Until recently, my career had been in the print industry. I was comfortable and knowledgeable in the traditional ink-on-paper world. I even liked the smell of a freshly inked press sheet.
But the sad reality that the printing industry was changing (and somewhat fading) was too hard to ignore. I went from being 100 percent focused on print production to spending just a few hours a day on it. I started dabbling in unfamiliar territory: digital marketing. The big question loomed: could I survive this change at this stage of my career?
I made the switch and officially became a digital strategy associate. The learning curve was steep. Terms such as impressions, CPM, CPC, and A/B testing were being lobbed at me, causing me to stop each time and figure out what everyone was talking about. There were a few moments where I wondered — what have I done? But all things come with time and patience, and now those once mystifying concepts make sense.
Changing careers and reinventing yourself is scary, but it’s a good kind of scary. I’m better because I’ve pushed myself to try something new. And it sure beats the alternative of being left behind. Through this evolution in my career, I’ve learned some major lessons.
1. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of engagement. Too often we’re afraid to reveal that we don’t know something. We don’t want to look uninformed. I had no choice — I needed to learn, and fast. I’m grateful to my co-workers for helping me grow and will pay the favor forward. I’ve discovered that people are eager to help, you just have to give them the opportunity.
2. It’s the same concepts, just with a new vocabulary.
Basic marketing concepts and customer service principles still apply to digital, they’re just executed (and described) differently. I’ve worked in printing for both print companies and marketing firms. That knowledge has carried over well to digital; I just had to learn the language. Professional skills transfer too. Before, I found success because I committed to understanding clients’ needs, worked with a sense of urgency and had a trained eye for detail. Those qualities still matter to my work today.
3. Digital requires constant learning. For everyone.
Digital is constantly changing and evolving. I may be a latecomer to digital marketing, but digital makes novices out of all of us. Online communities are always growing, shrinking or abandoning one platform for another. New apps and trends pop up all the time. That’s what makes digital so exciting. There are new ways that marketers can leverage digital to reach their audiences, but it requires constant diligence (for all of us!) to stay current.
4. Unlike print, digital lets marketers be flexible.
With print, you work within a finite set of rules. You can’t change a print project halfway through unless you’re willing to spend more money and time. Digital allows for testing and optimization. The ad isn’t performing as hoped? Mix it up and change directions creatively. Digital allows marketers the freedom to experiment to find what works, and it’s an incredibly fascinating and effective way to work.
5. Change wakes you up.
Reinventing yourself is an undertaking, but one well worth it. Even the little changes breathe new life into you. I’ve traded an office up north for a warehouse downtown. I wear a backpack now, since my laptop has become an extension of my hands. As a dad, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to embrace change. Two of my sons are in college and one is finishing his first year of law school. I hope they can learn from my example that your career can evolve as you do. The important thing is to get out there and try.
Going digital brought interesting projects and people my way. I look forward to seeing where this job takes me, and how my professional change can bring value and insight to the clients I work with daily. Digital is ever-changing, and it offers endless possibilities for the future.
But I do still miss the smell of ink.