Digital is a core driver of the future of media, marketing, and advertising, and that future is now. For those of us who gladly toil in the industry, day in and day out, the future leaps before us on a daily basis. Yet we, as an industry, are woefully unprepared. If you are reading this, you most likely can relate to the challenge of finding the right talent and experience. It is a pervasive issue. The OMI State of Digital Marketing Talent Report reveals worrying statistics in regards to the current state of talent in digital marketing. The gap between the industry needs and available talent is significant.
With all the great advertising technology and digital marketing advancements, there remains a huge delta between talent and needs in companies of all sorts, including Fortune 500 brands. There are a number of points of failure. Industry experience, reports, and surveys continue to point to a host of core issues, not only in the workplace but also at our academic institutions.
The responsibility for preparing and developing individuals for the demands of our industry extends from the classroom to the boardroom. Corporate leadership needs to do more to provide appropriate training and education. Academic institutions need to provide more relevant coursework and concentrations in digital. Universities currently do not offer enough substantial curriculums to support the market demands awaiting them in digital marketing. There is cause of concern for current college students who plan on pursuing a career in digital marketing — and for those of us who employ them.
What can we do to prepare and transition the next generation of leadership?
Brand leaders, along with iMedia executives and advisors, poised this question at the iMedia Marketer-Only Meeting, an intimate, closed-door town hall working session hosted by Adam Kmiec, senior director of mobile, social, and content marketing at Walgreens. This discussion led to an outpouring of ideas and a new leadership initiative pilot program, which was announced at the recent iMedia Brand Summit. “The topic of talent scarcity and lack of education at our universities has been a hot topic among the leading brands at iMedia,” explains Judy Karsting, iMedia’s director of community. “As a recognized industry leader, iMedia saw an opportunity to extend our leadership role and step it up with a new initiative, the iMedia MBA Showdown.”
The iMedia initiative is a great example of bringing together industry leaders to activate solutions. However, we must all get involved, not only on a global and national level. but on a local level. In our communities and in our workplaces, we must come together to nurture, cultivate, and lead the next generation, our industry, our brands, and the corporations that support them, or we will falter and ultimately fail. Leadership training, mentoring, and education at our place of business, in the community, and at our academic institutions need to step it up.
Here are some practical insights and tips to become an active contributing force to prepare the next generation of leadership.
In the workplace: Support and advance “experts at learning”
Most who are established industry leaders are voracious learners. As industry leaders, we must be experts at learning, and it is critical that we cultivate, nourish, support, and activate learning environments, whether it’s in the office, with supporting industry organizations, publications, or with other educational platforms. The pace of change and the impact on strategic and tactical digital practices on our business cannot be underestimated. From higher level strategic ideation and planning to tactical, pragmatic shifts, we have all had to adapt to changing platforms, evolving consumer behaviors, algorithmic updates, and so forth. No one can rest on their laurels. There are no laurels in an industry that moves and evolves as fast as ours. If you are committed to succeeding in this industry, you must have a dedicated, passionate commitment to learning.
Cultivating and activating a learning environment requires a core foundational commitment to sharing and collaboration. While individuals must be motivated, the best outcomes come from seeding and sowing a deeper and broader approach. Programs, initiatives, and attitudes across teams, departments, agencies, and clients must be imagined, planned, and executed to facilitate shared learning.
Programs can take the shape of lunch and learns, in-house team training programs, workshops, professional summits, and conference attendance. Think about how to instill a spirit and delivery construct that inspires shared discussions extending into the hallway, over coffee, and at lunch. Learning can be fun and a valued way of working together and doing business. According to the OMI report, close to 80 percent would value an on-demand library of digital marketing classes, with almost 70 percent interested in customized e-learning of digital marketing skills or in-person workshops or training. One of our clients hosts a full-day global leadership summit once a month to advance digital leadership in its corporation. The company invites a team of stakeholders, including global executives from digital folks, brand managers, and marketing VPs with a full agenda of presentations and speakers. It’s a blast! It’s motivating and inspiring. And it supports its goals of industry leadership in its industry.
What programs and initiatives have you seen work at your place or elsewhere to grow industry expertise and facilitate shared learning?
In the community
Go local. National and global organizations are awesome, but we have to seed and sow in our own backyards as well. Get involved in your local marketing, media, and advertising associations. There are numerous opportunities to serve as a mentor, to publish, present, and participate to extend your learnings with others in the business community. If organizations in your area don’t have digital marketing programming, then help them create one.
Same is true for college and universities in your market. Most academic institutions will host expert guest speakers and invite working professionals to participate in student programs. Some will even bring the students to your workplace. So invite them in! Volunteer to speak. Get involved. Sign up for their internship programs and mentor students. Not only will you be contributing to the future of the industry, but your own business as well.
In addition to supporting the future of the industry, there are numerous short-term benefits to activating these efforts across business, professional organizations, and in your community. For the Fortune 500 brand, it means smarter marketing and higher ROI. For the individual, it can provide satisfaction and elevate career opportunities. It helps the agency to be more competitive, elevate the work, and extend the value to their clients.
Shared learning and expertise are good business. Just ask Amy Wargin, iMedia board of advisors and engagement manager from Assurant Health, a Fortune 500 company. Wargin is the brand leader for the iMedia MBA Showdown pilot program and will be working alongside John Durham with MBA students at the University of San Francisco.
“The opportunity to provide students with a real world marketing challenge where they can apply their thinking and learn is a tremendous opportunity for them and Assurant,” Wargin explains. “We hope that this can be a model for other Fortune 500 brands to follow, as well with their local universities.”
While industry organizations, universities, and business leaders work to close the talent gaps, students and young professionals are not totally off the hook. Aspiring would-be marketers need to commit to teaching themselves in and out of the classroom to meet the needs of their future employers.
Denise Zimmerman is president and CSO of NetPlus. Zimmerman is a long-standing executive contributor to iMedia and is currently an advisor on the iMedia MBA program and Commerce Summit.
On Twitter? Follow Zimmerman at @dzimmerman. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
If you are interested in being part of the Marketer-Only Meeting and/or want to join a future iMedia Summit, please contact Judy Karsting.
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