My three words for 2016

'Three musketeers' by Nezih Durmazlar

As another year begins, it’s time once again to look forward and set out the three words that I will look to shape and define my 2016. This is a practice I started in 2011, inspired by Chris Brogan, and it’s really helped me to think about the actions I need to take to make a difference in my life.

However, before I reveal my three words for 2016 it’s customary to firstly review my three words for 2015 and reflect on how these have influenced my life:

Meaning

Finding meaning in the work I do is something I’ve become increasingly conscious of and is something I proactively sought in 2015.

In the summer I made a big decision to leave my job as a corporate digital marketer for a role within an agency. I made this change primarily because I wanted to ensure that I continued to develop my wider digital marketing skills but also so I could add real value to a range of clients across different sectors and industries.

Reflect

Reflecting on the work we do can often get lost in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Changing jobs certainly made me evaluate my work and what I’ve achieved not just in my last role but those from subsequent years, too. That process encouraged me to keep an ‘accomplishments’ journal, something where I can jot down my achievements, whether big or small, to help me reflect on my efforts, the progress I’m making and where further improvements can be made.

Transform

I’m not alone in finding change daunting and I experienced a lot of change in 2015!

Starting a family, moving into a new home and starting a completely new job, all in the space of a few months, was certainly testing. But whilst these experiences have been stressful at times, they’ve nevertheless been brilliantly positive life changes. As a result, I’ve definitely had to transform my mindset, outlook and routines but I believe that these will all help me grow, both personally and professionally.

—-

As with all my previous years’ words, I will continue to look back and live by these. I never see any of my ‘three words’ for one year only. However, to focus on what’s important for the year ahead my three words for 2016 are:

Prioritise

I’ve noticed that with so much change in both my personal and professional lives there’s a much bigger need to select the right things to work on. I used to have weekends and evenings to myself (most of which I most likely wasted watching television or sleeping!). However, although that time seems like a luxury I would love to have available to me now, the reality is that this isn’t the case and that this is actually a blessing in disguise.

Much like the way in which Twitter’s 140 character limit forces writers to be clearer and more precise, the reduction in the time I have means I have to be more selective in what I work on and prioritise what’s most important.

Learn

Despite the squeeze in time I now have available, I am nevertheless determined to continue learning.

The digital marketing landscape I’m involved in is continually changing and therefore to remain competitive I want to be aware of the trends as they happen.

I also want to ensure that I keep educating myself on topics outside of my immediate sphere of influence and expertise. For example, what’s happening in the world of economics, politics, science and the arts? I’m therefore going to focus my learning around micro (areas closely related to my work) and macro (areas that are not closely related to my work but have a wider influence) topics so I have a well-rounded view of the world.

Patience

In some ways this word is related to the previous two and the life changes I’m experiencing. Things aren’t all they used to be and I therefore have to be patient as I navigate the journey ahead.

I believe patience is also key is respect to investing in myself. I know the learning and career choices I make won’t always have an immediate payoff so I have to be patient and confident that I’ll be rewarded in the long-run if I continue to make decisions for the right reasons.


How to win with 10x content

With the ongoing rise in content marketing, smarter search engines and increased competition within the earned media space, what does it take to really stand out and gain attention?

With a new year ahead of us, now is as good a time as any to aim for a new set of higher standards for the content we’ll be producing in 2016 and onwards.

Earlier this year, Rand Fishkin produced an excellent Whiteboard Friday explaining why the creation of ‘good, unique content’ must die:

Rand’s main point was that the days of producing reasonably good, useful, unique content is no longer an acceptable level of quality for those aiming to rank highly and generate interest in search. Instead, we must set our sights much higher:

Content scale

The trouble with ‘good, unique content’ is that it’s relatively straightforward to produce and can be easily scaled, meaning it’s difficult to obtain a genuine competitive advantage. To have any chance of success, at the very least content should be as good as the best result in the SERPs. However, to really stand out, content producers should aim to create content ten times better than anything else in the search results.

Gaining a competitive advantage through 10x content

Inbound.org deifines 10x content as:

“Content that has gravitas, is enduring and worth paying attention to”

The term ‘10x content’ is just another way of articulating the need for content producers to go above and beyond. The modern criteria for content has changed as a result of the emergence of content marketing as a discipline, the increased focus on user experience, the transition from link building to link earning and ultimately a shift in user expectations. People simply expect more from content today (faster page load, great design, quick answers to questions).

Content creators therefore need to respond. The criteria for 10x content includes:

Entertaining/ moving/ thought-provoking

If a piece of content is genuinely entertaining, moving or thought-provoking, it is more likely to evoke an emotional response and generate interest.

Provides genuine utility

Providing utility adds real value. Content should solve a problem for the user, answer a question or help them achieve a goal.

Educational

Similarly to the above, content that fulfils customer needs by educating and teaching them something new or interesting is more likely to build a trusted and emotional connection.

Absorbing/ immersive

An immersive experience is a web environment that uses compelling imagery or video as the focal point of the content to absorb the user’s attention from the moment they hit the site.

Visually stunning

Great visuals and design can be used to augment and add value to other content formats, such as articles, apps and videos.

Detailed

Detailed, long-form content that provides value for the reader has been shown to have higher success rates within search and social and is something that has again been picked up as a possible ranking factor following the release of Google’s quality guidelines.

Includes in-depth research

Content that is well-researched and/ or backed up by sound data and reasoning adds credibility and provides a point of differentiation.

Provides a uniquely positive user experience

Providing a positive user experience should be the minimum standard. 10x content is about providing a uniquely positive user experience that integrates design, branding and UX principles to stand out and offer something different.

Designed and produced for the right web experience (mobile, desktop, tablet, browser)

Content should always be optimised correctly for the target user’s preferred channels and platforms. And with users expecting quick results page load speed is essential, too.

Includes optimised data visualisation/ infographics

Infographics and data visualisations should offer a clear purpose, message and value, backed up by good data and design.

 

Not all of the above criteria needs to be met in order to be 10x content but it helps when there’s a combination, for example entertaining + visually stunning or data visualisation/ infographic + genuine utility (there are many infographics that look pretty but offer very little value!).

Examples of 10x content

Inbound.org provides a superb list of curated examples of 10x content to ecourage great work. This list inspired me to seek out some 10x content examples of my own which I’ve highlighted here along with some thoughts on what I believe makes the content so good:

Chasing the Chariot: In search of the soul of English rugby

England rugby

An example from the Guardian of a very well-researched, in-depth piece of content that uses imagery, video and sound recordings to provide a genuinely absorbing reading experience.

McDonald’s Killed the McWhopper, so We Made it Ourselves

McWhopper

When the McWhopper was proposed in summer 2015, there was a lot of coverage both from the mainstream press and across social media. Nevertheless, Serious Eats still managed to rank highly in search by offering their own unique approach to the creation of the McWhopper with content that combined entertainment with education and provided genuine utility for the reader.

How To Suck At Social Media: A Guide For Businesses

Avinash

At over 9,000 words, Avinash Kaushik has produced a social media user guide for businesses that is not only very detailed and well-researched but also educates, provides great utility and includes a number of very useful graphics to bring the frameworks, case studies and examples to life.

Steps to creating 10x content

So how does one go about producing 10x content? For a start, it isn’t easy (which is why there’s a competitive advantage to be had). However, producing 10x content starts with a shift in mind-set and a focus on what can genuinely provide value. And then it’s about putting a process in place that includes the following elements:

Focus on user experience

Content should be readable, optimised for multiple devices and easy to interact with.

Search engines, particularly Google, also appear to be frowning upon sites that induce ‘pogo-sticking’ – where a link in the SERPs is clicked but the user almost immediately returns to the search results. Relevance and good page load speed are therefore essential.

A.B.R. – Always Be Researching

Good content starts with a true understanding of what your target audience will respond to. What are users already searching for? What is generating buzz within the social space?

There are a number of really useful competitor benchmarking tools for content marketing such as Socialcrawlytics.com, Quick Sprout and BuzzSumo that can help to identify insights as to the type of content activity, strategies and tactics that are working for others in your industry and what, as a result, might best work for you.

BuzzSumo overview

Solve problems

The goal should be to fulfil the searcher’s task and not just their query.

Most searchers will be looking for a solution to a problem so help them by considering the questions that they’re looking to answer. Some of the research tools suggested above will provide an indication but so will other forms of data, including internal site search data, blog comments and search trends from Google and Bing.

Stop producing standard quality content

‘OK’ (1x content) content is a waste of time. Unless you’re providing real value by being genuinely unique, outstanding or engaging, you’re unlikely to get results.

The days of producing lots and lots of mediocre content optimised around specific keywords are gone. Even large brands with strong domain authority need to create content that goes above and beyond to see any kind of impact.

Build relationships

Finally, look to build relationships. Share great content by others that’s relevant to your industry, co-operate with other thought-leaders and influencers and engage with customers and prospects across your different online platforms.

This type of activity will help foster ties with other content creators, leading to better reputation and visibility.

Impact of influencers

Summary

As content creators, we have a responsibility to think carefully about the longevity of the content deluge. With so much content being created, there is a risk of ‘content shock’ and therefore we must raise our standards to stay relevant and add value for consumers.

Not all content can and should be ‘hero’ content. This takes a great deal of time and effort and simply isn’t possible to produce time after time. However, we nevertheless must acknowledge that the criteria for modern content has changed and that more is required to stand out and make an impact.

The goal now is to produce content that is better known, better trusted and better referenced.


A content marketing masterclass from Buzzfeed

Buzzfeed 1

Buzzfeed is a modern publishing phenomenon. Best known for listicles, GIFs and click-bait headlines, the company has now diversified into new areas, including politics, world news and even motion pictures.

According to Buzzfeed, 2014 revenues surpassed $100 million and their post in February asking people to vote on the colour of a dress has generated over 38 million views. Buzzfeed hasn’t found success by chance. Their business model and overarching content strategy has enabled them to consistently reach and engage a wide audience with a diverse set of stories, pictures, quizzes and breaking news.

What makes Buzzfeed so compelling as a publishing case study (compared to more traditional publishers such as the Guardian and the New York Times) is their success in the digital era and particularly their popularity among Millennials. As a result, Buzzfeed’s prominence and relentless innovation provide content marketers with some excellent insights into what it takes to build a content marketing strategy that will engage and drive action.

Content marketing inspiration from Buzzfeed

It’s worth mentioning up front that as a publisher content is at the heart of everything Buzzfeed does and therefore ‘content marketing’ is unlikely to be a practice the company consciously adopts.

However, anyone planning to implement a content marketing strategy can learn from Buzzfeed’s content philosophy and framework and this post aims to summarise some of the main insights from Buzzfeed co-founder Jonah Peretti’s talk at Inbound 2015 in September:

Buzzfeed visibility

1. Establish a content creation process

Buzzfeed have defined a content creation process and philosophy that allows them to consistently create content that resonates with their audience. Some of the elements of Buzzfeed’s content creation process include:

  • Establish editorial integrity – does the content meet brand guidelines? Is it accurate/ factually correct?
  • Select appropriate content format types – Quizzes? Lists? Video? Articles? What content format adds value and contributes to the overarching objective of the content?
  • Choose channel/ platform – where will the content live? Will it be hosted on the website? Or optimised for a particular social network or channel?
  • Review content promotion options – will content be promoted organically and/ or paid? What channels will be used to distribute content and build awareness?
  • Build a measurement framework – how do you know whether your content is working? Page views and dwell time are weak metrics (to gauge success, Buzzfeed looks at a wide range of metrics, including whether content spreads internationally, works across multiple platforms or connects people in meaningful ways)

Buzzfeed’s content creation process appears to be working, as evidenced by the steady increase in organic search visibility over the past three years:

2. Define the purpose for the media you’re using

It’s common for brands to create content without considering the objective for how it will be used and consumed by the audience for which it is intended.

Jonah Peretti encourages content creators to put real thought into how an audience will actually use the media being shared and what utility it will add to their lives.

For example, Buzzfeed noticed that people were consuming content at work and this insight led to the ‘bored at work’ network, content created specifically to help people get through the working day!

Buzzfeed Bored At Work network

Buzzfeed are always experimenting with different content formats, such as listicles, quizzes and videos to educate, entertain and help their audience. The growing trend of media convergence (e.g. mobile/social, mobile/social + video) means that Buzzfeed look for opportunities to create content in formats that will help their audience get the most from the content they’re consuming.

3. Create content that works on the internet

This might seem quite obvious but it’s surprising how often content produced for the internet doesn’t quite work.

Buzzfeed was built for the social/ mobile world and today 70% of users access the site via mobile. This is how people consume media today so it’s no coincidence that Buzzfeed created listicles so that people could more easily browse and navigate content on their mobile devices.

Buzzfeed have also identified that emotion is a key driver of success. Content that makes people think, laugh or cry generates intimacy and connection, which in turn helps content spread as people share with a wider audience. This is the essence of ‘shareable’ content.

For example, ‘Basset hounds running’ is both ‘cute’ and ‘LOL’, and whilst friends sharing the content may not remember the specific joke at a later point in time, they do remember laughing together and feel closer as a result.

Basset Hounds Running

4. Embrace the distributed content model

Whilst it’s still essential that brands embarking on a content marketing strategy have an effective owned media presence, it’s not always necessary to drive all traffic from outposts through to a central content hub.

Buzzfeed have adopted a distributed content model, a system whereby content is created to live natively on various channels, platforms and apps to ensure that content goes to where the audience is rather than forcing them back to the website.

Distributed content model

For example, the Obama video was created only for Facebook and didn’t exist anywhere else. This is an output from Buzzfeed’s experimental social content team BFF who produce a range of original content solely for platforms like Tumblr, Imgur, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine and messaging apps.

5. Iterate, learn and adapt

Buzzfeed have built a process that empowers smart people with a deep connection to their audience to continually look at ways to iterate, expand and push the brand forward. The company has become increasingly cross-platform and as a result there are now new opportunities to learn about what is working on each platform and how these insights can be used to adapt and optimise content across multiple channels.

As media becomes more distributed and apps become more important, there is a need to learn everywhere possible and build a network of channels, platforms and apps. The advice from Buzzfeed is to experiment with new ideas, learn and apply these to everything the network is doing.

This process will help content marketers to make better stuff, make a bigger impact and serve the audience more effectively.


Who’s succeeding at B2B content marketing?

The increased focus on content marketing continues to grow, a trend highlighted by a number of studies surveying marketers’ top priorities:

Most commercially important digital marketing trend 2015

The content marketing boom is also reflected in the relative search volume trends for phrases related to content marketing:

Content marketing - interest over time

Content marketing can be defined as the strategy of providing valuable, relevant, quality content that customers want in order to attract and retain a clearly defined audience.

This definition certainly applies to a number of notable case studies, particularly those involving Coke, Disney and famously Red Bull and Felix Baumgartner’s space jump in 2012. However, whilst these are all very valid and useful examples of content marketing at its best, they are all from consumer brands.

Content marketing is practiced by both B2C and B2B brands and for that reason this post will look specifically at case studies demonstrating how businesses are using content marketing in the B2B space.

Why content marketing has emerged as a top priority

It’s worth briefly exploring the concept of content marketing, the reasons behind its emergence and some of the prerequisites for success.

Whilst the origins of content marketing can be dated back to the late 1800s and the launch of John Deer’s The Furrow, the practice of content marketing in the digital era emerged in the shadow of more established earned media disciplines, such as SEO, social media marketing and online PR.

For all these disciplines, content has always been a fundamental element, although as these established practices matured, the use and application of content has evolved, too. Successful SEO used to involve the acquisition and production of large quantities of links and content regardless of quality and relevance. However, with the advent of Google’s various algorithm updates it’s been interesting to see how the popularity of some tactics have declined relative to content marketing’s rise:

Content marketing vs other tactics

The recognition from marketers of the need for more valuable, relevant, quality content to achieve cut-through and engagement has fuelled the rise in content marketing as a discipline. Whilst some have warned of the impending ‘content shock’ or ‘content deluge’ (diminishing returns from content efforts as a result of an over supply of mediocre content), it’s clear that brands following a best practice approach are succeeding.

We’ll cover some specific content marketing insights within each of the case studies below. However, some of the aspects brands finding success using content marketing share include:

A core content strategy

There is a difference between content strategy and content marketing, with the former setting the parameters and structure for the latter. A company’s content marketing efforts should be one of many elements encompassed within the overarching content strategy.

content-strategy-quad

A documented approach to content marketing

According to research from the Content Marketing Institute, whilst 94% of B2B marketers are doing content marketing, only 32% have a documented content strategy – even though many are producing more content than the previous year.

Those that are succeeding at content marketing have a clearly documented approach that outlines:

1. Who are we?
2. Who are we trying to reach?
3. What are we trying to accomplish?

A differentiating factor

Content marketing success isn’t about blindly copying the competition. Whilst it’s certainly important to audit competitor activity, those that are really standing out have taken a unique approach that meets their target customers’ needs and adds real value to their online community.

B2B content marketing: case studies and best practice

General Electric (GE)

What are they doing?

It’s really interesting to see how brands use content marketing in different ways and General Electric’s use of a wide range of channels and media formats, from Tumblr to Instagram and YouTube, are all quite inspiring.

At first glance, one wouldn’t expect a multinational energy, tech and industrial conglomerate to have the type of product and audience to be a social media hit and yet they’ve proved that thinking laterally and good execution pays off.

GE Technologist

 

GE content hub

Content marketing insight: experiment with different channels and formats

GE have created a variety of owned and social media properties, including the main GE blog, a research zone and numerous social media channels, all of which is aggregated on the GE social hub.

There is real diversity and imagination in the approach GE have taken and the Txchnologist, a Tumblr-based online magazine, is a great illustration of this, with posts, stories and insight designed to explore the ever-changing worlds of science, technology and innovation.

Moz

What are they doing?

For over 10 years Moz has been running their blog, initially specialising in SEO before over time expanding into other areas, including social media, web analytics and of course content marketing.

The Moz blog is a brilliant example of highly effective B2B content marketing, providing top quality specialist content to a very specific audience group. In addition to their daily blog posts, they also provide high-quality, in-depth guides as well as video tutorials – all for absolutely no cost.

The Moz blog

 

Moz Whiteboard Friday

Content marketing insight: focus on a select group of media for your target audience

Moz’s Whiteboard Friday series regularly receives some of the highest social interaction and comments on the blog and their Beginner’s Guide to SEO now has over 6,000 social shares and 1,000 backlinks.

Moz have successfully zeroed in on a target audience and use a select range of media (written content, video and research) that is regularly shared and referenced, all of which improves the brand’s authority within a very competitive niche.

Deloitte

What are they doing?

As a consultancy firm, Deloitte has a very broad customer base spanning multiple sectors and industries. Deloitte’s knowledge and expertise is a fundamental element of their value proposition and therefore great content marketing can be a differentiating factor.

Whilst some of Deloitte’s competitors are experimenting with content marketing, Deloitte stand out in the way they create a range of relevant content for such a wide audience that all fits as part of their overarching content strategy.

Deloitte

Content marketing insight: the creation of dedicated content hubs to meet specific audience needs

In order to reach multiple audiences effectively, Deloitte have created a set of dedicated content hubs, executed using topic tags based on each of the different services Deloitte provide and the industries in which they operate.

The result is a compelling content marketing engine that provides high quality, in-depth content for a very astute and knowledge audience, giving Deloitte an edge at every stage in the decision journey.


The rise of the full-stack marketer

Everybody Likes Stone Stacks

As digital marketing (and marketing in general) continues to evolve, so does the thinking associated with what makes a modern marketer. There have been numerous posts about T-shaped marketing, the Pi-shaped marketer, growth hacking and even ninja rockstars!

Whilst I’m conscious that there are already plenty of marketing buzzwords around, I nevertheless thought it worth exploring another concept: the full-stack marketer.

However, I’d like to use this post to look at the full-stack marketer not as another piece of marketing jargon but more as a mind-set or working philosophy. I don’t believe the full-stack marketer is a substitute for growth hacking, T-shaped or Pi-shaped marketing. Instead, all this thinking should be considered with the same objective in mind: to give marketers a framework and opportunity to grow and develop.

The rise of the full-stack marketer

The term ‘full-stack’ has its origins in the development world and the concept of the full-stack developer or programmer – someone with the knowledge and experience to work across every facet of the development ‘stack’ or web development platform (e.g. LAMP is a common web stack that uses Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP).

Whilst some may use specialists to work on each element of the stack, the full-stack developer has an appreciation for how the entire process works and as a result has a flexibility and ability to adapt to different situations and projects.

Similarly to the full-stack developer, the full-stack marketer can work across a range of marketing disciplines, from SEO to UX and design. Like the T-shaped (a broad set of knowledge and skills but with a deep specialism in a particular area) or Pi-shaped marketer (a broad base of knowledge but capabilities in both ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’ disciplines), the full-stack marketer is multi-skilled.

However, the difference lies in how the full-stack marketer excels through action, i.e. they have practical working knowledge, not just an understanding, meaning they are at home editing PSDs one minute and optimising a website for search the next and always pushing to learn and adapt. This breadth of skill enables them to challenge those around them to drive for growth and more importantly get stuff done!

Where do full-stack developers fit?

It’s probably fair to say that the full-stack marketer fits best within start-ups and small companies, businesses where broad, rather than specific, skills are required. An effective full-stack marketer has a natural entrepreneurial drive and the ability to take responsibility for growth. As companies look to grow, they require individuals with initiative, spirit and the capacity to see a project through from start to finish.

Whilst larger companies tend to be more siloed and skill-specific, the full-stack marketer can still thrive. Although they’re unlikely to be involved in every marketing discipline, their breadth of skill, resourcefulness and ability to see the whole funnel means that they are able to collaborate well with others and share a common focus on the end result.

What is common for full-stack marketers in any type of organisation is their ability to measure and adjust, demonstrate the value of marketing for the business and a focus on the customer and outcome rather than a specialised domain. They’re also extremely employable as a result of their growth mindset and versatility.

How to succeed as a full-stack marketer

The real benefit of taking a full-stack marketing approach is the breadth of skill and versatility one can develop. It’s common for full-stack marketers to either move onto new, similar projects, e.g. at a small company or start-up, or alternatively progress to a head of marketing/ marketing director/ CMO type role.

Some of the key skills commonly considered to be part of the marketing ‘stack’ include:

Marketing planning

Marketing planning best practices from Smart Insights

Search engine optimisation SEO

The Beginner’s Guide to SEO from Moz

PPC

How to Create a Profitable Google AdWords Campaign (from Scratch) from KISSmetrics

Social media

The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media from Moz

Content marketing strategy

The Advanced Guide to Content Marketing

Presenting

How to Give a Killer Presentation from Harvard Business Review

Email marketing

A Beginner’s Guide to Successful Email Marketing from KISSMetrics

Analytics

The Ultimate Guide to Google Analytics from Fast Company

Landing page optimisation

The Most Entertaining Guide to Landing Page Optimization You’ll Ever Read

Storytelling

Why Our Brains Crave Storytelling in Marketing from Fast Company

Conclusion

In truth, there is great overlap between full-stack marketing principles and those previously invoked by growth hacking, T-shaped and Pi-shaped marketing. Marketers who are looking to develop and really add value will naturally align with any of these frameworks and philosophies and full-stack marketing simply provides another alternative.

Hopefully this article has provided a guide as to what skills to look for in full-stack marketers, either to develop your own marketing skills or look to hire a full-stack marketer for your business.


Agency versus client-side marketing

Light it up

After spending the best part of ten years as an in-house client-side marketer, I recently made the decision to experience life as a marketer within an agency. My ambition is to continually develop myself as a rounded marketer, something I’ve tried to demonstrate using the ‘T-shaped marketer’ approach and I felt the change to agency-side marketing would help me to meet my personal development goals.

There are a number of advantages for marketers who experience both agency and client-side marketing and in this post I’ve tried to summarise some of the stand-out differences that I’ve experienced and how they can help marketers looking to develop their careers.

Culture

One of the stand-out differences I found when moving from client to agency-side was the company culture. I’d come from a large company with a very corporate environment so I was immediately struck by the differences in the working environment. In addition to music in the office and more casual dress (t-shirts and shorts vs suits and ties!), teams interact with one another more openly and there’s a less siloed feel to collaboration.

The culture on the agency-side also feels less hierarchical and more meritocratic. One of the frustrations I often experienced client-side was the dreaded HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). A piece of work or professional opinion could be trumped by someone else’s seniority. And whilst this no doubt occurs in any company to one degree or another, senior figures at the agency certainly appear more open to opinions regardless of whether it’s a junior or senior marketer.

The more laissez-faire culture at an agency can be a double-edged sword. I personally miss the more structured systems in place client-side and whilst the hierarchy could create bureaucratic blockages, you nevertheless had a clear idea of whom the key stakeholders were and how best to deliver for them what is required on any given project or task.

The work

The pace of work agency-side can be much faster. It’s not uncommon to work on multiple clients at a time and therefore multitasking is essential. This has certainly been a personal challenge for me – I was used to working on just one brand before whereas now I’m expected to juggle projects from a wide variety of sectors (from financial services to automotive and FMCG). But at the same time the variety is a huge positive and forces me to keep my skills sharp and look for creative solutions.

It’s also worth noting that on the client-side you are the boss and set the agenda, whilst on the agency-side you are the supplier. This is an important change in dynamic – work must be delivered based on the client’s priorities and challenges must be conducted with tact.

Skill requirements

As a digital marketer, I like to think that many of the skills I have are transferable (and a key reason why I made the switch from client to agency-side marketing). However, I have found that there are differences in relation to:

a) how the hard marketing skills are applied
b) the different softer skills that are required

On the client-side, even if you have a wide range of knowledge across digital marketing it’s likely you’ll have a narrow focus within the business. You may be expected to specialise in just a few disciplines, e.g. SEO or social media, whilst others focused on others areas, e.g. UX, design and development.

Having strong commercial skills is a key attribute on the client-side. It’s often necessary to sell in ideas to senior stakeholders and the ability to construct a strong business case is essential. In addition, long-term planning is also important – as the custodian of the strategy one must be able to plan 2-5 years (and onwards).

Whilst having a narrow skill focus can also be required agency-side, I’ve personally found that I’m now expected to augment my core skills, enabling me to provide a much more rounded set of recommendations to clients and at the same time develop as a marketer.

Although I believe time-management is essential wherever you work, I’d suggest that this is particularly important as a client-side marketer. As an in-house marketer I was used to spending time working on projects and ‘finessing’ my work before presenting whilst within an agency I have a number of clients with different projects, the timings of which can change at a moment’s notice.

Career progression

How one develops their career on both the client and agency side is of course very much down to each individual and how they manage themselves. However, the company/ corporate structures I’ve experienced on both sides provide an indication of the potential career paths for marketers.

On the client-side, I’ve found there to be a very structured review/ appraisal process. Each review gives marketers the opportunity to understand how they’re performing in relation to their personal objectives, their peers and the organisation overall. Whilst the corporate structure can sometimes be a barrier to progression (for example, if there are established figures in place in senior roles), if you prove your worth and demonstrate value, structures can be changed and new roles created.

Agencies are typically structured like this across the industry:

  • Account/ client services
  • Planning
  • Creative
  • Production
  • Media buying

There is often more of an entrepreneurial and meritocratic culture and if you can demonstrate great skill and ability there’s an opportunity to progress within your area (for example, within client services you could move from account manager to senior account manager, or within creative from designer to art director) or due to the common agency structure outlined above one can more easily progress by moving between different agencies.

Pay and remuneration

The research I’ve seen tends to indicate that client-side marketers earn more than their agency peers. This may have something to do with the way in which different types of businesses are structured and their respective business models although this is dependent on position and the type of role.

However, whilst pay is a very important factor, the skills and experience one can learn from either client or agency-side is of greater importance and should form part of a marketer’s greater long-term career goals. For example, if your goal is to be a head of digital marketing or creative director in 3, 5 or 10 years time, what are the skills, attributes and competencies you need to acquire? Knowing this will help you identify the right roles to go for and may mean that a lower salary is a worthwhile sacrifice for the potential long-term gains.