What Makes A Great Digital Strategist?

Seems like once a week a recruiter finds me on LinkedIn and calls up asking if I’d be interested in a VP/Director/Whatever of Digital Media Strategy position at <insert big brand or interactive agency here>. My response:

“I’m flattered but I’m happy with what I’m doing already. By the way, make sure your client gets someone who lives and breathes this stuff; obsesses over web, mobile, Tv and where it’s all going. Plus, they should be forward thinking and on the ground knowing what’s happening with the big guys and start-ups. Hmmm, maybe you can give me their name and number and I’ll call them to chat?”

They’re undoubtedly a little caught off guard, say thanks and “we’ll let you know if they’re interested” almost convincingly.

I’ve been through the conversation enough times, spoken with both agencies and companies looking for a digital/social media strategy help, and tested self-styled social media consultants to the point of exposure, that it’s time I write this post to offer some thoughts of what makes a good Digital Media Strategist. My hope is that it helps you decide if your company has found the right person, or even needs such a guru on the payroll.

So, here’s my list of the top 5 things to consider when deciding to hire a Digital Media Strategist…

1. Top Dog Commitment: Are the people who call the shots ready to put money and resources towards digital innovation or are they just thinking that they should get in the game? Having dedicated willingness to get innovative is paramount and the difference between success and an endless cycle of chatter.

2. Bang For Your Buck: If you want great teeth you go to the dentist. If you want an amazing garden you get a gardener. You trust their knowledge because that’s what they do best. You don’t invite a dentist and gardener to live with you and give them new things to do. At many company the in-house person tasked with Digital Media Strategy usually has another part of their portfolio like Development or Marketing and their performance is measured by these other responsibilities so that’s where they dedicate a their effort. If you really expect your strategist to have all the digital answers you better be ready to pay him/her to read a lot, test technology, think about what it all means, let you know what’s valuable vs. hype, and work with marketing, creative, and others across your company to deliver results…and that’s it. If not you end up with bad teeth and crappy flowers.

3. Results Focused, People Person: Have a VP/Director of Product Development? How about a Marketing or Creative Exec? Didn’t you hire them to come up with great ideas, products, and campaigns? Care to bet how long it takes before they get in a fight with your Digital Strategist? Your Digital Media Strategist should have experience working across groups. They should be able to rationalize trends and opportunities in relation to what they mean across company efforts and work with everyone. Get someone who listens, learns, and contributes, and collaborates to drive results.

4. Tech Guy Overlord: Is the company ready to embrace new technology or stuck in a legacy mindset? Sometimes the technology you use doesn’t really matter but sometimes it does. If your company is all Microsoft all the time and that reality isn’t about to change (because the tech guy calls the shots and only knows .NET) then why are you even talking about getting on the iPad? Online and mobile innovation moves insanely fast so recognize your company’s tech culture and decide if it needs to change, and if it can. Your Digital Strategist should be able to speak tech and strategy so they can communicate and gain support from all.

5. Can You Date? Is your company tied to vendors like Romeo to Juliet or free to date? Some companies look to existing vendors because it simply takes a lot of effort to constantly know what’s out there. Winning in today’s digital world means constantly understanding what’s happening; from the big players to the little team in the garage. Armed with knowledge you can make sure your existing vendors are the best bet or if someone else is leaving them in the dust.

By definition a Digital Media Strategist is someone who should be able to tell you what’s going on in digital media and what it could mean to your business close to anytime you ask. They read tech and media blogs at night because they love it. If something major happens and they’re not one of the first to know they get really pissed off. They take being on top of the digital world personal.

You might not even need a Digital Strategist at all, sometimes a Digital Media Guru On-Demand might be the best bet:

  • Someone who knows what’s happening across the digital world and keeps you up on matters important to your business; challenges, opportunities you should be all over, and what’s coming, because they take the time to understand your business (not feed you fluff they tell everyone).
  • A wealth of knowledge, connections, and practical understanding because they’re digitally obsessed. They have connections to the big guys and the start-up community.
  • Work with your Product Development, Strategy, and Development groups; providing insight, ideas, and learning from their insight to make sure any digital effort delivers value.
  • Thinks value first and ‘cool’ second; delivers value not hype and double-talk. They’re worth the money because if they’re not you won’t call them again!

So there you have it. There are lots of fast talkers out there because it’s cool to be a digital media dude these days, but test them out and challenge their knowledge and thinking about how they fit within your organization. Follow these guidelines to be on the right track to digital success with the right digital media strategist helping your team get there!