Secrets Of A Digital Evangelist

The role of the digital evangelist inside a large brand can be a difficult one.  The road is marred with people who’ve taken on that responsibility before, and in many cases they’ve left feeling unfulfilled at best, or battered, bruised and beaten at worst.  It can be a thankless job, as you spend every waking hour developing innovative strategies, evaluating an endless stream of intelligent, venture-backed companies and holding one-on-one meetings to educate and expand the horizons of your colleagues.  But don’t lose hope!  The day of reckoning is upon us (or at least it’s very, very close).

I know many people who’ve played this role at brand companies, and I’ve played that role in agencies that wanted to drag their brands kicking and screaming into the digital age.  It can be considered a pretty sexy job, to be positioned as the expert in a trailblazing category of media.  It can also drive you crazy, because more often than not you’ll get buy-in from people in face-to-face meetings, but when push comes to shove and the dollars are being allocated, you may not see your conversations come to a satisfying fruition.  To be successful in that role, wherever you may be, I do have some advice:

Start at the top. When you first take on the role of digital evangelist, even in the interview process, you want to go as high as you possibly can in the organization to get buy-in on innovation.  Speak to the CMO, but also speak to the CEO and the CFO if you can, because most of the time the budget allocations for marketing include all three, not just the CMO.  You want general buy-in from all the involved parties that innovation is looked on favorably in the organization, that your ideas will be supported  -- and that the first place to cut the budget won’t be in the innovative marketing bucket.

Focus on key colleagues. This is a political decision, but an important one.  You need to focus your efforts on no more than three people in the organization at the brand manager level, or possibly the director level, who are interested in being, and want to be viewed as, innovative.  These are going to become your best friends in the organization.  They will control specific budgets, they’re going to want to advance in their careers, and they’re going to be interested in digital.  You invite them to meetings, you engage them in healthy discussion, and bring them to dinners, parties and events.  I know it sounds a tad bit cheesy, but these are the people you want tied to your hip.  You want them to go to bat for the ideas you develop together (yes -- together). Everyone should be involved, but you will know quickly who your lowest-hanging-fruit allies will be, and the rest may end up playing second fiddle.

Don’t take center stage all the time. This one isn’t so easy.  You need to make sure that the ideas you created, or were involved in, are seen as coming from other places in the organization.  You are to be the “man behind the man” or the “woman behind the woman.” It’s your job to make sure everyone else sees the benefit of the digital platform, and that they’re perceived as innovative.  You don’t need the attention because everyone will know you were involved, and that is good enough.  It’s your job to evangelize the platform, not take all the credit.  That may mean you miss out on the internal award at the marketing conference, but that’s OK.  You can’t take an award to the bank and cash it in; you get compensated on other metrics, and those are what you should be focused on.  If your partners win, you win.

Of course, patience is also a must in this role, because at least half of your ideas will never see the light of day.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on them.  Think of it as practice.  You need to put in the time, and sharpen the pencil that is your brain, in order to come up with the best ideas.  The best ideas are the ones that will succeed, and you will be viewed as a success as a result!

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