Missing In Action: Digital Media Training Plans

jaclyn-stewartData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Jaclyn Stewart, senior director of publisher services at The 614 Group.

Whenever you ask people who manage digital operations teams about training programs for their staff, they almost unanimously roll their eyes or guiltily smirk before saying some version of, “We don’t really have one.”

This is common in the digital media industry, particularly in ops. And it makes sense. The space is only roughly two decades old and constantly evolving. If you liken modern media to adulthood, we’re all barely legal to drink.

But it’s also time to go out, get a real job and start planning for retirement. That’s how I feel about training. It’s ultimately a retirement plan, and we’ve all been living paycheck to paycheck. Now it’s time to start developing a nest egg.

It’s a challenge to develop a training plan with a shelf life of more than a year. We need to recognize the core elements to our businesses that don’t change or are rooted in principles of established practices. If you understand how to calculate a CPM, a CPV sales model isn’t hard to grasp. If you develop a training guide of ad server instance and parameters around ad serving, it will be 90% accurate next year. The upkeep of training program for organizations and individuals is relatively seamless once best practices are in place.

The industry has embraced the archetype of an ideal candidate who’s a quick learner and self-starter, which, to be fair, is non-negotiable in a startup environment. But the ratio of startups to established, profitable private or public companies is in swift decline. This adolescent industry is reaching adulthood, which comes with its own pros and cons.

As the industry stabilizes, the nature of the work will change and the desire to find a gem of a talent who can grow from ad trafficker to SVP of operations in a couple of years is unnecessary and irrational. Thus, excluding those who excel in their field but may not possess the ambition or initial promise to run the company in two years is no longer a concern. The industry needs more marathon runners as opposed to sprinters. Let’s train them appropriately. Let’s build their core, work on their weaknesses and train for the long haul.

Turnover is rampant in the digital media space. Having run a 30-plus entry-level sales support team, I can tell you that it’s difficult to rationalize investing a ton of time into the developing a transient workforce. With consolidation of the industry comes consolidation of the job market. The opportunities to leave major media companies for high-risk, higher-paying-than-it-should-be job at a startup are diminishing.

Startup consolidation backed into the growth of the industry, resulting in an overall smaller job market and savvier, more conservative startup culture. It used to be almost unheard of to stay at the same job in digital media more than a few years, let alone a decade. Longer tenures are becoming more commonplace, and I predict this will become the norm moving forward.

Ad tech companies should train their employees in a standardized fashion to achieve less attrition, faster ramp-up and fewer mistakes during transition, all of which equals more money and fewer headaches. The most important reason to train teams is the opportunity cost of losing potentially top talent because their skill sets are underused. Nearly two-thirds of millennials believe their leadership skills are not being fully developed, according to one study. Advancement and assuming leadership roles were the top drivers when evaluating job opportunities, while only a quarter of respondents said they were “very satisfied” with their current learning opportunities and professional development programs at work.

Once the commitment to invest in a training program is made, the next question is how to make it informative enough that new hires will work with confidence yet flexible enough to evolve. The first step is to commit the financial and staffing resources so senior employees can train junior staff. If possible, split the ongoing responsibilities across departments and schedule regular training. I recommend a monthly training curriculum with biyearly training material reviews to ensure training materials are up to date.

Track these efforts against retention and turnover rates to determine if the investment is decreasing turnover and increasing productivity. It also allows leaders to identify which training tactics work best. I advise having a follow-up system to track competency. Simple follow-up sample tasks can help evaluate new hires and the overall program.

The growing pains from high turnover can be softened by making investments in burgeoning talent. In the short term, it saves time and money, while in the long term, a well-trained staff will yield fewer operational mistakes, less open headcount and attrition.

Follow Jaclyn Stewart (@614GroupJackie), The 614 Group (@614group) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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