We need to fix the ad tech talent drought

March 5, 2015 by Experian Marketing Services

Published in AdExchanger

“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Jay Stocki, vice president of digital services at Experian Marketing Services.

Within ad tech, it’s no secret that the demand for quality talent far exceeds the supply. What was once a talent challenge is now an urgent talent drought. Without the right talent, can our industry sustain its current growth trajectory?

As much as some might want to blame the educational system for this talent drought plaguing ad tech, the fault is really our own. If we want to scale in the near term, we can’t wait for changes to happen at the university level. We must fix this problem ourselves by expanding our definition of the “ideal” candidate, investing in training and working with colleges to ensure students are learning the skills we need.

Every company with a link in the chain of ad tech is looking for talent, including agencies, publishers, data consultancies, technology companies and mobile startups. They are all focused on the same small pool of candidates, particularly in major markets like New York and Silicon Valley. The problem will get even worse as more brands start going direct with their programmatic efforts.

We are all looking for that “perfect” candidate: a data scientist with marketing experience who understands ad operations, data and analytics and can present a cohesive strategy to a Fortune 100 CMO. The problem is that we are all looking for the same rare bird that doesn’t yet exist in large numbers. How many data gurus do you know who excel at product marketing?

Redefine the ‘ideal’ candidate

In my own efforts to recruit digital talent across the United States, I have found that searching for the “ideal candidate” is at best a distraction, or at worst an exercise in futility. Whether you’re hiring in Manhattan or Lincoln, Neb., you need to focus first on identifying key traits and roles that can serve as a foundation for an effective and diverse digital team. For example, rather than searching for sales talent with ad operations experience, look for candidates with some relevant marketing experience who have shown a hunger to learn new things.

Further, reset expectations around which roles deserve investment or should be outsourced. As more companies look to build programmatic capabilities in-house, the talent drought is often the single largest gating factor, especially outside of a major urban area. Rather than spending a fortune for top talent to fill positions for every programmatic marketing role, identify areas that can be outsourced to trusted advisers and vendors. Many companies can leverage existing talent from measurement and analytics roles, combined with outside consulting, as a foundation for the larger digital team. 

Invest in education 

If you look at the best programmatic talent today, hardly anyone has a degree in digital marketing. I had to laugh recently when I saw a job posting where one of the requirements was seven years or more of programmatic experience. Is that even possible?

Companies need to recruit with plans to educate. An experienced data engineer may not have the sales or marketing acumen to translate customer needs into programmatic tactics, but couldn’t they partner with those that do? This foundational talent can help teams evolve into subject matter experts.

The IAB recently launched a training program and certifications, which is a step in the right direction. I know many people in the industry who have benefited immensely from the Digital Media Sales Certification and Digital Ad Operations Certification programs. But we could do more. We need to partner with universities to develop the right coursework for the talent that we want. It would be great to see curriculums include programmatic ad operations.

Ad tech is a close-knit industry with many who are passionate about the job. Further, we love to talk about it, whether our spouses want us to or not. That means there are eager ears all around us. It is up to us to engage them.

We all need to invest or we will not achieve our potential as an industry. So talk to your alma mater about your talent needs, offer to guest lecture or to advise on a curriculum. It’s not that hard to get involved and to make a difference on the future of our industry.

Follow Jay Stocki (@jstocki), Experian Marketing Services (@ExperianMkt) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.