Building Effective Leaders In Digital Marketing


By Amanda Walls, Founder and Director of Cedarwood Digital 

The digital marketing industry has boomed over the last decade as more and more businesses look to reach their audience online. In 2021, the IAB UK’s Digital Adspend report highlighted that digital ad spend had soared 41% to a record high.That means more people than ever are spending on digital and looking to get a return on revenue from it.

In line with this growth, businesses have had to quickly pull together effective digital teams.  This has been tricky amongst a backdrop of a digital skills gap and the “Great Resignation.”  So, how do we create effective leaders in a space where finding and retaining great talent is hard?

Here are my top tips for building effective leaders in digital marketing which will not only benefit your business, but also help to strengthen your team and the people within it.

1. Build Effective Communication

Communication is key across any industry, but with digital being an ever-evolving space it’s more important than ever. Developing communication skills across your leadership team and encouraging them to communicate openly with their own team will help with both development and building a stronger framework for staff retention; a key issue within the current climate. Effective staff retention will place less pressure on your leaders and make for a better overall outcome.

Part of this is also knowledge-sharing. Digital skills aren’t taught in schools, they are taught in the workplace and through conferences and knowledge-sharing. Encourage your leaders to communicate frequently with their team, talk about what’s happening in the industry, and discuss the latest products and ways of working. Encourage them so that they  encourage likewise from their team members. Not only is this a great way to build skills, it’s also a great way to bring the team together.

2. Invest In People Development

Companies often have a significant training budget and spend most of it on practical training courses. These are prevalent across digital marketing due to the lack of training that staff receive at university and the need to train people on the job. Unfortunately, this sometimes comes at the cost of people development and, in an industry where we’re often working on multiple projects and with multiple stakeholders, developing emotional intelligence is key to developing strong leaders.

Investing in people development and encouraging leaders to develop their emotional intelligence makes them more aware of how to effectively deal with both their own team members and external stakeholders. In addition, it can teach great coping techniques and awareness of areas of personal development.  This can play a key role in your leaders feeling supported,  allowing them to then support and develop their team accordingly.

3. Encourage Adaptability

Digital changes constantly and whereas in many industries there will be strict rules and regulations, one of the most dynamic elements of the digital space is that it’s ever-evolving. To develop effective leaders in this space, encouraging adaptability towards this element of constant change is important.

In Google Ads for example, new products and approaches are constantly being implemented; failure to adapt here could be costly for your clients, your business and the development of your team. Developing leaders to feel that they can adapt in a safe space is one way to ensure that you’re ahead of the curve and that your staff are at the forefront of their industry.

Encourage your leaders to attend events, conferences and even read literature online to understand any changes that might be upcoming in the industry. In addition to engaging in debate within the community, this will help to ensure they are aware of any upcoming changes and are in the right place to roll them out across the team.

4. Lead People, Manage Work

Leaders lead people, managers manage work. To effectively lead people within the digital marketing space, ensure that you are leading and not managing; you have project management tools to handle the latter.

Be hands on in creating your leaders and teaching them to lead from the front. Leadership is about emotional intelligence – that’s encouraging people to understand how they work effectively and developing them in this manner. It’s also about guiding them on how they work most effectively with their team. Different members of the team will have different ways of working and to maximise the efficiency of your team, empowering your leaders with the skills to work this out will help considerably.

5. Use Technology, Develop Structure

Give your leaders the infrastructure that they need to succeed. In the digital space you can often find yourself juggling multiple projects, tasks or clients at the same time and this can be a demanding space for a leader. Implementing clear infrastructure and technology to support this is a great way to give your leaders a solid foundation on which they can build their departments and their own skills.

Investing in a good project management tool will help to support a departmental structure.Don’t be afraid to spend well here! It will save a lot of time for your team. Take the time to train your management and their team on how to effectively utilise task management software. This will ensure they spend less time on administrative tasks and have more time to spend on working effectively or, even better, upskilling and learning more about developments and the latest techniques within the industry.

6. Set Clear And Honest Goals – Give Direct Feedback

Honesty and clarity are very important when training leaders, especially if they are relatively new to the job, or to the industry. Set clear goals for development and do this in a structured way as you would with  any leader. With constant changes in the digital space it’s important to keep your leaders focused and ensure that they’re upskilling their own team to an appropriate level at the same time.

In the digital space encourage leaders to bring new ideas and inspiration to you. In an industry which is constantly changing it’s so important that effective leaders are up to date with the latest trends and implementations, so it’s important that you encourage them to do as such. Set clear goals and give honest feedback – it’s the best way to develop effective leaders.

Over the next few years, digital marketing will continue to see substantial growth and, as a result of this, the demand on great leaders and teams will continue to increase. By equipping your leaders in the best possible way, you will be able to ensure that your team, business and clients are happy for many years to come.



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