Is College Outdated? Should It Teach Real-World Marketing Skills?

On one hand, many universities could be doing a better job giving students opportunities to practice real-world marketing skills. On the other, universities are not meant to be training departments for digital media agencies, and it’s unrealistic to expect faculty members who don’t work in the field to keep up with the rapidly changing dynamic of media planning and buying.

Shay Rowbottom of Margle Media posted a video rant on LinkedIn a few weeks ago about a recent college grad she interviewed who had no digital media buying experience. She blames colleges and universities for not keeping up with the times. Knowing that I do a lot of teaching at the college level, Paul Bobnak tagged me asking what I thought. I think it’s complicated.

On one hand, many universities could be doing a better job giving students opportunities to practice real-world marketing skills. On the other, universities are not meant to be training departments for digital media agencies, and it’s unrealistic to expect faculty members who don’t work in the field to keep up with the rapidly changing dynamic of media planning and buying.

Despite being an advertising and marketing major at a large university, the only media buying experience Shay’s job candidate had was in traditional media, specifically billboards and newspaper. She condemns higher education for not keeping pace with the current state of media buying (and shows her ageism fangs in the process):

“You know what, kid, if you land a job at an old company that’s ran (sic) by 60 year olds who still don’t want to transition any of their media dollars to social media then good, good, good. I’m glad you learned the billboards.”

Shay says that something is wrong if a newly hired college grad has to be trained by her agency’s digital media buyer, a college dropout who’s a highly skilled practitioner, self-taught on the Internet. To that I say, “Who better to learn from than someone who does it every day and is really good at it?”

Shay makes a valid point that too many institutions are behind the curve when it comes to integrating real-world skills into their curriculum. But her expectations are valid only if you believe that colleges and universities exist to provide job training. I’ve worked at Rowan, Rutgers and Temple universities. They each hire industry professionals for full- and part-time teaching positions in advertising and PR. But the full-time faculty members at these institutions don’t do media planning every day, so they can’t possibly keep up with the innovations in a rapidly changing field.

Learning the mechanics of media buying is a vocational skill. Universities are not designed to be vocational schools. The ones where I’ve taught deliver a solid grounding in the principles of marketing and advertising; that’s what they do best. They provide value, because most of the underlying principles of marketing and advertising remain stable — even as the dynamics of the media world shift. Media planning and placement are best taught by practitioners who stay current by doing it.

Fortunately, there are several programs where college students can gain real-world experience in a competitive environment; specifically the Collegiate ECHO Marketing Challenge run by Marketing EDGE, the National Student Advertising Competition from the American Advertising Federation and the Google Online Marketing Challenge. These competitions are underutilized by academic institutions and employers, alike. More colleges and universities should offer and support these programs, more students should participate and more employers should seek out graduates who have had these experiences.

‘Programmatic’ Goes the World – Media Buying Is Audience Buying

Direct marketers have long had a love affair with data-driven media buying. In the world of direct mail, for example, list rentals and exchanges are filled with data cards (once print, now electronic) rich with audience measurements—the very attributes marketers need to intelligently target their offers to would-be buyers.

Direct marketers have long had a love affair with data-driven media buying. In the world of direct mail, for example, list rentals and exchanges are filled with data cards (once print, now electronic) rich with audience measurements—the very attributes marketers need to intelligently target their offers to would-be buyers.

Response lists not only indicate consumers (and business) buyers who are pre-disposed to buy remotely—half the hurdle overcome—but often household income ranges, gender and other characteristics that enable exceptionally performing customer lookalike and predictive behavior models. Compiled lists supplement and enhance the audience profiles, too. Yes, the offer, strategy and creative each and all are vital, but it’s the list (the data) that makes the success of the offer, strategy and creative even possible.

Of course, this is all old news to direct marketers, including digital marketers who have “grown up” in traditional direct-response channels (direct mail, DR print, DRTV, etc.).

You have to love this LinkedIn piece from Pamela Carr—founder and general manager, Chicago Trib Shops Marketplace—who is advocating that while it is important to have long-term strategies in place to college educate a new generation of marketing students in digital marketing and execution. We have much more to gain, and more immediately so, by retraining the direct marketing professionals we already have to be fully digitally conversant. Why? Because direct marketers, old ones and new ones, truly understand data-driven marketing and audience measurements that unlock any media channel’s potential.

The turn to digital and rise of programmatic media buying exchanges for many media channels. Twice during the past year, The Winterberry Group and the Interactive Advertising Bureau have co-published two white papers on the rise of data-driven, programmatic buying: “Programmatic Everywhere: Data, Technology and the Future of Audience Engagement” and “Going Global: Programmatic Audience Development Around the World.” How wise that the emphases in these programmatic studies are on “audience” engagement—underlying data on audiences—rather than “media.” No wonder Google’s CMO recently announced that 60 percent of its digital media spend will be conducted through programmatic buying. (Google says digital here, but why not other media, too?)

I’ll be looking forward to The Winterberry Group’s Bruce Biegel, in his annual address to the Direct Marketing Club of New York on January 8, where he’ll detail a media recap of 2014—and for the first time projections for 2015—on total media spend, direct marketing media spend, and digital media spend—and the drivers (and inhibitors) of each category.

Who better knows audience engagement than traditional direct marketers? The sooner we can put direct marketers in charge of the programmatic exchanges, the better for all of advertising—and for the audience-brand interactions that will surely follow. Time for retraining!

Are You Buying ‘Smart Media?’

Media buying, or online advertising, is more than just a Web strategy to help grow your business. It’s both a science and an art. It involves a bit of finesse, competitive research, creativity and good negotiation skills.

Media buying, or online advertising, is more than just a Web strategy to help grow your business. It’s both a science and an art. It involves a bit of finesse, competitive research, creativity and good negotiation skills.

Sadly, with most online advertising experiences, the lagging partner is typically the business owner by no real fault of his or her own … it’s simply from sheer lack of industry knowledge and media savoir-faire.

I’ve been buying online ad space for more than a decade. Here are my personal powerful and money saving tips to buying smart media. These are “must ask” questions that will help you get the most bang for your buck:

1. Competitive analysis—Find out what the typical industry rate is for that particular ad spot and placement in your niche. For instance, if you’re interested in running a 300×250 banner ad, do some research. Call some ad networks and find out what that ad unit costs on the home page and ‘”run of site” within your target niche. What ad units typically get the best clickthrough rates (also known as CTR)? Read some online e-zines or blogs and get an idea on average metrics so you have a benchmark to measure your campaign against.

2. Ad targeting—Find out if the publisher allows day parting (running ad during specific time periods). This can save you money on ad rates, especially using the CPM (cost per thousand) pricing model.

3. Dedicated email—Find out the size of the list you’re thinking of renting, the frequency the list goes out, and the average unit sale (AUS) per subscriber. Ask the publisher who’s mailing for you if there will there be a lift note (an introduction or implied endorsement). Lift notes help “warm up” the list (subscribers) and boost conversions.

4. Out clause—Ask your account executive if the media agreement has an out clause or termination right. This is important as if your campaign is not working, you don’t want to have to ride it out and waste money. You want the ability to end it and cut your losses. Also find out if you can pause your ad during a slow traffic times (i.e. summer, holidays) as not to waste impressions (CPM).

5. Reporting—Ask your account executive if you will be given daily/weekly reporting OR access to the online ad serving system. This will allow you real-time access to clickthrough rates and more to evaluate if creative (banner and landing page) is striking a chord with the target audience.

6. Seasonality—Each industry and niche has its highs and lows. But, generally speaking, it’s typical to see drops in website traffic during summer (June to Aug.) and around certain U.S. holidays. Research your industry and use consumer purchase behavior to your advantage. For instance, in some industries, the days around Thanksgiving are slower than usual. If you’re running a campaign that falls on this timeframe, ask about getting lower rates or pausing your ad during the slowdown. DoubleClick and ClickZ are great sources of information and often release quarterly consumer Web reports on buying patterns and traffic.

7. Exclusivity—Similar to economies of scale (where the more that’s produced, the cheaper the unit price), if your banner ad is sharing space with other advertisers for less “solo” time, you should be paying less. It’s important to ask whether your ad will get 100 percent of the rotations or sharing ad exposure. And if sharing, find out what percentage of exposure you are ultimately getting during your ad run. This is known as being “fixed ad placement” or “shared ad placement.” If you’re told you have shared placement, this is a great bartering tool to get a more competitive rate.

8. Site targeting—You’ve heard in real estate it’s always about location, location, location, right? Well, online real estate is no different. Find out if your ad will be run of site (ROS), run of channel (ROC) or on specific high-traffic pages. Typically, the further you drill down, the more you pay. It’s known as “site targeting.” Similarly, the higher you go up, the less you pay. ROS is the highest (most broad) level, so it’s usually the cheapest ad location. Next is usually ROC, whose ads appear on certain channels or sections of a website. Then there are also specific pages or demographic targeting. Your goals and budget will determine which placement is best for your needs.

9. Remnant space—Often the forgotten about query, remember to ask if remnant space is available. Remnant ads are those ad units that the publisher or ad network is having a difficult time selling for whatever reason. They can also be last-minute specials or units that are now available due to another deal falling through. With more popular, high-traffic websites, you can save a fortune buying remnant media. Just pay close attention to the terms and conditions in the insertion order, as with most special deals, there are usually restrictions and little leeway.

All of these factors will help determine the value of your ad space and, ultimately, the cost you’re willing to pay to access that audience. Good luck!