This episode we welcome Ahmed Elemam to the show. Ahmed joins us from Calgary to discuss digital strategy as a passion project. A key member of the digital marketing team at WestJet, one of Canada’s most preferred airlines, Ahmed’s career has spanned agency and client work, but often with an emphasis on one of his earliest passions, namely travel. Passion drives Ahmed. You can hear it in his voice (hear it first hand in the podcast in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud or below now). It is one of the primary reasons his career has taken the trajectory that it has, and it is also a reason why he is as effective for WestJet as he is. His entire career can be seen as a result of that passion as he has merged his lifelong love of travel with an early fascination in all things digital and marketing. But this passion is tempered by foresight and planning.
The planning manifested itself with a focus on what really matters, namely deciding what gaps existed in his skill set and identifying environments where he could learn the most. Invariably, these were entrepreneurial organizations since they allowed for the greatest opportunity to learn. This learning was particularly driven in these environments through the opportunity to apply skills and deal with problems. Since these problems typically required multi-disciplinary skills, these were excellent opportunities to learn. This is in contrast to most large companies and corporations where the work is more specialized and the opportunity to learn other disciplines do not exist in the same way.
Ahmed identifies one of the best places to start working and learning is in an agency. The challenge is that for those early in their careers, compensation in agencies is typically not as attractive as it might be elsewhere. But according to Ahmed, focusing on that in making decisions early in a career is very much the wrong thing to do. Focus on acquiring the hands on experience that will carry you through in your career and help you be a better digital marketer. This type of focus requires patience, a trait that is not often associated with our industry. In fact, Ahmed’s perspective is that it is this lack of patience and lack of desire to get involved in the work first hand which leads to a situation where, as he describes it, many of the most senior digital professionals, particularly in agencies, are not familiar enough with the machinery of the industry to make good decisions. The remedy is to learn more first hand earlier on and be patient.
So how does he temper his passion with patience? He does it through planning, by asking himself where he wants to be in the next 5 years and what skills and tools does he need to master in order to get there. This is a very strategic way of approaching a career, and one of its characteristics is moving back and forth between agencies and corporations. The reason is that while agencies tend to be more entrepreneurial environments, most do not have the resources or means for learning with enterprise applications and tools. Maintaining an entrepreneurial attitude allows for an environment of continuous learning within the corporation, and this is bolstered by the more multi-disciplinary learning earlier in the career.
One final area we explored was how individuals that are not analytically inclined (which describes many who work in our industry) can be successful in digital. Ahmed’s perspective is back to this focus on passion and learning. Specifically, know your strength, but also push yourself beyond your area of core competency to learn the fundamentals of other areas so at least you know the questions to ask that will help you deliver greater value.
His final perspective on the subject brings us back to the need to learn through hands on experience, that the time when you can fake it in this industry is quickly coming to an end.
Next week on octopus, we will explore the role of the B2B digital strategist with our next guest. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.