New DM Trust chair: Digital talent is global and we need to attract the best

The charity’s new chairman Matthew Housden says attracting global talent is the marketing industry’s biggest challenge from Brexit, while it also needs to work on bringing in people with the right digital skills.

digital talentMatthew Housden has over 30 years’ experience working in consultancy and for well known brands, and the University of Greenwich lecturer is now taking over as chair of the DM Trust, the charity tasked with funding growth and good governance in direct, digital and data marketing.

He tells Marketing Week what he thinks are the biggest issues currently facing the industry – including digital skills, diversity and recruiting global talent – and how it must go about tackling them.

What is the DM Trust’s role in making the data-driven marketing industry fit for the future?

The DM Trust is about trying to attract the best talent into the industry. The other side is how we go about responsible marketing, and with GDPR that is going to become more important and the stakes are raised as well. Facebook just had a €110m fine in May for swapping data with WhatsApp, for example. We’re putting money into both areas.

As digital transformation gathers pace there is a real issue around keeping those who are in work up to speed with what is going on, and attracting those with the right skills who are not yet in our industry. We are competing against banking and systems logistics. We need the right people to keep the pace of change going, but there is a shortage. Recent research by Capgemini pointed to 77% of companies surveyed saying there is a shortage of digital skills.

READ MORE:  The big debate: Is coding a must-have skill for marketers?

What skills does the industry require?

The people we are increasingly looking for need to be able to have quite a special set of skills – being able to understand and make sense of data. We are looking for people coming from unconventional backgrounds into marketing. The DM Trust has been working with DMA Talent’s Creative Data Academy to look at graduates from STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – and promote the fact that marketing is a viable and attractive career option. A few years ago they wouldn’t have considered marketing.

Has marketing been considered a career for humanities graduates for too long, because young people think it’s just advertising?

There is that, but equally we still need those people. With data, you’re looking at implementation and execution – you still have to have the brand positioning and proposition, and that comes from a variety of different skills. Marketing draws on so many different disciplines and combines them. There’s still room for that magic dust that genuinely creative people sprinkle on brands, but it’s now also about being able to manipulate and understand data. The key output of that should be to further the human interaction. Marketing is still about human relationships.

Academics such as Mark Ritson and Byron Sharp say marketing training today is poor. What’s your view?

Some of the institutions we are looking at are among the best in the world but there is also a variety of experience within the university sector. The DM Trust is sponsoring the development of content to ensure students on marketing-oriented degrees are getting the level of education and training and the skills base they need to operate effectively in the contemporary marketing world.

The fact is the pace of change in business is so great that it is hard for university staff to keep up. At the universities I’m involved with, all the courses are aligned with the current standards of industry bodies. We are seeing graduates that are absolutely fit for purpose.

Should marketers and agencies get more involved in teaching to pass on practical knowledge?

At the University of Greenwich we have a really interesting relationship with [agency] RAPP and [partner] Carolyn Stebbings. She is allowing some of her staff to come down and get quite intimately involved in the teaching of undergraduates. That’s a fantastic example of public-private partnerships where the private sector can have a role at giving students a snapshot of what is happening in the real world. It shows the relevance of what they’re learning and the agency networks can look at the students and see who might be suitable for internships and ultimately employment.

What’s the importance of diversity in data-driven marketing?

Diversity is an issue not just for the marketing industry but industry as a whole. At entry the majority of people coming into the industry are women and at senior level it switches around completely. You invest a huge amount of time in developing people, so we need to think about how we manage that part of the industry.

We’re also working with an organisation called Commercial Break, looking at school leavers. We have sponsored content suggesting data-driven marketing as a potential option for people from diverse backgrounds, and we’re working to sponsor school leavers’ apprenticeships going into the industry.

What impact do you believe GDPR will have and what knowledge do marketers need?

They need to understand the implications but GDPR is a real opportunity – I know that to most companies it won’t appear like that because they are trying to get up to speed, but once the trust in brands is eroded it’s very hard to re-establish. GDPR gives us a chance to refocus on consent and permission, being completely unambiguous about the way we’re going to talk to customers and use their data.

The fact Uber concealed a data breach for such a length of time cannot be acceptable. [It admitted covering up the loss of 57 millions customers’ data in 2016.] Responsible companies will find the transition from the data protection regime to GDPR much easier to manage.

The DM Trust is also putting money into research around consumer vulnerability – how we deal with older people and those with learning disabilities. There are fixed states of vulnerability and we have a responsibility to ensure we respect those issues in a professional and appropriate ways. We can also look at real-time data and there are temporary episodes of vulnerability, based on your location and time of day, the battery life on your phone. Those represent situations where you might be vulnerable and companies can perhaps look at that and respond in a particular way – I’m thinking of Uber again and it’s ‘surge’ prices

We’ve sponsored some consumer vulnerability workshops and that’s going to be an ongoing funding stream. We’re trying to make people aware of how the industry needs to consider these issues when contacting vulnerable individuals.

READ MORE: Google – GDPR will tighten the screws on how the whole industry handles data

Do you think the main consequences of Brexit for the marketing industry will be in finding and retaining digital talent?

Yes, I do. At the moment we are doing pretty well but we still don’t know what Brexit means. Digital talent is global and we need to be able attract the best global talents to one of the best digital locations in the world at the moment. If Brexit means anything, it should mean being open to broader influences rather than narrower.

The UK is still a fantastic place in which to live and work, and there are fantastic opportunities for business people and entrepreneurs in the digital space. As long as we can keep that energy and ensure we’re attracting the very best, we can get through it. It is uncertainty that is the issue, as we have seen in the budget.

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