By Maria Tudor, Digital Planner Buyer, as originally featured in New Digital Age.
Welcome to Factory Settings, a content series from some of the women in digital at The Kite Factory.
This series aims to myth-bust misconceptions about the digital industry by showcasing the journey and talent of some of our fantastic women in digital. You’ll hear from women with a wide range of experiences and career paths – from Mohini Lakhani (Senior Digital Account Manager), who quickly made the switch from a career in neuroscience to Digital Marketing when she realised the lab life wasn’t for her; to Maria Tudor (Planner Buyer), who studied a masters in digital marketing and has tried her hand at PR and comms before settling on paid planning and buying.
They’ll share their perspectives on some of the most important things they have learned in their careers.
Intro to me
Being a planner is in my job title, however I have never planned to be in this job. That is because paid media was merely jargon when I was in school and digital marketing wasn’t an option in any careers ‘manual’. Now that I’m here the future is no less blurry, for the only certainty I have is that my job will look completely different within the next decade.
What’s more, the talents nurtured as a kid, namely the arts and languages, were arguably paving a misleading professional route, away from tech-related or numerical careers. Throughout my formative years, all academic and career tests confirmed my strong skills in humanist studies to the detriment of applied sciences. To be honest, to this day I am much better with words than I am with numbers, but I now know that working in a client-facing digital role requires so much more.
When did you decide you’d like to pursue a career in digital and what aided your decision?
In the last instalment of Factory Settings, Simi asked me what prompted my decision to choose this line of work. Not only is this question a useful self-reflection exercise, but most importantly it touches on a key consideration for the current and next generations of digital experts. Namely, in an ever-changing digital landscape, how can today’s students make a clear professional decision? For those like me who early in their digital careers, how can we plan for the future?
Embrace the mystery
Curiosity, adventure, creativity and versatility form the fabric of every passionate digital marketer. The unknown of the next day is something to be celebrated as every attempt to over-plan will spoil the dynamic, creative juices, which make our work so great. In sum, the mystery that powers digital is to be perceived with excitement because we are constantly pioneering new tools and re-writing marketing books.
As a student in Communication and Media Studies, I immediately knew that I would never have a boring day working in digital. At the time, I didn’t quite know whether I would specialise in paid media or social media or content marketing or digital PR. And I loved that feeling! During university, the open-ended nature of the digital industry led me to become today’s versatile, well-rounded professional because it pushed me to experiment as much as possible. As a paid media specialist, it continues to keep me on my toes every day.
Forget the textbook
Unlike traditional careers like medicine, accounting or law, success in the digital industry is much less about how much theory you know and more about what skills you nurture. The ‘digital textbook’ paradox lies within for one will never be able to complete it in today’s fast-paced technological landscape – This gets my blood flowing and I embrace it fully, however I once found it discouraging.
Going back to my school-time aptitude tests, I was led to believe that I would be going against my natural strengths by becoming a digital marketer. Ten years ago, marketing was dominated by principles of economics and maths, sprinkled with a bit of creativity. Back in my native Romania, I would have had to attend the Academy of Economic Studies if I had wanted to become a marketer and at the time, I couldn’t think of anything more daunting! Moreover, the word ‘digital’ was synonymous with computing prodigies – not me! Therefore, I felt the need to compensate by acquiring as much knowledge as possible, rather than improve my skillset.
Big mistake! As I later came to realise, it would be my soft skills, such as empathy, communication, management and open-mindedness, that would propel me to the next level. Since focusing my training on improving these, I discovered that ‘the right skills’ were never missing from my arsenal, just overlooked and unrefined. In a previous instalment of Factory Settings, my colleague Megan has talked at length about the importance of developing transferrable skills in our industry, so make sure to check out her article.
Don’t try to control the uncontrollable
If we learn to embrace the mystery, then being a bit clueless shouldn’t affect us. In hindsight, I know that I decided to pursue a career in digital during my placement year when I found traditional PR so dull that I begged my manager to let me work part-time in the digital PR department. I haven’t looked at anything offline since! But isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?
Planning for a career in digital remains as hard as ever. Although it is a widely accepted profession now, few people can accurately explain what it truly requires and even fewer can predict what it will require in 20 years’ time. However, in an ever-changing industry, we fall short when we assess our potential to succeed (i.e. future outlook) against today’s job spec (i.e. present object). Precisely, job definitions are static and time bound whereas the industry requirements as well as our aptitudes are continuously transforming. This means that attempting to marry them up may be more misleading than helpful.
To visualise this concept, let’s pretend that we are 17 again and hopelessly scrolling through careers’ sites in search of the ‘perfect job’. By chance, we stumble upon The Kite Factory’s own job listing for a Digital Account Manager. Among the candidate requirements feature highly experience on key digital advertising buying platforms and Microsoft Office followed by softer skills such as analytical thinking, people management and communication. Not only is it difficult for a media outsider, let alone a student, to look at that list of software and get goosebumps, but truthfully, they shouldn’t equate digital marketing to neither Google Ads, SA360 nor Excel. Most likely we will have ChatGPT working the machine for us before the next generation of media planner buyers, whilst we, the humans, will laugh about the ‘good old days’ at the pub. In short, none of that will matter.
As a 17-year-old hopelessly scrolling through careers’ sites in search of the ‘perfect job’, I felt into that very trap. A career in digital didn’t compute when I tried translating my mastery of the paintbrush into hitting ROI targets. But in fact, artistic creativity plays a key role in pitching successful performance marketing strategies and visualising their impact. Indeed, art is one of the two pillars that form the philosophy of The Kite Factory which manifests itself in a free-thinking approach to planning and buying media. My oversight stemmed from focusing too much on the technology (the uncontrollable) and not enough on the atemporal soft skills (the controllable), which are increasingly defining our role in relation to technology.
Most importantly, upon embarking on a career in digital, we should assess our acceptance of change and train our ability to ride the waves that come our way without knowing how tall they’ll be. In practice, rather than asking oneself “Do I have a First Class degree and Excel experience?” to measure their suitability for a digital career, they should be asking themselves:
“Do I allow myself to be surprised by my career?”
“Am I open to continuously learn new skills and accept that my job will change (a lot!) over the course of my career?”
“Do I accept that my digital knowledge has an expiration date and am I willing to educate myself throughout my career?”
If the answer is “yes”, don’t worry about planning your career too much. Coming from someone who literally has ‘Planner’ in their job title, my advice for how to plan your career in digital would be to plan it as little as possible. Instead embrace the mystery, forget the textbook and don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Oh, and enjoy the ride, it will surely be an adventure!
In the next series, I’d like to ask my colleague Alice Stapleton: “What has been your biggest surprise about working in the digital industry?”