Has Digital Killed the Salesman? Universities Need to Respond…and Now. Reply


Who should lead the day-to-day charge of your digital marketing and communications efforts?  Do we hand the reigns over to the youth who use social media each day and have a reputation for "knowing" social media, or should an element of experience and corporate strategy figure into the staffing decision?  One thing seems clear to me–the struggles of Willy Loman's generation are not entirely unlike the struggles of today.

This question and many more arose last night at a round table hosted by Bite Communications at the SMU Administration building.  Themed "Has Digital Killed the Salesman?", several interesting examples of entry-level employee initiatives with positive outcomes were shared.  In one case, nearly double the expected turnout came about when two people simply used Twitter to promote an event.  And in this specific case, it should be noted that the people who turned up as a result were exactly the sorts of folks the event sponsor was seeking.  Strong arguments were made that changes to our marketing mindset should thus come from the bottom up.  The younger generation understands these channels and should be given room to lead the way.

We also heard counterarguments for integrating social media into all aspects of marketing and this type of leadership needs to come from the CMO and other executives.  There is something to be said for ensuring that your marketing efforts are more than just casual experiments without clear links to a strategy.  Here, we see an argument for leadership from employees who are more experienced and have a deeper understanding of markets and customers. 

One conclusions did emerge from the discussion–we all appear to lack staff who have the creative capacity to tell stories and craft engaging, authentic content.  Digital marketing is not just about the technology, but also the engagement that results from authentic content which taps into the matters that people genuinely care about.  A few words in text format saying how great my product is will rarely accomplish this goal.  Content must be shaped into stories and presented in visually engaging and interesting ways. Taking this a step further, today much of this content is also being consumed "in context" via the small screen of mobile devices.  We need to craft content with these considerations in mind. 

As a college professor who genuinely believes in the value of writing across the curriculum, I can say with complete confidence we are almost certainly falling short of this new mark and some immediate changes to our communication courses are urgently needed. I also hold my personal reservations about simply handing the reigns over to recent graduates lacking deeper workplace experience.  Socializing over digital channels is a very different activity than conducting professional marketing or PR activities which engage stakeholders.  We should do everything possible to foster young talent, but ensuring their success also means giving enough coaching and experience to succeed independently.

So what is the proper balance between youthful ingenuity and experienced judgment?  A tough question, indeed.

Other topics for the evening included measurement, the region's cautious approach to adopting digital, emerging technologies we should be paying attention to, and the ways in which digital content are being interwoven with real world experiences.  It was a rich evening, indeed.

Many thanks to several people for helping to arrange and co-host this event: CEO Clive Armitrage, APAC President David Ketchum, and Managing Director SE Asia Bill Ang, Dean Steve Miller, SMU Provost & Vice President Rajendra K. Srivastava, and Dean Howard Thomas to name only a few.

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