Kirk Keel is the Managing Co-Founder of CPG Camp, a marketing/brand management boot camp for the consumer packaged goods industry, and a former Senior Brand Manager from Johnson & Johnson, where he led the Neosporin, Bengay, Cortaid, and Caladryl brands. Kirk earned his BSME from the Pennsylvania State University and MBA from the Georgetown McDonough School of Business. He has contributed to Forbes, Business Insider, VentureBeat, and others.
At its core, CPG Camp is an online marketing/brand management boot camp for students interested in breaking into highly competitive positions within the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry. Each year, CPG Camp trains ~1,000 students (career switchers, MBAs, undergrads, recent grads) on the most critical, real-world marketing skill sets required by the most iconic brand companies in the world.
BusinessInterviews.com: How did you come up with the concept behind CPG Camp?
Kirk: I was working as a Senior Brand Manager for Johnson & Johnson, and I noticed that the junior marketers hired into the organization were consistently unprepared for the real-world demands of brand marketing. Not only was there a lack of foundational understanding, but also most of the universities weren’t teaching them the actual skill sets required for success on the job. We started CPG Camp to help bridge this education gap for aspiring marketers, and our goal has always been to equip our “Campers” with the necessary skills to hit the ground running on Day 1.
BusinessInterviews.com: Can you provide an example of how you teach relevant, real-world marketing and brand management skills online?
Kirk: Many aspiring brand managers don’t realize that the early years in marketing are almost entirely focused on analytics rather than just the “fun stuff” – TV commercials, print advertisements, or billboards in Times Square. So we spend a considerable amount of time on building a solid analytical foundation. For instance, we show our Campers how to deconstruct a brand with key metrics, to manage the most critical elements of a marketing P&L, and to build a “bottoms-up” shipment forecast. These are skills that typically take a year or so to learn on the job but are achieved in a couple weeks through our curriculum (prior to even stepping into the door at a company!).
BusinessInterviews.com: What is CPG Camp doing and offering that higher education isn’t providing?
Kirk: As in many educational disciplines, what is learned in the classroom can be very different than what happens in the real world on the job. We purposely don’t teach any marketing theory, as universities are already doing a great job in that area. Instead, we condensed the most relevant skills from the first 2-3 years in marketing-related jobs into a focused, intense, bootcamp-style experience. We only teach practical skills that actually happen on the job, and then we solidify that learning through assignments and actual simulations.
BusinessInterviews.com: Once students pass the exam, what types of opportunities are available to them?
Kirk: We take the highest scorers (usually the top 5 – 10%) on our Marketing Aptitude Test (MAT), a predictor of future success in Brand Management, and we match those Campers with top-tier companies looking to interview them. Regardless of their MAT score, all Campers are also invited to join an exclusive recruiting database for the consumer packaged good’s industry (essentially for the largest brand-driven companies in the world), and companies search our database looking for top talent. In 2014 alone, we had students land amazing marketing jobs at companies like Avon, Johnson & Johnson, and others. We are expecting even more placements this year.
BusinessInterviews.com: Outside of enrolling in CPG Camp, what advice would you pass onto someone contemplating a career in brand marketing or brand management?
Kirk: Our first piece of advice is always to understand the demands and responsibilities of the job. Brand managers need to have a near-perfect balance of analytics, creativity, and leadership to keep progressing in their careers. Also, marketing jobs in the consumer packaged goods industry are highly competitive, so we reinforce to students that they shouldn’t confuse their dream company with their dream job. In other words, some Campers need to get used to the idea of taking a position at a second-tier firm (where they can still gain experience as a passionate marketer) with the hope of landing the dream company down the road.
BusinessInterviews.com: CPG Camp interviews students on a weekly basis. What insights have you gained through this process and how has it influenced how the program has evolved?
Kirk: Due to the competitive nature of the industry, many of the folks we interview have a high level of anxiety or nervousness about their eventual interviews with brand companies. We don’t sugarcoat it…the interviewing process can be difficult to land marketing positions at iconic companies like Procter & Gamble or Coke. However, we now devote an entire module to the interviewing process called “Demystifying the Marketing Interview”. We break down common interview questions piece by piece, and this module has now become one of our most popular topics.
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