Three Skills You Need to Stay Relevant in Marketing Today

I sat down recently with Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Growth Officer of Publicis, to discuss what modern firms and successful marketing professionals look like in this connected age. Long before digital marketing was a practice, Tobaccowala envisioned its power and potential, and has shaped the industry through this vision.

I first met Rishad Tobaccowala 24 years ago, in 1993—the year I got my start at Leo Burnett. I had just transferred from Detroit to the Chicago office of the company’s Media department (yes – before it was called Starcom). Rishad had a vision for the media buying function at the agency; he asked me if I was willing to become a “new media” supervisor—a new role which first required the installation of a 28.8 Kbps modem on my IBM 286 desktop computer. That was the start of a twisting, turning and always exciting career path through digital advertising, AdTech sales and executive search.

That was a time when you were relevant if you were willing to try something new. Now, marketing is constantly changing—what was new yesterday is passé today. As an executive recruiter, I often hear from marketing professionals that they find it challenging to stay current and marketable as they seek to advance in the industry. So I wanted to speak to Rishad, who has always been so far ahead of the curve: what can marketing professionals do to stay relevant in a field that’s constantly changing?

His reply, paraphrased:

1. First, manage the left side of your brain. The “left brain” relates to things like logic, science and mathematics. It is where our ability to analyze data lies. It’s been said that data is the currency of marketing, so to further our careers, marketers need to take the time to develop skills in understanding, leveraging and utilizing. Find moments throughout the day to read how data is being used, organized and parsed. Be able to understand it enough to speak about it, when asked. The more you advance professionally, the more important this skill becomes, so develop it now.

2. Second, strive to improve your communication skills. Understanding data is one thing, but learning how to collect and parse data in a way that tells a good (or bad) story is important. How do you tell stories with others in the workplace? Can you communicate effectively and concisely? These are important traits to constantly develop. Also, develop a sense of empathy in your conversations. Think first about your audience. Try to put yourself in their position before speaking and be genuinely interested in their journey – their successes, failures and struggles.

3. Third, be curious! Maintain your desire to keep learning. Your experiences, both good and bad, have made you into the person you are today. I (Rishad) spend at least 7 hours per week learning: reading books, newspapers and websites. Learning is growth and growth fosters exploration. Keep exploring! Also, be resilient. Resilience is a byproduct of failure. When you fall, do you get back up right away? You should! Taking the time to celebrate your failures is a great way to learn. Very rarely do we learn from our wins. We mostly learn from our failures.

BONUS: If Rishad had 30 seconds in an elevator with a digital marketer with big aspirations, below is the advice he would provide this person:

“Imagine 20-30 years ahead in your career. What would you like to say to others looking for career/life advice? Start living your life THAT way, now.”

See Rishad’s 10 CAREER LESSONS. Glean more insight from Rishad Tobaccowala at his blog: and follow our website for more on this topic in the coming weeks.

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