As graduation season rolls around each year, I often attend career fairs with recent grads who are interested in a career in ad tech. I can expect to come across some bright young people who are eager to work, learn and offer new perspectives. What I don’t expect to see is deep knowledge of programmatic.
Programmatic is now a 10-year-old technology. And more than two-thirds of display ad spending is conducted programmatically. It’s also slowly becoming a bigger part of the way that traditional media, like TV and print, is bought and sold. It’s not a stretch to say that a decade from now, all media will be transacted programmatically.
Yet, I continue to see college graduates who know little to nothing about the topic. This is why I launched New Marketing Institute (NMI) five years ago – MediaMath’s education arm that offers courses and certification programs to train aspiring digital marketers on programmatic techniques and technologies. It’s our mission to solve for the skills and talent gap in the adtech space and though there are some encouraging signs that colleges are also looking to address this gap, schools in general need to step up their game.
Traditional marketing is still the norm at universities
One major reason for this lag is that four-year schools especially have a classically rooted philosophy when it comes to education. Students usually enter college at around age 18 when their minds are still being formed. Rather than jump straight into acquiring technical skills, young people need to first learn how to think critically and analytically. In other words, they need to learn how to learn.
While I’m receptive to that argument, I don’t understand why colleges are teaching the basics of Don Draper-era marketing when the world has changed so much. The next generation of CMOs for instance will likely be data jockeys who apply their skills to marketing, not marketers who learn data.
My other objection is that this isn’t the way schools prepare others for the world of work. Even 20 years ago, journalism program students learned how to write articles, how to interview people and how to edit. Medical school is all about learning the intricacies of the human body via the real-life experience of interacting with real patients. Why are we teaching students the Four P’s, but not teaching them what real-time bidding is?
Signs of change
Most four-year institutions are very bureaucratic. It takes years to implement new programs. This pace works against change in two ways: First, it means changes come slowly. Second, it means that professors often logically conclude that by the time they start teaching about the current state of programmatic, it will have changed.
While there’s truth in this, it hasn’t stopped some universities from adapting to a dynamic marketplace. One shining example is Penn State, which last year launched a minor in Digital Media Trends and Analysis, an initiative led by Lee Ahern, an associate professor in the Department of Advertising/Public Relations. Ahern is also an active NMI advisory board member where we work together to provide insights and serve as a resource globally for new ideas and trends in digital marketing. I’m looking forward to seeing the first graduates of that program hitting the workforce this year.
Elsewhere, the industry has stepped in. For instance, the IAB offers professional certification for digital media buying and planning.
And then there’s NMI, which has taught digital marketing certification and training courses to more than 11,000 participants across the globe. To further our commitment to programmatic education, we created the Marketing Engineer Program in 2014 – an immersive and dynamic training program to give future marketers a unique opportunity to gain technical and professional skills that are equired to be successful in an ever-evolving industry. Since it’s launch, MEP has expanded it’s 12-week training program, launching MEP Berlin this year.
Both NMI and MEP are designed to provide career opportunities in programmatic to individuals across all backgrounds and is based on the idea of “meeting the learner where they are” by understanding each learner’s needs and motivations. It’s my belief that educating young people in programmatic will ultimately make the ad tech industry more diverse and bring in new thinking. It also helps level the playing field and bring new opportunities to students who might not have known that they could have a future in ad tech.
That said, I haven’t lost faith in our educational system. Two-year colleges tend to be more nimble and can integrate new technologies into their course offerings quicker than their four-year counterparts. Finally, most marketing programs advocate internships as a vehicle for learning about the industry.
These are all encouraging signs. It may be that academic programs will always fall a bit short of marketplace needs for whatever reason. Many coders didn’t study computer science in college and those that did, often found that they learned programming outside the classroom.
That may be the case with programmatic too, but I expect that to change. While it will always be important to learn the fundamentals of marketing, I know educators want to prepare their students for the current job market as well. That’s why it’s heartening to see academics already filling this gap.