I just interviewed a freelance collateral writer—let’s call her Jane—who told me she could not find work because our industry is in decline. I’d agree that the traditional ad agency model is surely in decline and with it, traditional ad agency jobs. But I don’t feel so gloomy about the marketing communication industry as a whole. The Internet has changed the media landscape that the industry was built around. However, web-based marketing is also creating new marketing needs. With new needs come new opportunities.
At the heart of these newly created opportunities is a shift in the type of communication today’s brands require. It used to be that the bulk of my agency’s work (and income) came from producing advertising destined to be pushed out through traditional mass media, such as TV, print, outdoor, and radio. The pejorative term “collateral” was used to define all the other bits and pieces of below-the-line communication. The new Internet-based media model has changed all that. Today, getting the main conceptual work done is just the tip of the iceberg. After that, there are campaign sites, blogs, Facebook pages, Wikipedia entries, YouTube videos, SlideShare presentations, and Twitter streams that need to be filled with content and maintained. There is also the need to maintain a steady flow of traffic to online assets. That’s all in addition to traditional collateral material. All this means new opportunities for experienced marketers, especially those who write well—like Jane.
I advised Jane that instead of asking to write brochures for my agency, she should look at the changes taking place in the industry and define her offer and expertise around the new opportunities those changes were creating. I gave her five DIY business ideas that come to mind immediately. All five positions:
It could be argued that none of these jobs require marketing experience. But for my money, the individual who can provide these services backed by solid marketing experience will always be my first choice.
represent needs (albeit niched) that our agencies have today
are hard to fill without having to train people ourselves
could be started with little/no overhead costs
could be self-taught by a bright, determined individual with a marketing background
represent needs that will continue to grow
1. Wikipedia Specialist. Marketers often overlook Wikipedia in their campaign planning. But increasingly, Wikipedia is the first stop for people looking for information on categories, companies, and products. So it is important for brands to be sure that Wikipedia articles related to their brand and category are accurate and kept current. That is a lot more difficult than it sounds. The Wikipedia community has very stringent rules on what can be presented and precisely how it must be written. Failure to comply will earn you a red flag and possible expulsion. We find there is a shortage of writers who understand both marketing and Wikipedia well enough to write solid Wikipedia articles. At The Duffy Agency, we have had to train our own, which is time consuming.
2. Content Specialist. If you have worked in marketing for a while, particularly in B2B, chances are you have worked in some exceptionally niched areas. That means you probably have some very specific product knowledge in your head that could be leveraged simply by using the long tail of the Web. At my agency, we are often asked to produce regular web content for some very discreet product categories. If we have the expertise in-house, we create it ourselves. Otherwise, we need to contract a writer who can specialize in the subject matter. If you have distinctly specialized experience, let’s say in surgical screws, find the ad agencies who are serving surgical screw companies. Then pitch the agency on your expertise and the benefit of engaging you to provide a weekly diet of blog, website, newsletter, and/or Twitter content that the agency could use in its online activities for that client.
3. Buzz Analysts. We conduct buzz monitoring (a.k.a. social listening) for most of our clients. There are plenty of tools we can use to collect and filter online mentions. That’s mostly automated. But a popular brand or category can yield thousands of comments each month, even after filtering. And, at some point, a human being needs to get involved to sort through those comments and determine their relevance to the brand and its marketing objectives. We have a small army of people we have trained for this purpose. You could create your own band of analysts-for-hire and then promote your services through companies that market the buzz monitoring software, such as Radian6, Scout Labs, or JamiQ.
4. Social Media Maven. If you spend any time on Twitter or Facebook, you are bound to have come across one of these social butterflies. They are people who know just what to say and how to behave online to effectively win friends, influence people, and build massive followings. But beneath the charm, RTs, and wit is the mind of a true marketer. Clients often feel that anyone under the age of 25 can fill this role with a little bit of background on the brand. Truth is, if you want social media to make any difference to your marketing, you would be wise to make sure that person understands the marketing as well as the media—and that takes experience. I believe that mavens will soon be a fixture in every brand’s marketing department. In the meantime, agencies like ours will continue to provide these services and/or train our clients’ people to do this.
5. Web Report Writer. The social web is generating mountains of data. Our first job is to sift through that data and find meaning and relevance for our clients. The second job is to report on that data in a way that best suits the needs of our clients. From buzz monitoring to site analytics to SEO activities, we are producing dozens of reports for clients each month. These reports must be accurate, but also easy for clients to digest. We use a dashboard format to provide busy executives with a fast overview of where things stand. The number of reports we are asked to produce is growing faster than most traditional ad agencies are staffed to handle. Your marketing experience combined with a little design sense and a love of stats could take the load off overworked agency production departments. Take their data and analysis and format it into visually appealing and easy to understand reports.
Yes, our industry is undergoing dramatic changes right now. But it doesn’t mean the number of opportunities is diminishing; I suspect they are just being redistributed. In many cases, the digital revolution has actually created new labor-intensive marketing needs and opportunities. I’m not so sure that Jane will follow through on any of these ideas, but perhaps you could. If you do, let me know how it goes. Can you think of any other new DIY opportunities for marketers?
Sean Duffy is a founder of Duffy Agency, the digital marketing agency for aspiring international brands. Sean has over 25 years of experience working with strategic marketing in Boston, San Francisco, Stockholm, and Copenhagen. In addition to his involvement with Duffy Agency, Sean is a frequent speaker on strategic international marketing and online brand management. He serves also as Lecturer and Practitioner in Residence at the Lund University School of Economics & Management and as Mentor in their Masters Program in Entrepreneurship. Sean is an active member of TAAN Worldwide where he has served two terms as the European Governor. He is also a speaker, blogger, Twitterer, and is on LinkedIn. With offices in Malmö and Boston, Sean splits his time between Sweden and the States.
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