For most of IAB’s existence, its educational products have been targeted squarely at digital publishers and ad tech companies. After all, it was these firms that needed the requisite expertise to confidently explain their products to advertisers, many of whom were still wary of the emerging digital marketplace.
But last year, more and more, IAB began to see media buyers enrolling in its Digital Media Sales Certification program. To Christa Babcock, Vice President of Learning and Development, IAB, the message was clear: “As consumers spend more of their media time on mobile and desktop devices, advertisers have come to realize that investing in digital is a must for reaching their target audiences. The media buyers who represent them need to be just as informed as salespeople when it comes to the intricacies of programmatic buying and the digital space. There’s such a skillset disparity in media between folks who know these digital channels and those who don’t.”
To help alleviate this pain point, Babcock and her team began working on a new certification program aimed at helping the buy side get up to speed. The result of their labor is the IAB Digital Media Buying & Planning Certification, which launches this month and is available to all buyers and planners who meet eligibility requirements.
The certification program will provide applicants with a crash course in the many platforms and metrics they need to execute successful campaigns. By passing a rigorous exam, test-takers can prove to clients and employers alike that they possess a thorough understanding of every aspect of the fast-growing digital space. Additionally, IAB partnered with 4A’s, the leading trade association representing the advertising agency business, to develop related training initiatives and grow the program.
A gold standard for a fragmented ecosystem.
For years, digital media has sorely lacked an educational program that provides a truly holistic overview of the many tools available to buy-side practitioners.
Due to the speed at which technologies in the field have developed, many marketers were forced to learn how to use them on the job, acquiring only the skills they needed to perform their specific duties. While these circumstances created a wide range of subject-matter experts in disciplines like social media and SEO, many professionals know little about the aspects of digital marketing that fall outside their purview. Though many ad tech vendors offer their own certificates and certifications, IAB has the first to cover a broad spectrum of buying, planning, and measurement technologies.
According to Mahmood Khan, Associate Director of Digital Media & Paid Search at the Minneapolis-based agency Periscope, who participated in one of the workshops that produced questions for the exam, IAB Certification is especially important because today’s media buyers have more responsibilities than ever before. In addition to familiarizing themselves with the tools necessary to run sophisticated multi-channel campaigns, buyers and planners must also learn to master aspects of the creative, measurement, and web development processes.
“When I’m thinking of digital media, I have to think beyond the impressions that will be served for the ads,” said Khan. “So that means things like, ‘What is the landing page going to look like?’ I need to have input on the banner creatives we’re going to use as a call to action. I need to ensure I’m working with the right measurement partners. Today’s planners and buyers need to be knowledgeable across all of these different subdisciplines.”
Of course, it’s not enough for buyers and planners to merely know how different tools and disciplines work—they also need to use their critical thinking skills to stitch them together into effective media campaigns.
Malia Estes, a New York-based Associate Media Director at AMP Agency, who also participated in the workshop process, said she and her peers were very careful not to focus the exam solely on rote memorization. Instead, they set out to test applicants on their ability to combine their knowledge of different tools to create holistic media strategies. For instance, rather than just asking test-takers to define the term “demand-side platform,” IAB Certification requires them to explain how they would combine a DSP with a data-management platform, or why they would use a specific bidding strategy to drive video views. With these questions, the exam separates knowledgeable, experienced practitioners from those who are just starting out on the job.
“At the end of the day, you want to create those neural pathways in your brain and get people to think a little bit more critically,” said Estes. “Hopefully, there are people who come away from this exam, whether they’ve passed or they’ve failed, who learned something more comprehensive about digital media just from reading the questions.”
Filling the skills gap with proven talent.
Because so many buy-side professionals learn only one discipline at a time, Estes says she sometimes has trouble finding well-rounded talent that is guaranteed to be capable of adapting to a new role at AMP Agency. For instance, a prospective hire might be extremely skilled at using the MediaMath buying platform, but relatively inexperienced when it comes to negotiating pricing with a vendor.
Moving forward, team leaders and hiring managers can rest assured that certified applicants have all the skills they need to hit the ground running at a new job. In addition, obtaining certification shows employers that a job candidate is passionate about what they do and committed to growing as a professional. It’s no surprise that both Estes and Khan said they’d see certified applicants as being more attractive candidates to join their teams.
“I think it would give me just a little bit more of an easy mind to be able to say, ‘OK, I may not know anything about the agency where they came from, but (since they are certified) I know that agency taught them enough that they can immediately start contributing to the team and speak knowledgeably, intelligently, and deeply about certain core concepts to myself, to coworkers, and to clients,’” Estes said.
With programmatic technology continuing to develop at lightning speeds, it will only grow more important for buyers and planners to stay up-to-date with the latest industry knowledge. In the years to come, certification will be crucial to ensuring that buy-side professionals are capable of delivering effective campaigns across an ever-growing suite of devices, metrics, and platforms.
Indeed, as mobile media consumption and spending climb to unprecedented heights, it has never been more necessary for buyers and planners to seek out a comprehensive understanding of the entire digital ecosystem.
“In today’s industry for digital media buying and planning, it’s very important to stay ahead of the learning curve,” Khan said. “The moment you start falling behind on the latest stuff that’s happening, if you fast-forward two or three months, you’re going to have very old knowledge given how fast things are changing.”
Learn more about IAB Media Buying and Planning Certification here.