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Looking for work can be tough in what is an ultra-competitive jobs market. Some will have a blueprint for their future career mapped out from the start, while others will leave one profession behind to try their hand at something entirely new. But however you go about finding work, it’s important to be open to new opportunities as and when they arise. Perhaps digital marketing could be for you.

Digital marketing offers a wealth of openings for people looking to carve out a challenging, diverse career for themselves as well as enhancing their own professional and personal skills – whether creative, communicative or analytical. There are numerous routes in to digital marketing and, what’s more, the industry is open to those who haven’t taken the academic route as well as those who have.

Breaking in to digital marketing: our top 10 tips

Whether you’re data-driven or you’re an inspired creative, there’s a place for you in the digital marketing industry. Here are some of our top tips.

  • There’s a number of ways you can gain work experience, so put yourself out there. Internships are widely available in the industry, offering a great opportunity to gain valuable experience. If you’re able to demonstrate a clear interest in digital marketing when you approach firms for internships, you should have a clear advantage. Be prepared to do the more basic jobs – not only does it make a good impression, but taking on these tasks can provide a stepping stone to a great opportunity.
  • A genuine interest in digital marketing is very important. Keep your LinkedIn page up to date with new content and write your own blog – you can then refer potential employers to this when you approach them for work. You also need to retain that eagerness to keep learning new things once you’ve landed that all-important first job in digital. The industry is always evolving and you need to be able to evolve with it.
  • Remember that employers are highly likely to look at your personal social media accounts to get a better idea of what you’re about. All sorts can turn up in a simple Google search, so think about the face you want to present to the world. Keep your content clean – so, nothing obscene and try to keep photos of you on nights out to a minimum. And if you want to share that sort of thing with your mates, make sure you do so via a strictly private account.
  • Be properly prepared for interviews. Get a portfolio of your work together and present it. Research potential employers and their clients. Come to the interview with fresh ideas as to what your prospective employer could do to enhance their offering. They might not take your suggestions on board, but putting them forward demonstrates boldness as well as eagerness and can do much to help you impress at that interview stage.
  • If you don’t have a huge portfolio of previous work to show to employers, you could alternatively draw up a blueprint for a fake project. Think of a particular hypothetical client and work out what you’d do to maximise their impact. Plenty of other digital specialists have already done this and you’ll be able to find some good examples online.
  • Think about what businesses are trying to achieve, and how you can help them reach their goals. This applies as much to prospective employers as clients. This kind of knowledge can help you make a more compelling pitch to both.
  • Always think about what you can do to provide the best possible service to clients. Think about how you can create the most interesting content, how you want people to engage with it and the user experience as a whole.
  • Make new contacts; networking is key. Industry events and conferences like Brighton SEO and SAScon offer plenty of opportunities to meet people with valuable knowledge about digital marketing. Building relationships like these should serve you well throughout your career in the industry. You can also engage with digital marketing’s leading experts online – they can generally be reached through social media like Twitter or Facebook.
  • Consider taking a certified digital marketing course, such as those accredited by the Chartered Institute of Marketing or Digital Marketing Institute. Having a relevant diploma or certificate to your name could be a good way of demonstrating to employers that you’re committed to the industry, as well as enhancing your own understanding of how digital marketing works.
  • If you enjoy a certain aspect of digital marketing, build on it and develop your skills in that area. Maybe you work in a data-focused and analytical way, or you’re an out-of-the-box thinker who’s bursting with new ideas. Those from a creative or journalism background may find a role in copywriting, while those from a development background may be well suited to SEO. Hone these skills – you never know how far they might take you.

Lakestar McCann is home to a diverse workforce, and the members of the team have taken a variety of paths in to digital marketing. We caught up with some of our experts to see how they got into the industry.

“The first thing is to understand where your niche is” 

Neil Yeomans – head of SEO


“When I was 18, I left school and joined the Army for about 18 months. In a turn of fate I got medically discharged and decided not to go back, so went to university. I did music journalism for several years, but I realised that was more of a hobby and an interest rather than a true career path.

I was doing web development modules at university, and got into digital marketing because of my existing skills. My very first job was making HTML templates more SEO-friendly, so it was a bit more on the front-end web development side.

What really fascinated me was the extent to which the search engines could be influenced. Especially when I first started, results could be outright manipulated on a keyword by keyword basis. There’s a very interesting contrast between what you think is an algorithm and the amount of human intervention that goes into it.

Ten years ago, when I started, you could pick up a group of keywords and you could optimise for them, especially by doing link-building. But you can’t do that these days, because we know we need to protect clients. It’s easier for brands to get in trouble these days if they previously relied on SEO techniques which Google clamped down on, so you need a much more rounded marketing strategy to get that authority.

I think the first thing when you’re starting out is to understand where your niche is. In my experience, the best technical SEOs are perhaps not the most creative. The best account managers and project managers are perhaps not the most technical. What’s really important is to find what interests you and carve out a niche that way.

Any opportunity to get an internship – even if it’s in the summer holidays, working for free – gives you that little bit of experience which really goes a long way. So I can’t recommend internships enough.”

“No two days are ever the same” 

Natalie Mott – SEO operations manager


“My path into digital marketing was a bit unconventional. I studied Popular Music at university, and expected I’d be working in the music industry in some capacity, but I hadn’t actually considered marketing at that point – I just thought I was going to be a musician. As I was basically obsessed with music, I was a bit slow on choosing a ‘proper’ career path.

I started at a travel website in 2008 – I was introduced to the concept of SEO by the managing director and the other people that founded the company. I went in as a website researcher, which became an SEO role, learning the importance of link building and keywords in copy. That went from a data research role to link builder, copywriter, copywriting team leader then to SEO manager.

By that point, I was so interested in SEO. I thought, ‘I’m good at this, I like this, there’s so much to learn about it.’ Even now, I’m working in a management role at Lakestar, but I know there’s still so much I can learn because digital is ever-changing. It all changes at such a fast pace, that’s what’s really interesting to me. I love it, and would recommend it to anyone as a career path.

Things have changed drastically in the last seven years. No two days are ever the same.”

“Don’t give up – see what’s out there”

Tom Smith – social media junior account executive


“I studied advertising and business at uni, because I knew that I wanted to go into that afterwards anyway. It’s always been my plan to go in to digital.

Straight after uni, I managed to get a six-week internship at a PR agency. I think that also helped me get this job, because they could see that I’d worked with clients before and that I’d been client-facing.

This is my first full-time agency job; I’ve been here for 18 months. Before that I was in-house at a company, where I worked on the marketing team. I prefer agency work, because I can work across different industries in one day. In-house, the team was really small. There were only three of us. I first got brought in as the marketing assistant, and then was promoted to content manager. I was writing all the content on the website for six months.

When I came to Lakestar I had the opportunity to work for a range of different clients, from motoring to health and beauty.

I was brought on to the SEO team and then asked to provide support for the social media team. At the time, it was simple tasks such as drafting up posts to share to the social accounts. After doing it for a bit, I soon realised that this type of work suited me and I had a natural passion for it.

Then I was asked to join the social team full time. Really, it’s down to Lakestar for letting me have a go at it. I was allowed to learn on the job.

Not all jobs in digital marketing are the same. Just don’t give up – see what’s out there.”

“There are so many different ways to get into it” 

Jacqueline Farrer – senior social media account managerjacqueline

“I did a journalism degree because at school my favourite subjects were art and English. I went down the English route and I thought – rather than just doing English literature or something like that – I’d do journalism because it’s a way of writing, but hopefully with a more obvious career path. But when I actually started out doing journalism I realised I didn’t like it.

When I started at Lakestar I didn’t know anything about social. I’ve learned everything since I’ve been here. I was a copywriter when I first joined – I just did social media to help out and then it went from there. I’ve also learned a lot about client communication and that side of things. It comes quite naturally to me now.

I didn’t know I was going to do this, and I’m really surprised this is where I’ve ended up. You don’t have to have done marketing at uni or anything like that. It’s not something where employers are going to say, ‘Oh, you need to have two years’ experience to come and work for us.’ You can start from the bottom and work your way up. There are so many different ways to get into it.

Another reason I think people should go into digital is that it’s still evolving. There are so many more places it can go. Everything’s online these days.”

“You will be rewarded for the effort that you put in”

James Scroggie – SEO account manager


“I didn’t actually go to university. I went to the University of Life. I dropped out of sixth form halfway through having got glandular fever and didn’t catch up, so ended up getting a full-time job in retail.

After that I got a job in a call centre, selling loans to people. Then I worked in tech support and then went to work with a couple of my friends in a garden centre for three years. After that, I got a job through one of my friends in customer service in a digital agency working with small to medium-sized businesses.

My first steps into the industry were in a customer service role, handling a couple of hundred client accounts a month for link-building campaigns. It was an account management role, but account management then was completely different to account management now. SEO is a fast-moving industry, and over the years it’s changed in terms of what Google expects of optimisation.

Digital is an absolutely superb way to forge a career that’ll last. If somebody wants to get into digital, I’d suggest doing so if they’re looking for a career that’s going to be fast-moving. It’s the sort of industry where if you become recognised for the skills that you can bring to the table. You will be rewarded for the effort that you put in.”

“There are no limits to where you can get to” 

IMAG0535 (2)

Tommy Pettifer – paid search account manager 

“My original university degree was Fine Art; with the creative industry being one of the toughest sectors to break into, broadly speaking, I struggled to get work initially. I had always wanted to travel; so I took this opportunity to see some of the world and find out more about myself. When I came home I chose to return to education and completed a Masters in Creative Advertising.

I’d always liked the idea of advertising and marketing generally – and considered graphic design as an option. The master’s programme opened my eyes to the different roles within digital marketing, with a good part of the course dedicated to it. Moving into the industry felt like a natural progression.

I started from the bottom and worked up. The Masters gave me a thorough background, so I already had some insights into the sort of things to expect from a digital marketing career. However I didn’t have any experience of working in an agency; I was lucky that one of my Masters classmates moved into a job in a large agency straight out of the course and after applying I was fortunate to be accepted.

I’ve been in the industry ever since and I am now coming up to four years. It’s enhanced many of my personal skills and one aspect I’ve been particularly proud of is the progression of my leadership skills. It’s something I’ve always considered myself good at, negotiating and leading teams to get the best out of them and also myself. The strategic side of working in digital is also particularly interesting; planning and creating campaigns which deliver an approach encompassing the client’s needs in search and build up these relationships.

Some knowledge of the industry would help those who are just starting out – someone who’s a fast learner and genuinely interested in marketing and growing as a person. If you put your mind to it and you stick to it, you can reap the rewards very quickly; there are no limits to where you can get to.

A general interest and a passion for what you’re doing are really key things.”

“New things are coming up every single day”

Sophie Owen – senior account manager


“I studied marketing at uni. I didn’t specifically intend to go into digital, but when the opportunity came up, I realised that that was what I wanted to do more than anything. The fact that it was a growing part of marketing attracted me to it. Offline is quite traditional, and I wanted to go into something that was new and upcoming.

With my course, I could take my third year out and spend it in industry. I found Lakestar because they work with Manchester Metropolitan University quite closely. They came in and presented to us. I liked the look of what they did, so I jumped at the chance to work there!

The placement year allowed me to get experience in all aspects of digital – affiliates, PPC, SEO and social media. It gave me a solid understanding of digital marketing to continue to build from.

Doing a placement year gives you an advantage over other people who are graduating with no experience. A lot of people I went to uni with are just going into digital now, whereas I’ve already been at Lakestar for four years.

I’ve learned a lot at Lakestar. I’m still learning now. That’s the good thing with digital – you never know everything. New things are coming up every single day.”

Keeping up to speed with digital 

There are some fantastic learning resources about digital marketing online, so make use of them. Read up about the industry. Particularly useful sources for SEO and PPC include Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, Moz and Matt Cutts’ blog. These resources, among others, should give you a good overview of developments in these areas of digital marketing. The industry is so fast-paced that things can change rapidly, so keeping up to speed with the very latest news is essential.

Campaign Magazine will provide you with excellent insights into what’s going on across the world of advertising, and its job listings are also worth checking. You should also regularly check out AdWeek, Marketing Week and The Drum for news and analysis. The Content Marketing Institute has a whole host of in-depth webinars, while Convince & Convert also offers a wealth of useful and relevant resources.

There are legions of digital marketing experts to follow on social media, but this list should point you towards some of the most insightful industry specialists you’ll find on Twitter. Dave Chaffey also offers lots of useful digital-related insights, while for the nitty-gritty of technical SEO there’s Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea.

If you’re going to get a foothold in digital marketing then above all you have to be prepared to put in the work and to get yourself out there. It’s not always easy but it really is well worth it, because once you’re in you’ll find a wealth of opportunities opening up to you one by one. Here at Lakestar McCann we’re always looking for talent – look at our current vacancies and get in touch to start your digital marketing career today.

Tom Blackburn

Tom is a copywriter and journalism graduate, with a particular interest in technology and anything current affairs-related. He has also reviewed albums and gigs for a range of online and print publications.

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