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Companies emphasize digital skills in hunt for new employees

MILWAUKEE — The explosion in digital devices has triggered a rush by companies to hire digitally trained employees to provide and deliver the content for all those smartphones and computer tablets.

John Komp has been working in the digital industry for more than 20 years. He was hired last year as a senior digital producer for Bader Rutter & Associates Inc., a Brookfield, Wis., marketing services agency.

"Digital is just becoming so pervasive across all communication channels," Komp said.

The adoption of mobile devices has become so widespread so quickly that it has forced companies such as Bader Rutter to think about how to use this new medium and how to balance it with traditional media.

In two years, Bader Rutter has hired more than 100 associates who focus on building digital development in all areas of the company, including public relations, social media, Web development and design.

The agency, with a staff of 224, has increased employment 40 percent since it started hiring more digitally savvy candidates. Not many other agencies are able to make that claim, boasts Bader Rutter chief executive Greg Nickerson.

"It's been a blast," Nickerson said. "Finding these folks isn't the easiest, but we've really gone out to find them, and we think we've snapped up the best talent in southeast Wisconsin to even Chicago."

Bader Rutter is just one of many companies putting more emphasis and money toward hiring employees with digital skills. Digital includes areas such as Web programming, social media, brand management and design.

Bader Rutter's clientele comes from diverse industries, including dairy producers, cattle ranchers and veterinarians. Nickerson said the company hasn't abandoned traditional marketing strategies, because no one strategy fits all clients.

"There have been a lot of agencies saying, 'We're going to go completely digital; we're not doing traditional anymore.' But you can't abandon all of those traditional vehicles while you bring digital into the mix," he said.

The demand for digital-driven employees appears to be growing, according to Jeff Carrigan, founder of Milwaukee-based Big Shoes Network Inc. The online job board aggregates Wisconsin and Illinois employment opportunities in digital marketing including social media, advertising and public relations. The job announcements come from a combination of agencies, corporations, governments and nonprofits.

In 2011, Carrigan said, the site saw a 40 percent uptick in job postings. So far in 2012, postings are up 50 percent from a year ago.

When she's hiring, Bader Rutter recruitment director Megan Rouleau said she looks for people with experience using social media strategy or blogging for an organization, client or product.

In her hiring experiences, Rouleau said, many college graduates from business and communication schools have a sense of how to do this as professors get them up to speed.

"There's still some room for improvement, as people think they're social media experts, but more so personally than professionally," Rouleau said.

Rouleau said job prospects could improve their skills by following people and blogs with expertise in digital strategy. She also advised job seekers to understand how different social media platforms work and learn how to track metrics in terms of clicks per hour on links and even using Google Analytics.

Tig Tillinghast, a publishing consultant for Marketing Charts, a Vermont marketing and advertising trade publication, said candidates who can analyze data are important for online marketing, but there's a shortage of people who meet the demand.

"What I would recommend is to go for the most data-oriented internships and entry-level jobs because those are the things that are going to be impressive," Tillinghast said. "It's not like the marketing field is going to get less data-oriented over time. Data is what companies are climbing on top of themselves for to figure out how to reach their consumers more smartly before their competitors do."

With more companies needing digital employees, universities are taking notice and putting digital into practice in the classroom.

In the past several years, Daradirek "Gee" Ekachai, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Strategic Communication at Marquette University, said she has integrated digital media into her classes, having students blog and use other social media platforms.

Three years ago, she helped the university start an emerging social media class to help students learn about different tools, content strategy, tactics and monitoring strategy.

"It's beyond teaching students how to write press releases or copy for a brochure," she said. "We're trying to expose students to digital opportunities they can leverage in different areas."

The goal is to teach students not only to be consumers, but also to be effective producers who know how to use these tools, she said.

Employers are not looking for a student who has multiple accounts for every new social media platform, Ekachai said. Rather, employers want to know if a student can use these new social media tools strategically, if they can really engage stakeholders.

But Ekachai tries to help students learn more than digital skills.

"As educators, we try to teach them technical and practical usage while also making them aware of the ethical, legal concerns, risks and opportunities that come with it," she said.

In the past year, Hanson Dodge Creative has hired 10 to 15 people for digital jobs, said Tim Dodge, CEO and president.

The Milwaukee company specializes in active lifestyle products and branding. Because everything is digital, Dodge said, he increasingly has to go outside the area to find this kind of specialized talent and resources. The goal is to find people with a sense of digital strategy and outdoor product experience.

"We actually are only hiring people who understand and are engaged with digital every day," he said. "On top of that, they have to have ideas to share and stories to tell. There's that core of communication, design and branding that will be important no matter what the media is."

Besides knowing about the current state of digital, Dodge said the company also looks for employees who can bring new ideas to the table and who can understand and keep tabs on a little bit of everything, from Twitter to YouTube to Web programming.

"Everyone has to be a student of where digital is going and how it's evolving," Dodge said.

Companies emphasize digital skills in hunt for new employees 06/16/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 16, 2012 4:31am]
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