Throughout my digital marketing career, one thing has remained consistent, I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with a number of interesting, creative and passionate people from all walks of life operating in start-ups, private and public sector and higher education.
This interview is with David Edmundson-Bird, Principal Lecturer in Digital Marketing & Enterprise and is also the Associate Director for Digital Innovation at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU).
David taught my student group whilst
struggling to complete our MSc in Digital Marketing Communications at MMU and managed to convince him to open up to his own thoughts and views in the world of digital, who he follows, the higher education system, recommended reading, why you should create your own blog and why not to work for free!
Tell us a little about David….
I’m the Principal Lecturer in Digital Marketing & Enterprise, and also Associate Director for Digital Innovation here at Manchester Metropolitan University. I’ve worked on an off in education, run several companies (with Manchester’s 2nd web design agency back in late 1995), worked agency and client side and advised a lot of people in the start up of their own businesses.
When did your digital career start?
I guess that would be September 1990 when I started an MSc in Information Systems in Portsmouth, although I had dabbled a lot in IT at home and in the workplace before that.
Types of companies you worked for?
Universities, start-ups, a big agency and at one time British Telecom – also one employer I’m not allowed to name for legal reasons.
MMU for higher education..sell it to us in a tweet?
Forget a posh uni – you actually learn what you need to succeed in the employment world at MMU from your first day at work to your last
Can you tell us a little about your project, Search & Social and what it provides to students?
We are running SASchool on the day prior to SASCon next summer at MMU. MMU is the spiritual home of SAScon and the SAS community is keen that we cultivate the next generation of digital marketers carefully. SASchool aims to give current and graduating digital marketers very specific skillsets that will allow them to embark on their first role within search, analytics and social media comms.
MMU seem to have been an early adopter in grasping the opportunity to create recognised digital qualifications, do you see this as a necessary in helping to drive awareness for MMU and being innovative?
We’ve got a brand awareness problem at MMU – people see only “University of Manchester” and there’s a massive amount of snobbery and propaganda about HE based on how places were 30, 40 or 50 years ago. People have a very old fashioned idea of MMU based on it’s days as Manchester Poly – which it stopped being 22 years ago.
The modern MMU is about creating a dynamic and skilled workforce for the 21st century (and this isn’t just the usual corporate BS). Everyday I face prejudice from people who say they will only recruit from red brick universities, only to have them come back 6 months later begging for talent that can actually do something.
I’ve been at the forefront of ensuring that we give graduates a lead in their ability as digital skilled employees, able to do stuff from the day they land in work as well as give them qualities, knowledge and attitudes that they can use decades later. This tweet last week really sums it up for me from one of our graduates
So getting in first and innovating with our learning, the content and the attitude is what makes us different. We have to take risks in order for us to build a resilient, knowledgeable workforce that can get us moving as an economy again.
I’m more heavily involved than ever now in our Digital Innovation Centre (http://diginnmmu.com). It’s designed to be our joined up front end to the real world for the University’s entire digital offering. The idea is that whilst a uni might be organised on faculty lines (aligned to old 19th century views of industry perhaps), Digital doesn’t recognise these boundaries.
So Digital Innovation allows us to provide a unified outward fascia and consider a joined up approach to new things we are in the process of developing. We’re very big in 3D printing for example, which allows industry to access expertise previously seen as a bit invisible.
With the ever growing digital channels available to market do you see change in how digital will be taught within universities?
I think there are some fundamental principles that remain the same and over time I’ve seen these principles come out irrespective of the channels. You can master a channel in a day but to become an accomplished communications professional takes years. Beginning to understand what those principles are is what University at MMU is about along with the chance to apply things in practice.
To service the sudden demand for recognised digital training (e.g. SEO, PPC, content, social media) there has been an increase with agencies launching their own in-house training programs for industry people to learn – do you see this rivalling what universities have to offer?
I think this is a very short-term thing – as agencies realise they need talent. But agencies really need to focus on what they are good at – sure they might be good at short-term, quick fix learning (about a specific channel) but there are longer term learning objectives that they are not really geared up to dealing with.
That’s why a number of large agencies and client-sides have teamed up with us to produce educational programmes for their businesses. Education is not core product for an agency. It’s my core product and it’s what I’m good at producing. I think what agencies might offer complements what we deliver – at the end of the day I can’t deliver the cutting edge practitioner skills in specific channels because I’m not using them in anger every day.
Should higher education (universities) be providing more of a digital marketing syllabus to graduates or should graduates not worry so much about formal qualifications and go work for a start-up?
That’s a lot of different questions – I think that higher education gives you a grounding in critical thinking, knowing how to spot risks, knowing how to make extremely complex decisions. I do that in the context of digital marketing because I need graduates to go and be useful very quickly.
If a start-up is all about digital marketing, I know I would want to attract the talent that knew what it was doing as well as had those critical thinking qualities. If I took on some bare-bones clever grads who had just done 3 years in classics, I might not have the luxury of time whilst they waited to work out how to become an accomplished communications professional – that’s why I see a lot of liberal arts grads on my Masters courses as they then pick up the critical principles required. And then they go and learn some skills too.
Whats your thoughts on the next frontier/challenge for digital marketing?
My research is on the big fight out between Search and PR – the merging of search and social activity means it’s difficult to know which is the profession to back. PR has had years out in the digital wilderness but social means it has a new role which search professionals find difficult to manage. The real winners will be the folks who do both.
What’s on your reading list?
For good, hard-core reading you know it’s always Digital Marketing by Dave Chaffey – it’s like a bible from which you can grow into your own ideas. I’m not a fan of lightweight airport books on running business or doing digital – they’re the tech equivalent of ‘chicken soup for the soul’ – a nice read but ultimately not great help.
The best thing I’ve read for a long time was The Factory of One by Dan Markowitz which is the first book I’ve read where I finally understood lean practice for non-engineering professionals and allowed me to significantly change the way I work.
Who are your respected people in digital worth following/subscribing to?
Dave Chaffey – because he points out other great superstars to consider
I’d also try and avoid too many American commentators as practice there differs culturally and in other ways.
My tip for following is – are you a practitioner or someone who is now permanently on the speaker circuit? I think that you have to do the day job regularly to be credible on the practitioner level.
Any advice for a newbie digital marketer learning the trade?
- Get a skill quickly
- Have a blog to demo your professionalism (it is your portfolio)
- Network in the real world – you have to do it a lot in your early days
- Never work for free