As UK music legend Ian Dury said “There ain’t half been some clever bastards” and with a title like that, who else but Keith Smith, our resident business development rock star to be the author? He calls out Mark Ritson and asks, do marketers need a marketing education?

Einstein can’t be classed as witless.
He claimed atoms were the littlest.

Ian Dury

Ian Drury is one of the UK’s greatest and most underrated songwriters of all time. I’m a child of the 70s so my go-to favorite singer/songwriters are anarchists. Now, Ian Drury wasn’t a qualified musician. So how come he was so bloody good?

I’m going to get my clickbait in early – Mark Ritson. There, I said it. Hopefully the search engines will pick it up and this article will be forever riding his coat-tails.

Mr Ritson has been taking some flak for a few years now for suggesting that people working in the marketing industry shouldn’t call themselves experts unless they have qualifications. Fair enough. But conversely, can a person with no qualifications who has been labeled an expert by their peers, also use the term?


For me, marketing is like music. The low barrier to entry means that true creatives can play in the same sandbox as marketers with long strings of letters after their name. That inspiration overrides book smarts. Lennon & McCartney, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton all famously weren’t ‘qualified’ musicians but they are some of the undisputed greatest songwriters of all time.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson operates on a plane where qualifications count. If Neil DeGrasse Tyson started telling us how the earth was formed and didn’t have all those science degrees, he’d be just giving us another opinion because his profession relies on science. But marketing is visceral.

The argument that people in our industry can only call themselves experts if they have qualifications is a thin one. I can cite plenty of examples of great marketing campaigns that have been conceived by people with absolutely no qualifications.

This is because the industry (I am not going to call it a profession) is itself so amorphic. It’s an industry where a 12 year old can command an audience of millions and drive market share for business with a single mention – that’s marketing. It’s an industry where a lone unqualified copywriter can pen an ad for an automaker that literally has the audience crying and buying – that’s marketing too.

My argument is simple: Show me a marketing campaign that has been produced by someone that is deemed ‘qualified’ and let’s compare it to one from a person that you could call unqualified. Is it any better? If so why? What is it that a qualified marketer brings to a campaign that an unqualified one doesn’t?

99% of the time, the answer will be nothing.

A brilliant qualified marketer is no better than a brilliant unqualified one. The only difference is that corporations are more reassured when they pay money for a ‘qualified’ marketer – whether as a speaker or as a team member. And that’s a different argument. That’s about personal share value.

An expert with qualifications shouldn’t feel intimidated enough to try to put down others they perceive as less qualified than them. If I had a bunch of letters after my name, I’d simply think to myself that my musings have a certain gravitas because of it. But if a John Lennon of marketing, like Steve Jobs, for example, decided to say something of import, his lack of qualifications shouldn’t exclude him from the argument, because he had more talent in his little finger than many people with qualifications do in their entire body.

I believe that it’s really all about feelings of inferiority. There may be an element of fear in Mark Ritson’s statements, driven by the fact that he knows that at any time, he could be out-performed by a person he feels is not an expert, and then where does that leave his argument? The only thing he has left is to show they don’t have as many letters after their name.

If you want to demonstrate that an unqualified person is inferior to a qualified one, then prove it with your work.

But then what do I know? I’m not a clever bastard.

I’m an instinctive one.

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