When I was 20 years old, one of my professors told me something that stuck. "Work yourself into the future," he said. Sounds simple, right? But how do you anticipate what skills will be most valued three or five or 10 years from now?
After researching the marketing and advertising world, I learned all about the problems that my future industry was facing. Too many old-school Madison Avenue types were still calling the shots at many of the big agencies, which meant many weren't well-versed in new media vehicles, and an instantaneous industry that was (and still is ) afraid to take risks. I knew that the future of marketing and advertising was digital, but digital was also no small thing. I also knew that people were becoming too specialized, and that the industry was looking for people with eclectic experience who could bring more to the table then the status quo way of thinking.
I saw interning as a great way to learn different industries to make me more marketable for a full-time job. In the four years I was in school I had six internships -- each one a learning opportunity and stepping-stone to the next. My first two internships were at companies you've never heard of . I learned a little, but really used them to get something better. My first big internship position was with the Ad Council doing digital. I admired them, and knew that social responsibility was getting more popular, so experience there would be an important asset. After two years there, I landed a coveted summer internship with Goldman Sachs. Finance is not marketing, but I was learning business and project management, and the name alone told future employers a demanding employer had given me a chance. Goldman led me back to another job with the Ad Council in PR, which then led to an internship at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York doing internal marketing for their technology division. It was all good experience, and also gave me four big names on my resume before graduation.
I had what I thought was a strong and competitive variety of experience to make me marketable for a wide array of jobs. I happened to be graduating at a time when social media was THE hot issue on everyone's mind. Every brand manager and agency executive was asking the same question, "What do we do in social media?" So, as easy as this seems (which it wasn't), I got myself a job in social media, and my varied internship experience was a huge driver of that . The infancy of my new practice area was both beneficial and detrimental. There were a LOT of social media people out there. Everyone was an expert, or so they claimed. It was a huge hurdle for my agency, Mr. Youth, but one that we overcame with huge success. I was lucky enough to get in with a company that had a history of experiential and social media marketing with huge brands like Victoria Secret, HP, Pepsi, and Microsoft. I took the opportunity even though the pay was not as good as my other offers because I sensed I would gain valuable experience.
Once I was there as an Associate Account Executive (fancy name for entry-level account person) it was time to think of how to work myself into the future. After a year of learning and applying our philosophy on social media, and seeing where the job market was going for social media people, my gut told me that getting in to strategy was necessary to remain competitive and future-focused. It was either that , or try to transition to another category like traditional advertising… but that wouldn't be future-focused.
I proved myself as an AAE, and was given an opportunity to move up a level and over to the Strategy team. Mission accomplished. The next year of my life was incredible. I was flying all over the country for meetings with huge brands like Norton and Nestle-Purina. I was doing tons of pitch work for Coca Cola, The American Red Cross, French's, Microsoft, and so many other major brands. I was learning at an incredible rate, and finding ways to contribute my own ideas to my company. Times were good, but after a while I started to see a shift in the market happening again. Social media strategists were being grouped with social media managers, and were being recruited for jobs running brand communities (not what I wanted to do). They were being seen as people who only knew one area, and weren't considered as often for positions outside of social media. We weren't being quarantined or anything, but there was definitely a risk to spending too much time in social media that I was very aware of .
After a year in strategy, I made my next move. Over that last year I was hearing people talk about the importance of the brand, and the brand's role in social media and other marketing. All the agencies were saying they were brand-focused. Creative agencies were reaching out for some of the social media pie, branding agencies were reaching out for some of the digital pie, and social agencies were looking for some brand pie. I said to myself, if the old school guys want to be the new school guys, and the new school guys want to be brand guys, then I need to learn branding to stay competitive. So, I did. I know that sounds easy, but it wasn't. It took a lot of hard work, rejection, and thinking about where I wanted to go and why. It's not something I could make up -- it has to be something I believed.
I finally landed myself a job as a consultant in the brand strategy team at Interbrand. In this instance, my digital and social media knowledge was an asset, and I was also told that my internship experience at Goldman and the Federal Reserve was an attractive addition to my knowledge base. As I said, branding agencies were trying to get more digital, so we both had something to offer each other. Now I'm learning the world of the brand, and applying my knowledge of social and digital to help grow our business.
That's my story. This is where being future focused has landed me thus far. It wasn't all as calculated as it seems, but making it a primary focus of my life helped me to get to where I am today. I followed my passions and knew where my industry was heading. What do you see as the future of your industry, and where you think you might want to go?
About the Author
David Trahan is a brand strategy & digital consultant at Interbrand in New York, and previously worked as a strategist at social marketing agency Mr. Youth in New York where he led projects for a broad range of clients including Microsoft, Norton, T-Mobile, Pepsi, Nestle-Purina, and The American Red Cross. He earned a degree in Marketing and Advertising from Pace University in 2009. You can follow what he has to say on Twitter via @brooklyknight.