Q&A with Ad Students: Advice for marketers and analysts just starting out

Recently, I visited my alma mater, University of Florida in Gainesville, FL, to speak with advertising students about digital marketing, analytics and how to start a career in our field.

As I had expected, I received many questions from students, both after my talk and via email. I decided it would be more helpful to answer several of the best questions as this month’s column, to share thoughts with newcomers to the industry who may have similar questions.

So if you’re new to our sector or someone on your team is, today’s post is for you.

Presenting to students at UF Ad Society in Feb, 2017

1. What are some of the essential tools every marketing student should know going into their first marketing internship/job?

Well, of course, Google Analytics is one critical tool. There are even online courses and a demo account to help new users get up to speed quickly and become proficient at making decisions with data.

But while understanding specific tools is great, it’s probably more important when first starting out to understand how to create a digital marketing strategy, which always comes before tools and tactics.

Being proficient with not just Analytics, but CMS (content management systems), CRM (customer relationship management) tools, programming languages like HTML, etc would all be good ideas and core to what we do. If you don’t know everything yet, that’s normal. Even the best experienced pros are still learning daily.

2. What do you think makes certain interns stand out from the crowd?

I think the best thing you can do is begin building a sandbox project (a place you can test and tinker on ideas without worry or oversight) from the ground up, without help.

Create something real and tangible you plan to grow long-term in your free time such as a blog, an app, an e-commerce store selling something you’re passionate about, or another side project. Find a friend if you want, but also document your process and be sure to be involved at every step. Resist the temptation to outsource things at first.

Image by Herzi Pinki, available via CC BY-SA 4.0

You’ll learn so much as the result of experimenting on your own and be forced to go through the entire process a start-up or brand will when conducting digital marketing, including creating the actual product – something far too many marketers skip. You can’t get the same, real life, hands on experience in school or through certification.

Smart brands and managers, the type that are really essential to work with at the start of your career, will value this greatly.

3. What are the daily habits you believe a successful marketer should have?

Keeping your analysis skills sharp is probably the single most important thing you can do.

Good marketers know not just how to record metrics and what KPIs matter, but how to use that data to influence decisions at the strategy table and get buy in for new projects. This involves both left and right brain thinking, as you can get pretty creative with how you use numbers to tell a story.

Becoming proficient with data-driven storytelling requires lots of practice, so working on it daily is helpful. There’s big demand for analytics-savvy professionals, so having this skill will provide a leg up.

4. What kind of things should I be reading?

To be an effective marketer in a world of constantly-changing communications trends, it is essential to stay at the edge. Embrace this and take the charge personally to follow sector news.

Read case studies, industry trades, relevant blogs – create a system (email subscriptions + labels, RSS, whatever you prefer) to get the right information and data coming to you every day without spending much time on trawling for it.

I’m less concerned with where you follow our sector, just that you follow. It’s important that all marketers do put in the effort to stay informed as things change so fast.

 5. How do I choose between going agency and going in-house?

This is a personal choice. I personally started my career on the agency side and think it’s a great decision because you get a view into many different types of companies and sectors. You also get to implement all different types of strategies and tactics, as your different clients’ marketing needs are unique.

Agencies are a great way to get your feet wet in our sector and gain a diverse skill set. If you find a company you really love right out of college, go for it. Your first roles will be great learning experiences no matter where they are.

 6. How do I make my resume really stand out?

There are countless articles on making a great resume so I’ll offer another idea: do something creative, in addition to the resume, which gets noticed by targeted companies or key executives.

For example, ad copywriter Alec Brownstein targeted creative directors at advertising shops in New York via clever search ads driving traffic to his website. From this, he received two offers. He then made a YouTube video (below) showcasing the results which has received nearly 1 million views.

The point is, he knew what he wanted and did something creative and specific to achieve it.

One more story: a friend of mine, Eric Friedman, tells the tale of his job interview with renowned VC firm Union Square Ventures in New York. During a pivotal second round interview Eric sat down with one of the partners, Brad Burnham and presented his resume. Brad told Eric to hang on to it, as he just wanted to chat.

When Eric pressed him as to why, Brad responded with something remarkable which went like this: “You can work really hard on crafting a well written, organized, resume with bullet points of accomplishments – but you can’t fake 500 blog posts.”

On the web, it’s “show me, don’t tell me.” Showing dedication through consistency is a powerful way to demonstrate you’re a cut above the rest.

Final thought: Get started mapping your journey

Our industry is still growing rapidly and the demand is there; everyone who puts their mind to it can have a great, fulfilling career as a digital marketer or analyst.

Think critically, make a career plan and start executing on it. If you try, I am almost certain you’ll succeed.

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