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Digital HUB Academy

Humans of DHA – Larisa Barker


With over 20 years of experience in the field, she started her career back when digital marketing was a very relative term.


Larisa recently decided that the next step in her journey was the e-learning MSc in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University, while consulting in brand and performance marketing for multiple clients in multiple industries, across multiple marketing channels, and family commitments.


Knowledgeable of everything that is both digital and traditional marketing, Larisa reveals her wide experience and tells us how she managed to balance studying, working and her family life.


Here’s the summary of our chat:


  • Larisa has her own brand, consulting with multiple brands across multiple industries in both traditional and digital channels AND in both performance and brand marketing.


  • Starting her career as a marketing assistant, she worked her way up and also transitioned horizontally to digital channels. With that depth and breadth of experience, she has a clear eagle-eye view of what brands need in terms of marketing both offline and online.


  • The speed at which the industry evolves is something that Larisa finds fascinating.


  • Studying, networking and practice. These are the 3 actions recommended if you want to start a career in digital marketing.


  • The rate at which the digital sector is growing, opportunities can be found at each corner. Companies are seeking specialists who have deep knowledge in a particular channel all the time.


  • Larisa joined the MSc in Digital Marketing by Manchester Metropolitan University in order to upscale her knowledge on digital strategies.


  • Working and studying are all interconnected for Larisa, as they should be for everyone. It’s a hands-on field, so the moment you learn something you better get to implement it.


  • E-learning works better for Larisa as it has allowed her to be flexible with her study, work, and family.


  • Time is her biggest challenge, while her proudest moment is getting through the course, seeing her grades, and proving that nothing is impossible and everything can be learnt.


  • Larisa’s advice on studying digital marketing: getting a qualification is definitely of benefit, no matter at what level.

Our Chat with Larisa Barker

Interview transcript

Istvan Gociman: Hello everyone, thanks for joining us today on another episode of our ongoing series, Humans of DHA and joining me today is Larisa Barker, also a student of the Master of Science in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University’s e-learning branch. Larisa, welcome!


Larisa Barker: Hi! Lovely to meet you!


IG: Lovely to have you here! Alright so let’s dive in! We’d like to hear from your perspective on the industry and your learning journey, these two in particular. Let’s start with the industry. What can you tell me about your current role?


LB: Okay, so, my current role is I have my own business, as a brand and marketing consultant. I mainly work in the industry of retail, so with some great retailers as clients, but I’ve also worked with some great brands as well, so in the fast moving consumer goods, smart cards, electrical appliances, so across different industries and I just find that within the role that I do, digital just plays such an important part and it’s here really, where in terms of the studying and what I’m doing in terms of the study is really helping me, in terms of my actual living and the role that I do in my own business.


So, that’s a little bit about my current role and, the brand work, I think, in the world that we live at the moment, there’s some massive brands out there but even businesses that have smaller brands, again bringing those brands to life on a digital platform whether it’s on e-commerce or social media, there’s so much happening in this area and digital continues to evolve, which I find absolutely fascinating.


IG: Pretty soon we’re going to have to hire people just to keep up with stuff. You call your “person” and you’re just like: “okay, so what happened, just catch me up in 5 minutes” because there’s just so much going on in the different areas.


LB: Absolutely


IG: Alright, so, how did you end up working in digital marketing?


LB: So, for myself, I started my career over 20 years ago and I did start as a marketing assistant. You can imagine back then, probably 20 years ago, there probably wasn’t much digital happening, but again, I think once I’ve worked in different industries and different sectors, I have stayed in marketing but I’ve seen marketing evolve and digital become part of the integrated communication channels and so it’s almost now, in the role that I do it’s a blend of offline and online but the digital side continues to grow so I would say that I don’t just specialize or work in digital marketing, I actually work across all channels, I’m probably not an expert in all of them, but there’s areas depending on the client and the brands, where there is more emphasis either in a store environment or it might be on e-commerce platform and selling the product through the e-commerce platform, so I would say digital is just completely integrated in everything that I’m doing at the moment now, so it’s not just digital, it’s a part of marketing per se.


IG: Great!


LB: Yeah


IG: It really goes to show how, specifically, it was almost kind of like a transition, every strategy and everything just transitioned to the digital side, of course with the necessary changes so they can adapt to the respective platforms, but essentially the concepts, the strategies and all this remains the same it’s just how you can use them in the different platforms.


LB: Absolutely


IG: Alright! So, what is your view of the industry at the moment? You know, all the changes and everything that’s going on and how integrated it has become like you’ve said.


LB: I think, well, we all know it’s growing and it has probably more so even over the last year since the global pandemic has… we’ve seen many businesses and industries to survive, have had to operate on the e-commerce platform to survive, so I think it’s always been growing as you said, but even more so probably in the last year. I think the industry is really fascinating as it continues to evolve, so, to be the best in SEO, you have to live and breathe that role, you have to be really focused in your industry.


We all know that the algorithm is always changing on Google, and if you want to rank the highest you just have to be in the game and live and breathe that part of that sector, and then you’ve got all the social media platforms as well, so they’re changing and innovating and attracting different audiences, and I think in one of my assignments I quoted something from Statista, where it’s like 2.77 billion users on social media and it’s like “Wow! It’s global and it’s everywhere” and we all know that but when you get a bit of context and numbers behind it’s like “that is fascinating!”


And because I work closely with brands, I know brands that use social media to drive awareness, engagement and drive customers or consumers through the funnel and have a clear call-to-action, so drive people to the website and it’s constantly evolving, and, I’d love to know where the digital industry will be in 10 years time.


It’s evolved so quickly in the last 10 years, where’s it going to be in 10 years? So I just find that fascinating.


IG: Right, yeah with everything going on and all the, innovations, changes, you’re saying that “Okay, so yeah, social media reached its peak” boom! There’s TikTok and it’s like everyone’s gone crazy, so yeah! It would be really interesting to see like in 10 years where everything evolves.  What advice would you have to future graduates that are entering the digital marketing sector? Obviously, I think you’ve had a lot of experience with different brands, as you’ve said, so I think you really have an interesting and very diverse view of each sector, whether it’s e-commerce, social media, or any specific industry.


LB: I think the advice I would give if you are looking to get into the digital marketing sector is just to learn as much as possible. And it’s almost… learn in terms of… either through studies, through journals, or articles or staying… just looking at articles and really staying up-to-date, but having a good network as well, so having a network of people, again, who you could talk and discuss matters with in terms of digital, so you’re really kept up to date, and also, if possible, try and get some real life examples in terms of working in that environment so I think that by having the 3 of studying, networking, and actually bringing some of what you’re learning to experience in real life, I just think it’s really important for a future role within digital marketing.


And again it’s having that interest in it. If you’re interested in something, you naturally do that anyway and I do think with studying it’s helped give me the confidence in terms of digital marketing and really living and breathing that little bit more.


IG: Alright, and would you say that it offers enough opportunities for students?


LB: Well, I think given the rate at which the digital sector is growing, there’s so many different channels within digital, so, I know I spoke about integrated marketing, but even within digital, there’s SEO, website, there’s social media and content strategy and acquisition, retention, conversion… there’s so many different areas.


The benefit of my role is I get to play in all the different areas but there isn’t always that depth there, but some people specialize in particular areas, so I think it’s really open and that opportunity is there. I can only see it growing and that’s why I’m doing this course because I wanted to upscale and learn more.


IG: Yeah, alright. And speaking of learning, how and why did you start to study?


LB: Okay, so I mentioned the start of my marketing career, over 20 years ago, there was very little information about digital marketing and we actually spoke about marketing as the World Wide Web (laughs). It was very basic, and I’ve learned on the job but really wanted to understand more in terms of strategy and just to get some of that fear reversed. I also wanted to network with some of the industry leading experts in this area and from studying with Manchester Met, it’s allowed me to do that.


We had one assignment where we’ve got authors and leading experts in the industry, actually in all the modules who will come and speak to us and it’s fascinating, so I just wanted to connect with those people and learn from them and I think what’s really interesting in the courses here and all the students, so listening to other students’ real-life experiences or even as part of their studying what their experience is, and I think it’s really interesting so you learn in so many different ways.


And sometimes it’s good to hear from all the students “so this has happened..” and you think “that has happened to me as well!”, I’m not alone, it’s good to just have that conversation, so I think studying digital marketing for me was absolutely the right thing to do. My only reservation is that I wish I had done it a few years ago and probably started sooner, but hey, I’m here now so I’m doing it and I’m really enjoying it.


IG: Right, that’s what matters indeed. You’ve mentioned starting a good while back. How did you find the shift from working to studying?


LB: So in my world, I’d say it’s all connected.  What I’m learning from studying, I bring it to work and some of the experiences I’ve had in work, I’m bringing into studying so it’s very connected and linked, but it’s certainly given me the confidence to talk about digital with a bit more authority because I feel like I understand it a bit more and if I’m honest, I just love learning so it’s really, really helped. So, I think that shift is just seamless it’s very natural.


IG: Right, so you’ve then obviously had little to no difficulty in balancing studying and working.


LB: I would say time and I’m sure it’s making sure that there’s the time there because again I think it’s… there is that piece around balancing working and studying, but what I do believe in this course is that it gives the flexibility to do that, so I’ll often work through the week and then catch up in the weekend in terms of studying and just before an assignment’s due I’ll make sure that I take time off work jus to really get through the assignment and make sure I’ve given it the attention. And also balancing it with family life, I’ve got family as well, so.. but it is perfect, it seems to work and it’s very, very flexible.


IG: Alright, that’s very good to hear. Getting back a bit to the course, how are you finding this e-learning side of studying? Did it help your current situation of working and also to take care of your family?


LB: Yeah, absolutely, and I find e-learning works for me if I’m honest and because of my commitments, as I mentioned family and work and it gives me the flexibility to do what I want when I want to do it. And I try and attend, there are weekly online discussions, and I try and attend those. It’s an hour or an hour-and-a-half once a week. I try and attend to keep myself on track so I don’t fall behind with the studying. And it’s different.


They’ve got a great way in terms of the module, the way that it’s done is it’s broken down by weeks, so there’s certain tasks and sections within the module where you need to have looked at so I find that really useful, because there is… sometimes the challenge if you’re not actually in the classroom environment and such, face to face, you can fall behind, but I find with this there isn’t because there is steps and milestones along the way.


And there’s also the live discourse page so you can post questions on there and communicate with the lecturers and other students, so again it’s really flexible and just suits the way that I learn really and the lifestyle that I’ve got.


IG: That’s great. Okay, and in terms of studying, or in terms of the course, what has been the biggest challenge to date?


LB: I would say it is probably the time, going back to time but I believe that if you want to do something and be good at it, you make the time, and it’s important to do that.


I think there’s been a couple of modules where I thought “my goodness, I don’t know much about this area and I’ve gone straight into master’s level learning.” but there is the support with the lecturers and other students and there’s just so much to reference online and books and articles and whilst I’m not proclaiming to be an expert it certainly helped me to get around an area that I’m not very familiar with, so yeah.


I think the challenges are almost positives if I’m honest, I wouldn’t say there’s anything where if maybe the other pieces as well… it’s, I’ve not studied for a long time so for me it was a bit of “well, I’m going to have to go back to the basics.”


Learn how to reference again, and make sure my citations are correct but again, when I joined the course there was a section at the beginning that really helped me get back up to speed with all of that, so it’s been fine, I’m really enjoying it.


IG: Alright, and based on this, and you seem really happy with what’s going and how well everything is structured. What is your proudest moment? What has this enabled you to achieve? What was your moment “Wow, I’ve really done this” in the course.


LB: I think it’s actually, working really hard on the assignments, putting the effort in, and actually seeing the results of the assignments, and getting the grades.


I’m a competitive person so I like to try and get good grades where I can and I just think there are areas within this course where I just thought I really don’t understand SEO and I’m coming into it new, but I seem to have done well in the assignments and I’m really, really proud of that, because it shows with learning, you really don’t have to know everything, because you will learn it in the course. And I just think the hard work and everything, it all seems to be worthwhile.


And I’m not saying it’s easy, you know that marketing is really strict, but I think if you’re willing to put the work in, you can do it and achieve what you want to achieve, and it’s funny actually, I constantly look back at my assignments almost as a reference point for myself with work as well, because yeah you forget things, but again if I’m not sure about something it’s almost as if my assignment summarizes what I’ve learnt in a module, and I just reference that and it just brings me up to speed a little bit in terms of what I’ve learnt, just because digital as we’ve said earlier is so diverse and is constantly changing.


IG: Yeah, okay. Right, and then finally, what advice would you give in terms of studying, so for people who might be thinking of studying digital marketing, first at a bachelor’s level and then at a master’s level.


LB: I think if you are interested in a role in marketing either now or in the future I can only say studying a digital qualification, no matter what level, would be of benefit. And I see this as a personal investment.


LB: Well, so again, I chose to do master’s because it’s something I always wanted to do and it’s a personal achievement for me, but also in digital marketing where you’ve got an industry that continues to evolve and I think to be in the game you need to be surrounded by the leading experts, industry experts, a community of people such as the students who you can speak to, bounce ideas off, and I just think studying… well, it’s an investment in your future career.


And again, I just think learning, once you have a qualification or even the journey of learning is something very personal. For me, nobody can take that away from me and I’m very passionate about it, and really proud to be studying as well, and doing the master’s level learning and the critical thinking and getting the support from the lecturers.


So I think it can really help you think strategically and really challenge yourself but in a really insightful and rich way, and engaging as well. So if you love learning, if you’re interested in digital, I would say this is, these courses are just brilliant for what you need going forward.


IG: Alright, great! Well Larissa, thank you so much for answering the questions and for taking the time to have this chat.


LB: You’re welcome!


IG: And for everyone viewing us, thank you so much for taking the time to view us, remember to follow us on social, and we’ll see you in a bit.


LB: Great, thank you, take care!