When I was 25, I was working in marketing at American Heritage magazine, then a division of Forbes. I loved my job. I got to walk through the Forbes Galleries as I came into work each morning. I loved the in-house gym and the occasional trips on the Forbes yacht, the Highlander … but I digress.
But as much as I enjoyed those things, the real reason I loved my job was because it was both creative and analytical. I thought I was on track to be a magazine marketing guru, with a fancy title at a prestigious publication that reflected a personal passion. Life, however, had other plans.
After leaving American Heritage, I found myself in a similar position at Bridal Guide. The Internet was just beginning to gain traction then. I came up with a few online programs to add to proposals, but print was really the main focus of my role. But as the Internet began to play an ever-increasing role in business, I became obsessed with analytics, user experience, SEO, and community. I took on so much of the web that I became General Manager of the site. I left print behind in about 2001 and never looked back.
So how did I make the transition? It all boils down to three closely linked essentials:
- Transferable skills
- Insatiable curiosity
- Willingness to say “I don’t know”
For my print roles, I’d pull data from syndicated research to make the case for whatever I was positioning for the client. This helped prepare me for the analytics-driven world of digital. Granted, I still had to spend a lot of time playing around with Web Trends and Urchin (the precursor to Google Analytics) getting up to speed – so it was key that I was curious enough to play and learn on my own. I also had to be willing to ask questions when I hit a wall.
Also, marketing proposals for print often relied on catchy headlines and program titles to grab advertisers’ attention. It’s the same online; we have to grab users’ attention before they click to something else. The mission is the same, but our toolkit has expanded. Of course, I still had to spend hours trawling websites and other digital products, reading case studies, and joining industry groups to learn what worked, and I had to be willing to learn through trial and error.
When I made the transition from print marketing to digital product management, I took the skills I had, dove in, figured stuff out, and learned how to use my strengths in a new way. It sounds easy, or at least obvious, but I’ve seen a lot of folks who want to simply move over and direct things at the level they were at in their previous role. It’s the diving, figuring, and learning that’s really key. These days, that never ends.