Digital Marketing Employers Are In for a Rough Patch (If They Aren’t Already)

The digital marketing industry is experiencing some hiring turbulence.

  • Numerous analysis and research from firms like eMarketer indicate that investment in digital advertising and digital marketing is on the rise, and will continue to increase over the next several years.
  • New forms of marketing and advertising are seemingly appearing every year. First it was Google with pay per click advertising. Then it was Facebook & Twitter. Now new entrants like mobile advertising, Pinterest and apps like Snapchat are starting to emerge.
  • Along with digital marketing, more analysts are needed to measure the impact digital marketing will have.

Great! The digital marketing industry is growing! There’s just one problem though. We aren’t producing experienced digital marketers fast enough to meet the demands of employers (or clients). Universities aren’t pumping out pay per click advertising media buying web analyzing hot shots at the pace that the industry demands. I know what you’re thinking, “Big deal, first world problems.” Yes a tempest in a teapot, but a problem nonetheless.


How Did the First Batch of Digital Marketers Arise? And Why Can’t We Do More of The Same?

Over the past year I’ve been fortunate to speak at universities about digital marketing and social media. Occasionally a few students after class trickle through to ask for some career advice and to find out what academic path I took to get to the point I am today in digital marketing. For myself, having evolved my own career alongside the early days of online marketing, I got to learn while everything was still new. It wasn’t difficult to become an expert because we learned along the way, all it required was the willingness to do it, plus a solid mix of some complementary skills. Most of my skills (and those of my peers) were borrowed from early IT, analytics and web design experience sprinkled with some foundational marketing education plus a dash of entrepreneurial experience fraught with successes and challenges. Not exactly a course outline is it?

The first batch of digital marketers were very similar to how I got my start. They either came from a web design, IT, development or traditional marketing background; and when websites didn’t attract traffic or generate sales employers were expecting, we figured shit out. Back then the closest thing to a digital marketer were roles like “webmaster”. We learned through experience, trial and error, and by applying the skills that we had acquired from other career disciplines.

Fast forward to now, and we are at the point where digital marketing is a mission critical component of producing revenue. A mature industry with much much higher expectations. Businesses no longer afford to have the patience to groom someone, they need results now.

That’s why we can’t just do more of the same, because we’re past the honeymoon phase of online/digital marketing. We need talented, skilled people that can walk through the door and are productive immediately.


What About Universities & Colleges? They Surely Should be Pumping Out The Talent We Need Right?

Universities and colleges are trying, but with some mixed success. Don’t get me wrong. There are some great unaccredited university programs and courses out there, but a few things to note.

  1. Why the heck are some of these university programs unaccredited? They are the core skills that employers demand and by making them unaccredited they may not seem as favorable.
  2. Universities are notoriously slow to adapt. They’re trying, but so far technology is outpacing them at a dizzying pace. For example, Google AdWords has released numerous product feature updates over the course of the past two years that professionals need to stay current with their knowledge. Imagine Universities that are just trying to catch up with the basics?

We need universities to train the basics in digital marketing, and a few of them are, but not enough to make a dent.


What’s Wrong With The Current Situation?

The problem with the current situation is that many companies are experiencing high turnover. Picture this, an agency or small company chooses to hire young up and coming students with the ambition to learn. They spend 1-2 years training these employees, only to lose them to other companies.

Not only did you lose an employee who you spent 2 years grooming, but your plans for the year are put at risk due to the lack of manpower, but you will have to spend the next 3 months recruiting and another 3 months ramping new employees  up.

This situation happens very often for many competitive markets.


What’s the Solution?

Apprenticeship programs with performance and loyalty incentives from participating students.

It would be simple. Employers spend the first 2 years training undergrads the digital marketing ropes as long as they commit to an agreement that would have performance and loyalty incentives that would favour those who have longevity in their role.

Why? Essentially it takes digital marketing specialists a couple of years to incubate with real world experience before they have a solid background to take on mission-critical roles. Whether it is SEO, social media, or pay per click advertising, nothing beats real world experience.

The upside to apprenticeships is that students get the experience they need while employers have solid specialists that could potentially stay with them for up to 2-4 years.

Currently many agencies and smaller companies are suffering with high turnover. By offering an apprenticeship program with performance and loyalty incentives, employers have a better shot at retaining highly skilled employees while students get the experience they sorely need at the beginning of their career.

They could be considered “golden handcuffs”; meaning the risk of leaving would be too high because employees could potentially miss out on a bonus or significant raise.

By providing these training opportunities & incentives, employers will benefit from an employee who will enrich their workplace for the next 4 years. While students get the experience and training they need to kick-off their career.

Let me know what you think. I’d like to hear from you. Am I off base? What are you doing to bridge the talent gap? 


Hey there, I'm Marc!

I'm the Director of Growth Channels @Hootsuite. I've worked in digital marketing since 2000 for agencies, startups and companies like Electronic Arts & SAP. Thanks for checking out my site where I share digital marketing strategies on how to increase website traffic and generate more revenue.

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