What You Won’t Learn in University About a Career in Digital Marketing

Strategy written on arm holding tool

Unlike most industries, digital marketing simply didn’t exist before the early 1990s. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

Yet more people than ever are eyebrow-deep in this thriving beast and actively dive-bombing into a career in digital marketing – and having a blast, we might add.

But – yes, there’s always a but – there are some things that you will never learn in the classroom about your chosen career in digital marketing. These may not be nefarious closet skeleton secrets, but they will almost certainly make a difference to how much you enjoy your job, and which direction your career takes.

Tripwires of a Career in Digital Marketing

Unconscious Incompetence

Unconscious incompetence is a rather fun phrase referring to the fact that we don’t know what we don’t know.

What does that mean for you, as an entry-level digital marketer?

Basically, all the exciting information that you have in your head and which you are itching to put into practice is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Digital marketing is a truly massive field with dozens of moving parts, all of which connect…somewhere.

So yes, you have an excellent foundation, but be (very) willing to listen to other opinions, learn from those with more experience than you, and go into each project with an open mind.

Donkey Work

donkeys on the beach


If you’ve just burst forth from University doors with all the enthusiasm of a 5-year-old on a sugar rush, you are not likely to throw yourself wholeheartedly into a data entry position, right?

You may have to, though.

You see, the cogs of a successful digital agency are made up of detail-oriented people who understand the why behind what they’re doing, and are able to build campaigns, set up social calendar schedules, check and double-check other people’s work, and create intricate reports on stuff that – to be honest – may well bore your face right off.

No, it’s not thrilling. It’s not a reason to leap out of bed singing “Morning is here!” But it will teach you a number of essential marketing skills, namely:

  • Attention to detail
  • How campaigns work, from the ground up
  • The ability to understand complex metrics
  • How various pieces fit together
  • The different factors that are important to clients
  • How to work well with people
  • The importance of following a predefined system

The Human Element

This can be one of the most frustrating factors of your job within a digital agency.

Whether you are working in the creative department, crafting beautiful images for social posts, or you are working alongside a strategy director to plan a new campaign, you will almost certainly come up against the following issues:

  • Your client asks for something, but when they get it (40 hours later) they want something different.
  • Your biggest account is suffering from a chronic case of “scope creep” where you end up wondering where your day went.
  • Your team have differing opinions on subjective matters and you end up having to do something that you’re pretty sure won’t work.
  • You get lumped with the difficult clients who have an uncanny way of making you feel like you’re in kindergarten and have nothing of value to add.
  • People in your team steal your ideas and pass them off as their own.
  • Your line manager has no idea of the time it takes to perform certain tasks and by 4 pm you feel like your head is going to explode all over the office walls.

All The Great Things

Okay, so we’ll leave these thoughts here under the banner of ‘fair warning’ and move on.

analytics sheet with graphs on it,

Pursuing a career in digital marketing also means that you will never stop learning – and that’s a great thing. Technology is galloping along at a blistering speed, which gives those us with an insatiable appetite for knowledge a virtually bottomless pit of information.

It also means that you can learn the digital landscape, and then find a niche within an area that you love – creative, analytics, strategy, behavioural economics – and really excel! Becoming a specialist in a field that you are passionate about is a wonderful way to spend your day. Adding value and results to growing companies made up of real people with real dreams and goals is a total feel-good factor.

Learning to work with a cross-section of people is a life-skill that can be honed for maximum impact. In a digital agency you will find the crazy creatives with green hair and tattoos alongside the austere, cardigan-wearing analytics team with no sense of humour and goatees. The ability to get on successfully with a cross-section of humans is very satisfying and will serve you well in the future.

On a personal note, as a digital agency here in Reading, one of the most exciting aspects of our day is seeing a campaign lead counter tick over, knowing that the businesses that we are looking after have just received another opportunity to sell their product and grow their business. Watching the graphs going up, seeing people engage with concepts that we’ve personally developed – seeing stuff work – is exhilarating.

In conclusion, The Digital Coach 101 team would like to wish the upcoming green-haired creatives, the cardigan-wearing stats guys, and all the animated, driven, passionate students who are about to spill out into the working world all the very best in a well-chosen career.


The Digital Coach 101 is a digital agency in Reading which acutely focused on results-driven campaigns to grow a cross-section of industries.