Why a Marketing Career?

November 6, 2017

By Elliot Lum

Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock.com


The Wasserman Career Center at NYU Stern recently asked me to speak to liberal arts students about the marketing and advertising industry. They asked me to give a TED-like talk about why students go into this industry.

Which got me thinking: what is it that makes this career so special?

Like many, I fell into the industry serendipitously. I owe a debt of gratitude to a former client of mine who pulled me into a marketing role at Smokey Bones, formerly a part of Darden Restaurants. It was a summer internship in between my first and second year of business school. My first week of training focused on learning the operational side of the business, which was to go into the kitchen and pull apart pork butt. I never will look at a pulled pork sandwich the same again, as I truly got a first-hand view of what the business of food was all about.

After the onsite training, I got a small taste of what marketing was by designing Thanksgiving collateral for the tables and positioning our barbecue takeout offering in the marketplace. I was immediately hooked, which led me to become a brand manager at Colgate and then to run strategic marketing at Columbia Records.

Everyone has their own story of why they got into marketing. For these students, I distilled it down to three reasons:

  1. Purpose. It's a truly purposeful job, where the values of a brand often get expressed in how that brand is perceived by consumers. It's a chance to line up your own personal purpose with the brand's purpose to find the consumers who identify with the message. Brands both provide a product utility as well as an emotional connection to a value system that is deeper than just a series of commercial images. It digs down deep into the entrepreneurial roots of why someone started the brand in the first place and how that story connected with those who were willing to support it.
  2. The constant opportunity to learn. Every day is so different both in terms of what I have been able to work on and who I've been able to talk to. It's not a static kind of role. It's evolve or perish. Given the speed at which technology continues to accelerate, it's imperative to learn how consumers respond to new consumption channels. Where consumers are, marketers must be as well. The only way to succeed is to have a voracious appetite to learn.
  3. Having widespread impact. It is incredibly gratifying to see a product that I worked on for a year launch into the market and have the ability to impact millions of consumers. Or the impact of a commercial that I drove forward sparking a cultural conversation. Marketers are not talking to just a few people. We have the ability to talk to millions and have the ability to change behavior for the better.

So, my question to the marketing and advertising community is why did you choose this career?


Elliot Lum is the head of talent strategy and program development at the ANA Educational Foundation.

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