The field has enjoyed enormous growth in recent years, with digital marketing career options available in an expanding range of online channels
'Digital marketing is an exciting area that combines the creative and the analytical,' says Jack Keenan, course leader of the MSc Digital Marketing programme at Robert Gordon University. 'If you've got the relevant tools and techniques, it's a fantastic time to enter this rewarding career.'
The core digital marketing disciplines
With traditional marketing budgets being reallocated to digital channels, a shift in focus as we've entered the digital age has created a skills shortage in the UK. This means there are countless job possibilities for newly-qualified professionals.
'The growth of interactive websites, mobile phones and social media has resulted in an understanding and knowledge gap for many businesses,' explains Andrew Morton, associate lecturer in marketing at Plymouth University.
New graduate-level careers are frequently appearing in marketing departments and agencies across the country. Specialist roles are now common in areas including:
- campaign metrics and research
- communications and public relations (PR)
- content marketing
- database management and analysis
- email marketing
- mobile marketing
- pay-per-click (PPC)
- search engine optimisation (SEO)
- social media
- web design and development.
Wayne Barker, director of online marketing at Boom Online Marketing, says that this depth means many graduates initially experiment with several areas before developing expertise in one discipline.
'This is a fast-paced and ever-evolving field,' he explains. 'What works today might not work tomorrow; what is best practice now can change in a flicker.
'For those with a curious mind and a thirst for knowledge, it is perfect; there's never time to rest on your laurels.'
Develop your digital skills
Technical skills are incredibly important in the field; grasping online technologies - especially social media - is imperative, but specifically desired attributes often vary according to each particular role.
'Understanding digital marketing strategy is essential,' agrees Jack. 'However, this must be combined with skills in creative areas, such as digital PR, technical areas, such as web design, or analytical areas, such as SEO.'
Personal characteristics shouldn't be underestimated either. Great digital marketers are hard-working, experimental multitaskers that are always willing to learn. As such, the vocation is at the forefront of developments in customer loyalty and user experience. 'This requires learning new skills and, often, changing working structures,' explains Andrew.
Digital marketing roles also require impressive levels of dynamism, enthusiasm, flexibility and inquisition.
Study for a digital marketing degree
As having the necessary digital skills is a must, and with plenty of competition for entry-level roles, a dedicated university course may just be the answer.
Marketing degrees in the UK that include a digital component include:
- BA Digital Marketing - Coventry University, University of Portsmouth and the University of Gloucestershire
- BSc Digital Marketing - University of Chichester
- BA Advertising and Digital Marketing - University of Greenwich
- BA Advertising and Digital Marketing Communications - University of Northampton.
It's highly likely that the qualification will be accredited by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), while one-year placements in a relevant marketing role are fairly common at Bachelors level.
There's typically a technical aspect to digital marketing courses, with work undertaken in computer labs, using marketing software as well as media applications. Therefore, a creative flair for web design, multimedia production, digital graphic design or marketing communications may make tailored courses more closely matched to you than those with a general marketing or business slant.
However, don't worry if you're studying for (or have graduated with) an unrelated degree, as there are many marketing courses available to help you to pick up the latest digital marketing techniques - for instance, postgraduate degrees and online marketing diplomas.
Gain work experience
Study alone often isn't enough for employers; work experience is also essential. Brands, small businesses and digital agencies are looking for smart students eager to undertake a marketing internship - but landing a position requires demonstration of your passion to learn. Wayne suggests two steps to success.
'Firstly, develop a good understanding of the industry,' he advises. 'Read the big blogs, keep up with current trends and best practices, and get a feel for how you might implement campaigns.
'Secondly, build something. Start a blog. Learn how to communicate online, so you then have something of substance to show interviewers.'
Wayne's latter tip is particularly important. There are many free and low-cost blogging tools available, and Andrew agrees that there's little excuse not to give it a go. 'If it's done well, the blog might convince a potential employer of your abilities,' he notes.
For tips on how to go about starting your own blog or making a website, see First Site Guide.
'You could also attend industry events and exhibitions,' adds Andrew. 'These often include a range of guest speakers and can be free. They're also a great opportunity to network with digital marketers.'
Land your first job
It's typical for larger employers to run a formal marketing graduate scheme, with applications welcomed via their website. However, many jobs and internships are not widely advertised; instead, they're often published on social media, online job portals, or the websites of trade organisations like the CIM. It's therefore essential that your online profiles are frequently updated.
Andrew warns you though that social media must be treated with utmost professionalism. Many employers search the Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter profiles of potential candidates, meaning that all of your posts should portray you in a professional light.
'If graduates aren't careful, they may publish content on their social networks that deters potential employers or agents,' he explains. 'It's very important that students appreciate that, once content is published on the internet, it can be difficult to take down.
'There have been cases where graduates haven't been offered jobs because of certain messages that have been seen by the potential employer.'
When you do approach a company in such a creative field, especially if you're sending them a speculative application, ensure that you make yourself stand out from the crowd and let your personality come across.
Justin Blackhurst, global CEO at integrated agency Digital Next, advises students looking to get into the digital industry to be original and unique. 'Make your CV creative,' he recommends. 'When I left university, I made an application into a pop-up book and put it inside a golden envelope - who wouldn't open that?'
Being bold and going that extra mile can reap dividends for your fledgling digital marketing career. 'If you can, go into businesses in person, introduce yourself and make a good positive impression, asking for a chance to prove your worth,' concludes Justin.
How to get into advertising
Creative Skillset offers advice for graduates who've decided to specialise in advertising and marketing communications, with undergraduate qualifications one route into the industry.
Institutions running specific advertising degree courses include Falmouth University (BA Creative Advertising) and the University of Central Lancashire (BA Advertising).
One of the most useful sites for careers in the advertising industry is run by its professional body, the Institute for Practitioners in Advertising (IPA). Their AdMission website has been designed as a portal to graduate opportunities and includes contributions from many of the leading advertising, media and communications agencies.
However, as there's often no standard application process in advertising, with many vacancies filled by word of mouth, making speculative applications is essential. The IPA advises you to avoid sending an unconventional CV - instead, well-presented skills, achievements and work experience are favoured.
Finally, if you're looking to work in public relations, see our top tips for starting a career in PR.