 months, significantly shorter than the average for CEOs (nearly 5 years). Marketing researchers have it even worse, having been accused in articles appearing in several mainstream publications (Marketing News, Marketing Week, Inc. Magazine, among others) as being irrelevant. I support your idea that being world-class requires constant study of the marketing world. Lawd knows, I spent inordinate amounts of time just keeping up with new developments. And "world-class", which is a relative term, will always remain an elite club, made up of the top x% of marketers. Few will ever have the chutzpah to aspire or qualificatons to join. It seems to me we have profound opportunities to remedy the fundamental lack of innovation, leadership and communication skills that plague marketers today. I see evidence persistently in business media and among my clients. So, for me, the reward is in educating and inspiring the "masses" of marketing managers and researchers, who are pretty downtrodden today. Jason Sherman

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