Meet Heather: How a degree in Marketing took off my career

We hope you’ve been enjoying our focus on #EdCreativeCareers. Our Creative and Cultural Careers blog series continues with an excellent contribution from Heather MacBain, who takes us on her career journey from graduation with a Marketing degree to a career as Head of Marketing at the University of Edinburgh.   

If you’re interested in working in marketing, this blog is for you! 

Introducing Heather 

I was born in London and moved up to Scotland when I was nine years old. I am 100% a people person, that’s why I built up work experience with young people, teaching a drama class and leading a Girl guiding group. My plan was to become a primary teacher.  

But something inside me wasn’t ready to commit to teaching just yet. I remember discussing the future of the job market with my dad and him saying, “Things will always need sold and marketed. The things you market just might change.” And he was right! This struck a cord with me, so I decided to study a marketing degree with the potential to do a masters in primary teaching afterwards.  

I loved marketing theory. I just got it! My favourite part was consumer psychology; I am still fascinated about why people make decisions about what they purchase or engage with. I graduated from the University of Stirling in 2011 and quickly moved into work. I was on a mission to build up as much experience in different marketing roles in the backdrop of the UK recession. I knew I needed to drive hard to make opportunities happen for me.  

Within three years, I had an internship and three roles within retail and hospitality marketing. After gaining a few years’ experience, something was still pulling me back to education. In 2014, I saw an opportunity to apply for a marketing role at Edinburgh College. Maybe this was my chance to combine marketing with education! I started as a marketing officer and loved the environment, particularly the opportunity to engage with students and champion a cause with purpose: to change people’s lives for the better. My ambition was evident from the start, and over the course of a few years, I progressed to the roles of Senior Marketing Officer and eventually Marketing Manager – leading the marketing, graphic design and digital marketing team.  

But after three years as marketing manager (and almost six years at Edinburgh College), I knew I was ready for the next step – and it was to the Higher Education. I started as Head of Marketing at The University of Edinburgh in 2019, and it has been a whirlwind – with a pandemic and a maternity leave thrown in.   

What does your current role involve? 

We have a hybrid working model, so typically I come into the office twice a week for in-person meetings. My role focuses on corporate marketing activity to attract students to study at the University. I work closely with our student recruitment teams and other marketing staff across the University to develop content and global campaigns across web, email, advertising, print and social media.  

I love the collaboration of my job. It’s a real team effort. One of the best bits of advice I have heard is that you should work with people that are better than you. Everyone has their strengths and you should play into them. If aspiring to managerial roles, it’s advisable to hire people that are better than you at the things that aren’t your strengths.   

I also get inspired by working at one of the best universities in the world. The phenomenal research and teaching that goes on every day, and being part of such a historic institution makes me incredibly proud to work here.  

The most challenging part of my role is the size of the organisation. Its huge! It takes an incredibly long time to understand the structure and the ways of working in different parts of the University. But building my network of colleagues to sense check my ideas has really helped.  

In your opinion, what are the ‘hot topics’ in marketing right now? 

There are few key developments in marketing that I am working with colleagues on just now. Marketing can be a big contributor to climate emissions through advertising, email marketing and content production, to name a few. We are in the process of developing sustainable marketing guidance for marketing staff within the University so we can collectively reduce our carbon impact. Knowing about sustainable marketing practices will help you use this as a selling point to recruiters.   

The other big topic is AI. AI is making marketing processes more efficient, such as image generation, copywriting, and data analysis. But it’s important that graduates understand ethical AI approaches and tools. Marketers need to learn very quickly, and having this skill will set you apart in the job market as many organisations will hugely benefit from your knowledge in their team. 

What advice can you give to students pursuing a career in Marketing? 

  • Listen to your instincts. If you have a passion for a specific area or sector then follow it. If a job or company doesn’t feel right, move.   
  • Show up and immerse yourself in the organisation you work for because this will make you stand out and get opportunities that others might not.  
  • Work experience is very important but so is working on your personal brand. As a marketeer, selling yourself gives the employer confidence that you can sell the organisation too. Build your online profile – LinkedIn is a great marketing tool. Talk about ‘hot topics’, share your opinion, start conversations, show your areas of interest, and build connections. All this will help you stand out in the job market and will give recruiters a good insight into whether you would be a good addition to the team.  
  • Don’t underestimate the value of an informal conversation with a colleague. Talking with other people in the team will help you understand what drives them and what their challenges are, which will give you a more rounded understanding of the organisation.  
  • Build your professional support community, whether that’s a mentor, current or ex-colleagues. There will be times in your career that will be challenging and you will need to lean on others for advice, guidance, and perspective.  
  • If you want to get to a management level, it is almost expected that you will have a professional qualification, i.e., a Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) qualification. Make sure you do your CIM at a point when you can dedicate enough time alongside your job to complete your studies.  

Thank you, Heather.  

If you have any questions, Heather can be contacted via her LinkedIn profile 

You can explore the exciting and varied world of Marketing further on our website 

We are delighted to have showcased Heather’s career journey today… Look out for our next #EdCreativeCareers guest blog coming soon. 


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