Can Digital Experts Become the Marketing Experts That Agencies Need?

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Organizations are spending countless hours and dollars to transform into digitally-deep, Snapchat-savvy marketers.

In lieu of a better plan, many have relied on hiring digital natives -- or at least the "digitally immersed" among us -- to teach everyone else how this new-fangled stuff actually works.

These employees spend their days servicing client needs, and their nights creating training programs intended to help their colleagues grasp the difference between DSPs, SSPs, DMPs and a host of other acronyms. (Ad Age just published some useful definitions here, actually.)

The last decade has been dominated by remedial classes for traditionally trained advertising practitioners who grew up before the digital era.

The problem is, there hasn't been adequate attention paid to the reverse.

While agencies focused on educating offline experts about digital, they overlooked the fact that many digital natives have a limited knowledge of marketing overall.

Many digital companies are a refreshing mix of former science students, Bachelor of Arts majors and business graduates. What they typically lack are employees with marketing degrees.

This was less problematic when digital tactics consumed one's day, but as these people rise in the ranks and begin managing cross-disciplinary teams or seek roles as strategists or researchers, their lack of marketing savvy becomes apparent all too quickly.

True, they may have completed countless channel-specific courses run by Google and Facebook, but because their careers to date have focused on the executional end of campaigns and budgets handed down after investment justifications have already been made, there has been little need for them to acquire a wider view.

Even those in client-facing roles have traditionally needed one simple argument to drive success: The internet is big, people use the internet, your competitors use the internet to advertise, and you should too. That theory -- slapped across a few PowerPoint slides and backed up with appropriate statistics -- has driven growth in digital platforms, from desktop to mobile to search, and is still being used for new innovations like virtual reality.

But digital isn't simply "digital" any more; it's just the way we live, love and conduct business. In the marketing arena, new technologies such as programmatic have also compressed the distance between executional and strategic.

In 2016, every employee, whatever his or her job title, needs to add an understanding of the core marketing principles to their channel skills.

You need a plan

Agencies need to stop focusing on digital "up-skilling" and start thinking about connected training that covers all media channels and marketing principles -- for all their staff.

Google has recognized this need by expanding its Squared Online digital marketing course to include modules such as "A Connected World" and "Think Like A Brand." The Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing also goes far beyond tactics with its Professional Diploma in Digital Marketing.

AOL's Grow program is another inspiring initiative. It covers topics from the art of the pitch to leadership to agency-client relationships, and is backed up by experienced mentorship from ad industry legends like leadership veteran David Bell and ex-P&G CMO Jim Stengel. Although not specifically aimed at digital experts, its targeted audience of mid-senior agency management ensures that it's providing wider learnings to many rising stars who grew up in these channels.

At MediaCom, we are building a global marketing curriculum that ensures that all our staff, whatever their level, have a broad understanding of marketing principles, along with those that may specifically apply to their individual disciplines.

An essential part of the process for our industry is to encourage people to own up to the fact that, despite years of digital success, they may have no formal marketing training, and vice versa.

The truth is that we all recognize we can't know it all. But an organization has to make it safe and comfortable for a high-flyer to admit that she or he has not been adequately trained in non-endemic skills.

We can still celebrate their executional expertise. The ability to execute auction-based media, A/B testing, optimize creative formats at scale, as well as understand technology stacks and harness them for personalized marketing are all critical for our business.

But we can also make it a positive when people add a new, broader perspective to this knowledge -- assets that will help them grow, develop and, ultimately, take on larger responsibilities.

Our industry has come a long way when it comes to digital, and has rightly focused on training traditional marketers to confidently toss a "SERP," "interstitial," or "container tag" into their day-to-day conversations.

Now we need our digital employees to have the best possible understanding of key concepts and principles too.

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