Having more than 10 years under my belt as a director of a digital agency I’ve spent many years anguishing over why we, as a sector, so often fail to really get our message across at the most senior level within the business that we work with. You know how it goes. No matter how you try to explain the staggering potential benefits of the latest viral widget to Barry McLuddite, CEO of McLuddite Enterprises, they just don’t seem to get it!!
Well, after all this time, and a not inconsiderable amount of frustration, I think I’ve finally realised the answer – or at least maybe a significant part of the actually very, very obvious answer.
It’s because we, the digital sector as a whole, still have and awful lot of growing up to do. We quite simply don’t appear credible to these people and therefore aren’t being taken seriously.
Think about it for a minute. We work in an industry where the average age of an account manager is maybe 23. A ‘senior’ account manager will be typically 26-28 and it’s perfectly possible to find ‘account directors’ in their early thirties or younger, with maybe as little as 4-5 years experience under their belt. It’s endemic within the industry and it’s definitely not doing us any favours.
Of course we understand digital implicitly, almost instinctively even. We’ve been raised on it. Some of our own staff could probably spell out CPA, ROI and PHP in their alphabetti-spagetti before they could walk.
But seriously, can you imagine what the archetypal scruffy looking, stubbly, jeans wearing, twenty eight-year-old, ‘senior account manager’ looks and sounds like to a typically beleaguered client under pressure to deliver against aggressive sales targets?
And what about when they subsequently meet your twenty five year old ‘head of development’ who reminds them a bit of their grandson who also ‘mucks about with computers for a living’?
Any wonder they aren’t 100% confident in handing over a couple of million pounds worth of precious marketing budget?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting for a minute that these fine digital people aren’t up to the job. We have some of the very best, highly trained, super-motivated people in the business, as I’m certain do many of our contemporaries. It’s just that we are all so bloody YOUNG!
It’s an old adage that people not only buy from and feel comfortable with people they like, but that, most often, this means people who are like them. And, in digital, those people are in extremely short supply.
I have a very good friend who told me what could be viewed as quite a depressing story.
After years of struggling in vain build a marketing business and consistently failing to have his ideas and work really taken seriously by clients he eventually turned 40, got fat and went a bit bald.
Guess what? Suddenly he’s worth listening to and can hardly stop winning business. He’s the voice of experience, a safe pair of hands, someone to trust.
So what can we do?
In an industry so desperately short on real commercial experience, it’s difficult to see how things can change quickly. Despite all logic and evidence to the contrary many clients still aren’t showing much sign of making the shift to digital as aggressively as they perhaps should be.
In short, they still aren’t taking it and us, seriously.
So, maybe it’s up to us to raise our game and figure out new and better ways to communicate. We need to start to look like the kinds of people that are likely to deliver results. Professional, dedicated, organised, and utterly trustworthy. The stakes get higher every day and digital simply has to find a way to finally come in from the cold and become part of the business mainstream.
But maybe some won’t relish the transition, choosing instead to continue to sulk and stomp about, bemoaning the fact that ‘no one understands us’ like the rebellious teenagers of the business world, all the while being secretly in love with our cool-kid, know it all status?
In the meantime I’m off to get myself a sharp new suit, a sensible haircut and maybe enrol myself on the next CIM or DMA professional qualification course I can lay my hands on while I’m at it.
Digital, it’s time to grow up.