Salary Benchmarks: The rise of the (real) digital strategist

December 02, 2013  |  Harry Manson  |  Comments

Requests for digital strategists have reached an all-time high and I’m happy… I think. This is a great indication of the maturity of digital as a marketing discipline, but as more agencies strive to keep up with the Joneses, the increased demand for the market’s latest and greatest digital discipline is bound to trend towards inflated compensation or substandard quality.

(Remember when IA’s with two wireframes under their belt were charging $80 an hour? Shh. Never speak of it again.)

So who has the real goods? To understand the answer, we need to look at the evolution of strategy within digital marketing. Ten years ago, when it came to strategy, senior creative and client services professionals ran the show. If you had a strategist on your team, it meant you were working on a very unique piece of business, one that demanded insight beyond what could be delivered by the usual suspects. Now the maturity of digital-hungry consumers and marketing managers who forget life before Facebook are demanding a more dedicated approach to campaign design and execution. This is why what used to pass as strategy – “liking” a product on your friend’s page or (ahem) “re-chirping” a news-feed – simply won’t do.

Like most disciplines still in utero, there are often real and measurable holes in the spectrum of experience available within the market. Real digital strategists – the ones who have a solid understanding of what it means to utilize all the tools in your engagement toolbox – are prized by their colleagues. The most common complaint I hear from strategist-seeking hiring managers with a junior to intermediate budget is that they end up with a community manager who wants a raise.

The reality is, people who are capable of providing the kind of in-depth thinking across all areas of digital are few and far between. To do the job well, you’ve had to have been immersed in the evolution of digital marketing for long enough to justify a campaign’s return on investment, have a broad understanding of consumer engagement and realized comprehension of market transformation with respect to technology saturation and creative affinity.

If you seek a qualified digital strategist, don’t lose hope. They do exist. Some agencies have justifiably passed the torch to senior staff who are true veterans of the industry. Some come from creative leadership, but most rose the ranks of client services. Further, it is likely these digital magic makers are entering their new realm of accountability with eyes as wide as their wallets. To have that much tangible insight into engagement channels that work, you are likely already dealing with someone quite senior.

If you want to attract a top-notch digital strategist with the pedigree to match, start thinking about an average salary in the $120k-plus mark.  I’ve seen as high as $180K, but this is not the norm. Given that most of these folks enjoy lots of loyalty-based perks, getting them to work for you will need to be more about the potential for innovation and not the $5K raise you’ve budgeted for in your recruitment strategy.

Harry Manson is CEO of Toronto-based 3 Degrees Creative Resourcing

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