Digital is no longer the shining new toy in marketing. It has been around long enough. According to the Ambition Q3 2017 figures, there is a big demand for digital marketing expertise. This shows a maturing industry where digital marketing is creeping downwards, to be the new baseline.

The conventional wisdom, whether agency or client side, is to simply acquire “instant” expertise by recruiting external candidates with digital expertise, with the hope of beefing up domain expertise quickly.

However, as with the traditional scenario of mergers and acquisitions (M&As), it is challenging when cultures and personalities do not meld together. All too often, we would see arrivals and departures in a matter of months. In client-side scenarios, campaigns may lapse and continuity becomes a challenge. In agency-side scenarios, both agency owners and clients suffer, in terms of manpower costs, as well as uneven service deliveries to clients.

Develop within

Rather than quick hires, groom internal employees painstakingly through time and effort, and empower them to develop and explore digital expertise with time.

We have taken great pains to build up our internal digital expertise since 1990s. It was a laborious and consistent effort that got us where we are today, with gratefully accepted accolades for innovation and digital practices.

The digital domains of interactive media, digital video, web, SEO, SEM, inbound marketing, mobile apps, social media, analytics, and so on, are all interconnected digital domains. To only recruit candidates based on narrowly defined roles would demand a far larger and less agile workforce that cannot strategize holistic campaigns, plus a labor expense that cannot be sustained.

It is therefore better to recruit candidates who are fast learners and team players, who are willing and happy to learn all digital domains, and grow with the company over the long haul.

Paper credentials prove nothing

I believe in continuous learning, in the spirit of “kaizen (改善)”. However, I do not believe in merely chasing “papers” (credentials). Learn for the sake and interest of learning.

Digital domains demand continuous learning and doing, and no single online or classroom course can adequately address the fast changing needs and changes.

All too often, paper credentials become immediately obsolete. What one learned about search engine optimization and marketing (SEO/SEM) a year ago is likely to be completely irrelevant today, as search engines such as Google make frequent changes to their algorithms. What a digital marketer did to improve SEO a year ago may not even work today, or are even scorned by search engines today. There must be constant learning, and field-tested “doing”.

Courage in action

The traditional advertising and PR agencies have all jumped on digital.

We are probably one of the very rare hybrid agencies since 1990s, when we pioneered the use of interactive media kits since 1990s (for companies such as Krone, Novell and SunSoft – remember these oldies?), and helped PR clients leverage on web (SEO), digital video, mobile, and social since the early days of each technological inception. Our enlightened clients worked closely with us to explore all these new frontiers, and reaped benefits quickly.

The learning curve for each of these digital platforms, whether web, social, video or mobile, are all exceedingly steep. It is fortunate that our principal team are all geeks, who love technology, and live and breathe it.

Even today, I tinker with code, optimize servers, and edit video and audio content. A samurai worth his retainer must keep up his skills (in feudal Japan, samurai were retained by the shogunate).

While some may still think digital marketing is something new, the harsh reality is that digital marketing is now merely the baseline. If you are still not doing it, you are already way behind. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes consistency. It takes commitment. And we need to scale even more, be more agile, and become even more inventive in campaigns. Ask yourself, what’s next?