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Digital Essays 2021: A Digital Landscape Shift by PHD’s Vittorio Barraja

By December 5, 2021December 8th, 2021MENA

Not long ago I was reading an eye-catching LinkedIn post from an old colleague of mine that highlighted three truisms of marketing: the basic concepts come from ancient civilisation; the discipline was born around the end of the year 800; the competencies are reshuffled every 10 years.

The first two points helped to highlight the third, which shows just how quickly things are now changing.

It’s hard to disagree with that, especially looking at the digital landscape of the last few years; do you remember the first display banner ever published online? The medal goes to AT&T, publishing a black banner on in 1994, bearing the words, “Have you ever clicked your mouse right here? You will.”

The mind boggles to remember that the click-through rate (percentage of clicks over-served ads) was above 45 per cent. This experiment proved the capabilities of generating brand awareness and driving interest (traffic was still a new and overlooked metric).

Today, digital services have multiplied, diversified and specialised. Global spending on digital advertising has been growing between 3 per cent and 11 per cent year-on-year. Across social media, video, search (paid and organic), affiliates etc. there are now full multiple-funnel solutions for all industries looking to connect with their consumers across the new and emerging touchpoints. As a result, the single person that launched a banner in 1994 is replaced by an army of highly skilled technical specialists.

Fast-forward 25 years and it is increasingly evident that digital can power a business in multiple ways, far beyond the humble banner or even traditional media or marketing functions.

But this comes with its own set of challenges. Mostly in actual network costs and talents. Compared with planning and activating traditional media, digital marketing and transformation initiatives tend to be more work-intensive; the daily interactions and tasks required to ensure campaigns are launched and constantly optimised in such a fast-paced environment are significant. The required skillsets have become more and more technical. And in many cases, the line between marketers and data scientists are blurred. When done well, data and technology merge to create the best-in-class user experience, designed to engage with people at all possible levels and power business transformation and growth.

As a result, media agencies are required to be more knowledgeable and agile than ever. And the change in working habits, accelerated by Covid-19, has helped to further develop decentralised and remote working as effective ways to reach previously untapped talents and skillsets. The legacy approach of having an entire team in one place is not only now debatable but also challenged from a financial standpoint by clients looking to optimise costs.

So, with access to global talent pools at the other end of a video call, remote offices (both off- and nearshore) and increasing reality, freelancers and the new agile skill sets they offer have never been as important as they are now.

At PHD, ‘Shift’ is our focus. As an industry, it is important that we try and get ahead of the change – and stop just responding to it. To think longer-term. To start building the future, today.

The simple truth is we keep reinventing and questioning ourselves. Not a single day passes without adding something new into the mix.

In our latest publication, titled Shift, we have explored the impact of these new challenges in the digital space on our talent. What are the skillsets of the future? Where will they be based? How will they be identified, developed, and empowered to succeed for our clients and their businesses?

We identified four cultural habits that are essential for answering these questions:

1. Hire for tomorrow (increase diversity, opening the filter on the talent acquisition process).

2. Encourage greater understanding of innate strengths (enable people to get into optimal swim lanes).

3. Set people free (empowered people empower people; develop a culture of empowerment and coaching).

4. Become a learning institution (that also happens to be a business). Einstein is reputed to have said: “Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.”

In such a decentralised world, connected but so disconnected at the same time, it’s imperative to protect and nurture the company’s culture, this is where becoming a learning institution is an absolute must: a culture is the sum total of thousands of small learnings, applied on a daily basis.

Or, as Steve Jobs said, “Innovation is the ability see change as an opportunity – not a threat.”

To learn more about PHD’s publication Shift, visit

This article was first published in Campaign Middle East

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