Changing digital landscape requires savvy leadership

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Bob Gilbreath
Bob Gilbreath

If you work in the digital marketing world like me, you might have noticed a gradual increase in the number of recruiters calling to try to fill some big roles at Fortune 500 companies. My sources say that some of the largest brands in the world are looking for senior digital talent. These 
companies want to hire candidates with some skills you might expect, including several years of experience in both traditional and digital marketing. However, there is a bigger theme: companies are looking for digital leaders who can 
confidently affect change. 

It should serve as no surprise that major corporations are 
elevating digital leadership roles. Their customers are 
increasingly going to digital media first, and the line between offline and online has blurred. In some cases CMOs are looking for a right-hand digital native who can help them 
learn new skills. Nearly two decades since the first websites went live, there is finally a large pool of candidates with 
seniority and experience.

However, some recruiters tell me that candidates often lack the needed level of organizational leadership. I hear this 
in comments such as "We need someone who is confident 
in front of the CEO."

After spending years working on both the client and agency sides, I've found that there are both perceived and real issues with the leadership skills of digital experts at large companies. Perception-wise, there is usually a bias to give more weight to the opinions of those who "own the profits and losses." Experts in every area, from PR to design to product supply, rarely have direct business decision-making responsibility, so senior leadership can sometimes discount what they say.

The bigger issue occurs when digital experts wait for an assignment or request for input rather than driving the dialogue, project list and budget requests. One client in a 
senior position recently told me that, "I am tired of waiting 
for my digital people to come into my office with a recommendation on what our business should do next." Instead of leading the thinking on what the team should be doing — say what new technology is ripe for attention — his team was waiting for assignments to trickle down.

The good news is that a leadership mentality is something that you can take on at any time in your career. You certainly do not have to come from the client side or have owned the P&L. Sometimes you just need to reset your thinking and choose to drive the work plan, rather than 
waiting for it. If you are in a digitally focused role today, this is your opportunity and mandate to lead your organization 
before someone else does.


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