Media agency employees sitting for Facebook’s Blueprint certification exam may have flashbacks of their experiences taking the SATs.
The exam, which certifies agency employees on every Facebook native ad product within its Ads Manager, Business Manager and Power Editor tools, is a multiple-hour affair that requires weeks of prep. Test-takers must roll up their sleeves throughout the exam, during which they are watched by Facebook-assigned proctors through their laptop cameras.
“It’s like SAT-level pressure, plus the fact that they're watching you the whole time,” said James Douglas, executive director of social media at IPG Mediabrands’ Society.
Society, Omnicom’s Resolution Media, VaynerMedia and other agencies require employees to receive Blueprint certification because Facebook is such a dominating force in paid media that it needs special attention, said George Manas, president at Resolution Media.
“Platforms like Facebook have become so big and, frankly, quite technical,” he said. “Generic training does not suffice.”
Facebook’s foray into training and certification began in 2015, when it launched its Preferred Marketing Developer Program to recognize Kenshoo, Brand Networks and other partners for their API-based buying capabilities. Later that year, the company relaunched the initiative as its Facebook Marketing Partners program to recognize top agencies running Facebook campaigns.
“It demonstrated our ability to manage significant spend effectively, adopt products and deliver bottom-line business results for our clients,” Manas said. Resolution was one of the first agencies to be recognized as a Facebook Partner.
Blueprint is a step up from the Marketing Partners program because it grants individual certifications to agency employees who develop technical marketing and social media expertise.
Resolution requires all of its employees to get Blueprint-certified, and the agency has embedded the program into its overall learning and development track. Employees, overseen by a centralized team that pushes training initiatives, study for at least four to six weeks prior to the exam.
Society and VaynerMedia only require their paid media teams to get Blueprint certification. For new employees at Society, exam prep includes a 30-day ramp-up period and 5 to 10 hours of studying per week. More senior folks need a quick 5-hour refresher to familiarize themselves with exam questions.
Blueprint certification doesn’t train agency employees on any hacks or tricks on Facebook, nor does it give them deeper access to proprietary data or tools.
But agencies are finding that the training has far-reaching effects. For new talent, the exam is an easy way to get trained on paid social basics, said Jeff Nicholson, SVP of paid media at VaynerMedia.
Studying for the exam helps talent learn about buying strategies across verticals. It also trains employees on both planning and buying tracks, which helps Resolution’s employees create more integrated plans, Manas said.
“We’re not just asking the pure-play buyers to embrace this,” he said. “It’s brought that consideration deeper into the planning stages.”
Douglas uses Blueprint as a barometer to vet new talent at Society. If a candidate is Blueprint-certified, he’s sure they’re proficient in Facebook’s core capabilities as well as more specialized tools, like Dynamic Ads. But scheduling Blueprint training and exams can be challenging.
“We’ve had some logistical issues in setting up proctoring,” Nicholson said. “This aspect of the certification shows integrity, but it does make it harder.”
Plus, there’s a resource commitment, as individual talent devotes time they could spend on client work studying for the Blueprint exam. Resolution often schedules exams after work or on weekends to avoid cutting into client work. Blueprint is only valid for one year, so agency talent must get retrained and retested.
So far, clients aren’t aware of the Blueprint program and aren’t asking for agency certification, but that will likely change.
“If I were a betting man, [clients] will start asking for [Blueprint] specifically,” Manas said. “We saw that trend in search, where clients wanted to work with agencies that can claim that level of certification. Clients have become increasingly interested in technical nuance.”
Other platforms, such as Pinterest, Snapchat and Twitter, offer less robust certification modules without exams or certification. Douglas hopes these platforms will also roll out individual certification programs, but platforms’ ability to do so will follow spend.
“We're, at some point, going to be judged on our individual certifications,” he said.