Companies need to sell to survive, which is why marketers and marketing executives are always in demand.
That said, marketing has changed seismically over the decades. Advertising has become increasingly data-driven and trackable, and marketers are now expected to show proof of ROI—especially at the executive level. Organizational structures have become looser and more flexible, so it’s not always clear from title alone where on a company hierarchy a marketer belongs.
Finally, jobs in marketing management have become less creative. In the Mad Men era, top executives came up with creative advertising promotions. Today, the leaders of the marketing department drive strategy and sales.
One of these leaders is the marketing director (or director of marketing). As titles go, it can be a confusing one. Some marketing professionals who wear this hat oversee entire departments and report to the chief marketing officer. Others oversee a team of marketing managers who may or may not manage people themselves; this sort of marketing director reports to the vice president of marketing. Some marketing directors don’t manage anyone at all and instead work collaboratively with creative directors, art directors, communications directors, and public relations directors to shape an organization’s brand message.
So, what does a marketing director do? Most marketing directors strategize and analyze, manage colleagues and clients, and guide the development of marketing campaigns. How that translates into a director’s day-to-day duties can vary from company to company. In this article, we cover:
The director of marketing role is one of the most essential positions in marketing, but also one of the hardest to describe. Drop ‘what does a marketing director do?’ into a search engine and you’re likely to get ten different descriptions of this role on the first page of results. That’s because marketing directors work in so many different industries. A director of marketing at a huge pharmaceutical company may spend their days in ways that look quite different from the typical day of a marketing communications director at a small nonprofit organization.
Let’s look at a high-level description of the marketing director role first. Marketing directors are responsible for managing internal and external branding, marketing, and communications strategies for their organizations. At smaller companies, marketing director is often a hands-on position. The person in that role might handle just about every aspect of marketing and communications themselves, from market research to developing creative assets to tracking campaigns. At large companies, a marketing director might spend more time drafting marketing budgets, coordinating with the sales department, creating brand strategy, and signing off on the work of marketing specialists.
Marketing directors at the biggest firms (the kind with vast marketing departments) may be primarily responsible for identifying markets, segmenting those markets, and determining the potential of each market segment or audience. And then there are marketing directors who specialize in just one area of marketing. They might be a digital marketing director or a director of social media or a branding director.
Given that, it can be hard to pin down just what a marketing director does. A marketing director’s responsibilities might include:
There’s no such thing as a typical day when you’re a director of marketing. On a given day, the marketing director will inevitably check their email and probably attend one or more meetings. These meetings might involve a new campaign kickoff, a brand marketing brainstorming session, or a discussion of critical projects and deliverables. At points throughout the day, the marketing director may sign off on materials for existing initiatives.
The director of marketing might also have a one-on-one with a marketing coordinator or the art director before sitting down to sift through data generated by a recent campaign to find useful trends. If a campaign has just ended, the marketing director might spend the majority of one day creating a performance report for the board of directors. If a campaign is just beginning, they might lead an all-hands meeting to set project parameters and timelines.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (
Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. ( )
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A marketing director’s duties do indeed vary by industry. That’s because companies in different sectors use different channels and techniques to reach their target audiences—and some industries may just treat this role differently as a matter of course. In sales-focused industries—e.g., retail, pharma, manufacturing—the marketing director is likely responsible for driving sales. Analytics will be a big part of the job. In B2B industries, the director of marketing may spend more time working on or overseeing networking initiatives.
On the other hand, some marketing directors are generalists. Marketing directors who work in advertising or marketing agencies are expected to be jacks of all trades. They need to be able to brush up quickly on the needs of companies in any industry. To do that, they spend a lot of time interfacing with clients. Whether they have ownership of one account or many accounts depends on the size of the agency and the size of the typical accounts that agency handles.
Employers aren’t specifically looking for marketers with certifications, but some marketing directors do choose to pursue professional credentials as a way to showcase their experience and skills. A director of marketing might earn the:
There are also numerous skills-based certifications for marketers, like the various Google Analytics and Google Ads certifications, and others that are offered by digital marketing companies like HubSpot. These are extremely useful for marketers who are just starting out but probably won’t add much value to the resume of a marketing professional at the management level.
Some companies use the titles marketing manager and marketing director interchangeably. At those that don’t, the difference between these two roles is one of scope. The marketing manager typically manages the marketing department, leading a staff of marketers who develop and launch campaigns based on the strategies that the marketing director has developed after identifying lucrative market segments.
At companies with both a manager and director, the director of marketing may be more focused on the big picture, while the marketing manager spends a lot more time down in the weeds working with the teams that are putting campaigns together.
Advertising and marketing companies tend to have both chief marketing officers and marketing directors, while other types of firms might have both of these roles on the payroll or just one. When there is both a CMO and a director of marketing, the former is responsible for creating a comprehensive marketing strategy that supports the company’s goals. In contrast, the marketing director is responsible for making sure that all campaigns and initiatives support that strategy and possibly also for managing staff in the marketing department. At companies without a CMO, the marketing director handles more of the strategy development and may spend less time overseeing the creation of specific deliverables.
Technically, the highest level of education you need to complete to become a marketing director is a four-year bachelor’s degree. Most companies require candidates for an open marketing director position to have a bachelor’s degree in marketing or a related discipline plus entry-level marketing and mid-level marketing experience. Those credentials serve as proof that a candidate for this position has the problem-solving skills, communication skills, interpersonal skills, and other skills marketing professionals need to design effective advertising campaigns.
Many employers prefer candidates with marketing master’s degrees (like the Master of Science in Marketing) or MBAs. The ideal degree for aspiring marketing directors may be an MBA in marketing. Some of the top marketing MBA programs can be found at:
There’s one other option you should consider. The University of Chicago is one of a handful of schools that offers an MBA in Marketing Management. These programs give students a strong foundation in business and management principles, but also cover:
Earning a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree isn’t all it takes to land an executive position in marketing. Most marketing directors amass years of professional experience before joining the ranks of executive leadership. A future director of marketing might get their start in digital marketing, content marketing, email marketing, product marketing, graphic design, or social media marketing before becoming a marketing specialist. From there, they might spend a few years in a management role like domestic or global marketing manager before advancing into a marketing director position. Add it up, and you’ll probably spend six years minimum in school plus ten or more years in marketing before others consider you qualified to take on this role.
As is often the case, the answer depends on the source. According to The Creative Group 2019 Salary Guide, the midpoint starting salary for marketing directors is $108,000. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics, on the other hand, reports that median pay for all management-level marketing professionals is about $133,000, and Glassdoor reports that marketing directors earn $96,000. ZipRecruiter’s estimate is significantly lower at $74,000.
Unfortunately, figuring out which source has the most accurate average is tough. Director of marketing salaries can vary quite a bit based on factors like company size, location, industry, and the education level of the director. What we can say with a high degree of certainty is that earning a master’s degree pays off in marketing. One older survey found that marketing directors with master’s degrees earned almost 20 percent more than their colleagues with bachelor’s degrees. Chances are good that’s still true today.
Marketing directors have to be able to do a lot. The most important thing to keep in mind when looking at this role is that marketing directors can be called upon to do just about everything. In other words, this is not a position for people who prefer to specialize. In this role, you may have to oversee or even handle:
Familiarity with a lot of different facets of marketing may be more valuable than any certification or even a master’s degree—especially if you can prove that decisions you made in past positions led to profits.
If you’re interested in becoming a marketing director someday, spend some time in as many different areas of marketing as you can. You can do this by taking multiple internships in college or by asking your employer to let you spend time working in other departments. The more you know, the faster you’ll be able to advance into this position.
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