MBA CAREER SPOTLIGHT ON: Brand Management
As an MBA admissions consultant, a big part of my job is helping my clients develop and think through their post-MBA goals. Communicating a clear vision and direction for your career is a key piece of the MBA application after all. Naturally, I work with a lot of clients that are pursuing post-MBA careers in consulting and finance since over 50-60% of graduates from the top MBA programs go into those fields. However, I’ve also had the privilege of working with clients with other equally ambitious post-MBA dreams – from entrepreneurship, to tech, to retail, to brand management, to non-profit management, and everything in between. To give these other career paths some love and attention today, I’d like to put a spotlight on brand management and explain what it is (and isn’t), what factors to consider in school selection if brand management is your track, and what you can expect in the MBA recruiting process for brand management at the top programs. Aside from advising clients who are pursuing post-MBA careers in brand management, I also worked in brand management for several years immediately following my MBA, so the insights provided below come from an insider’s perspective.
WHAT IS BRAND MANAGEMENT?
- Analytical: Yes, you will be knee-deep in data more often than you would think. Smart companies are utilizing data from a variety of sources to drive their decisions and where they spend their money. You will need to be comfortable with numbers and the story they’re telling if you want to be a successful brand manager.
- Varied: The reason why it’s so hard to find a detailed description of what a brand manager does – in the same way you may understand what a consultant or investment banker does – is because it varies so much from day-to-day and certainly from brand-to-brand and company-to-company. This is perfect for folks who want to continuously be challenged, folks whose worst fear is being bored, and folks who enjoy multi-tasking and juggling multiple priorities. (I certainly fit that bill!) However, the downside is that it’s tougher to know what you’re getting into in the recruiting process. More on that below, but that’s why with brand management, it’s even more important to ask a prospective employer a lot of questions about what you’ll be doing, how the team is structured, and what pieces of the business you’ll own.
- Interactive: Much of your success as a brand manager will hinge on your ability to work well with all your cross-functional partners. These are your teammates in finance, sales, demand planning, product development, etc. that you rely on to execute your programs and bring your products to market. Effectively managing those relationships, influencing them when you need to push and call in favors, is an important soft skill of the job.
- It’s not advertising: Although advertising is a piece of many successful marketing plans, brand management is responsible for much, much more than TV and print campaigns. In fact, this function is outsourced to creative agencies at most companies.
- It’s not purely creative: Although brand management offers many opportunities to be creative and propose out-of-the box solutions and ideas, it is not a solely creative role. As mentioned above, a strong analytical skillset is just, if not more, important in your success.
- It’s not all glitz & glamour: Yes, at any large CPG company you’ll have the opportunity to work on huge, beautiful brands with large budgets and celebrity spokesmodels to represent them. And although there’s certainly a cool-factor to that, it’s not really the daily reality that you’ll experience sitting at your desk, in front of your computer, in a large office building.
- Where your target companies recruit. If you have a target company or list of companies, the first place to start is to see if they hire from each of your potential schools. Although you can always apply to any job posting that is made public, it can make recruiting easier if you attend a school that your desired employer has hired from before, particularly as part of the structured on-campus recruiting process. For example, if P&G is your dream employer, then Kellogg would be an obvious choice for you.
- Size of marketing program. This is more of a preference factor – do you want to be a big fish in a small pond (e.g. a marketer at a finance school) or a small fish in a big pond? Personally, I wanted to be a big fish in a small pond so I targeted Columbia Business School for its location, fully aware that the marketing program and my professional peer group would be smaller than it would be at a program such as Kellogg.
- Specializations in marketing. If you’re focused on a specific industry or specialization within brand management, it makes sense to target programs that offer that level of drill-down. For example, NYU Stern offers specializations in Luxury Marketing and Digital Marketing. That level of specialization is certainly not essential to a successful career in brand management but it could help you get a jump-start in mastering highly relevant content to differentiate yourself in an internship or full-time job interview.
- Most national as well as regional CPG companies will participate in on-campus recruiting. Although you can certainly network on your own outside of that program, it’s a great way to get to know a lot of companies in a small span of time without too much effort on your part.
- The way into full-time roles is primarily out of the summer internship. If you end up hating your summer internship, all hope is not lost, but ideally you will have been strategic and successful in your internship recruiting process and are in a position to accept a full-time offer at the end of your summer. This means be thoughtful, ask questions, and be choosy in selecting your summer internship so you don’t have to recruit twice.
- Once you start your full-time role after graduation, you’ll typically be hired as an Assistant Brand Manager or Assistant Marketing Manager into some form of rotational program. Upon completion of that rotational program, you’ll be on a fast track to advancing through the organization.