Digital marketing must raise the bar to win respect and lose the mavericks

By Darian Kovacs, Founding Partner, Jelly Digital Marketing & PR

Brands spent close to $8.5 billion on digital marketing in Canada last year. That’s a hefty sum but the barrier to entry in managing this investment on behalf of businesses remains very low. While the characters in Toronto-filmed Suits strived for years to pass the bar and become fully-qualified lawyers, there’s no such requirement for marketers working in the digital space who can simply describe themselves as “gurus” and “ninjas” with no accreditation.

The need for this to change has become urgent due to three major shake-ups in Canada. First, one of the nation’s largest digital media schools, RED Academy, closed its doors in 2020. Co-inciding with this, we’ve seen the massive rise of ecommerce – businesses and agencies are looking for professional experts at unprecedented levels. And, finally, the third shake-up was that the established two to four-year programs producing digital marketers all went online, through Zoom and other video platforms. The social aspects of going to a university or college were cancelled, leaving people simply needing a degree or certificate to get a job but without all the extra cost and time associated with traditional learning models.

This means that employers and students have to think differently and seriously consider attaining a universally accepted certificate. And the major tech companies have a solution in the shape of their own certifications – Facebook offers Blueprint, Google has a range of six qualifications, and Hootsuite also has a program in place. Every business and brand knows them in Canada, and they’re recognized around the world

The bar is relatively low financially. Google’s are all free, Facebook’s costs $150 US. Yes, you might pay for support through the schools or academies – at Jelly Academy we spend six weeks with people to help them attain their certificates by the end of that time – but the Canadian government is covering 60 to 100 per cent of the cost right now. 

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There’s a diversity and inclusion point too – especially for those caring financially for their family or who can’t afford to go full-time into school. These part-time, micro-credentialing schools that focus on universally recognized certificates are more crucial than ever in terms of maturing our industry and proving that we work in an area populated by professionals as opposed to mavericks, and to help those hiring by providing universally accepted certificates for students.

Certain provinces are trying to get more BIPOC people into tech but their solution is incentivising employers by throwing money at them. But what if we said instead “let’s train up a great bunch of BIPOC people with micro-credentials part-time?” Then, when we release them into the workforce, they’re the best in the market and employers want to hire them for that reason. Otherwise, in my view,  we’ll continue identifying BIPOC candidates as discounted employees and make the issue of racism worse. Investing in all people and their training doesn’t take years, and tens of thousands of dollars, it can be done for much less and in only six weeks.

So, let’s work on raising that bar, which will have significant benefits for both agencies and brands looking to hire talent. Currently, it’s a struggle to decipher between recruits who know their stuff, and those who don’t, and these certificates provide that qualifying qualifier. Agencies and brands aren’t looking for degrees any longer – they’re looking for certificates. 

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Of course, there are barriers. Right now, some universities and colleges say it’s too hard to implement these certificates into their existing degrees and don’t want to pay the costs. There’s a huge need for change here because the likes of Facebook and Google have set up these certificates to be integrated into a curriculum as modules.

And this has to happen urgently. Nobody meets a lawyer or a doctor and just thinks “I can do that with no qualification” but that’s not the case when you say you’re a professional digital marketer. To receive respect for that would be really powerful and the certifications offered by the tech companies provide a strong, accessible route towards this.

Jelly Digital Marketing & PR  is a member of the Institute of Communication Agencies. Report on Marketing is where leading Canadian agencies showcase their insights, cutting-edge research and client successes. The Report on Marketing provides a valuable source of thought leadership for Canadian marketers to draw inspiration from. Find more articles like this at the Report on Marketing.

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