Factory Settings: Myth-busting misconceptions about working in the digital industry

By Gabriella Krite, Head of Digital Operations, 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 Niki Grant (Head of Search) who has worked in 10 different agencies in roles varying from search specialist, cross channel educator and consulting director with Unilever, 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.

Digital has only really existed for 20 (ish) years, so when I was looking for jobs after uni, I had no idea this was an option for me. In fairness, I had no idea what media planning and buying was, let alone digital. Eight years later, I am Head of Digital Operations at TKF, with a department of 34 people (61% women).

Having worked in mostly cross-channel digital roles, I have accumulated a lot of knowledge in my career, so much so that I have spent the last nine months writing a 150+ page handbook for our rapidly growing digital department! I’ve seen from all angles how intimidating digital can seem to people from the outside – the acronyms, the “technical” knowledge, the spreadsheets – it all seems so opaque from the outside.

This series intends to share with you what skills and knowledge have benefited our individual career progressions. We’ve been collecting our thoughts as a group over the past week or so and, spoiler alert, a high percentage of the initial ideas are focussed on soft skills, not technical ones. It would seem that the skills that create careers in other areas of the industry are also the ones that work in digital!

With this series, I am shamelessly trying to promote our amazing people, but while doing so, I also hope we can encourage more women to choose careers in digital. I have witnessed first-hand many, many times how diversity of thought creates better work and stronger teams. This isn’t limited to women, and a lot of what we’ll discuss can be translated to other populations still underrepresented in the industry. The team here at TKF is the strongest it’s ever been. We have such a variety of skills in the department and it’s amazing to see where we are in comparison to when I joined six years ago. Of course, the women you’ll hear from in this series aren’t exclusively responsible for that growth, but they will have all played a role in it.

Safety and certainty in data

Having studied Biomedical Sciences at uni, I naturally have an analytical way of thinking. There is safety and certainty in data you can’t get with humans. A confident grasp of numerical literacy is one of the key skills that has allowed me to succeed in my career. As a grad, my days were full of Excel-based reporting, handling thousands of rows of data from 4+ data sources and trying to wrangle them together into a coherent manner that my manager could then use to create insights. As you move away from the reporting, you shift to media planning, forecasting and modelling – all of which is Excel-based. As you move into management, you’re still in Excel but, rather than campaign data, you’re looking at profitability and the puzzle of team management. So much of a digital person’s life revolves around Excel that I can often be found telling friends that “I think in Excel”. If you don’t know Excel, then this isn’t even a barrier to entry – there are career paths in digital, e.g. digital strategy, that would never require you to look at a spreadsheet. I think my path is skewed by the fact that I have gravitated towards “performance” and “data” agencies. Even so, there are only a handful of skills you need to know to succeed. Key ones:

  • Filtering
  • Pivot tables
  • Conditional formatting
  • Functions for basic maths (remember BODMAS?) and percentages
  • SUMIFs
  • Creating a graph
  • Organising data

Having said all this wonderful stuff about Excel and data, I will say that an important learning curve for me that allowed me to switch from operations to account management was understanding that we are still advertising to humans. We have all this lovely data and it’s very easy to think that means we can operate with absolute certainty, but the reality is that humans are messy – they rarely do what we want them to, so there is rarely a 100% correct answer, so balance your data with your intuition and understanding of human behaviour. And don’t forget to bring this human element to how you work with your colleagues and clients – our most successful campaigns are where the teams work in partnership with their clients. These two caveats (varied career paths and remembering we’re all humans) will be common threads throughout many of the articles we’re putting together.

People not users

On this point more broadly, my biggest wish for the industry is to stop using terms like “users” and “consumers” – we create language and structures that distance us from the fact that we are advertising to people and people do not like being advertised to. Advertising, particularly digital, is one of the most universally hated industries. People used to (somewhat) enjoy advertising as part of their experience of a brand and now they are bombarded all day long and we’ve been complicit by allowing ourselves to hide behind data and platforms and forgetting that we’re trying to connect with people. I’m someone who desperately wants cookies gone so we can move on as an industry and focus on our audience.

The other big watch out in digital is that there is always a hot new thing the industry is talking about. It can be overwhelming to keep up, especially if you work in a cross-digital channel role. I’ve had that moment where a client brings up an announcement that I wasn’t aware of and it’s embarrassing. I’m supposed to be the digital expert, not much of an expert if I’m unaware of the most recent developments, right? Unless your role is highly specialised or focussed on innovation, I would challenge that. Discovery is exponential, and there is so much innovation in digital that it’s almost impossible to be aware of everything all the time, so don’t try to! Create the structures in your team to ensure that the knowledge is brought in somewhere, but it doesn’t have to be you.

Beware the digital hype

Every couple of years, one of those hot new things will turn into the thing that the industry focuses on – currently, it’s measuring attention, before it was video, viewability and the year of the mobile (it’s been the year of the mobile for about a decade, FYI). Just because this is where the focus is, it does not mean this is the right thing to do or the right thing for your client – in other words, just because everyone else is running away with something sexy, it doesn’t mean you have to too. Know what it is, research it and have an opinion on it, but you are not failing at your job because you don’t have a clue how to weave an NFT strategy in your annual plan. EffWorks Global 2022 have literally just proven this point for me – the winners this year showed consistency in their strategy, using existing toolkits and frameworks. Nothing new and sexy. So don’t get intimidated by the fast pace – much of it is fluff and sensible, informed opinions will cut through that.

I could speak all day on the topic of women in industry so I will leave it there and make way for our other voices. They’ll be covering an exciting range of topics; from the importance of understanding machine learning, transferrable skills and how to network.

In this series, each writer will ask a question to the next one, so my question to Megan Ashdown, Digital Account Director, is: What would you like to see from the industry to support women?