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‘It’s sexy, mysterious, and valuable’: Ad agencies are offering data science courses to brands

Data science is hot, but confusing, and agencies are seeing an opportunity there.

As more brands realize the need to build data science capabilities, they’re still confused about how to implement data in their business, and how to hire the right people. Agencies are rushing to fill the gap, supplementing their analytics offerings with data science courses for their clients, and even opening up new data science schools for C-suite executives.

Others are working with universities to create talent pipelines for their own organizations. Even companies like IBM and Microsoft are now offering data science courses.

In September, Ross Martin, CEO of brand strategy agency Blackbird, and Jacob Harris, partner at data science consultancy Schireson Associates, came together to launch Data Science University, a school offering one-day group sessions at $3,000 a person.

The sessions are tailored to marketing executives who have some base knowledge of data science already, but might get lost between the various buzzwords and want to be able to effectively communicate what they want from data scientists who join their business, and with minimal math involved. The sessions have so far brought in executives from companies like Citibank, GE, Mondelez, CNN, Hearst and Bonobos, as well as other agency employees from TBWA/Chiat/Day, MDC Partners and Accenture, according to Martin.

“There is a belief that it’s sexy, mysterious, and valuable,” said Martin. “If you don’t understand data science it leaves you vulnerable because you may not be investing your time, focus and budget strategically when most of your competitors probably are. [Marketers] are competing with companies like Facebook and Google, who they want to emulate, We’re demystifying this entire field that is littered with buzzwords and smoke and mirrors and making it very real and applicable.”

Martin has also created a customized package where a company’s entire team can be taught within their work environments, starting at $25,000 a session. Martin said these sessions are set for a global hospitality company, a media company and a large media agency.

“It’s clear to see that in every industry, a huge portion of senior executives are faking it,” said Martin. “They simply don’t understand basic principles of data science. They know the buzzwords, they know how to use them on a panel or in the boardroom, but they don’t understand what they mean or why they matter.”

Earlier in November, brand strategy agency Giant Spoon announced its partnership with NBCUniversal to provide a customized data-focused offering to direct-to-consumer brands. The offering includes regular access to the agency’s data science teams and data science workshops with data and tech experts. Over the summer, Los Angeles-based digital agency Omelet began partnering with 97 Communications, a data science consultancy, to start implementing data science workshops for current clients among other data solutions and is looking into building these workshops out into a separate offering, according to Ricardo Diaz, executive director of digital at Omelet.

BBDO New York has now been offering clients and outside prospects three different data science courses – called Marketing Science 101, 201, and Data Workouts — for the past two years and will often create courses specifically designed for the clients it works with, according to Tina Allan, evp and director of data solutions for BBDO New York.

“Everyone wants to be able to understand today and predict tomorrow, and as data storytellers, we can help translate the what, why and how in this data-overload world,” said Allan, who declined to provide details about pricing or curriculum, but said coding was part of what participants would learn.

Other agencies are working with universities to support talent that might eventually make their way to data science internships or positions at their agencies. IPG-owned Mediabrands’ data and technology team launched a two-day accredited workshop with the University of Colorado Boulder last February to train students on data science and programmatic buying, and plans on launching another in 2019, according to the agency. R2C Group has developed a marketing analytics course at the University of Montana to feed its internship program and is working with Portland State University to build out its business curriculum with data science courses.

In 2013, media agency The Trade Desk was early to the idea of offering marketers certificate programs in programmatic, which bakes in data science theories and the implementation of data management platforms into a $500 curriculum, involving four five-hour long video courses. The Trade Desk has seen the demand for such offerings increase dramatically. In 2014, it certified 72 students, and in October 2018, that number increased to 4,561 students, according to Meredith Hall, general manager of learning and development at The Trade Desk.

C-level and marketing leaders are coming around to the belief that they can’t just rely on their analytics team and data scientists to be the only ones to understand data science. Elizabeth Brooks, marketing officer at BSE Global, owner of the Brooklyn Nets, attended a Data Science University session in order to bring back knowledge so that her entire team understands principles of data science, not only the company’s analytics department. “We are reasonably advanced in data science, but our goal is that no matter where you are in the marketing team, you understand how data is collected, differences between first and third party data and how you can leverage it,” she said.

“Data-driven issues increasingly define the basis of competition in digital marketing,” said Tom Chavez, former CEO of Salesforce-owned data cloud service Krux and co-author of “Data Driven: Harnessing Data and AI to Reinvent Customer Engagement.” “Marketers who used to dwell exclusively on the creative side understand that they can’t just throw a cool concept or sizzling piece of creative over the wall and let the techies ‘handle it.’”

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