Is “digital” really a dodo?

Chris Johnston
Chris Johnston

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I shouldn’t give so much time to attention-seekers on Linkedin.

Yes, there’s irony in me pointing this out when I’ll use the same platform to share this post, but there is some great content on LinkedIn from some great posters. Yet for some authors, it feels like a race to the bottom through a competition to create content controversy cleverly. And sometimes not so cleverly.

I’ve been particularly disciplined not to comment on the usual fare from the likes of Mark Ritson et al. around the vacuous “TV vs. digital” debate. But I couldn’t resist replying to a recent post claiming that it’s time to get rid of the “digital” prefix in marketing job titles. You know the ones…, Digital Manager, Digital Planner, Digital Strategist and worst of all, Head of Digital!

The argument goes that for far too long we’ve been giving people pointless titles with the word digital in them. And aren’t we all digital now anyway? Surely, we don’t need those pesky digital peeps anymore. Amen!

For the best part of 10 years, I’ve been focused on driving integration. That is, developing roles, people and structures, to ensure all communication channels are considered equally. Or more simply, to bring the digital and offline guys together.

Yes, I’m a digital guy. I’ve been doing it since the 90s. But I’m also an offline guy, having done that for many years as well. I’m also a data guy.

Ultimately, I only really care about what works and what doesn’t.

When it comes to integration I’ve tried, and seen, many different approaches, but the most important thing I’ve learnt is we need specialists.

Whether it’s programmatic, SEM, social, out-of-home, TV buying, or any other skill set. We need people with specialist knowledge. People who go beyond a high-level view and who are experts in their field. Admittedly however, one person can’t be a specialist in everything. Which is why we also need generalists.

A common analogy is medicine. There are generalists and specialists. I’m good with my GP diagnosing common maladies, but I don’t want them performing surgery on me.

Marketing is the same. We need generalists who get it all, but when you need expertise in a specific field, they pass you on to the specialist. The search guy, the TV trader, the social guru, the programmatic trader, and so on.

Getting the mix of those roles right, along with the structure and processes to ensure they all fit together seamlessly, is one of our most critical challenges right now.

At Slingshot we’ve come a long way down this path. We’ve invested heavily in training and education and everyone is expected to be fluent in all channels. We’ve got great leaders with amazing self-awareness who know when their knowledge reaches its limits, and aren’t too proud to call on a specialist to provide the deeper knowledge and insight required.  

The “D word” might feel cliched to some, but digital people are critically important within our discipline. We can’t do without them.

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