Careers in Digital Advertising & Marketing

One of the most promising areas for students interested in enhancing their career is digital or internet marketing.  Before we start discussing career paths within digital, it is important to review what specialty areas exist and their current and forecasted size and growth. Forrester recently conducted a study which stated that in 2011 approximately 19% of the total marketing spend was in the digital space but that was expected to grow to 35% by the year 2016. The size and growth rate of the five main digital areas  are shown below:

  Year 2016 forecasted spend in billions % growth
Search Marketing (organic and paid) $ 33 Billion 12%
Display Advertising $ 27 Billion 20%
Mobile Marketing $  8 Billion 38%
Social Media $ 5 Billion 26%
Email marketing (yes email is not dead!) $ 2.5 Billion 12%

Source: Forrester Research Interactive Marketing Forecast, 2011

I’m frequently asked by students which digital area they should pursue. The ideal situation would be an internship or job where you are exposed to multiple areas such as social, display, mobile, search and email because marketing campaigns typically require broad expertise. In this regard, an article in Advertising Age entitled, “What’s Required of the Next Generation of Marketers” from 11/2011 highlighted that:  “Tomorrow’s marketers will have to be well-rounded multi-disciplinarians who understand not only creative, but also digital marketing, social media and new technologies — and how those all complement one another — as well as how to back up a plan with data and analytics.”

Unfortunately most large companies and agencies do not hire graduates with only a broad knowledge of digital – that tends to be reserved for higher level management positions. They favor candidates with specific in demand skills such as mobile or search. While the two concepts generalization vs. specialization seem to create a “Catch-22”, it doesn’t if you think about it with a long-term perspective. You often need to specialize to get IN then broaden to move UP. When we talk of broadening, we are referring to expertise in different digital areas, you won’t go very far if you do not know foundational marketing concepts.

I advise students to prepare for a successful career in digital by doing several things:

1. Have a strong foundational knowledge which our MS in Marketing provides in segmentation, advertising and promotional concepts, market research, database marketing, consumer behavior, statistics, database schemas and SQL to name a few. Also take the courses recommended for our digital track such as the Interactive & Digital and the Digital Lab course.

2. Get relevant digital experience BEFORE you graduate. The biggest mistake you can make is to have no job or one in an unrelated field while pursuing your degree, then expect to get a well-paying digital job when you graduate-very difficult!

3. To land a job or internship you can take one of the following two approaches or combination of:
a) get any digital internship or job with a high growth and reputable company to gain experience, it might not be in the hottest area but it offers the best chances for you to eventually move into other areas within that or another company, or
b)learn a specialized skill and obtain certifications in high growth digital areas (i.e. mobile or search)-because with these skills and/or certifications your chances of getting a job or internship with the company or agency you want will significantly improve.
Note: If all else is equal, mobile should be at the very top of your priority list: mobile commerce is set to explode, driven by 4G, a 50% and growing Smart Phone penetration rate, the exponential growth of tablets and mobile commerce be it NFC or cloud based. Forrester projects mobile commerce will grow from the current $9 billion to $31 billion dollars by 2016. Keep in mind that where there is commerce this usually translates into better paying jobs. Social media is an important area, especially for brand awareness, but it still is not as effective in driving sales as are the other digital vehicles.

4.When deciding between marketing job A that pays $65,000 and job B which pays $60,000 most candidates would pick Job A. However more important than salary only when starting your career, is to ask yourself:
a) What digital area is this company into? I would pick an agency or job specializing in mobile commerce or augmented reality — over doing social media campaigns with Twitter or Facebook — any day of the week. There are lots of candidates with skills for the latter, hardly any for the former.
b) Is this company or agency well-regarded in the industry? Working for a cutting edge agency such as Wunderman or Omnicom provides you with exposure to a wide range of customers and industries; Fortune 1000 companies often recruit for Director or VP positions from these top agencies.
c) Is the job function I am applying for in a growth area or is it in a relatively small and modest area such as email marketing?  i.e. see the Forrester chart above
d) What is the growth rate of the company? A rising tide raises all ships.
e) What skills can I learn while there? Some agencies or companies pay for your certifications or courses.
f) Is there chemistry with your boss and team members? Sometimes working for an-up-and coming star can do more for your career than all of the above (assuming you are highly regarded by them).

5. Where should you work? A Fortune 500, an agency, a large or medium-sized business or a small agency?

The top choices are a Fortune 500 or a large digital agency group; however it is very tough to get into these places, you often need to be recommended, smart, have excellent foundational knowledge and specific skills or certifications. Start preparing for these opportunities by collecting –as you progress through the program– a portfolio of your work (class projects), participate in student organizations, obtain in demand skills through relevant course work and/or certifications and create your own QR code, blog, AR app. etc.

A mid or small agency specializing in a hot emerging area such as mobile with large and medium-sized clients is a second best option. The experience you gain will probably be better than what you would get in  a medium or large company. In such an agency you might develop both expertise and exposure to many different clients. The key in this case is to work for top talent who can teach you very relevant and specialized skills- careful there are many “digital” agencies out there that might have you doing customer service through Facebook or Twitter.

6. What skills should you develop for a career in digital marketing?  Please see the infographic below, but more importantly do your own research. Do not make the mistake of pursuing something you “like” and blindly focus on that. Doing what you like is important but you must make sure that area offers abundant and well-paying jobs. In fact, consider getting well-regarded industry certifications such as the Google Search and/or the Google Web Analytics certification; consider taking a basic course at a community college in HTML5, etc. One topic that frequently comes up is why is SQL important for a marketer? We teach SQL in one of our business core courses because the most in demand skill is the combination of digital, database knowledge and analytics- a candidate who knows SQL is highly desirable and will stand out. Read this article by “Wanted Analytics” where SQL is listed as one of the top 10 skills a marketer should have-SQL knowledge also tends to command higher wages.

7. One of the traits companies often look at when hiring is how well versed you are about the ever-changing digital landscape- do you know what Panda is? Isis? MCX? Can you name several relevant marketing uses of augmented reality? Name the leading social media listening platforms? How does geo-fencing work-can you send a random passerby an SMS offer?

How do you obtain this knowledge? by subscribing and diligently reading every day information from leading publications and sites. This knowledge will provide the much desired “broad” knowledge and will make you  relevant. Moreover if you get a job in search tomorrow please do NOT stop reading about mobile or social because there is a lot of convergence and changes are taking place all the time.

Which ones do I recommend? Stay tuned for next week’s blog posting where I will recommend some local digital groups, authoritative sites and newsletters you should follow on a frequent basis, as well as salary information for many of the digital areas.

Also tell us what you think; what else would you like to know, post some questions

Alex Edsel


Note: The opinions expressed are my own… it’s a blog after all.

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Posted in Master of Science in Marketing
12 comments on “Careers in Digital Advertising & Marketing
  1. Craig Shacklett says:

    Great stuff, Alex! Good point about the generalization vs. specialization “Catch-22”. It definitely seems like it helps to have one stand-out skill to get your foot in the door at a top firm

  2. I work at an insurance company as a marketing intern. We do A TON of social media, SEO, blogging, etc. For my summer project, I came up with the implementation plan of a mobile website for the company. However, I noticed that the company is very behind on the times when it comes to the actual website. I have mentioned this several times to my superiors, coworkers, and even the VP of the company. When recruiting agents and new employees, how important is having a strong website versus facebook, twitter, and mobile website? Do people of different ages weigh each of these differently when looking for a job? For example, if their facebook is really active, but the website is lackluster, it may not matter as much for a college grad.

    Great post!

    • Great question Claire, unfortunately you must do both for the following reasons:
      1. I assume customers (potential or current) is their main emphasis not recruiting agent and new employees in which case LinkedIn is probably more important
      2. So focusing on prospects- you can drive prospects and more easily to your website using SEO (people tend to use search engines more than social media for finding products or services) than you might in FB
      3. Not everyone uses Social media as a primary tool for searching -in fact most do not
      4. Finally you do not wish to rely only on social media what if Facebook starts charging for every impression or changes the layout or search results so you never show up when someone searches for you?
      You website is 100% under your control social media platforms are not

      • So would you say that the following is accurate?
        1. Customers are best reached via the main website (SEO) and social media.
        2. When recruiting, potential agents and employees need to be reached via LinkedIn and the main website (SEO), then social media.

      • Claire, Yes you need to get customers, if at all possible, used to going to– what you control– your website. SEO is hard to beat as you are getting people who are searching usually for a solution to a need unlike social media. I do think Linkedin would be great for the 2nd option, you can have very targeted ads and also search for people with specialized skills you are looking for in your area and contact them directly vs a blind ad.

  3. Andrew Wall says:

    a)Samsung Mobile is looking for a digital marketing manager.
    b)Here is the job posting:
    C) You stated that you would pick an agency or job specializing in mobile commerce or augmented reality over social media campaigns with Twitter or Facebook. Is their a reason for the choice apposed to personal preference? Do companies pay more money for mobile commerce or augmented reality?

  4. AT&T is currently searching for a Sr. Product Marketing Mgr. Community Specialist & Website Mgr. The link to the job posting is listed below, as well as a firm that has digital marketing posts. I also came across a website with great resource (

    Augmented Realty seems to be a way to leverage technology and create excitement. The problem may be that the use of a smart phone or tablet for certaing AR may require too much work. There are glasses that can be worn, do you think the general public would adpat to glasses/goggles to be able to utilize AR? Also, isnt their a shortage on upstream bandwith which is /will create issues for AR.?



    • Yes AR requires decent bandwidth but less than video viewing, which 75% of mobile users do at different times. The networks and technology will only get better-4G etc- so that is a consideration plus I use AR wikitude and it really has never been an issue with 3G. As far as the glasses go that is hard to know because it will require a change of consumer behavior which is always a long term and typical consumer adoption challenge/cycle. Much depends on availability and need for constant use of AR which is not there yet

  5. Alex! Since MS Excel skills are in high demand, do you recommend becoming Excel certified? Or is this overkill?

    Also, what specific mobile skills do we need in order to be considered a “mobile marketing expert”? Do we just need to understand the difference between mobile and desktop/tablet users intent, know how to create a mobile-optimized site, and know how to use mobile advertising?

    • Brian

      It depends, if you don’t have a lot of experience in the area you want to get into, then certifications can be a way of showing proficiency in important skills. You have to balance cost of these, they also need to be advanced to get any attention.

      Mobile is emerging-sort of like the web was in the mid 1990’s, anyone that has 2-3 years experience is a veteran , I would say some important standout skills are
      1. Knowledge of responsive web design area (actually topic in this weeks digital lab class) and use of emulators
      2. Being up to date on the ever changing mobile payment landscape from NFC to MCX to Apple Passbook to cloud apps and vendors such as PayPal, Square, etc Be able to recommend a strategy for a company
      3. Mobile advertising-tablets vs smart phones
      4. SMS campaigns-push notifications-i.e. Sumotext
      5. Geofencing programs for retailers like Digby- Bluetooth
      6. Mobile SEO-voice,local, short tail keyword
      7. Mobile advertising- know some of the networks like AdMob
      8. Be able to create QR codes, point and click augmented reality and mobile apps
      9. understand specific issues and problems with mobile analytics
      Problem is not many companies.agencies are on cutting edge in mobile, mainly digital agencies but in DFW Rockfish and the Marketing Arm subsidiary ipsh! stand out, Pocketstop is another one Ive heard mentioned

  6. briankshelton says:

    Wow! Thanks. I hope to cover some of this in your Digital Marketing Lab…

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