Why (and How) I Became a Digital Marketer

Texas INstruments TI-99

People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. - Simon Sinek

This quote highlights simply the need for great content and storytelling. It is one I came across while studying the part-time Digital Marketing course at RED Academy in Vancouver. It's also philosphy I believe in as a digital marketer—be honest passionate and personal about promoting your business.

Rather than just use it to inform services I provide, it seemed natural to use it to form the core idea of a blog post about how and why I chose to become a digital marketer, to build my own full-service agency, and certain points through my life which led me here.

Ever since I was a kid I wanted to have my own business. I remember jotting down ideas in a notepad even before I had any idea what I wanted to do. I likely spent far more time with an open notepad and a pen procrastinating than actually achieving a plan. Computers and IT, though, were always a central theme.

In 1984, when I was seven, I came back from school to find dad had bought our first home computer, the Texas Instruments TI-99.

Texas INstruments TI-99

What a beauty! The future of home computing in the early 80s


Though even my dad would later say he bought it mainly for the games it was where I first started to learn BASIC programming. Though I didn't go full-nerd with computer languages, this interest in coding is what would ultimately lead to playing around with the web languages html, css and javascript. But kudos to my old man for having the foresight, even if it just for us kids to play around on, to buy a home computer in the early 80s. It was very forward-thinking and predicated on the fact that he, as a blue-collar factory worker, didn't want us to have to grub around on our hands and knees fixing machines for a living.

Sinclair Spectrum +3

A built-in disc drive! Wonders will never cease.

From there I graduated to a Sinclair Spectrum +3, the brainchild of eccentric British inventor Sir Clive Sinclair, who could often be seen showcasing his latest creations on the BBC's science and technology show Tomorrow's World. Here's the opening credits from 1982, which look and sound more like the opening credits of Stranger Things.

I saw in the new decade with the Commodore Amiga 500, a computer for which I still have a huge crush. It was so much fun. With an application called Amos I would very badly continue to mess around with programming. This post does a great job of explaining Amos, in the off-chance anyone cares.

Commodore Amiga 500

It was in the magazines Amiga Format and CU Amiga that I first started to read about the Information Superhighway, a digital world where computers spoke to computers. All that was needed was a modem, to connect your computer to your phone line, and anyone could subscribe.

As I got older, and educational demands grew, it was PCs and an Apple Mac, but it's at this juncture the story becomes more boring.

It wasn't until 1997, when I started university, that I first used the internet. Up until then at school and sixth-form college (the equivalent of the last two years in North American high schools) I was still using CD-Roms, digital versions of, for example, Encyclopaedia Brittanica or newspapers to find information.

I can still remember going to the Learning Resource Centre (which we dubbed the Early Learning Centre) at South Bank University (dubbed South Park University—we were under no illusions we were studying at Oxbridge or Ivy League schools) to first use the internet. I was researching for a paper Roland Barthes. I opened up the Netscape browser, stared and the screen and thought: "Now what do I do?"

Roland Barthes

You never forget your first: The mythology of Barthes lives on.

I had to ask the guy sat next to me. He directed me to a search engine called Yahoo. Google was at this point still a year away from kicking and screaming its way out of the digital womb.

That was 20 years ago. To this day the first time we research a new subject, product or service we will most likely go to a search engine. Though social search and peer-to-peer recommendations also factor in nowadays, and though in 20 years' time there will likely be new ways of finding information, there's a safe bet we will still be using search engines.

This is why search enigne optimization is a huge part of digital marketing: as long as there are people searching for information there will be a need for that information to be optimized to be found.

In December 2000, a few months after graduation, I got my first job working with the internet. It was part business development, part web page development with a legal, regulatory and financial publishing firm in London called Mondaq. This job went belly-up in late summer 2001, when the dot-com crash hit, but the company is still trundling along. Kudos to those guys, I never saw that happening.

A brief period of unemployment followed (I remember signing on at a job centre opposite where I went to university. Looking through my education and employment background, the person processing my claim said: "You've done well." When asking the government for financial assistance, there's an inherent comedic value to this statement. "A lot of ******* good it's done me," I responded.

Through an employment agency I would later get a temporary role building intranets for a division of the British Civil Service. The Export Credits Guarantee Department underwrites large-scale British civil engineering works overseas. I used Microsoft's Frontpage to build the sites, which is like Word for websites. Fortunately this has gone the way of the dodo.

Microsoft Frontpage

Microsoft Frontpage: Not the most fun on the internet.

Despite the software this was a significant improvement on some of the previous admin roles the agency found for me, one of which involved stuffing thousands of envelopes for the housing department of Southwark Counil in London.  Every Friday the two of us would receive our timesheets by fax (remember them?) and next to the job title it read "Envelope Stuffer." A stark reminder of how far I'd fallen. Given we didn't really need to engage our brains during this task, we would often spend our time laughing about what Americans would call this job. Offline Communications Executive, for instance. Gallows humour is essential in surviving the mundane.

Fast forward five years and after administrative work, restaurant work, landscaping and travelling I decided to study a journalism programme. I was approaching 30, about to become a dad, so it was time to start a career. Writing and the creative industries had always interested me.

On March 1 2007, I started working as a trainee subeditor for the Kent Regional News & Media group. It was originally based in Canterbury, Kent, when owned by Trinity Mirror but then regionalized in Chelmsford, Essex, after we were bought by Northcliffe Media. In April 2010 I was appointed one of 16 Digital Publishers across the country by the newly created Northcliffe Digital. My role was in the south east and responsible for the company's news websites in Kent, Essex, Surrey, Sussex and Croydon (south London). In both of these roles I took my first steps with SEO when writing and editing online, and I started using and training newsrooms with social media.

Whitstable Mum in Custard Shortage

Dessert Storm: This viral story gave the internet yellow fever

During my time in Canterbury I had the chance to work on a now (in)famous story that online was titled Whitstable Mum in Custard Shortage. I forget the print head I gave it. Alas it can't be found online anymore. It came in for much derision, but spawned a book on the amusing stories that appearerd in regional newspapes. A former colleague wrote about it, and regional journalism in general, in this Guardian feature. I disagree with his take on Custardgate, I thought it was hilarious. Due to its impact and the fact it went viral we planned to follow it up with a double-page spread that included all sorts of good stuff, but our Editorial Director at the time declared "no more custard." She wasn't happy with the negative press. I can't say as I blame her, but the response was wrong. The best way to abate the wagging tongues is to own the story, and outdo yourself. Burying your head in the custard is not going to help, but it will to admit the mistake. We also produced this piece of brilliance...

Seagull flew off with cat - Whitstable Times

Feline afraid: It's bad puns like this that are the lifeblood of regional journalism. Also my colleague (was it you, Cath?) who did the enlarged breakout, as if to highlight the perps, is both a brilliant and hilarious use of a journalistic convention.

In the spring of 2011, after freelancing for the Sunday Times for a couple of months, I took on more shifts and was also offered a role by Archant London to help them launch a now-defunct website called London24. Our live coverage of the London Riots in August 2011 grew our traffic to 1.2million, blew the servers with its populaity and also got a mention in the Vancouver Observer.

In November 2011 I moved to Vancouver, and in February 2012 I had a contract role for two years with a local newspaper publisher. It involved training newsrooms on social and digital media, and helping to create journalism  projects. Two of which included live and interactive news and social media coverage of the 2013 BC Elections, and the 2014 Whistler Ski and Snowboard Festival.

After this came to an end I had some ocasional freelance work but went headlong back into landscaping. When I decided that landscaping wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my career, and that returning to digital media was my goal, it was an easy decision to choose digital marketing: many of the skills I had from my time in print and digital journalism were very cross-transferable, it is creative and analytical at the same time, and it's an industry on the rise.

The next stage was to secure the domain name and business name, start building Pioneer Digital Media, find a suitable course for me, and work towards building my own digital marketing agency.

I chose the course at RED Academy for three reasons. It had good reviews, is close to where I live and I wanted to study at physical location and not online as I valued the relationships and opportunities to grow a network face-to-face communication would have. I came away from there with a couple of strong relationships and have remained a fairly active member of the school's alumni. It talks about it's community vibe and it has made good on that promise.  Through it I have picked up a freelance commission, represented the school at a careers event and will be giving a talk at an upcoming digital media marketing event at Langara, a college in Vancouver.

So, there you have it. My (longwinded) story on how and why I became a digital marketer. It's been an interesting process for me to write this, as I considered the various parts of my life, specifically my childhood, which sould help shape my decision.

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