Digital Media Director 2.0: Jack-of-all-Trades, Master of Many

In today’s marketing environment, few positions are more challenging than that of the digital media director. Successful directors need a mastery of multiple and diverse specialties; they are the new “Swiss army knife” of marketing.

The role of the digital media director is quickly gaining importance as we continue to shift media dollars to digital from broadcast and print. I work with many clients whose digital spend is north of 50% of the total media budget. But it is the relentless and rapid evolution of media platforms, buying options, technology, and privacy law that make this role even more difficult. Let’s look at some of the details behind this evolution.


Digital Media Director Skill Sets–Version 1.0
There is a core set of principles that have always been important in Digital Media planning. A partial list includes:

  • Audience composition, behavior and accumulation models
  • Effective reach and frequency
  • Pricing negotiations
  • Click/view through and post exposure audience performance
  • Creative context
  • Integration with other media channels

In the early days of digital, it was important to build a digital media plan that reached the right audience at the right price–and to understand how this audience accumulated over time. Additionally, creating media plans that were harmonious with the creative and messaging strategy has been and always will be important.

Understanding how all this comes together in an effective media plan is not trivial and often requires years of training and experience. However, these skills are no longer enough to guarantee success–the world has changed and so has the skill set required to be successful.


Digital Media Director Skill Sets–Version 2.0
There are several new skill sets that are important. We can break these into five categories: Technology, Analytics, Data, Privacy law, and Optimization.

Perhaps no area has become as complex as technology. A basic understanding of the technology behind “tags” or “cookies” is essential. Every display ad must be effectively tagged otherwise future measurement isn’t possible. And the display ad tags need to be able to talk to the brand Web site tags and should ideally be linked to search activity.

Ad networks, or exchanges, are now a standard part of every online plan. New networks arrive weekly, with promises of increased performance and lower costs. Understanding the difference between these networks can be a full time job. And this space is filled with jargon, premium vs. remnant, blind vs. non-blind, horizontal vs. vertical, etc. And because no good director wants to be tied to only using one network, we now have trading desks that sit on top of multiple ad networks to create commodities like trading in near real time.


New to the landscape is the addition of data networks that can be used in conjunction with the ad networks. We can combine online and offline data and buy very specific shopping behaviors. When combined with media inventory, we can serve ads to a pre-qualified audience based on a staggering array of requirements. We can target “Soccer Moms, who have two boys in pre-school, drive domestic mini-vans, reside in the smile belt, live at odd number addresses, and have bought Lucky Charms cereal in the last 30 days.” Granted this includes a bit of hyperbole but you get the idea. Good directors need to navigate these waters and build complex behavioral models to reach their desired targets.

This is only a partial list of the technologies that a good director needs to be familiar with. But the implication is clear–good digital media directors need to be more than just tech friendly–they need to be downright geeky.

Digital media has always been more performance oriented compared to broadcast and print, simply because it is more easily measured. But performance measures have moved beyond CPMs, click-throughs and view-throughs. ROI models that connect ad exposure to brand site behavior and offline shopping activity are now the norm.


It is these ROI models that are key to keeping the ad exchanges honest and ensuring that we are indeed getting the promised value for our spending. It is not as if we can get a look “under the hood” and see that our ad was delivered to the specified target. We need sophisticated performance measures to ensure our results and this clearly requires a close working relationship between the media and analytics groups.

As a result of this, effective digital media directors must be math friendly. The analytics group will routinely employ a variety of econometric models, including: time series analysis, logistic regression, attribution modeling, multiple log-on-log regressions, and Granger causality testing.

If this sounds like a lot of heavy math, that’s because it is. This is not to say that digital media directors need to conduct these analyses themselves. But because their plans will be evaluated using these concepts, they need to understand the approach and choices made within the models. Good media directors will participate in the model’s development and keep the analytics team focused on delivering model outputs that can be actualized in the marketplace–not an easy task.


The idea ought to be that digital media is really becoming a commodity with an unconstrained supply. So, now the data is just as valuable as the impression. We can’t find an audience by context alone anymore and expect to reach any type of scale. In the future, it is all about the data and the ability to identify the individual to meet your campaign needs.

Questions of data integrity, storage, and hygiene are critical. And an understanding of how data is organized from an individual record to a meta level is also important. It is not that the media team needs to be fluent in Business Objects or SQL code, but they need to care about the data that increasingly drives their decisions.

Privacy Law
Five years ago few would have predicted that a law degree would be a plus for a digital media director. But you would have to live in a cave to not be aware of the legal battles that are currently raging within federal and state legislators regarding digital privacy.


The very existence of ad exchanges, data networks, and ROI models are all predicated on the ability to track online behavior. Consumers are increasingly aware and concerned about these practices. And the recent issues with Facebook have only heightened everyone’s focus.

The process of aligning a client’s, agencies’ and advertiser’s privacy “Terms & Conditions” is time consuming beyond belief and a source of endless billing hours for legal counsel. Everyone wants to mitigate risk while maximizing the performance of his or her media dollars. And, of course the digital media planner is at the unwinnable center of all this, acting as the glue that can bring about a détente of sorts among these warring factions.

Real-Time Optimization
The most successful media planners have learned to optimize their plans in real-time. After all, this is the promise of digital. They don’t wait until the media has run to evaluate is effectiveness and make changes for the next campaign.


Changing a media plan while it is still in flight is no easy task. It needs to be based on complex attribution and ROI models and executed through ad exchanges and trading desks. Quick decisions, similar to trading commodities in a live exchange, must be made. And the results of these decisions are imminently transparent to everyone, either the changes performed better or they didn’t.

What is next?
As if this wasn’t enough there are other changes to consider. We all recognize that the next tectonic shift will be the merger of the PC and TV set top box. Adding interactivity, and Web-like track ability to the TV will be another game changer. Broadcast media will have all of the measurability and performance pressure of digital media. And if I had to place a bet on who would best navigate this space it would be the next generation of digital media directors.

Where will the next generation of digital media directors come from?
Now that we have reviewed a litany of requirements, where do you find the training to get these new skills? The simple answer is “Cross Training.”


Focusing on digital media alone is not the answer. A rotation through other, closely aligned areas is invaluable in providing the context and cross discipline skills necessary to succeed. Some suggestions include:

  • Ad trafficking
  • Site side analytics
  • QA
  • Emerging technology
  • Offline media planning
  • Contract negotiations
  • Search specialist

In the end, an insatiable curiosity and a commitment to always be learning will serve future digital media directors best. But the responsibility for their development also lies with senior management. Cross training opportunities don’t happen by accident. They require time, money and planning–all of which have been in short supply these last few years. But, ask yourself this: can your organization afford not to develop your next generation of digital media directors?

Steve Kerho is the SVP, Analytics, Marketing Optimization at Organic (


About the author

Steve has over 24 years of agency and client side experience leading CRM, interactive marketing, sales and media practices for brands including Nissan, Bank of America, Visa and Procter & Gamble, to name a few. In 2011, he was named an Adweek Media-All Star for his innovative work measuring earned and owned media content and developing predictive analytics models to optimize digital ecosystems