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.

Salary

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.

Lifestyle

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.

Personal Growth

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:

Brand Management

Hard Skills

  • 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.

Soft Skills

  • 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

Consulting

Hard skills:
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.

Soft skills:
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.

Exit Opportunities

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.

If you are interested in learning more about breaking into brand management, make sure you check out our Free Toolkit today!

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Career Path Comparison: Marketing vs Management Consulting

3 thoughts on “Career Path Comparison: Marketing vs Management Consulting

  • December 8, 2017 at 12:08 am
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    Hi JR,

    Thank you for this great post! I, just like you also chose brand management over consulting as I love the combination of creativity and analytics of brand management. However, I do have friends now who have a few years of consulting experience and transitioned into Sr. Manager / Director roles in the industry, which does make me wonder if I should have taken consulting and sacrifice a few years of work-life experience. I am curious to learn what you have found among your peer group who took the consulting route?

    I also noticed that you have transferred from CPG brand management to tech. Would you mind also sharing a little bit of how was the transition and how do you enjoy working in tech? I am located in the SF Bay Area and tech industry offers much more opportunities / higher salary than CPG.

    Thank you!

    Best,
    Linda

    Reply
    • January 17, 2018 at 5:21 pm
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      Hi Linda,

      Excellent questions! I have also seen those instances where consultants switch away from the field into a CPG company and take a high level role. But, for the most part, I’ve seen these switches take place in more of corporate finance or biz dev/strategy type of role. I have rarely (if ever?) seen a consultant come into CPG as a Marketing Director. It really is going to depend on your career ambitions. In my mind, I believe that “growing up” as a brand manager gives one a leg up in terms of managing a business from top to bottom. Consulting is a great path to learn how to solve problems quickly. Both fields can lead to great careers, but I felt that, for me, learning how to run a business from the ground up was most beneficial.

      In terms of tech vs. CPG, I could write a whole new post on that topic! In short, after reflecting on this switch, I honestly don’t think I would have enjoyed beginning my career in tech. It just moves **really** fast compared to CPG. CPG gave me a foundation of skills that I could pull from to make me successful in tech. It’s not necessarily true going the other way (i.e tech –> CPG). Tech companies are much more “scrappy” in that action tends to take precedence over planning. I think I would have been lost in tech coming straight out of b-school because of this. I enjoyed the structured learning, industry expertise, and frameworks that I learned in CPG. I am now able to extract pieces of this information as I do my work in tech. I definitely see people who are successful going straight into tech, but I honestly see more people struggling (especially if they are career switchers coming out of business school).

      Hope this helps!

      JR

      Reply
      • January 24, 2018 at 3:47 am
        Permalink

        Hi JR!

        Please write about CPG & Tech! I agree with you that the being a brand manager in CPG requires managing the business from the bottom up with big-picture thinking, planning but also execution with details.

        I have started interviewing with some big-name tech companies and startups just to test the water, but I found a lot of challenges here:

        1. Recruiters or even hiring managers think brand managers in CPG only do advertising and social media (sigh..), and what they didn’t realize is we actually manage products + marketing. Being able to translate what I do is quite an effort.

        2. I’ve also come to the realization that in tech companies, the marketing team is not in charge of P&L, and there are different teams in charge of product, strategy, and product marketing. On the one hand, I really want to be a product manager to be the GM of the product as I have used to, but I am also deeply in love with marketing. Being a CMO leading marketing and branding was a goal I set when I graduated from business school.

        I am curious did you have also that debate on whether to be a PM or PMM? How did you translate your experiences to make it relevant?

        Thank you!!!

        Best,
        Linda

        Reply

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