Should Marketing be a regulated profession?

Marketing profession

‘Trust me, I’m a Doctor.’

But you never hear anybody saying, ‘Trust me, I’m a marketer!’


True, an incompetent marketer is unlikely to endanger somebody’s health – but they could put a client’s wealth at risk. One reason why professional standards in marketing matter.

In the UK, there are over 120 professions that are regulated by a network of over 100 regulators. Many people working in these regulated professions also have protected titles – unsurprisingly, marketing is not one of them. As you might expect, most of these titles relate to fields where there is a health or safety aspect – from ‘optometrist’ to ‘air traffic controller’ and ‘waste manager’. 


Anyone can be a marketer

It’s true that anybody can call themselves a marketer, set up in business and ply their trade with no qualification, training or control. 

The reality is that the majority of marketers don’t have a marketing qualification. Following their 2019 Career and Salary survey, Marketing Week quoted:

“More than half of marketers (53.8%) say they have not studied a marketing-related academic or professional qualification of any kind. Marketing Week’s 2019 Career and Salary Survey, which questioned 4,415 marketers, shows they clearly find their way into the profession via a wide variety of routes. Just 25.7% have a marketing undergraduate degree as their highest qualification, and 16.3% a marketing master’s degree, diploma or doctorate.”

Does this matter? I’ve spent most of my working life in marketing, and I think most of my colleagues have enjoyed the freedom the profession allows. There are some specific external bodies such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), UK’s regulator of advertising, but there is no overall body regulating the wider field of ‘marketing’ in general, or enforcing qualifications.  Membership of professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), is optional and has no regulatory role. Instead, marketers stand or fall based on the results we achieve for clients.

Freedom or protection?

The light touch of control may be great for qualified practitioners, but what about the risks for clients – particularly SMBs and start-ups? As with any profession, there are a lot of purveyors of snake-oil out there. But also many really great experienced  marketers – so making a safe choice can be challenging.

The three ‘R’s, Research, Referral and Reputation may be a sound place to start. However, I’ve come across many disappointed business people who have made blind decisions based upon inbound sales calls or emails, cheap offers, social media posts  or google searches.

If they have not achieved the results they expected, or worse, lost money or reputation – this is bad for themselves and bad for the wider profession.

Would it be safer, and better for the industry if there were some agreed professional standards in marketing, or is it better to have a buccaneering, entrepreneurial environment – what do you think?

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Ian West
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