How to Future-Proof a Career in Marketing When the Old Rules No Longer Apply

New thinking and new channels have changed how ads are made, and who’s making them

Adweek spoke with a group of industry professionals for their take on the current challenges and how talent is being redefined.

Thanks to digital transformation, there are myriad ways to reach consumers, and these new channels have revolutionized not just how advertising is conceived, executed and distributed, but who makes it. Then add to the mix shrinking ad budgets, shifting agency models and the rise of big data and analytics. Together, they are shaking up the established power players behind the ad-making game. To wit, in March, J. Walter Thompson eliminated the role of chief creative officer, saying it was “reimagining the future of the agency.”

So, how best to future-proof a career in advertising?

“You have to ask lots of questions,” says Tim Leake, the chief marketing officer and svp at RPA. “You have to wonder how does this work. Figure out what blockchain is and what it means for your business. What is VR and how do people use it? You have to be insatiably curious about what works and why. It’s all about testing and iterating. You have to set up a hypothesis, and that’s across the board whether you’re an account manager, a creative or you work in PR.”

At the same time, brands are bringing advertising in-house. Or, they are turning to the ad-consulting arms of global accounting and auditing firms like PwC, Deloitte and IBM, while Vice, The New York Times and other publishing outfits establish their own creative studios. And, all the while, individuals are sharing, tweeting, liking and forwarding content, becoming themselves ersatz ad makers and storytellers.

Today, the old rules no longer apply, and the new ones are being constantly rewritten, as the creative establishment engages in a turf war with data experts and engineers.

What makes for success in this evolving landscape? What is essential to have in advertising no matter the era? What does a fractured industry mean for agencies? What new challenges does it pose? What, if anything, remains the same as new platforms come and go at seemingly record speed?

As agency execs and marketers adjust to this unceasing disruption, Adweek spoke with a group of industry professionals to share their take on the current challenges, how talent is being redefined and what agencies and brands are looking for in this brave, new world.

Illustration: Dianna McDougall

Experimentation is key

“Laundry in music festivals is WTF, but mobile phones are a dime a dozen,” explains Peggy Ang, LG’s head of mobile communications marketing. She was talking about LaundROO, the company’s unlikely lounge at the four-day Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee earlier this year where revelers could get their dirty clothes washed.

As the No. 3 player in the mobile space, Ang says, the company must be wildly creative and unpredictable about reaching new, younger audiences. “I have to stay relevant to people who are all about digital, and Bonnaroo was that new endeavor,” she says.

LG also works with a VR character to get its message out, Ang says, explaining, “I need something that nobody has owned. You have to dip in the waters, you have to try. In six months, if it doesn’t, what I can be proud of is we tested something, we tried something nobody has done.”

In other words, the new world order hinges largely on experimentation.

“The nature of the creative process has changed,” says Leake. By way of explanation, he references bowling. Before the digital age, “we put all our care into this big, giant ball and to knock over as many pins as possible. Now, life is much more like pinball. The people are the ball and we don’t know where it’s going to, but we have to set up lots of targets. No journey is going to be exactly the same.”

What’s more, as Facebook and other platforms tweak how they are used, advertisers must be vigilant about learning the implications of these changes and adapting messages accordingly. “This requires a lot more man hours than we used to spend on stuff, but any one thing is less effective because it’s splintered,” Leake says. Some people may find such splintering frustrating. For others, it’s liberating—in this new uncharted world there are countless new opportunities to innovate and execute.

Curiosity is also key

Regardless of platform or medium, successful creatives must have an insatiable hunger to learn about the brand and business they’re promoting, about ever-shifting technology, about their collaborators and about the world, generally.

“Curiosity cannot be underestimated. It is the engine for questions and the fuel for creativity,” says Ang.

Amie Miller, global chief talent officer at TBWA, seconds that notion. “The very best people in this business are still the ones who have a passion and a genuine curiosity to tell brand stories and connect,” she says. “Yes, we look for skill sets that are relevant to the modern world, but I think it is a moving target more than ever. Curious people and intelligent people know how to keep up with those skills.”

According to Leake, the conventional skill set of yore included humor, strong writing, strong design, storytelling ability, strategic and conceptual thinking, and prolific great idea generation, even when they are killed.

Today’s skill set includes all of that in addition to the desire to learn about new platforms and media. Creatives must want to understand human behavior and data. They should have an “ability to think in ‘systems’ and not just linear storytelling,” Leake says, adding that they need an “understanding of how emerging technology works and how people use it, a broad understanding of user experience, an ability to collaborate across many disciplines, ability to communicate in increasingly small, short ad units, as well as in longer form.”

Christie Cordes, CEO and founder of Ad Recruiter, uses LinkedIn, Twitter and other social channels as a way to assess how engaged a person is. “We look for people that are creative all over the world, who are following the innovators … when you are following the best executives in the world, you know what’s coming down the pipeline before it’s in a magazine or in the news,” she says. That social engagement, she says, is helpful evidence of a person’s curiosity.

Check out Adweek’s 2018 Grad Guide.

This story first appeared in the August 6, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Sara Ivry is Brooklyn-based freelance writer, editor and podcaster.
Publish date: August 5, 2018 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT