Breaking Into The Interactive Business

As I was interviewing candidates last week for a couple of open media positions at Blue Marble, I encountered more than a few traditional media planners and buyers that wanted to break into the interactive business. Specifically, there was this one guy who came to me from a large traditional agency with no interactive experience whatsoever. At one point during the interview, this person asked my advice on how a traditional media planner could break into the business. Immediately after asking this question, he placed his pen at the ready and looked up at me as if I were about to reveal a mystery not unlike the ultra-secret password for an exclusive college fraternity.

The truth of the matter is that breaking into interactive from the traditional side is not very complicated or mysterious. My advice to any traditional planners who want to get into interactive planning is this: Call the agencies of your choice, tell them that you want to get into the biz, and take your pick.

Demand for interactive planners is at an all time high, particularly in the hot Internet markets (New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, etc.) For those like me who are faced with having to attract new talent to interactive planning departments, often the best place to get it is at the traditional agencies. For the most part, it is easier to teach technology to a marketer than it is to teach marketing to a technologist.

Think about it this way. Traditional media planners are used to developing plans that meet their clients’ communications goals. They are strategic by nature and they are accustomed to the client service end of the business. They are also usually very savvy with things like negotiating deals with sales reps, researching target audiences, measuring effectiveness, and many other aspects of the interactive planner’s job. Technologists with no media experience need to absorb all of this and more if they want to be an effective planner.

This is not to say the learning curve is not fairly steep for traditional planners just getting into the interactive business. Sure, these planners will eventually have to learn things like ad-serving, ad formats, performance tracking, new media research tools and more. Still, these new learning experiences have analogs in the traditional world, so perhaps the learning curve isn’t as steep as we might think.

At this point in the game, I think good interactive media talent is in very short supply (at least, in New York it is). We could use a fresh infusion of smart people that can learn the business quickly and lend their overall marketing perspective to this medium. Look at what is happening in the New York market:

  • Multiple year stints at one agency are now the exception, and not the rule.

  • Salaries have been driven up, especially at entry-level positions.
  • Many agencies are expanding rapidly, opening new offices in new markets, and creating entirely new departments that need to be staffed and managed.

I hope there’s a bunch of curious traditional planners out there reading this column. And maybe they’ll realize that if they are entertaining any options as far as specializing in interactive media, the time to move is now. A planner who is smart, willing to learn, and is well organized, can basically take his or her pick of the many smart companies that have developed interactive media capabilities.

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