Career Path Comparison: Marketing vs. Management Consulting
Students often wonder which career path is best for them. Management consulting and marketing are two career paths that students may be weighing. Here is a comparison of the two paths to help you make the best choice.
By JR BLASZEK
There is an internal dilemma in business schools between which of the “big 3” types of careers to pursue. The two front runners are consistently management consulting and investment banking, but brand management is holding its place as a strong career path for the business school elite.
This dilemma is one that I have experienced not once, but twice (undergrad and MBA). My first dilemma landed me in the world of finance (high pay, long hours, menial work). During my MBA, I vowed to look more deeply at the career paths, my personal interests, and future career goals. I knew that finance was completely out of the question, so naturally the dilemma shifted to a two-sided battle: brand management or management consulting. After going through the intense recruiting process in both functions, I gathered invaluable insight on both careers. Ultimately I found brand management to be the perfect fit for me.
In this post, I will take you through some of the key differences (outside of the obvious job responsibilities) that exist between management consulting and brand management.
Management consultants win in this battle (at least on the surface). Their base salary is typically 30-40% higher and signing bonuses are equal to, or greater than, most brand managers. What brand managers lose in pay, they gain in other aspects of their life (as you’ll see later).
While brand managers tend to downplay the difference in compensation, the reality is that the extra compensation gives management consulting a much stronger appeal to many business school students. To be 100% honest, if salary numbers are the most important factor in your career decisions, management consulting is probably the better option.
Hours. There is no contest here. Brand managers work fewer hours and at a more predictable schedule. In the world of MBA type-A careers, brand management is probably the closest thing to an 8-5 job that there is. Management consultants average 60+ hours per week (which does not take into account the extra time required to travel to the client site). If you are the type of person who works to live, as opposed to live to work, brand management is a much more appealing career choice.
Travel. Travel can be a pro or con depending on your personality. Management consultants live their lives out of suitcases and hotel rooms. While they rack up miles and hotel points, the travel tends to lead to burnout in many consultants. In fact, surveys show that the main reason that people leave consulting is to minimize the travel.
Brand managements, on the other hand, only travel as needed. They may travel to supervise a photo or commercial shoot, ensure smoothly running promotions (at events like the Super Bowl or World Series), or to meet with retail partners such as Wal-Mart or Kroger. If you are a person who prefers to sleep in your own bed every night, brand management is the better bet.
Office Environment. This is an often-forgotten consideration when choosing careers. Brand management typically offers tight-knit environments. Co-workers frequently have brain-storming sessions that include tournaments on Nintendo Wii and foosball challenges. Since brand management has an inherently creative component to the job, brand managers tend to remove themselves from their desks as often as they can.
Management consultants, however, are much more ‘polished’ in their day-to-day relationships. They work in small rooms in their client sites trying to solve problems all day. There is little room for non-work discussion in these sessions. Remember, you are spending at least half of your hours awake at the office; it doesn’t hurt to have a little fun. Brand management has the edge here.
Think back to your class work. Are you the type of person who prefers theoretical frameworks? Or would you prefer practical advice and hands-on learning? In management consulting, you are using theoretical frameworks to create potential solutions for a company’s problems. In brand management, you are building a business by executing the strategy that you create. You are a general manager as opposed to a project-based problem solver.
That being said, here is a quick list of skills that you will gain in each function:
- Business forecasting (use of advanced statistical software)
- Microsoft PowerPoint – you will become a master of telling your brand’s “story” through PowerPoint decks
- General management tool belt – you will expand your horizons from marketing into finance, supply chain, accounting, and other functional areas of expertise because you will be in charge of coordinating everybody’s actions and leading them towards a common goal.
- Leadership (explained above)
- Presentation skills – you will be forced to “pitch” your ideas and your ability to persuade upper management of your ideas will be the main factor in determining whether or not your brand gets enough money to support your ideas.
- Multi-tasking – you will be working on multiple project executions at once and will quickly learn how to prioritize your time to better serve the business
Microsoft Powerpoint – you will (and have to) become a master at this, and will eventually have the ability to produce presentations quickly, concisely, and meaningfully.
Microsoft Excel – “Modeling” is a meaningful component of a consultant’s work, and something every consultant is expected to have significant exposure to.
Business knowledge – typically broad exposure across different topics like strategy, operations, organization and several areas where you’ll have expertise. Over time, you have the opportunity to solve problems in a wide variety of business functions.
Client interaction – schmoozing with your clients to ensure that they give your firm follow-up projects (this is actually a very beneficial skill to have in the business world)
Heavy team interaction – being able to work closely with the same group of people for hours on end
Presentation skills – Convincing clients that your work justifies the hundreds of dollars you charge per hour is a key component of consulting.
Both fields offer amazing “exit opportunities”. Consultants tend to leave their firms to join companies in strategy roles, go back to business school (for undergrads), or potentially join PE firms. Consultants also have an affinity for entrepreneurship and a fair number of them will take their experiences and knowledge and try to start a company.
Brand managers have a similarly impressive set of exit options.
As a quick caveat, exit options are less of a concern to brand managers because the field itself does not force people to think about exiting.
If a brand manager leaves a company, the door is open to join other companies in high level strategic roles or even senior management positions (VP, CEO, COO). Brand managers also leave to join retail partners or ad agencies. Brand managers are also well-suited for entrepreneurship or leadership in start-ups. In fact, start-ups tend to prefer brand management expertise over consulting expertise because brand managers focus on getting things done as opposed to solving high-level problems. In the start-up world, action is much more important than thought.