Marketers stuck in job stasis must refocus to meet the digital challenge

For many marketers, finding a fresh challenge will be a high priority for the new year.

Marketers stuck in job stasis must refocus to meet the digital challenge

In this economic climate, expanding their digital skills, rather than jumping to a new position, will frequently be top of the agenda for those seeking to boost their careers without sacrificing their job security.

Indeed, a host of smart marketers are performing a 'career pivot', spending a period in a specialist digital role to enhance their skills, then taking this knowledge back into their existing marketing position.

For example, an automotive client of recruiter Charlie Fey, associate director at EMR, recently appointed one of its brand managers to a digital job after struggling to find a suitable specialist. 'The company can save money by "upskilling" an existing marketer and giving them a digital role,' says Fey. 'This way, you have a specialist who also has an understanding of marketing. This helps the marketer broaden their skills, which helps them as they rise up the ladder.'

Such a sideways move can be positive for junior marketers who are still building their career profiles, but for those at chief marketing officer or director level, warns Fey, it could be a mistake to get too specialised.

'For middle management, our clients increasingly require highly specific skills, and the scope of marketing roles at this level is actually narrowing,' he says. 'If you are working in an acquisition team or a digital team, you are expected to be a specialist.'

Broader view

At the same time, marketers at more-senior levels need to acquire a broader, more general overview of the marketing world.

In reality, the higher number of skills marketers acquire the better. Getting sidetracked into a specialist discipline can be career suicide for the ambitious marketer.

As Nicky Marsh, a marketing director at leisure operator Merlin Entertainments, says: 'I've seen marketers struggle to get promoted because people associate them with one discipline, be it PR or ecommerce. Getting a rounded portfolio of skills is crucial. You need to balance tactical marketing knowledge with the strategic side. Marketers need to move across channels and skill sets.'

Naturally, all marketers need to be digitally savvy, she adds, as it is a major channel through which marketing is activated. At Merlin, Marsh is the marketing director responsible for short-stay attractions such as the London Eye, Legoland Discovery Centres, Sea Life and Tussauds. This means pulling all the marketing levers to attract customers, whether SEO, online display or more traditional forms of broadcast advertising.

Every brand-owner takes a different approach to building digital talent. At FMCG company Heinz, marketers have a chance to develop their digital abilities by working on creating Facebook campaigns and investing in SEO, digital CRM and video-on-demand. Colin Haddley, director of strategy, insight and capability, points to the brand's recent campaign for HP Sauce as 'a great example' of this cross-disciplinary approach.

He believes marketing is becoming ever-more complicated with the addition of a plethora of digital channels, although he stresses that these often come on top of 'old-school' forms of marketing, rather than replacing them. Heinz provides access to a desktop 'Marketing Academy', which assists in the study of all the main skills.

'Marketing is now more multifaceted and deals with ever-more data, sales channels, media channels and the rise of interactive media,' says Haddley. 'Marketers need to master an ever-increasing amount of data and turn it into strong analysis and insight.'

However, this does not mean that only digital skills now apply to marketers, he adds. 'Digital and social media are important communication channels, but don't necessarily replace other, more traditional, media. It all depends on the communication objectives and your target consumer.'

Wider goals

While digital has revolutionised our lives and brands, marketers have to remain focused on the task at hand, argues Wrigley marketing director Pamela Bower-Nye. 'There is a balance between digital and marketing skills,' she says. 'The younger marketer has to be aware of the tools available, but needs to think about context and wider business goals. They need the ability to put everything into perspective with what the brand is trying to do.'

Wrigley brands have focused on building their presence on social media channels - Wrigley's Extra's UK Facebook page has 750,000 'likes', Skittles is in the top five global brand pages, while Hubba Bubba has gained 1m fans this year. These campaigns have largely been created in close association with specialist agencies. Wrigley's marketers then share their learning and experience with the rest of their team. Brand manager Tia Shortall says the company's approach is one of 'test, learn and share'. 'We have the freedom to try new things, learn from them and share them with other teams,' she adds.

Yet there are those who believe that many companies have lost sight of the basics of marketing as digital and social media have moved up the corporate agenda. Clare Sheikh, former marketing chief at Vodafone, RSA and ITV, points to a rash of new job titles for marketers, such as 'director of responsibility' and 'co-creation originator' that have sprung up in the digital world. There is, she believes, a 'lemming-like fashion' to recruit staff with digital experience.

'The really scarce skill-set is the one allowing a marketer to judge the right proposition for the right target audience, the personality that will distinguish a brand from its competitors, the right price point and the right media mix to bring it to people's attention,' says Sheikh.

Whether performing a career pivot or tapping specialist agencies for training, enhanced digital skills are a must for those scaling the marketing career ladder.


While junior members of a marketing team are likely to be familiar with the world of search-optimisation and social media, those at the top of the organisation may struggle to understand the true worth of digital channels.

Mike Cornwell, chief executive of the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing, says companies need to spend more time retraining their top marketers in these new skills. He advises them to take courses, attend workshops and go to conferences to build their knowledge of how to better exploit digital channels.

We look at some steps marketers can take to ensure their skills stay relevant in the digital age.

1. Ensure your company is training you in SEO so you know how every penny of your search marketing budget is being spent and how the ROI should be measured.

2. Take a course in coding, offered by companies such as Decoded or Code Academy.

3. Agency Draftfcb offers a course called 'The Ultimatum', which its digital chief, Martin Talks, describes as a digital version of The Apprentice. It is designed to give marketers experience of solving digital problems by setting them a task then asking them to present to a panel of digital experts. To date, companies to have participated include software security giant Sophos and Celesio, which runs Lloyds Pharmacies.

4. Buy a Raspberry Pi. The stripped-down PC, which can be hooked up to a monitor, keyboard and mouse, was invented to teach children the basics of computer programming. Adults, too, can use it to learn about coding. Self-study via YouTube seminars can be fruitful, though you may need to take a course to understand it all.

5. Make sure your agencies provide you with in-depth analysis of digital marketing. Don't just nod along - insist on clear explanations.


Embrace '20% time'

Marketers can take on board Google's approach - of allowing its employees to spend 20% of their working time pursuing their own innovative projects - in their own careers, and create initiatives that enhance their capabilities and show a willingness to learn digital skills.

Daianna Karaian, former brand manager at energy supplier EDF and now a senior strategist at Futerra Sustainability Communications, created a blog on sustainability called 'Sexy or Susty?' examining the green credentials of new products.

She has treated the blog as a brand, with a clear target audience in mind, and used analytics to test and improve the content and promotional tactics. 'It has given me a way to learn the ins and outs of SEO and social media first-hand. In short, blogging has helped me become a better marketer,' says Karaian.

Meanwhile, Chris Hirst, chief executive of agency Grey London, points out that marketers need to understand how consumers experience digital media. Blogging is good experience, although if you are not a natural, it is probably best not to force yourself, he says. Nonetheless, you need to follow social media, music downloading and search in the same way that marketers watch popular TV shows such as The X Factor to understand consumers' reactions.

'Most consumers don't run ecommerce sites, they visit them. They don't have 100,000 Twitter followers, but follow those who do. You need empathy with how consumers interact with those around them. Brands need to take part in that and be authentic,' says Hirst.