I’ve been working in marketing for the two decades and most of that has been digital marketing. I love it. But from time to time it can get on top of me. If you work in digital marketing or you’re considering working in digital marketing it makes sense you would want to know how stressful it can be.
The first thing to say is I’ve had depressive episodes on and off over the years. I’m working on it, but I’m a bit damaged. I can be anxious and nervy, over-analytical, catastrophising, paranoid. All of that stuff.
I set up GrowTraffic to give myself more control over my life. And in some ways having your own digital marketing agency is very fulfilling and does provide that level of reassurance that you can always go out there and make things happen for yourself. But, I’ve come to recognise it’s an illusion. More employees, more customers, all those target markets, it’#s all out of your hands really and all you can do is let things happen around you and hope that you push things in the right direction.
You’d think I’d find a career where I didn’t have to put myself out there or do something where I’d be contented to just follow instructions, but believe me, anything like that just makes it worse. I find it difficult to be content with my lot unless I’m pushing myself and pushing forwards.
So, I’m probably thinking about this from the perspective of someone who has an inclination to struggle in most roles and not just digital marketing, but I am of the opinion that digital marketing can be particularly stressful if you’re that way inclined, to begin with.
When thinking about digital marketing you’ve got to think about the two aspects of the digital marketing spectrum: clientside and agency. I’ve done them both and they both have similar but differing pressures.
In both sides of digital marketing, you’ll have to deal with the immediacy of delivering results and the pressures you can feel when the results don’t come through. Face it, in marketing, there will be plenty of times that the results don’t come through like you would anticipate they do.
The thing about digital marketing, as opposed to traditional marketing, is what was once a long term to medium term approach has become something that you can be judged on a daily basis. In that way, it’s moved to become more like sales than old-school advertising. But the thing about sales is you can generally pick up the phone and make more calls. With marketing, you have to set everything up, which can often take months of planning and if it doesn’t work, you can’t just do more, you have to go back to the beginning and start again. Whilst there are some employers who are understanding, many employers will find themselves in the position that it’s just not economic to risk all that time and money to have another strategy that doesn’t work.
This kind of sums up how I feel about digital marketing from a stress perspective:
How stressful is digital marketing in an agency role?
When working in a digital marketing agency you go through a number of different roles.
First of all you’ve got the specialists, normally SEO consultants, PPC consultants/Paid social marketers, email marketers, content marketers and copywriters, social media experts, designers and developers. These guys deliver, they do the do.
I’ve never really worked in one of the purely delivery-orientated roles, but I’ve worked with a lot of those guys over the years. I think of those roles as less stressful as long as you can stick to a deadline and actually deliver. Delivery has never been my strong suit but ticking tasks off a list can be rewarding.
You’ve also got the account management team. These are the account executives, account managers and account directors, and probably the directors of the business. Their job is to liaise with clients and provide a strategic and tactical bent that will help their clients meet their objectives. They are also there to upsell for the agency and handle any issues as they arise. They can be seen as ‘the talking roles’.
On top of that, you have the commercial and studio management team. These are the guys that make sure things happen when the agency promises output and they ensure everything happens on time. These guys are the project managers. If you are good with Gantt charts and
But guess what, in many agencies these roles are blended. I’ve been an account manager that has had to upsell, project manage and actually do the delivery of digital marketing services. That means spinning a lot of plates. If you’re in a smaller digital marketing agency it means that you’re probably going to find yourself doing a bit of everything.
Doing a bit of everything can be great if you’re at the beginning of your career as it will give you a lot of skills that will set you up in terms of working out the way you want to go in the future. But it can be frustrating when you’ve already worked that skillset out and you find yourself having to do things you’re not ideally suited for or in which you’re not experienced.
The other thing about agency side life is you will find yourself jumping from pillar to post. You’ve essentially got a load of people all craving your attention and resources. I always used to say the reason I went into clientside marketing is that I preferred having one boss and not twenty, and even now. If you’ve got a load of different clients sending you messages, emailing you and calling you every waking hour you can rest assured it gets harder to deal with than just having one manager trying to get things from you.
Having multiple clients also means that you never have a chance to focus on just one strategy, and spooling in and out of different clients and solving their problems has an ongoing mental load. If I’m running more than 10 clients at any one time I can find that pressure really starts to get to me – and everyone around me knows about it. Rightly or wrongly.
How stressful is an in-house digital marketing role?
As I previously mentioned, when you work in a digital marketing agency role you’ll find yourself being stretched really thin because there are lots of people who want your attention. In an inhouse digital marketing role, you’ll find yourself answering to just a few people. This can be less stressful at times but it also comes with different pressures.
Often, digital marketers in an inhouse role will find they answer directly to the business owner or a non-marketing senior exec. When that person is responsible for your employment you can find it hard not to jump when they ask you to. I find it relatively easy to not engage with clients when they make non-urgent requests out of hours, but when you’re a salaried digital marketer and your boss wants to discuss digital marketing over the weekend or wants you to do something over the weekend that can be harder to ignore. You can find yourself in an always-on mindset which is incredibly difficult to deal and can quickly lead to your starting to burnout.
And if you don’t deal directly with the owner or a senior director you’re likely to have a marketing manager to contend with. Most marketing managers have risen through the ranks and many of them aren’t great at the art of management – same as most management really. And because you will likely have to deliver their strategy, if things aren’t working it’s generally your problem and not theirs and likewise when it’s working you’ll find them taking a large amount of the credit for your hard work. I’ve always found that frustrating, but when I found myself in those head of marketing roles I found myself naturally taking some of the credit when my level of input was questionable.
The other things about delivery in a clientside role is you’ve got to make it work. If you work in an agency there are plenty of clients to move onto if your efforts aren’t delivering for a client, but if you can’t make it work for the company you work for you know sooner rather than later it’s your job on the line. Whilst working in inhouse marketing roles I found myself being faced with redundancy four times in twelve years. The knowledge that you can always be let go is tough to live with, especially when you know it’s not working and you’re struggling to figure out what you can do differently to get just a bit of traction that might save your job.
Is Digital Marketing Right For You?
I suppose the thing you’ve got to ask yourself really is are you right for a career in digital marketing. You can make a company fly, but you’re going to feel some pressure over the years, especially when it doesn’t work and trust me, from time to time you’re going to implement a strategy that doesn’t deliver what you’d think it should.
I suffer from stress, depression and/or anxiety – whatever the words are for what I feel – my mental health isn’t always where it should be. I put pressure on myself because of my role in digital marketing. I can wake up in the middle of the night worrying about what’s happening with a client. When I worked clientside I could really heap the pressure on myself to the point where I was burntout and convinced I was days away from being sacked (and thinking like that always makes it more likely!). The point being that’s part of my personality and whilst I’ve developed various coping mechanisms over the years and I continue to try to refine my reactions, from time to time, it all gets too much for me.
You’ve got to know yourself before you head into any career but believe me, in digital there isn’t a lot of places to hide when it’s not working and if you’re likely to need to hide it might not be the right role for you.