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Baby ‘Digital Strategists’: You Are Not Gods.

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I know, strange title.

But I want to talk about a problem in our industry, which is juniors starting digital agencies and exploiting the (apparent) ignorance of some clients. People with no experience opening content management agencies, and bamboozling people with buzzwords and non-strategic “content” over actual strategy.

I am not talking about freelancing. I am talking about these groups of 2–3 people, barely out of university (or even TAFE), spending 6 months in an Agency, getting loans from their friends and family and opening a Digital Agency and calling themselves Digital Strategists or “CEO”.

Being a 23 year old CEO is cute and all, but simply being young and understanding Snapchat and claiming you “get Millennials” (of which, at 37 and with 20 years in the game in some form, I am on the tail end of, actuallyverymuch), or calling it “Influencer Marketing” and thinking Buzzfeed is the only legitimate way to write for the web these days BECAUSE ONLY OLD PEOPLE WRITE LONG ARTICLES HERE LETS DO FART JOKES AND JUMP CUTS ON YOUTUBE… or whatever… does not a business make.

Advertising and business and communication has not changed in 100 years. It has become easier (and simultaneously more difficult) to reach people, sure. Broadband and 4G and CGI and smartphones have enabled us to create things we could never have dreamed of even 20 years ago.

But you are not Gods. You didn’t invent “Digital Strategy”. You might think you are smarter than the olds, because you have been told that you are the most important demographic. You are exploiting a little loophole called the Internet and computers, which has given you a temporary boost in the Agency game, but you did not invent “getting to know your customers”. You did not invent networking, nor sales funnels, nor brochures, nor client services. You did not invent storytelling, or journalism. They are just now in digital form.

I have sat across the table from many a 24 year old junior “content marketer”, sniggering at a 50 year old C-Level, or patronisingly explaining Twitter, or whingeing about a client after a meeting, because he says he doesn’t really get the Internet. You know what? He doesn’t. So? It doesn’t make him stupid. He probably gets more than you realise and if he still doesn’t then that is your fault for not making it relevant to him.

That old CEO? He goes to functions. He works the big end of town. He has used advertising agencies. He is not an idiot. He also has more experience in his industry that has shown him that jumping on any old bandwagon, just for the sake of it, is bad business strategy. As is arrogance.

He understands the importance of meeting people, relationships, connecting with customers emotionally. Your job is to explain it to them. Because it isn’t hard. LinkedIn is no different than working a room, and suddenly, if you frame it terms of this, they get it. Because they know stuff you don’t. They have experience. If clients have anxieties around social or digital, it is not about the technology, or him being an old. It is about fear or rejection, or humiliation, or being fired. He is worried about feeling out of date. He is insecure. It is not a mystery. The tech is secondary to the humanity and a little empathy will go a long way.

You are not Gods, simply because you have been born of a generation that grew up using technology. Like most things worth doing, IT and the web are easy to learn, hard to master. Digital Strategy is like picking up a guitar — you can learn it in a week, sure, but to actually be good at it, you need to put in your 10,000 hours and learn from your mistakes.

You are not Gods because you can play a G and C chord. Sure, you may be able to bluff your way into a local café and get a 3 song set with the rest covers and make a few dollars… and possibly even benefit from a system that loves one-hit wonders. But you do not have a craft. You need to put in the work to get to any level beyond that, and especially for anyone to take you seriously. You need to learn how to network, how to connect with your audience, understand the business side and yes… work with executives who may or may not fully understand what you do.

And nobody wants a rock star that is arrogant. In the long run, even if you have a hit, one day, something will go wrong where you need every one of those 10,000, 20,000, or in my case almost 40,000 hours of experience to fix it.

Junior Surgeons don’t go off and open their own operating theatres just because they don’t want to take orders in a teaching hospital. There is a reason that it is heavily supervised, and structured, and you get yelled at when you fuck up: it is easy to remove an appendix if you know how. It is easy to get arrogant when you have successfully removed an appendix a few times.

Experienced surgeons are there to stop the haemorrhage and save the patient if something goes wrong. They know how to read the subtle cues from the patient that you don’t yet, because you haven’t seen enough of them. They have. When they were a junior surgeon they missed one of those cues and the patient died.

Experienced surgeons know how to ask the right questions to ensure their safety, and how to make patients feel better when they are afraid. You should be learning from their experience, not going off and building your own backyard appendix removal service with ping pong and free beer.

As much as I love analogies and can go on for hours, I am sure I have made my point: you are not Gods. Listen to your elders. Listen to your clients, even if they are intimidated by new technologies. We might actually teach you a thing or two.

Love, Téa

(who is actually a 37 year old ‘Millennial’. Yep… we are adults too. And I have some wonderful stories about the 1995 internet… try me.)

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