Marketing: Market forces a new approach to customer: Companies are emerging from the recession with a desire to please, reports Martin Whitfield

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The Independent Online
Marketing has been in difficulties since the boom days of the late 1980s ended. The threat of redundancy has stalked the corridors of smart central London offices and recent surveys show that up to a third of professional marketeers go in fear of their jobs.

Employment has dropped by as much as 14 per cent in just two years, while the Chartered Institute of Marketing's redundancy register has risen fourfold to represent 4 per cent of the 25,000 membership. About three- quarters of staff know somebody who has lost their job. As if this were not bad enough, the professional integrity of market research, the cornerstone of much of the industry, has been called into question following disastrous predictions in last year's general election.

'It's a very different world from what it was three years ago. It really has been quite difficult. Our redundancy register has seen tremendous increases. They are people looking for help,' says James McAinsch, director general of the Chartered Institute.

The rather bleak period of the last two years does not come as much as a surprise to an outside observer when compared with the collapse in other industries and the depth of the recession. Marketing is likely to reflect the troubles of consumers and manufacturers. But is has shocked many in a relatively new and young business which thrived on an image of constant improvement.

The idea of a standstill salary can be associated with personal failure in an industry built on individual performance. The concentration of jobs in the South-East - the epicentre of the 1990s job losses - has compounded the perceived problem. Despite a move away from the high rents of central London, 70 per cent of marketing staff work in the South, according to a survey of more than 2,200 workers published last month by Marketing magazine.

Although any prospect of job security may have been dented by the recession, salaries for those still in work continues to rise faster than both inflation and industry generally. The survey by Marketing puts the annual increase in salaries at 4 per cent to give an average wage of pounds 27,880, while a similar exercise in Marketing Week, also last month, put the rise at 6.7 per cent. Marketing directors earn an average of between pounds 43,000 and pounds 75,000, with a typical product manager being paid pounds 28,000.

Not only have wages kept pace, but perks as well. The value of the average company car - provided for 79 per cent of staff - has risen to pounds 16,550, according to Marketing Week, with more than half of managing directors driving cars worth more than pounds 25,000.

The only people for whom salaries have not kept pace are women. Equal opportunities remain but a target for most marketing companies with female salaries about 70 per cent of the male earnings, even though women staff make up an increasing proportion of the total. In central London up to half of staff are women. Female marketing workers received rises last year of just 1.4 per cent compared with more than

5 per cent for men. Marketing magazine put their average salaries at pounds 21,580 compared with pounds 31,800 for men. Earnings were slightly higher in Marketing Week's report at pounds 23,171 for women and pounds 32,803 for men, but the differential was similar.

Nearly three-quarters of marketeers have degrees and half speak at least one foreign language. Language skills are more common at the top end of the profession. Most of the respondents felt the recession keenly with one in 10 of those interviewed by Marketing magazine saying the impact on their company had been 'awful', while another third believed their firm was only just keeping its head above water.

However, it appears that large numbers think the worst is over although there is still individual fear over their jobs. Nearly 60 per cent held the view that 1993 would see an improvement with fewer than one in ten expecting things to get worse. A similar view appeared in Marketing Week. Here a quarter saw the prospects of growth as 'very good' and a further 44 per cent as 'quite good'.

Such natural optimism is common in an industry in which hopeful confidence is an important feature. But Mr McAinsch considers it to be well placed, although he is about as cautious as one can be about predicting a recovery. 'There is just a faint indication that things are going to improve slightly,' he says. The rationale behind such sentiments is not just improved High Street sales figures, announced yesterday by the CBI, but a belief that companies have changed their thought processes since the boom. 'Larger companies that have marketing departments are going to be much tighter. Like the agencies, they are going to look for value for money. Marketing departments are no longer seen as just something to have and more sophisticated market research is going to be more important,' he adds.

Driving the new approach is a desire to please the customer. It will no longer be good enough just to turn out a strategic marketing plan and sit back waiting for it all to happen. Managers and clients are going to want to be convinced that the target market has been identified correctly before committing advertising and promotion budgets.

Success in predicting consumer behaviour has always been the marketing person's Holy Grail. Parts of the industry, such as those marketing pharmaceutical products to the medical profession, have long taken care to assess their customers' habits exactly. But it is the increase of computer-based mathematical predictions constructed on small samples that have begun to give market research a bad name.

A Horizon television documentary - 'Suggers, fruggers and data-muggers' - on BBC2 this week suggested that data was being stretched too far in an effort to build up a precise image of the way people live. 'Suggers' are those trying to sell things under the guise of market research, 'fruggers' raise funds under the same pretence, while consumers fear 'data-mugging' of personal details on computer.

Mr McAinsch is reluctant, unlike Horizon, to draw conclusions from the

8.5 per cent discrepancy between opinion poll and general election result, but says clients are likely to ask much more detailed questions about market research methodology before accepting its findings. They are also considering their role in the future of marketing strategies. 'Many will be sitting down in their boardrooms and asking, 'we have cut out all the fat, we have dispensed with the services of a number of people, now how can we progress to face out to the consumer?'.'