As programmatic advertising continues to grow rapidly, much is being written about the challenges it presents to advertisers and agencies alike in taking advantage of the new opportunities to which it gives rise.

The issues surrounding the subject are many and different: things like a lack of transparency, fear of the unknown, and internal resistance to reallocation of budgets are often cited as obstacles to growing programmatic spend.

However, the number one hurdle consistently cited in surveys is a “Skills Shortage”.

This begs the question: what skills are necessary to be a successful programmatic marketer?

A quick glance at some job descriptions for programmatic roles gives us the following requirements:

Company A

  • Highly analytical, with a sound understanding of digital marketing technologies
  • In-depth planning, forecasting, budgeting and reporting expertise
  • Keen entrepreneurial outlook

Company B

  • Intuitive grasp of data and strong with Excel
  • Passion for problem solving: must be able to tackle new, unfamiliar, and possibly daunting problems and break them down into manageable bits to solve them
  • Outstanding communication skills — both written and spoken

Judging by this evidence, the primary skills required for these roles looks to revolve around data, numbers, analytical capabilities and ownership.

Granted, these roles are relatively specialised, but are they really so unique? How do they compare to the requirements for other paid digital roles?

Let’s take a look at some requirements for open SEM opportunities:

Company C

  • An optimisation guru. You live and breathe campaign performance data and know exactly what levers to pull when optimising a campaign against specific KPIs
  • Proactive with can-do attitude, generally full of great ideas and able to get stuff done without close supervision. You take ownership of the vision and you can figure out how to execute against it

Company D

  • Data Analysis to provide areas for improvement
  • Performing ROI analysis to evaluate effectiveness of marketing campaigns

Again, it’s a similar story; a call for people who love data, who can optimise to specific metrics, and who are willing to take ownership and responsibility. You get the picture.

But, is the problem really one of skills? Or are we just talking about a lack of experience? Let’s have a look at some of the requirements in this regard for both types of jobs:

Company A

  • 7+ years of online marketing experience preferably with some exposure to online display across Europe

Company B

  • Display, SEM or Facebook advertising experience

Company C

  • A proven track record in running successful online acquisition campaigns for a fast-growing business or within an agency

Company D

  • Minimum of 2 years’ experience of working with Google Adwords and Bing AdCentre

Here’s the issue: companies are seeking the same levels of experience for programmatic roles as they are for roles in more established channels. Three into two won’t go — you can’t hire people with four years experience for a channel that, for most of the world, is only two years old.

So what’s the solution?

Back in the dark old days of 2010, I was the first commercial hire at a company called Techlightenment, to work on their Alchemy Social product. Alchemy was the first Facebook Ads API partner, and we licenced our Facebook ad management software to agencies and advertisers and provided managed services on the side. As much as I would’ve loved to build my team up with experienced Facebook advertising professionals, this simply wasn’t an option — they didn’t exist yet.

Instead, we focused more on transferable skills and as a result, the backgrounds of the team were many and varied; an Account Strategist from Google, a Data Analyst from KPMG, a Market Analysis Executive from a furniture designer, a PA from Mediacom, and a graduate fresh out of university, to name a few. They all shared common traits that are very similar to the skills outlined in that first batch of job descriptions above: strong analytical skills, good with numbers, a willingness to be collaborative and get the job done.

But how did we make up for our lack of experience? We made sure we documented our channel learnings religiously, and developed quality new hire training and onboarding procedures. We employed strong managers who were able to guide new hires through the steep learning curve. We gave people ownership of different areas and encouraged testing and innovation.

Not every hire was successful, but the sum of the parts made for a very strong team and the business really took off; Techlightenment was sold to Experian in 2012. Looking at the team now, the majority have grown within the industry and are doing very well for themselves. They are much sought after now because they have great experience.

What I’m saying is that there is not a programmatic skills gap; there is simply a lack of programmatic experience. The field is simply too new. In dealing with this fact, it’s important for advertisers and agencies to accept this and be creative in finding solutions.

Those who can bridge this gap effectively, by focusing on hiring people with transferable skills and creating an atmosphere of learning and creativity, will win. And they’ll save money to boot — as we all know, experience in digital is expensive!

Originally shared on Hatch. Written by , co-founder of Hatch.

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