As part of the research for updating one of my marketing books, I have been meeting and talking with senior people in the marketing industry – in marketing departments, agencies and recruitment companies.
A recurring theme in the conversations is the decline in senior direct marketing experience in agencies and marketing departments. The recent love affair with digital technology and digital channels means many have lost focus on the way of marketing that is essential in a digital world – direct marketing.
The last decade has been the easiest period in history to run DM agencies, data consultancies and digital agencies. Marketers poured buckets of money into them to build websites, create online videos, attempt viral campaigns, build social media sites, design Apps, manage SEM/SEO, produce content, set-up data analytics and more. Agencies didn’t have to try to grow their businesses – their clients did it for them.
As the saying goes; ‘good times breed bad habits’. And now we’re seeing the outcome of the lack of investment in professional development in these good times. Metaphorical muffin-tops sit astride senior roles, all because they know something about binary code, rather than marketing or management. And now they are struggling to grow their businesses because they don’t have the management expertise. So it’s not really their fault.
Yet companies keep hiring people based on their technical skills, not their business skills. As one recruiter said when referring to the digital blindness occurring with hiring for senior roles:
“It’s become the equivalent of choosing the bloke who made the cricket bats instead of Steve Waugh, to be the captain of the Aussie cricket team. He makes the tools for the players, he’s not a team leader.”
He’s right. I don’t recall prior to the interweb, any advertising agency appointing finished artists or film editors to the role of MD or CEO.
So why appoint someone with a limited technical platform experience – digital – to run an agency, marketing department or online business? Let them put their skills to use where they are best suited. It’s why promoting sales people to be sales managers is often a mistake – they are hunters not farmers and the skills to do both jobs are vastly different.
And it’s one reason so much money has been wasted online – technology not marketing has become the focus. Instead of marketers reducing their budgets thanks to the analytics provided by the interweb, they continued to spend shareholder’s funds like there was no tomorrow.
Although according to the head of a leading industry association the number of major brands now reducing their social media spend is growing. But that’s not really surprising. There has also been an increase in the number of digital agencies closing.
The big issue facing agency CEOs is finding experienced leaders who really know how to grow businesses and staff, now that digital budgets are stagnating. There is an abundance of binary code skills and digital production people. But there are less of the skills required to lead a business.
I’ve been been developing digital marketing stuff since 1994, so have been hiring in the category for 20 years. I’ve run 8 different digital agencies and online businesses of various sizes, as well as 2 data businesses, but couldn’t cut code to feed myself – I don’t need to know the technical specifics of the interweb to run the business.
I own an email marketing business, but have no idea how to write HTML. And I’ve hired loads of people with technical and computer skills, but never for management roles – most don’t want them anyway. They aren’t qualified in people management, new business development, finance or business strategy. These aren’t their fields of expertise.
The Juniorisation of marketing
Adrianne Nixon, a marketing consultant, runs a business specifically designed to educate senior marketing and agency executives on how to work more successfully in the digital world. She has invited me to join her panel of experts. She calls the problem the “juniorisation” of marketing. As budgets get tighter and demands get greater, both agencies and marketing departments are giving more responsibility to junior staff – most of whom have no experience to do the job.
And because someone can use digi-speak, the senior people who don’t have technical skills, promote these alleged digi-experts to senior roles for which they are ill-equipped. It’s a vicious cycle that will have damaging ramifications sooner rather than later. I know one ‘head of digital’ for a DM agency, whose own ‘digital agency’ went broke leaving creditors everywhere. He fled the country before returning triumphant to convince the multi-national to hire him.
Google isn’t our demographic
Here’s an example from a meeting I was in with one of our largest car insurers. The brand agency was there, nervous because the client had pulled our agency in to fix the problem. The brand agency digi-bloke was very cool – he went by a single name (no surname).
We had created a promotion to capture renewal dates from young male drivers (the target market) and recommended the promotion name be the search term and URL, as nobody owned it.
Brand digi-bloke spoke as he flicked his luscious locks from his face “Google isn’t our demographic”. The marketing manager nearly blew coffee out her nostrils. She asked him to explain and he reclined in his chair and repeated “Google isn’t the right demographic for this promotion“. The marketer politely disagreed and the brand digi-bloke sat there brooding.
The new language of marketing management
Today’s CMO (and agency bosses) need to know far more about marketing than ever before. Most are skilled for running last century’s business models that focused on marketing communications ie mass media advertising. The world of direct marketing, using data, technology, the interweb and analytics to grow their business is new to them. Now they have to understand 3 languages and know how to communicate and engage with the various departments/suppliers:
- The language of marketing communications across all channels
- The language of data, databases, analytics and modelling to know how to use data and more importantly, what to ignore
- The language of IT, because with secure websites and data privacy, the IT department are essential to marketing
The only marketers with this expertise are those who have worked in direct marketing – they were the pioneers of online retailing. Traditional brand marketers are just learning these skills as they haven’t needed them before. But in most marketing departments and at most agencies it’s the traditionalists who are running the show. That’s not a criticism, just a statement of fact.
Hire people better than yourself
David Ogilvy once told me over dinner (and he published the statement often) that he always tried to hire people better than himself and let them do their job. He humbly claimed it to be one of the reasons he was successful, though I did suspect he was being charming – which is what he said all great ads contained, charm.
That’s one of a number of soft skills missing from business now – charm. Along with manners, they appear to have taken a back seat to technology fashion.
Which reminds me of an interview panel on which I sat for a client a few years ago. The young bloke we were interviewing for the e-marketing role put his mobile on the table, but didn’t switch it off. It sat there like a live grenade, waiting to explode.
And sure enough it did. Not only did it ring, causing all to jump in shock – but the fool answered it in the middle of being asked a question.
It exploded (sorry) any chance he had of getting the job, despite his attempt at a charming apology.
Am not sure where he is now – probably running a digital agency.