Are you at the start of your career in digital marketing?

Maybe you have a pretty clear idea what you want, or maybe you’re just exploring possibilities. Either way, this post is for you. We’ve interviewed experts from five UK agencies to find out what they wish they’d done differently when they started out, what skills you need, how you can impress with your CV, and much more.

Our experts are:

  • Kevin Gibbons, MD of BlueGlass Interactive
  • Justin Deaville, MD of Receptional.com
  • Lisa Myers, CEO of Verve Search
  • Daniel Bianchini, Director of Services of White.net
  • Simon Penson, MD of Zazzle Media

We asked each of them five simple questions:

1. How did you get into digital marketing?
2. What skills do you look for when hiring a junior digital marketer?
3. If you could travel back in time to when you first started, what one tip would you give yourself to make you a better marketer now?
4. Can you give an example where a job applicant really impressed you in their CV?
5. For those trying to break into the industry, can you recommend three things they can do to improve their chances?

Their answers are packed with insights and great advice. Read on to find out what they all said.

(Our authors appear in alphabetical order of company name.)

Kevin Gibbons

#1: Kevin Gibbons, BlueGlass Interactive

Kevin is the Managing Director of BlueGlass Interactive. Kevin is well-known within the search industry, having been involved in online marketing for the last 10 years. He frequently speaks at leading events and writes for digital industry blogs such as Econsultancy and Search Engine Watch.

1. How did you get into digital marketing?

I worked as a placement student year at a web design agency – working with brands such as Epson and WHSmith back in 2003. Sadly I’d just missed the dot-com boom, but this was a real eye-opener into how digital marketing worked (specifically web design, development and SEO) and provided great insight into how agencies operate.

2. What skills do you look for when hiring a junior digital marketer?

With junior marketers it’s difficult to ask for experience, but I think you can see signs of it at that stage. Any knowledge and experience that they can demonstrate is always greatly received. The number one skill is normally attitude, proving that they can work hard and are willing to learn along the way. I’ve answered this in much more detail here, but hiring good people with the right mindset and passion is hugely important to me.

3. If you could travel back in time to when you first started, what one tip would you give yourself to make you a better marketer now?

Better time management and don’t try to do as much. Over the last few years, I really feel that I’ve improved how I work at my own job and have realised that it’s often more about how I can give others the support they need in order to succeed. I remember feeling in the past like I wanted to be able to clone myself in order to get stuff done that only I knew how to do. The reality is I can’t do it all, I just need to focus on what’s most important and give other people responsibility to do the rest, otherwise you just become busy – which is completely different to productive. My advice would be to focus on less, but do it better!

4. Can you give an example where a job applicant really impressed you in their CV?

There’s been a few standout ones recently, but they all have common similarities and it’s normally with the covering letter, rather than their CV – they show why they want to work with BlueGlass and clearly demonstrate what they can add to the team and our clients. That makes it very easy for us to assess if they will be a good fit, as if they are passionate about their work and can explain why they are going to be successful it’s much easier for us to visualise how they can add value to the team.

5. For those trying to break into the industry, can you recommend three things they can do to improve their chances?

Experiment. The biggest frustration is either a) they haven’t done their research and don’t know anything about the company or the job role on offer – normally you can filter those out before the interview stage though. Or b) they have a great CV, talk about all of the right things, but they haven’t done any of it. Back when I was at University I was making money from Google AdSense and continually testing ideas and building new websites – mainly for beer money at the time, but it got some good results and what I learned from it was invaluable moving forward – as it’s almost a proof of concept to myself that I knew what I was doing and should start to do more of it. That’s definitely what I’d recommend if people want to get experience, and it’s still just as useful once you get that breakthrough, as it’s always easier to test ideas and change things quickly when it’s your own projects.

Justin Deaville

#2: Justin Deaville, Receptional.com

Justin Deaville is managing director at digital marketing agency Receptional.com. With 20 years marketing experience, Justin has worked with a many of the UK’s leading brands. You can follow Justin on Twitter.

1. How did you get into digital marketing?

I have worked in marketing for around 20 years. I started as a direct marketer, sending out mailshots, designing ads, writing copy, and testing response rates. The skills I gained are perfectly suited to the online environment.

Several years ago, I made a definite decision to move into digital. I prepared for days before my interview at Wordtracker, I was so keen to get the job! It was worth the effort; a few years later I was running the company.

2. What skills do you look for when hiring a junior digital marketer?

Ahead of specific skills, I’m keen to hire people who are smart, diligent, and keen to learn. If the candidate also has relevant experience in social media, analytics, or AdWords, those skills are a plus.

I don’t really care about academic qualifications, I’m much more interested in entrepreneurial ability. That said, I’d only want to hire people who are highly numerate, or who can write wonderful copy. Preferably both!

3. If you could travel back in time to when you first started, what one tip would you give yourself to make you a better marketer now?

Try more things. Test, test, and test again.

4. Can you give an example where a job applicant really impressed you in their CV?

The quality of a candidate’s CV tells me huge amounts about how good they are at marketing (themselves).

So, if the CV is poorly laid out, with spelling or grammar mistakes, and few concrete examples, it’s unlikely I’ll look on it favourably.

Writing about yourself can be incredibly difficult. So, once you’ve written the first draft of your CV, ask a friend for constructive feedback. Before you send it out, ask someone to proof-read it for obvious errors.

Anyway, to answer the question: I’m impressed by results. So, if you’ve been working with a website and you’ve been doing impressive work, state clearly and specifically what you’ve done – and what the results of your work were.

For example, ‘Website traffic increased by 55% over a 12-month period’ is much clearer than ‘Website traffic increased.’

5. For those trying to break into the industry, can you recommend three things they can do to improve their chances?

Practise. I like to know that interviewees have a genuine interest in the industry. So, practise your skills as much as you can. If you want to work in digital marketing, you’d better be running your own blog, showing off your social media skills, or even helping out with a friend’s website.

Network. It may difficult to believe if you’re looking for a job, but many companies find it hard to recruit good quality candidates. So, make sure you’re speaking with as many relevant people as you can. Let everyone know you’re looking for work.

And don’t be shy about emailing your CV to people you don’t know. I’m always impressed by candidates who have the chutzpah to send me a CV saying they’re interested in working with me (particularly when we don’t have a vacancy). Those people will be the first I’ll consider when we are recruiting.

Lisa Myers

#3: Lisa Myers, Verve Search

Lisa Myers, CEO & Founder Verve Search and tweets @LisaDMyers. She’s  been working in Search & Social since 2005, and started her own online marketing agency in 2009, which is now 22 people strong, servicing clients internationally. Lisa has won several awards including Blackberry Woman & Technology Awards and UK Search Awards Search Personality of the Year 2011.

1. How did you get into digital marketing?

I started working in Digital Marketing after working as an Account Manager at a Marketing Agency. I’ve always been obsessed with how things work, to the annoyance of my parents after taking apart the VHS, toaster, and my brother’s moped (which I couldn’t put back together again, oops, sorry bro). When the Marketing Agency started a web department I spent most of my time hanging over the programmers asking a million questions. Once the agency got its first digital project clients I volunteered to help project manage.

Before I knew it I was peering over log files and trying to get my head around website traffic and what it meant (which used to take hours and hours, Urchin anyone?). To be honest, I think my bosses just wanted me to shut up most of the time. Then I got pregnant and had 10 months off work: when I got back I couldn’t get my old job back but they said “We are thinking about setting up a  Search Marketing department, do you want to do that?”

To this day I really don’t think they were that serious about it at first, but heck I had been starved of adult conversation and using my brain, I was ready to do something new. So I threw myself into it with gusto, read anything I could find online, bought a few books and started testing. It appealed to me straight away, for me it’s the ideal profession, you are never going to figure it out. The riddle that keeps on changing.

2. What skills do you look for when hiring a junior digital marketer?

I believe that to be a good digital marketer, especially in SEO, you need to have the right mindset: passionate, inquisitive and driven. I believe it’s 80% attitude, how you think. It’s more or less irrelevant to me what they already know, it’s how they use what they know and how likely they are to be able to learn fast and adapt quickly. Because in digital marketing everything can change tomorrow.

3. If you could travel back in time to when you first started, what one tip would you give yourself to make you a better marketer now?

I would tell myself not to worry so much about what people think about you. Trust your instinct, don’t believe everything you read, make your own mind up. Which is what I do now but it’s taken me a while to get here.

4. Can you give an example where a job applicant really impressed you in their CV?

Not really. I really dislike CVs: they are mostly just the same, everyone pushes people to write it in the same way and have the same style. BUT someone has really impressed me in a covering letter – it’s actually quite easy to impress me in the covering letter. Being honest and describing why you are interested in the job is very powerful. Passion and excitement is crucial for me to be impressed.

5. For those trying to break into the industry, can you recommend three things they can do to improve their chances?

Blogging! Whether it’s writing your own blog, guest blogging or commenting.

And of course be active on social platforms like Twitter and G+. Getting a digital profile within the digital marketing industry will significantly increase your chances of getting hired.

And go to all the events and meet up you can. There are loads of awesome free events like Brighton SEO and Content Marketing Show.

Daniel Bianchini#4: Daniel Bianchini, White.net

Daniel Bianchini is the Director of Services at White.net, a creative digital marketing agency based in Oxford. When Daniel isn’t talking marketing, he can be found in the gym or discussing football with friends. Follow Daniel on Twitter & Google Plus!

1. How did you get into digital marketing?

My first taste of digital marketing was back at Uni. Along with a few friends, I built a website to document our time there. We also wanted to attract the attention of other students, so they could do the same. At this stage my passion was for web design but it had kicked started something in my mind.

Where I really got the buzz for digital marketing was when I was web designing for DSGi (PC World/Currys). I was tasked to build online creatives for targeted landing pages, product launches and the XMAS launch. However, it soon became apparent that my interest was in not only building great pages but how many people managed to get to those pages.

This are really grabbed my attention and, after speaking to my boss at the time, I became more involved in the search aspect of the PC World website. And, as people like to say, “the rest is history!”

2. What skills do you look for when hiring a junior digital marketer?

I think everyone looks for something different. I know companies who will only take people on if they have a degree. Then I know others who won’t take anyone without experience. Both have valid arguments, but I just want the best person.

I personally look for a number of things, but there are two qualities that I feel are required no matter what role the junior digital marketer takes up.

Firstly, I look for passion and enthusiasm for marketing and/or the internet. If you are passionate about what you are working on, then you are much more likely to succeed. This is easy to identify during the interview process, by looking at the way they come across, especially when talking about the subject.

Secondly, I look for common sense. Now this may sound strange, but I think it is one of those attributes that you can’t teach, yet is vital.

If they have those main attributes, combined with the right transferable skills I think that they can go far in this industry.

3. If you could travel back in time to when you first started, what one tip would you give yourself to make you a better marketer now?

I think the biggest thing I would do, is not to be misled by the industry on certain subjects. I was, and still am, a very big believer in on-site content being the cornerstone to marketing, no matter what the channel. I was a web designer after all!

Over the years, I started to doubt the core ideas that I had, leading me to think that you had to manipulate the system. This is not the case. Great marketing leads to great businesses, no matter how big or small you are, and that is the beauty of digital marketing.

So, if I could travel back in time, I would tell myself to believe in my own ideas and, when they came under scrutiny, to test them. Case studies always trump theories in my opinion.

If I were you now, I would definitely not believe everything that I read (except for this obviously ;-)) unless I had tested it first. Over time, you will understand what works and what doesn’t, and this will allow you to easily make decisions concerning the content you read.

4. Can you give an example where a job applicant really impressed you in their CV?

We took on an employee last year, and their CV really stood out for me. Not because they had A* across the board, but because of the way it was presented. They had been creative, and done something different.

Every time I looked at the CVs for that role, I was always drawn to this particular one. Obviously they still had to prove themselves in the interview, but the creative approach on their CV certainly made them stand out.

This doesn’t work for everyone, but we were looking for creative people at the time and, along with the interview, we made the right choice!

5. For those trying to break into the industry, can you recommend three things they can do to improve their chances?

There are many things that I think you should be doing. I wrote a post on the White.net blog about 5 tips for new SEO last year, but I think these can be used across any marketing channel.

  • Read:  There are a vast array of resources available to us, and marketing must be one of the most written about industries. So, one thing I would suggest is that you go out and read. Find reliable, informative and credible resources to learn from. As well as blogs, there are a number of books out there also. A lot of marketing books can be dry and boring to read, I know, I have read them. But there are also some very well-written, engaging, and informative books that you should be reading.
  • Test: As I mentioned previously, don’t believe everything that you have read without testing first. So go ahead and test!
  • Get involved:  This is one that has become more important with the expansion of social media. Get involved in conversations online and attend local meet-ups. This will help you to find new content, become an authority, and even increase your knowledge.
  • Make life easier: Where you can, try to make things easy for yourself. Save guides, create template excel files/macros, build GA dashboards, custom reports, and generally make things easier. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel each and every time though.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask: We are a strange industry! We like to help people. We are competitors but are really on the same side. So, if you have problem, don’t be afraid to ask somebody. This could be publicly on social media, or privately via an email. On most occasions people will help.

Simon Penson#5: Simon Penson, Zazzle Media

Simon is a former magazine editor turned digital marketing agency owner and is founder and MD of Zazzle Media, a content led digital marketing agency. He writes regularly for Moz, eConsultancy, Content Marketing Institute, Hubspot and Search Engine Watch covering a wide range of digital marketing topics. He also talks regularly on digital marketing at events such as SMX, SES, Brightonseo, Searchlove, Performancein and more.

1. How did you get into digital marketing?

I had spent more than a decade in print media, working as a journalist and eventually a national editor. I learnt very quickly the value of content for connecting audiences of value. At the same time, I had been playing with my own websites since around 2000 and saw the migration of that audience first hand to online. Towards the latter part of my career I had been working ‘client side’ employing ‘digital marketing’ agencies for some years and realised that what they offered was very simple and lacked the critical ‘content’ element. That is where the idea for Zazzle Media was born and we have been ‘data -informed and content-led’ ever since.

2. What skills do you look for when hiring a junior digital marketer?

We made the mistake of hiring people just on skill set when actually our focus should have been on cultural fit. We look for people thirsty for success and very able. Depending on the role we will also ensure they are ‘wired’ the right way if the role is very technical but ‘fit’ beats skills at this level for us.

3. If you could travel back in time to when you first started, what one tip would you give yourself to make you a better marketer now?

Don’t be afraid to share what you know. It does add value for all. We work in an often subjective space and sharing ideas can make us all better at what we do, learning from each other.’

4. Can you give an example where a job applicant really impressed you in their CV?

We have had a few but one good example was a cover letter we had for a content position. The applicant had done a lot of research as they knew we all have Mr Men and Little Miss ‘personas’  and had chosen theirs and written the Little Miss story of why they should get the job. Great to see that level of thought.

5. For those trying to break into the industry, can you recommend three things they can do to improve their chances?

  • Read. A lot. Hugely important to have that voracious appetite for learning in this industry as it moves so fast.
  • Get work experience as this can really help you stand out if it is a junior role.
  • Live it. Make sure you have a blog and update it and use social regularly.

We’d love to hear what you learned from this post: share your thoughts in the comments below! Did this answer some of your burning questions? What will your next steps be toward your career in digital marketing?