Posted October 31, 2011 8:36 am by with 2 comments

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Not too long ago, if someone was looking for a job in marketing you could feel confident that through networking and knowing the right people there would be something for everyone. After all, marketing is about psychology and understanding buying behaviors and knowing what buttons to push and when.

Well, while that may apply somewhat today it is not the norm anymore. In fact, the skill sets for today’s marketing jobs are starting to seem more like those needed to be an economist rolled up in a technologist who also understands marketing. As most in the advertising and marketing field are finding, there are not as many of those out there as you might think.

The New York Times reports

A talent gap is growing between the skills that many new advertising jobs require and the number of people who have those skills. The dilemma, one familiar to many industries across the country, is particularly acute for jobs that require hard-core quantitative, mathematical and technical skills.

The talent pool, advertising technology company executives say, is not a deep one. And those who have the skills are in high demand, often fetching annual salaries that can reach $100,000.

For those of us with an old fashioned marketing degree and years of experience that counts for something but really not that much. In other words, the old skill sets that are slowly being cast aside or marginalized in the digital space won’t be enough. Don’t believe it? Listen to the background of someone who is apparantly in high demand in the digital advertising world.

Edwin Lee, 40, is typical of the candidates that many ad tech companies are competing for. Mr. Lee, an economics major at Stanford who has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Southern California, was hired as an account director at MediaMath in September.

OK so lets’s take a look at Mr. Lee if he is indeed the new marketing prototype. He is 40 years old which means he is more likely to have actual business experience which goes beyond knowing what something is (I have a Twitter account, I use Facebook, I am familiar with this and that) to actually applying it. This kind of experience only comes with time. It’s not taught in a classroom and it is likely something that larger companies (or those with money at least) aren’t as interested in considering if there is not some level of a high end degree attached to it. How many of you reading this are economics majors from Stanford with an MBA from a top school?

Now, those of us who don’t have these credentials are probably bristling with the “Oh sure, but “I am a social media guru” to “Those numbers guys don’t get people” to “Put in our favorite excuse you use when you feel threatened” version of righteous indignation. What is probably a better reaction would be to say “Shoot, I need to up the ante on the skill set, pronto!”.

The problem for those who have advertising and marketing job needs to fill there is not many of the Mr. Lee types out there. People who are too young just don’t have the experience to apply many of things they might know. On the other side, those who have seen business through 20 years of experience but don’t have the technical or mathematical know how are just as unemployable.

So what should one do? Not everyone just has the time or the wherewithal to say “I’m going to stop working and get an MBA from a top school”. I think those without the education credentials are going to need to get creative.

If you are younger, you may want to drop the “I know more than everyone already” attitude and find someone who is older with more experience to get into a mentoring situation. Honestly, this could be a very powerful thing if two people who sit at the opposite end of the spectrum agree to meet in the middle to help each other advance. This type of arrangement, however, is fraught with gotchas not the least of which is trust.

If you are older you will need to drop the “These young kids think they know everything even though they haven’t done anything” mindset. Every generation has suffered this dilemma and all future ones will as well. When one looks back at “what could have been” it clouds one’s ability to think rationally and reach out to someone who you may not have considered a peer at any time in the past. If you want to survive for the remainder of your working life, however, it may require a different paradigm. In fact it will.

In the end it is quite simple in the new world order of marketing. You better know more than just marketing.

What are you doing to keep your skills current? What kind of training are you involved in? What do you see as a necessary piece of the future of your work that you are missing? Share with other pilgrims. Maybe there is someone out there who can help.

  • I think a lot of it too is that “traditional marketing people” could be scared of numbers… I graduated with a marketing communications degree and used to have a massive aversion to numbers but now I am in the thick of things with analytics and excel every day! The great thing about getting educated about how to use numbers in an online marketing context, is that the knowledge is out there and it is free. (Not necessarily a deep dive on statistics and predictive analytics, but the basics about online marketing analytics.) If you’re motivated enough you can even start your own blog and start doing some analysis of your own to get even more comfortable with the concepts.

  • After 35 years in the marketing field (started with a Journalism degree, progressed thru PR to fuller marketing duties including 9 years in the ad biz), I am still learning every day, like just today with a SIG in my local area on mobile marketing. While marketing (and psychology) may rely on many fundamental laws of human interaction and brain science, the explosion of messaging channels and tactics to appeal to underlying human desires means “stay alert” to any person in the marketing field. Returning for additional degrees isn’t an option for everyone, but stoping one’s professional development isn’t either, if you want to keep your job or get a new one.