Op-Ed: As content marketing breeds complexity, knowledge deficits exist

Posted Apr 5, 2013 by Michael Krebs
The commercial side of the digital media industry is entering a considerable challenge to its intellectual sustainability, and the solution resides in the courage and will of middle management to train the next generation.
From a commercial point of view, digital media as a viable career opportunity is roughly a 16 year-old enterprise. This sixteen-year period has seen staggering innovations and a diverse breadth of product offerings, particularly when comparing the digital media universe to that of broadcast and of print. This diversity has produced some fascinating solutions across a modern spectrum of offerings - from branded content modular editorial to event amplifications; from digital video production and distribution to location-based mobile executions; and from the splash of rich media variety to the earned media continuum in present-day social media.
However, with diversity comes complexity - and as the old guard in commercial digital moves up the organizational chain or moves laterally or out of the business community entirely, a disturbing deficit in intellectual property is making itself known. Those of us who were selling and buying digital media during the days of 9.6 modems can fundamentally appreciate the raging complexity that has defined the modern commercial landscape because we were the voices demanding it.
But with the latest incarnations in content marketing erasing the lines between public relations and marketing communications, and with the new thesaurus pushed upon the publishing establishment and that of the advertising community, the knowledge deficit in the new communications generation is sketching a potentially ugly intermediate future.
From the publishing perspective, this knowledge cavity is growing wider and deeper. As commercial teams go through their inevitable churn, middle management has two options: hire unknowns from the outside with whatever belly full of references they have and with however many years of experience they can espouse, and then hope they are a match with the culture and the cadence and the overall tone of the organization - or provide a path for the eager support staff that looks to these commercial endeavors as a meaningful career choice and that fundamentally understands the culture, cadence and tone and the expectations put upon them and that also understands where the bodies are buried and how true execution of the most complex program unfolds.
The trick is in the training and in the bravery and willingness on the part of the assigned old guard mentor to encourage mistakes and experimentation in the staffer being groomed. It is crucial that we take this tact; it is also a moral obligation to create an environment where entry-level staffers can earn a meaningful chance at career advancement. Without a clear doorway in this regard, staff longevity at the support level is truncated - and those support staffers that spill into the market do so at a questionable peril for themselves and for the organizations that take them on. Additionally, an important intellectual continuity is lost - and the culture and the cadence and the tone of the current organization suffers.
It is my hope that publishers will advance their next generations versus sending them into the market like some kind of rudderless debris. Digital media has advanced too far to allow for the kind of short sightedness and patchwork thinking that has governed in the past. The volumes of revenue at stake and the complexities of the programs being executed demand a more strategic forethought, and we need to respect the individuals that are too often unsung and that understand the nuances of execution that even the best of the old guard and of management can only speak to flatly.