How to get into digital marketing

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
September, 2016

The field of digital marketing has enjoyed enormous growth in recent years, with job opportunities available in an expanding range of channels

'Digital marketing is an exciting area that combines the creative and the analytical,' says Jack Keenan, course leader of the MSc Digital Marketing 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 disciplines of digital marketing

Traditional marketing budgets are being reallocated to digital channels. This shift in focus, as we've entered the digital age, has created a skills shortage in the UK - meaning that 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 specialist agencies across the country. Specialist roles are now common in areas including:

  • blogging;
  • campaign metrics and research;
  • communications and public relations (PR);
  • content marketing;
  • copywriting;
  • database management and analysis;
  • email marketing;
  • mobile marketing;
  • pay-per-click (PPC);
  • search engine optimisation (SEO);
  • social media;
  • web design and development.

Wayne Barker, head of online marketing at Boom Online Marketing, says that this depth means many entry-level graduates experiment with several areas before developing expertise in one.

'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.'

Developing your skillset

Technical skills are incredibly important in the field; grasping online technologies - especially social media - is universally 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. Luckily, you'll already be evidencing these skills at university by, for example, delivering presentations, working in groups and engaging in research.

Gaining work experience

However, study often isn't enough for employers; work experience is also essential. Brands, small businesses and digital marketing agencies are looking for smart interns, 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.'

Indeed, Wayne's latter tip is particularly important. There are many free 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.

'You could also attend industry events and exhibitions. These often include a range of guest speakers and can be free. They're also a great opportunity to network with digital marketers.'

Landing your first job

Many jobs and internships are no longer advertised in print; instead, they're often published on social media, online job portals, or the websites of trade organisations like the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM). It's therefore essential that your online profiles are frequently updated.

However, Andrew warns 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.