How an MBA Can Lead to a Successful Marketing Career

Discover how an MBA can launch your career in marketing

The MBA is the gateway to many career paths. Marketing has always been a popular choice among these. In fact, 24% of the 3,850 MBA applicants surveyed say they would consider a marketing specialization, according to the QS MBA Applications and Aspirations Report 2018.

Marketing was sixth out of 15 specializations in terms of popularity with applicant respondents. In the QS Jobs & Salary Trends Report 2018, 37% of the nearly 3,500 employers surveyed say they hired MBAs into marketing roles in 2017. This puts marketing fourth behind strategic planning, finance, and general management among MBA functions.

Behind the statistics, you will find MBA graduates who are paving the way for the future of marketing. You’ll also recognize employers eager to hire MBAs with a broad skillset that bridges technical and creative talents. And finally, you’ll note business schools supporting students, so they can hit the ground running in a marketing career post-graduation.


The Yin and Yang of marketing MBAs

“I’ve always enjoyed a balance of strategic and creative thinking,” says Sean Lauer, marketing lead at Twitter in New York City and a 2013 graduate of University of Virginia Darden School of Business. “It’s what I feel I’m best at, and I’m happiest when I get to flex both of those muscles.”

Lauer’s role of business marketing lead is different from your typical MBA marketing job, he adds, because his team focuses on positioning Twitter for advertisers across different industries. But he adds it still gives him the chance to show off the skills he picked up in b-school.

“I always believed the best takeaway from my business school experience was being able to think like a general manager and evaluate business problems from multiple points of view,” says Lauer.


Using data to strategize on marketing plans

In fact, other MBAs agree with this assessment. Samuel Nichols is an SEO/SEM specialist at Next Level Marketing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and a 2017 graduate of Florida International University Chapman Graduate School MBA program. He says Next Level uses an Excel template to organize and create websites. In it, they track and assess a number of categories to determine whether a web page will produce traffic and convert leads.

To prove one field was unnecessary, Nichols used a few equations – linear regression and correlation – that he learned in business analytics class, he says.

“I proved to my supervisor that there was no link between two variables that he thought were related, and we changed the template,” says Nichols. “I also use some principles that I learned in a marketing class, such as Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion, on a daily basis.”


Marketing skills of the near future

Still, employers say business schools and their students have to train harder for the real world of marketing. Feuza Reis, director of social marketing and branding communications for Next Level, expects to hire more MBAs like Nichols to take on roles such as SEO content writers, social media coordinators, and SEO specialists. He hopes business schools offer more experiential learning opportunities, so new hires aren’t so green when they first arrive. Regardless, Reis says the MBA provides credibility to candidates and will become more ubiquitous moving forward.

One problem business schools often have to confront is being slow to react to trends in industry. Those who are hiring MBAs into marketing positions warn schools that they have to hop on the digital marketing train and quickly.

“A lot of MBA programs leave out the digital piece, although I feel that’s a mistake,” says Anthony Gaenzle, director of marketing for both SE Healthcare in South Carolina and Saxton & Stump in Pennsylvania respectively. “Digital should be a significant component of any marketing requirement in MBA curriculum. MBA candidates who hope to begin and remain successful in marketing careers should really work to develop a strong grasp of the digital space to complement leadership and other critical business skills acquired during the pursuit of an MBA.”


Business schools that stand out in marketing

In the meantime, business schools are providing a diverse set of opportunities for people to test their interest and talents in marketing. Duke University Fuqua School of Business in Durham, North Carolina is considered among the best MBA programs for marketing.

About 13% of Fuqua graduates go into marketing, and 23% take on marketing-related internships while in school, says Molly Scerra, sector director for marketing, media, entertainment, and sports at the school. She credits the amount of support Fuqua courses, clubs, and networks provide for the school’s reputation for its marketing curriculum. But it’s the business basics that stand out with recruiters.

“Successful marketers know how to run a business,” says Scerra. “They can set a strategy, build a profit and loss statement, and motivate teams to work toward a common goal.  The ability to do these things requires a blend of quantitative and qualitative acumen.  I would add that the skills are applicable no matter the product or organizational structure.”

Another well-respected program for marketing is the Ross School of Business at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Of the entire Class of 2017, 19.5% pursued a career in marketing, says Heather Byrne, managing director of the career development office at Ross. At this school, marketing students also gain knowledge in management basics, as well as getting hands-on experience in the form of a real-world consulting project. What is unique is the access students have to Nielsen’s Answers on Demand (AOD) syndicated data, says Byrne. The data is part of the marketing lab, where students and professors work on various projects together.

“As the marketing industry continues to evolve, it’s important that MBA students have the ability to utilize data to gain client/customer insights; exhibit strong leadership, influencing and analytical skills; can think strategically; and have excellent communication skills,” says Byrne.


Allure of marketing MBAs

Like their counterparts in other functions, some marketing MBAs have the entrepreneurship bug. Paige Arnof-Fenn, a 1991 Harvard Business School MBA, says earning the degree gave her the confidence to switch careers from finance to marketing after graduation. When she was laid off after 9/11, Arnof-Fenn founded Mavens and Moguls, the marketing consulting firm where she is CEO. What many marketing MBAs find is the field gives them the chance to tap into their many talents.

“Marketing is both art and science,” says Michelle Kubot, a 2016 MBA graduate of the University of South Dakota and marketing director at Ambrosia Treatment Center, which is headquartered in Jupiter, Florida. “One day I’m digging into code building a website, and the next I’m designing a pretty billboard ad. I love the flexibility and the challenge.”  

Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

See related categories:

Log in from the top right-hand corner or click here to register to post comments