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Barry Adams: State of Digital Summer School, Learning from the Experts

This summer we have been taking you back to school! We have been focussing on education in Digital Marketing: what is the best education, what background is important? Questions you have seen answered throughout the summer by those you can learn from the best: the experts. Those that already earned their stripes and are now willing to share with you how they got there and what you should do to get that far as well.

It is now time to close the series, since the summer is officially over. But not before we have just a few more insights from the experts closest to us: our editorial team!

Today it’s time for Barry Adams, SEO & Digital Marketing consultant and founder of Polemic Digital based in Belfast and without a doubt our loudest member of our editorial team.

More about Barry here.

Summer School

What type of education did you have?

After secondary school I spent two years in college and didn’t like it very much. I was too busy drinking beer and generally being a lazy layabout and as a result I didn’t make the required grades and dropped out. Since then I’ve done a range of courses and trainings, initially mostly IT-specific such as Microsoft’s MCSE certification and Cisco network admin courses.

Later on in my career I got the Quirk eMarketing accreditation, did a very good masterclass in Internet marketing Strategy at Nyenrode university, and got a management certificate at Queen’s University Belfast. I’ve also done some courses in sales and account development.

I’m a big fan of continuous learning, and am eager to keep progressing as a professional as well as a person. I’m an associate lecturer for the Masters in Digital Media Communication at the University of Ulster, and I’m thinking of actually enrolling in the programme myself – it’s a great education and an excellent mix between academic theory and hands-on practical insights.

Is your education related to what you do now?

My two years in college were spent on a degree that mixed business and IT, so I suppose it’s marginally relevant to what I do. The eMarketing accreditation and Nyenrode masterclass were much more useful, and I credit those courses with my growth as a digital marketing professional. It’s what really got me thinking the right way about making websites successful, and the lessons I learnt there have done me well over the years.

barry-winsHow did you get into digital marketing?

As with most people’s careers, I sort of fell in to digital marketing without consciously making the choice. I coded a wee website for myself when I was in college and put the resulting experience in HTML on my CV, which landed me a job as an intranet webmaster. I went back an forth between IT administrator and webmaster jobs for a few years, until I got a great job as corporate webmaster for a fantastic manufacturing company called Hand Held Products.

Whilst there I worked together with great marketing teams in Europe and the USA, and I got serious about driving traffic to the corporate websites. That’s also when I did the Quirk and Nyenrode courses and really started honing my skills in digital marketing and SEO, and I never looked back.

How do you think the state of education in marketing is these days? Do marketers learn what they need to learn?

The state of marketing education has improved a lot, incorporating much more digital elements, but too often I think these digital marketing modules are add-ons rather than fully integral parts of the marketing curriculum. There are only a few courses out there that take digital marketing seriously and correctly view it as a truly essential ingredient of a successful marketing campaign.

Marketing has been fairly stagnant for decades, with very little revolutionary change. Since the arrival of internet technology, the marketing profession has stuggled to keep up and hasn’t really managed to set the agenda, but instead has been playing catch-up.

I think now we see a maturation of marketing education with regards to digital, and I see more and more university programmes and post-graduate courses that look at digital marketing correctly in the context of marketing education overall.

How do you feel about online training courses?

I have done a few online trainings myself over the years, but I’m not their biggest fan. Online education has its place, but nothing beats the interaction with lecturers and classmates that you get from face to face education. In online courses there’s very little opportunity to challenge the curriculum and ask difficult questions, nor to bounce ideas off of other classmates.

There have been a few attempts at recreating classroom environments online, but that sort of screen-interaction lacks the richness and depth of actual classrooms. It’s just not the same.

What is your tip for those that want to learn more?

I believe that learning and doing need to go hand in hand. When you learn a theoretical approach to digital marketing, you need to go and find out for yourself how it actually works in the messy and unpredictable real world. Theory will only get you so far, it’s hands-on experience that teaches you the most. You do need the theory to understand where to begin and what pitfalls to avoid, but it’s crucial to then apply that theory and see what happens.

What resources are best to learn marketing?

There are countless great resources out there, from industry blogs to (e)books, videos and slidedecks. But if you’re serious about learning digital marketing, I believe that nothing beats a proper course in a classroom enviroment to give you that essential foundation of knowledge and skills.

Find out what your local university offers or if there’s a digital marketing programme near you. The Digital Marketing Institute is nearly everywhere nowadays, and their courses are truly excellent (and I’m not just saying that because I lecture for them).

What’s the last lesson in marketing you learned?

Almost every day I learn something new or see an old lesson confirmed. In this last week alone I’ve learnt that there is indeed such a thing as pissing off the wrong people, and that generosity and loyalty are always rewarded in the long run. I’m not sure how applicable that is to marketing, so I’ll leave it to our readers to distil their own lessons from that.



Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.