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Digital HUB Academy

Humans of DHA – Brendan Keegan

We sat down with Brendan Keegan PhD, link tutor and senior lecturer in digital marketing with Manchester Metropolitan University to talk about digital marketing, why a British BA degree is worth it and how all you need for this programme is enthusiasm.  


The conversation also includes a few of the countless career opportunities already available and how small and medium enterprises have accelerated their digital presence and strategies. 


Here’s a quick rundown of the conversation: 


  • Brendan is among the first graduates of a BA degree in digital marketing in the UK. He has completed his PhD since, and now teaches digital marketing at Manchester Met. 


  • Digital marketing is not unlike traditional marketing. To be blunt, it’s the use of slightly modified traditional marketing strategies on digital interfaces, such as your phone or TV screen. 


  • Marketing is not just advertising, it’s a much bigger process. It’s anything from finding new product lines to finding out what reflects customer sentiment about your product/service 


  • The industry is “screaming out for people” in Brendan’s words. It needs specialists, young people that are digital natives. That’s you! 


  • It’s not a tech job. It’s a strategic job. You might not be able to write code but consider this: others can’t use Snapchat (yes, that really is an advantage, just ask Brendan or anyone in the field, really!) 


  • The teaching standards at DHA are the same as at Manchester Met, otherwise our programme would not be approved. 


  • The most important trait of a candidate is enthusiasm. 



Interview Transcript 


Mihai Movilescu: Hello everyone, my name is Mihai Movilescu, I’m the head of National Marketing and Admissions with Digital Hub Academy, and I’m honored to have Brendan Keegan, senior lecturer in digital marketing with Manchester Metropolitan University, with me today. Brendan, hello, welcome! 


Brendan Keegan: Hello! Morning!  


MM: Anything you want to add to that… about yourself? 


BK: Two things really, I suppose. Let’s make it three. Well, the first thing is, I was one of the first UK graduates in digital marketing at bachelors, at degree level, because Manchester Metropolitan University had the first ever degree in digital marketing and there were 2 students in the very first year, which was me and one other chap. The other student, he kind of got a job halfway through with a very profitable company so that’s one thing on my CV. 


#2 is that I’ve been teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University for nearly 10 years. Originally I was brought in to cover any online marketing parts of traditional marketing modules and then in the past 10 years we’ve now got lots and lots and lots of digital teaching, which obviously reflects the way in which the industry has gone. There’s a lot of focus now on how digital innovation has changed the role on the job of a marketer, so there’s plenty of stuff for me to teach, to talk about at the moment 


Around the same time I started my PhD, which was looking at use of social media analytics in terms of decision-making, in terms of developing campaigns so quite a bit of a busy couple of years, I would say, so hopefully I’m in a good position to talk to you today and talk to the students that might be watching about the importance of studying digital marketing.  


MM: Let’s start with that. The biggest question we always get when presenting the Digital Hub Academy Programme is, what is digital marketing? So, from the standpoint of the graduate and the teacher, how would you define it? How would you explain it to prospective candidates? 


BK: Okay, well you have to think about it in terms of the D-word. The D-word represents a digital platform. So, if you have a digital platform, you have a method of communicating with customers with stakeholders, with people that might be interested in the products and services that you are trying to offer, okay?  


Now, the digital platform would be anything that has a digital interface or that has an interface that you can control and you can modify strategically to send a positive message about the products and services that you have. Now, one example which people seem to overlook all the time, is something as simple as when you got the bank, you go to take some money out, and what you have in front of you: you have a digital screen. So anywhere that there is a digital screen, there will be eyeballs looking at them, and therefore there’s an opportunity to have a conversation with potential customers. There’s an opportunity to have a conversation, to portray a positive message or a supportive message based around what a brand is trying to do.  


The digital part represents the platforms, if you think about the opposite of that, you can have traditional, you can have outdoor, you can have billboards, you can have magazines. That would be the non-digital platforms that are involved, but with focus solely on the digital platforms we can control, we can maintain, we can optimize, and we can use to great effect.  


The marketing side of the phrase, refer to how companies try and position themselves in terms of raising awareness for what they do, in raising awareness for what their products are, to what their services are, but also representation of what the brand is doing, how the brand is perceived, what the brand is trying to do in terms of their competitors.  


So marketing is not just advertising, which is a common mistake that we see with a lot of our potential students. They think it’s just about creating a lovely ad, a creative campaign and putting it out there. It’s not just that. It’s about identifying potential within the products that you have, you might want to introduce new lines of products, you might want to optimize, you might want to take advantage of one of your competitors perhaps, you might say that one of your competitors is not doing their job very well, so you’re marketing strategy might be to overtake them, by introducing something new to market. Or you might want to have something which reflects consumer sentiment, you might want to introduce new products at a key time such as the pandemic situation that we’re in at the moment. Something along the lines of a home delivery service for products because people can’t get out.  


Now that’s a marketing strategy. So marketing is not just advertising, it’s a much bigger process, so the role of the marketer will be considering all these things and digital marketing allows us the digital platforms, to allow us to do these things. 


MM: Perfect. Now, building on that, it’s a very exciting field, but why should students choose a career in digital marketing? What are the main selling points of this? 


BK: Number one, it’s exciting because it’s very new and because this is where the industry has moved. When I started my PhD 10 years ago, nobody really knew about social media as a marketing tool. It was very new… 


MM: Yeah, I remember those times. 


BK: Exactly! Back then we used something called Bebo. I don’t know if you remember Bebo.. 


MM: Yeah! (laughs) 


BK: But it doesn’t even exist anymore, it’s gone! So, things move very fast and the pace of change in digital is absolutely fascinating. I mean it’s fascinating to me, because new platforms are introduced all the time and there’s a potential there for supporting the marketing role and I think that is fascinating. 


Number two, I would say that the industry is screaming out for people who have knowledge and skills in terms of digital marketing and if you have a good understanding of how digital marketing works and how we can use and manipulate some of these platforms, I’d say you’re in a much better position to gain employment with brands or to be able to do things, creative and clever things with brands with a good knowledge of how digital works. 


The third thing I would say is look at the consumer base across the globe at the moment. We cannot survive without our phones, we cannot survive without digital platforms, without websites, without finding things through search engines. The customers are there, so if you want to make money and you want to make a positive impact with your marketing strategy, you need to make sure that you are online. If I google a brand and a brand isn’t there, I won’t purchase with that brand, I won’t buy their product. 


MM: Yeah, correct. 


BK:  So, it’s of very good use to be in there. The final point I would make is that digital marketing is not rocket science. It is actually quite complex in how it appears 


MM: Yeah 


BK: But the strategy behind it is very similar to traditional marketing strategies and how we use some of these different platforms. It might change slightly between in what you would use in search engine marketing and what you would use in social media marketing, but it’s not impossible, it’s not a tech job, you’re not programming, you’re not coding, it’s more of a strategic job. You’re coming up with ideas and you’re implementing your ideas using very, very sophisticated platforms. So, I’d say there’s a sweet spot there between creativity and technology, within the role of the digital marketer. 


MM: Yeah, we’ve seen a lot of candidates having the impression that you have to be a code genius, or an IT geek to make it in digital marketing, so I’m very glad that you touched on that.  You don’t need… 


BK: I was a developer and I was a coder and I realized that this part of the industry, the online marketing strategy part of the industry is much more exciting and these days we don’t hand-code things anymore, what we do is… there’s lots of clever ways around it, lots of clever and cheap ways around building websites.  


So, what the digital marketer needs to do is, they need to be able to speak to the people who are building the website, but also need to be able to speak to the consumers. So, having a knowledge and an awareness to coding would be great, but it’s not essential. The important thing to be aware of is the knowledge of data and how data and analytics helps us to make those decisions. 


MM: So, we’ve got a partnership between Manchester Met and Digital Hub Academy and also our other academies. Can you detail on the connection between Manchester Metropolitan University and Digital Hub Academy and how that’s been going on? 


BK: Well I’ve been involved with DHA for about a year now, in terms of developing the paperwork and just making sure that the modules that we teach here, this room right here (points to his right above his shoulder), that we teach in Manchester Metropolitan University reflect the teaching that you all receive through DHA. So we’ve done all the checks and all the investigations that all the learning process is the same, and the outcome of each module is the same and the structure of each course is exactly the same as what we do here.  


Now, I am the link tutor for this program, so I’ve obviously been through the whole process of making sure that on Manchester Metropolitan University’s side, we’re happy that what DHA is doing, mirrors what we’re doing in the UK so it’s essentially the same type of degree, the same type of award, but just not physically in the building here.  


Teaching, obviously we have support by some of the staff at DHA but also some Manchester Metropolitan University staff will be taking part in that as well, myself included, I will be checking in occasionally just to say hi to some of the students for some guest talks and things like that. 


MM: As a senior lecturer, you’ve had contact with tons of students by now, so from your perspective, what would be the main traits, the main characteristics of a good student that joins these programmes? 


BK: Okay, well for me the best student doesn’t necessarily need to be the smartest. The best student is the one who has enthusiasm. And if a student is enthusiastic, I think that outweighs any kind of results they’ve gotten in school and any kind of exam performance. 


We obviously need people to be able to communicate in writing skills, but those skills develop over time and one of the best ways is going through a series of written assignments and discussions with your tutors… that’s the best way to develop those skills. But at the beginning, for a student who hasn’t even walked into the building or checked in yet… 


If you have enthusiasm, if you have, dare I say passion, for the industry, I think that is one of the most important traits that you’ll need. So awareness of digital within the industry would also be useful, so I would like to see that if students are coming in to my university, when I see them for the very first time, that they have a LinkedIn profile already up and running, they have a Twitter account, they’re following key commentators who are talking about the industry, they’re aware of specific trade magazines, they’re aware of what’s happening in the news.  


If I ask students at the beginning of the class, what’s happened this week, they should be able to answer that question, because they should be interested in the area. So, enthusiasm and interest, hopefully passion for the industry, that is what I’d recommend, that is what I would like to see in students.  


If prior experience is possible, it’s not always possible at undergraduate level, you have to understand that, but if anybody has done something as simple as built a Facebook page for a group, or for a brand, or for a company, or for their uncle’s shop, if you’ve done something like that I would love to see that as well because that shows you’ve actually dipped your toe in the water and you’ve started to kind of build some platforms for a strategic digital marketing base. 


MM: Great! One of the things that we try to do for our prospects is show them a career path. So, from your experience and the alumni that you keep contact with, can you give us some examples as to where they work, what roles do they fill right now? 


 BK: Okay, how long do we have? (smiles) 


MM: As long as you want! (smiles) 


BK: (laughs) Well Manchester is obviously quite a big city and hopefully the students will get to visit and we’ll come see you guys here in the building, but within the locality of Manchester we have some very big brands, we’ve got some very big digital agencies. 


Now there’s two kind of destinations that our graduates tend to go to: you either tend to go agency side, you work for a specific marketing agency in a digital role, or you tend to go client side, where you work for a brand, and you are the brand manager who sometimes contracts the agencies to do some work or you do a lot of the marketing job for the brand. So, you either go agency side or client side. 


Client side, some of our graduates… they work for Manchester United, which is just down the road. 

MM: Wow! 


BK: And Manchester City, we have a big connection with them. We do a lot of research with Manchester City football club, but we also have brands like Kellogg’s, which is the serial company, we have Coca-Cola, has a base here. We have… a lot of students work for Lexus and Bentley, which are too big automotive firms.   


Whereas agency side, we have some students working for an agency called McCann-Erickson. McCann-Erickson is one of the biggest global advertising agencies on the planet. McCann-Erickson has a series of subsidiary companies, which a lot of students work for as well, called iProspect, Carat and Mindshare, Mediashare. There’s a couple of other big companies called Mediacom, by big I mean there are thousands of employees in this company and within those they all service different clients. So some of the client they service could be Bentley, could be Manchester United, could be people like that so our graduates tend to do particularly well, I think the percentage we had for graduate employment last year  was something like 78-80% of our graduates.  


Undergraduate level were employed within a year purely because if I point back to my earlier reply is that the industry is screaming out for people in this area because it’s so niche, it’s so specific and it’s so new, that the workforce at the moment, who’ve been in advertising for 20 years, they don’t really know about this stuff. They need people who aren’t on Bebo, they need people who are on Snapchat because the executives tend to be 50+ and they don’t understand how Snapchat works, what they need is young, bright, enthusiastic and energetic people to come in and introduce these new ideas to come up with creative campaigns. 


MM: Why do you think that digital is so popular right now? What do you think attracts young people towards this field? Of course, we have influencers, we have those brands, but what do you think is the key aspects that attracts them to this? 


BK: Well, I suppose… I’d put it down to…. Well, we both remember how we used to dial up to the internet through the telephone line, do you remember that noise? 


MM: Yeah, awful noise! (laughs) 


BK: Yeah that awful noise that went on for ages. So, what we have is this concept of anybody born after 1992 is referred to as a digital native. The digital native just refers to children who didn’t have to listen to that terrible noise. They were instantly plugged in as soon as they were within 8-10 years old. They had a device available to them, there was a tablet, there was something there with a straightforward connection. They were plugged in by the time they were 10 years old. 


This generation is used to that and has that memory, they’re always online and you can always find the answer to what you need online, and this is built into the psyche of this generation. Now, it’s an expectation, it has to be there. A brand has to be online, if they’re not online, they’re not doing their job well enough. 


Whereas if a brand doesn’t appear on a search engine results page, then they certainly wouldn’t invest more. 


But equally, with digital natives as a generation, they are more likely to engage with brands online versus older generations. So, the 50-year-old media executive is less reluctant to tweet directly to a company because they think “oh, I’m not going to share my personal information with them” whereas younger generations are more likely to.  


Now, that also means that there’s lots of potential customers of that age range, which means that the job itself is a younger generation, a younger consumer base, a younger digital marketing executive is going to be more familiar of how to speak to their peers and I think that’s where the appeal comes, that there’s so much information flying around in the digital sphere. 


Younger people are more aware of it, they understand it better than other generations, and I think that’s why it becomes more appealing to them. That’s why, I mean the classic example is the idea that the older generations don’t get something like Snapchat, they don’t get it because they can’t understand the navigation, they can’t understand how to use it. They sign up for it and it’s a dormant account, they last for six months and then they close it down. 


I suppose TikTok is the new example. Again, the older generation can’t figure out TikTok. You’re nodding your head; I suppose your part of that category as well.  


MM: Coming close honestly. 


BKComing close, right, okay. 


MM: Coming close… Snapchat was beyond me for some time, even though I worked in digital, but I could feel the gap between myself and younger colleagues. So, 10 years younger and it was second nature to them, to me it was rocket science like you said in the beginning (laughs) 


BK: Well I mean, coming back to an earlier point we mentioned… some of your students are worried about not being able to hand-code websites. Umm… they can use Snapchat and other people can’t, so there’s different skills there in different areas, that this digital native generation are fully aware of and I think that is where the appeal is. They are very, very fluent in terms of technology, in terms of how to use it. 


What I’d like to see is when we get students into the classroom, we start to unpack the strategy behind that, how you can use marketing strategy with these new platforms, to use these skills which are already built into their psyche, built into their DNA, because they’re the digital native generation. 


MM: Great. We unfortunately are going through a pandemic right now, but I think there is a plus-side professionally to this, because of the attention that digital marketing has got during the last 6 months. What’s your take on this, how has the pandemic affected the future of digital marketing? Has it pushed it forward, has it been an advantage? 


BK: Yeah, I think out of all the industries who’ve been affected by the pandemic, I think digital marketing has come out of this quite well, because the manner in which it’s been used and the manner in which brands have been using digital platforms to try and circumvent some of the restrictions that have happened on a local basis, I think have been excellent. 


So this idea of local deliveries from restaurants, cafes and things like that has been enabled by a lot of digital platforms, specifically through mobile apps  and things like that, so I think the manner in which the technology has been used and adapted is commendable and I think that’s why we’re seeing an uptick in kind of online sales, in terms of e-commerce statistics, we’re seeing lots and lots more. So, there’s lots of money being spent there, within this aspect. But I would take my hat off to some of the local companies and local brands, small to medium sized enterprises that have used these platforms quite effectively and quite cleverly.  


So while it might look like digital marketing has… sales have gone up, which obviously you might expect, people are not going outside, I think the real celebration should be in terms of how local towns and cities have managed to use digital very effectively within their community. So, it’s not like global brands like Coca-Cola and Manchester United have done a great job and they’re selling more tickets, they’re selling more products. I think that we should be looking, paying more attention to localized community use of digital. And I hope that continues in the future. 


MM: Great. Yeah, me too! I think it’s been a great way to kickstart the “digital revolution” in some places where digital marketing really hasn’t been used to its full potential or nearly at all, unfortunately in some cases. What would your message be for future DHA-MMU candidates? What would you like to say to them? 


BK: If you want to see what the courses are like, and if you want to see what the teaching is like or the experience that you’ll be having, follow us on Twitter. Because a lot of what I do is I share a lot of the students’ work in the classroom. So, you can actually see some of this, and I’ll be tweeting about what I’m teaching this week.  


This week I’m looking at corporate-social responsibility and ethics in terms of digital marketing, so how are companies engaging with local community projects or helping out with umm… to try and do, have environmentally friendly practices within their advertising, to raise awareness of that. And also brands who are doing things like supporting local charities. So, I’m looking how that happens on three of the many digital platforms. 


So, follow us on Twitter and get in touch if you want, if you have any specific questions. Don’t be afraid to ask any question because there’s no such thing as a stupid question, the only thing stupid is if you don’t ask it so just reach out and get in touch. If you can’t find us online, we’re not doing our job online well enough, so you should be able to find lots of us online, you should be able to find lots of examples of some of the work that we do in the classroom, and then finally I’d say: 


Keep an eye on the job recruiting pages or any kind of recruitment agency pages and have a look at the titles of the jobs that are coming up at the moment. You’ll notice some trends, you’ll notice… there will be a strong focus on email marketing, a big focus on digital marketing executives, digital marketing strategists, social media marketing manager. 


If you had a look at all the jobs that were advertised in Romania, or anywhere really, I’d guarantee over half of them will be within the digital marketing sector. That’s how it is today, it will possibly increase and by the time that you graduate, you’ll be looking to walk into one of these jobs or you will walk into one of these jobs with a good education behind you and a good experience that you’ve had for a couple of years to be able to show off your skills. 


MM: Brendan, thank you very much for your time today! Guys, thanks for watching and as Brendan said, if you have any question for us, for him, you can find us on your main social media platforms. We’re always here so see you soon! Thanks again! 


BK: Bye now!  

Business Developer for Digital Hub Academy