The sight that befell me for three days
last week
It feels good to be back in the land of the living after a series of exams for my Diploma. I must say that it wasn't as bad as I feared and 3 x 3 hours actually went by very quickly. My hand didn't fall off and I now need to ensure I retain all of the knowledge in my head until after I know I've passed in early September.

One of my favourite(!) questions was on the current value of creativity in Digital Marketing and if the need for data has meant this in no longer so relevant. The argument (as far as I can remember!) which I put forward is that it's as important as ever in a world where so many brands are screaming for your attention, whilst the viewing public are multi-screening and increasingly expecting more targeted and integrated campaigns.

This got me thinking about the value of what we do at the University and the main reason I enjoy working there is the ability to try new things with little red tape. It also got me thinking as to who are the 'doers' and how we shouldn't rely on agencies alone to come up with our creative ideas. After all, we're closer to our brand than anyone and if we all just become a load of managers kicking our agencies there will be little continuity in message and a potentially unfulfilled workforce.

Mashable offers great industry insight
This is why I'm a firm believer in having design and creative skills in house. It's sometimes hard to keep up with the latest tools/tends (my technique is following certain people on Twitter and reading a number of industry blogs - Mashable and E-Consultancy are among the best) but before you know it you'll be out of touch and unable to use the latest version of Photoshop.

Personally I never want this to happen to me (at least until I retire!) I enjoy keeping up with the latest trends in Digital Marketing (and I'm glad I have after looking at my exam questions!) I also believe that as a middle manager I should be able to practically achieve everything which I ask from my team. That way, I understand how much time a task takes and we can all work collaboratively if required.

Photoshop has come a long way
since I first started using Version
3 back in 1999.
As you move up the corporate ladder it's undoubtedly true that your time gets absorbed by meetings and strategy documents but it's important to make time to actually be creative too. After all, that's the fun stuff! It'll be a dark day if I ever get to the stage where I don't have Adobe Creative Suite on my Mac! It also means that if a member of my staff is absent I can competently finish off one of their jobs. There are too many examples of people who are reliant on agencies for the smallest amend to an InDesign file or who doesn't understand how their staff members produce the work they do. It must be pretty stressful knowing that the team may miss a deadline just because someone is on holiday/ill!

To this end the team sat down and devised something for me to work on alongside the usual yearly Clearing campaign which is a bit different. It could fail but that doesn't matter as we'll enjoy doing it alongside all of the usual activity. We've also ensured that this piece will be helpful to students in Clearing instead of the usual hard sell and that it hopefully strikes an emotional chord with the audience (given the people involved it will with me!) so watch this space...

I also recently picked up a yearly job which comes our way to produce a highlights video. This is used internally for our Student Experience Awards and Graduations. Whilst it can be a chore collating all of the footage it's also really enjoyable to cut something together using a commercial music track (we have a site licence) which celebrates our achievements. I've embedded it below and hopefully it shows that I'm not a has-been yet!

This week looks set to be pretty hectic for the team, filled with Clearing videography, UCAS conventions, the launch of our new Research website section and planning for new student registration.

Some of my IDM coursemates
I must admit that this week may see me a little preoccupied as I enter the last leg of my PG Diploma in Digital Marketing with the IDM. This will all culminate with a series of three 3-hour exams next week in Wandsworth town hall, meaning my evenings will be consumed with writing revision timetables as an avoidance tactic to knuckling down to any proper revision!

The thought of sitting and writing for that long fills me with cold dread as I don't think I've been in an exam hall for about 15 years. I have horrible memories of wobbly, chewing gum covered tables and comparing notes with other students afterwards where I seemed to have written different answers to all of them!

Here are my thoughts on the course so far. I'd definitely recommend it for anyone who works in or is interested in Digital Marketing as it's a great way to fill in the gaps in your knowledge and to think more strategically about the work you undertake.

My background before the course:

Before I started the course I had 2 years in-house digital marketing experience covering most aspects of Digital Marketing, including; web development, PPC, Email, video and social. Before this I had worked for 5 years in internal marketing teams with a very similar remit. Therefore, I had a good practical background so I decided to leap straight into the diploma rather than do the certificate first.

I've found I can use a lot of my experience and knowledge from my job within the course, and that it has filled in the areas where I have had little experience, such as e-commerce and B2B.

Very vocational:

The course materials are very practical, and although underpinned by academic theory, you are not necessarily expected to reference a lot of theory during the assignments or course. The application to real life situations and backing them up with real life case studies is more important. There's also a big emphasis on budget planning and 'lifetime value' which are the two areas I have found most challenging.

Different study options:

My view of Bushey park as I walked
through it on my way to the IDM
There are various different study options to choose from, and I went for the intensive one over 8 months. This has been a really great way to study as it has fitted my 'just get it done' mentality and didn't draw it out unnecessarily. I had to attend three separate sessions at the IDM headquarters in Teddington with 15 other classmates. The first two of these were three full days each and were intended to prepare us for our assignments. The last one was four days to get us ready for our exams!

Overall the experience was great and work very kindly put me up in a nice hotel as commuting to Teddington on a daily basis would be nearly impossible. I really enjoyed getting to know my classmates and taking part in various presentations and group work. We then continued to chat via a LinkedIn group. The hardest bit was being faced with our first assignment after just three days of teaching though... I lost quite a few Saturdays working on that one!

Challenging assignments:

We had to complete 2 assignments or 5,000 words, where we are given a real case-study company and have to draw up a digital marketing plan to meet the companies objectives (Euro Car Parts and Gap360). I quite enjoyed this part of the course as I was able to put my theory into practice and be creative with my plans.

I was initially worried that I was not including enough theory, however this did not appear to have affected my results too much, as I think it is more important to get practical examples in. I also found I spent perhaps longer than I needed to on the market research aspects and that 5,000 words is much easier to write than you might expect!


Time for me to knuckle down!
I'll mention this one again in my next post! Needless to say I did an hour timed practice question the other evening and couldn't feel my hand afterwards...

In my first 2 exams I will have to answer 3 questions from 5, which cover current issues in Digital Marketing, and can cover issues that are not covered with the course materials. Therefore, I'm spending a lot of time reading marketing blogs/news to keep up to date.

The final exam is a unseen case study, similar to the assignments, where I'll have to formulate a Digital Marketing plan (this is the one I'm most nervous about!)

Overall, this has been a great experience. Just one more hurdle to go (the biggest one!) and then I'll find out in September if I've passed and can attend the lavish graduation ceremony. I'd especially like to thank the University of Bedfordshire who kindly funded these studies as part of my professional development. Let's hope I do them proud...
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