Why taking your own path for digital marketing learning is daunting – but worth it

James is editor in chief of TechForge Media, with a passion for how technologies influence business and several Mobile World Congress events under his belt. James has interviewed a variety of leading figures in his career, from former Mafia boss Michael Franzese, to Steve Wozniak, and Jean Michel Jarre. James can be found tweeting at @James_T_Bourne.

In 2012, SEO was the major concern for any business looking to flex their digital muscle. Every pronouncement and product update from Matt Cutts, then Google head of search quality, was akin to a word from God.

But digital marketing, as any professional knows, does not stand still for long.

Tommy Griffith (left) was SEO manager at PayPal at the time, and was tasked by his superior to put together an introduction to SEO presentation for around 100 marketing employees. The presentation morphed into an offline SEO course – Griffith subsequently used it to train his team at Airbnb – and then into an online one.

Now, as founder of ClickMinded, he is targeting educational establishments and decries the ‘sad state of affairs’ for prospective employees looking to undertake a graduate marketing program today.

How on earth can a serious business that teaches digital marketing print a physical textbook and give it to students with a straight face?

“You’re a lot better off learning on your own and building a personal portfolio than you are earning a degree from a university that very likely doesn’t know what they’re teaching,” Griffith tells MarketingTech.

As far as Griffith sees it, students pay an exorbitant amount across multiple years for information that may soon be wildly out of date. According to figures put together by ClickMinded, based on 20 US universities, the average cost of a graduate marketing degree is just under $34,000. Total cost, assuming no interest on loans and taking into account lost salary opportunities, is at just over $84,000. ClickMinded argues that ROI on a degree course only becomes apparent three years after graduating, with the break-even point on average after 23 months.

“I think the single biggest red flag for learning digital marketing is physical textbooks,” says Griffith. “The best websites can hardly keep their blog posts updated – how on earth can a serious business that teaches digital marketing print a physical textbook and give it to students with a straight face?”

As for the degrees themselves, are they worth the paper they are printed on? Yes, but not much more than that, says Griffith. “The problem with digital marketing degrees is that serious companies that want to recruit good employees are going to ask for a portfolio or previous work experience no matter what,” he says. “Employers are not hiring students with digital marketing degrees. Everyone knows these are garbage credentials that mean nothing. The free market has spoken and is currently speaking.”

Hence ClickMinded. Griffith has assembled a crack team of teachers; Airbnb’s former head of social runs the social media course, while Lyft’s former content strategist runs students through content marketing.

Among the company’s biggest clients are three universities – none listed in the 20 establishments analysed for research, mind – as well as Unicef, Grammarly, and Microsoft. Users can learn at their own pace, with the courses promising to be ‘extremely actionable’ and practical. While there are various offers and deals in place – especially at this time of year – punters can expect to not surpass $1,000 for a particular course.

Griffith is quick to note that ClickMinded and the like is not for everyone. For those looking to learn the basics, then there is plenty to be getting on with for free, and create their own portfolio based on that. You will need to spend a little money on web hosting and a nice theme, but by creating content and generating traffic, you will be ‘ahead of 90% of applicants’ after a month.

It’s the classic catch-22; if you don’t have experience, it’s harder to get a job, and if it’s harder to get a job, it’s harder to get experience. Those who do get their foot in the door at an agency, for instance, find what Griffith describes as a ‘brutal’ environment. Digiday’s ‘confessions’ series, many of which are focused on agency work, tells many marketers what they already know. Yet there is an upside.

Agencies are more akin to basic military training than a comfortable entry-level job – but you will learn quickly because you have to

“The problem with [working at an agency] is that it sucks,” says Griffith. “Entry-level agency positions are brutal; they don’t pay well, they have demanding hours, the turnover is enormous. People are generally miserable and trying to switch to the client-side as quickly as possible.

“With that said, it’s the single fastest way to learn as much as possible in the shortest amount of time possible,” he adds. “It’s how I did it, [and] how many of my colleagues at Airbnb did it. It’s more akin to going to basic military training than it is a comfortable entry-level job – but you will learn quickly because you have to.”

For those who have a little experience and want to add to their portfolio – with the dream of landing feet first client-side – then taking a ClickMinded course may be for you. “We focus on individuals and teams that are looking to learn everything faster,” says Griffith. “Our model is that we try to use world-class instructors that do this stuff every day.”

If organic moves to unaccredited courses aren’t enough, Griffith bets that more forceful change may come. “Students don’t know until they’ve graduated [that they have] spent $80,000 on an education they could have received for free in six months on YouTube,” says Griffith. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if these students start to speak out about how they were misled.

“I think there is a serious storm brewing right now – and someone is going to pay the price for this incredibly disingenuous behaviour we’re seeing from these higher education institutions.”

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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