We Need To Fix The Ad Tech Talent Drought

jaystockiData-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 Jay Stocki, vice president of digital services at Experian Marketing Services.

Within ad tech, it’s no secret that the demand for quality talent far exceeds the supply. What was once a talent challenge is now an urgent talent drought. Without the right talent, can our industry sustain its current growth trajectory?

As much as some might want to blame the educational system for this talent drought plaguing ad tech, the fault is really our own. If we want to scale in the near term, we can’t wait for changes to happen at the university level. We must fix this problem ourselves by expanding our definition of the “ideal” candidate, investing in training and working with colleges to ensure students are learning the skills we need.

Every company with a link in the chain of ad tech is looking for talent, including agencies, publishers, data consultancies, technology companies and mobile startups. They are all focused on the same small pool of candidates, particularly in major markets like New York and Silicon Valley. The problem will get even worse as more brands start going direct with their programmatic efforts.

We are all looking for that “perfect” candidate: a data scientist with marketing experience who understands ad operations, data and analytics and can present a cohesive strategy to a Fortune 100 CMO. The problem is that we are all looking for the same rare bird that doesn’t yet exist in large numbers. How many data gurus do you know who excel at product marketing?

Redefine The ‘Ideal’ Candidate

In my own efforts to recruit digital talent across the United States, I have found that searching for the “ideal candidate” is at best a distraction, or at worst an exercise in futility. Whether you’re hiring in Manhattan or Lincoln, Neb., you need to focus first on identifying key traits and roles that can serve as a foundation for an effective and diverse digital team. For example, rather than searching for sales talent with ad operations experience, look for candidates with some relevant marketing experience who have shown a hunger to learn new things.

Further, reset expectations around which roles deserve investment or should be outsourced. As more companies look to build programmatic capabilities in-house, the talent drought is often the single largest gating factor, especially outside of a major urban area. Rather than spending a fortune for top talent to fill positions for every programmatic marketing role, identify areas that can be outsourced to trusted advisers and vendors. Many companies can leverage existing talent from measurement and analytics roles, combined with outside consulting, as a foundation for the larger digital team. 

Invest In Education 

If you look at the best programmatic talent today, hardly anyone has a degree in digital marketing. I had to laugh recently when I saw a job posting where one of the requirements was seven years or more of programmatic experience. Is that even possible?

Companies need to recruit with plans to educate. An experienced data engineer may not have the sales or marketing acumen to translate customer needs into programmatic tactics, but couldn’t they partner with those that do? This foundational talent can help teams evolve into subject matter experts.

The IAB recently launched a training program and certifications, which is a step in the right direction. I know many people in the industry who have benefited immensely from the Digital Media Sales Certification and Digital Ad Operations Certification programs. But we could do more. We need to partner with universities to develop the right coursework for the talent that we want. It would be great to see curriculums include programmatic ad operations.

Ad tech is a close-knit industry with many who are passionate about the job. Further, we love to talk about it, whether our spouses want us to or not. That means there are eager ears all around us. It is up to us to engage them.

We all need to invest or we will not achieve our potential as an industry. So talk to your alma mater about your talent needs, offer to guest lecture or to advise on a curriculum. It’s not that hard to get involved and to make a difference on the future of our industry.

Follow Jay Stocki (@jstocki), Experian Marketing Services (@ExperianMkt) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. It’s funny, I started reading this thinking about how I wished that a degree wasn’t a requirement to be an advertising exec. Then I got to the “Ideal Candidate” section and you basically described me. I didn’t quite fit in when I went to University at 18. Didn’t do much with my life, dropped out of college…but then I started my own little affiliate SEO and digital marketing business. I have done quite a few clever things to siphon off visibility from established brands, and once even got revenge on a product brand that was dishonest and ranked a negative review ahead of their website in Google. Regardless, thank you for realizing that we are out there. I’ve been finding all forms of advertising so boring compared to what I do on a daily basis.

  2. Greart article Jay, couldn´t agree more.

    Imagine if you are going through a talent drought in the US what is happening in Latam were we operate.
    I believe the very first step is to get people in our industry to really understand the benefits of programmatic and then to being able to pass that knowledge forward to others.
    Traditional media buying is still strong and in most of the cases people have hard times going beyond their comfort zones. They don´t understand that era is about to finish and if they don´t evolve their businesses will die.
    People need to start talking programmatic they way they did with Search first and more recently with Social.


  3. I definitely feel it’s an unreasonable expectation for universities to include programmatic in their curriculum.

    I graduated from college in the Bay Area with a degree in marketing in the last three years and currently work at an ad tech startup. The extent of ‘digital marketing’ included in my coursework was regarding how corporations use social media to engage consumers. That’s it.

    I compare my education working in the field to a master’s program in advertising. How can you expect higher education to keep up with the everchanging technology if industry folks can’t keep even keep up with the IAB?

    I completely agree that companies need to home in on candidates with a hunger for knowledge but who may not have access to it.

  4. There’s not, and never has been, a talent-shortage in ad tech. The same goes for Silicon Valley.

    There has long been a salary-shortage, however.

    If you want talent, you have to _pay for it_ and that’s nothing new.

    The megacapitalists in Cupertino and Mountain View have dreamt up a “talent shortage” as a political excuse in order to bring in cheap overseas labor on H1-Bs to depress engineer salaries—but college students with talent, expertise, and know-how are going to be working for Goldman, Facebook, or starting their own companies.

    You want to poach those hires? Then put on the big-boy pants and pay for the talent, cuz the kids who haven’t “figured it out” by graduation probably never will.

  5. Just because you didn’t experience programmatic education as many as three years ago (which doesn’t surprise me; the word was still unused in many board rooms back then) doesn’t mean it’s unreasonable for students at universities today to expect at least the very basic education of programmatic concepts. It’s certainly reasonable for students to expect at least some education on a process used by 82 percent of the professionals in the field they hope to enter upon graduation (Undertone, Dec. 2014: http://www.slideshare.net/AccessUndertone/programmatic-from-undertone).

  6. Uh, programmatic in a university curriculum? I hope you’re talking about niche grad programs, where the argument could be made that programmatic inclusion is warranted. However, there’s no need to make this a component of undergrad education (undergrad marketing programs are kind of a joke, regardless). The BEST people I’ve ever worked with have one thing in common — they’ve learned what they know on the job and were not marketing majors.

  7. Jay — I agree with most of what you wrote.

    Also, there is a very important and overlooked factor when recruiting talent for the AdTech industry:

    The 1st point of contact with with a potential talent is done thru a recruiter that may not see, as well as his/her future boss sees, how a potential talent can be coached to become a great professional in the industry.

    In sum, they judge the book by its cover. And, If 75% of communication is face-to-face and we loose information in this hiring-funnel, why companies are pre- judging candidates by its linkedin profile?