Kevin W. Tharp
Program Director BS in Digital Marketing Technology
University of Wisconsin-Stout
“What that certification does in this field, just like every other field, is it goes to an established set of criteria. These are standards, and so that ability to get certified as having those standards when you go then to an employer from a student’s stand point, you can say that this actually is vetted knowledge.”
Welcome to ‘Take Ten’, OMCP’s podcast where we spend 10 minutes, more or less, talking to online marketing thought leaders, educators, and career professionals about training and certification with hosts Jane Flint and David Temple.
OMCP: This is Jane Flint for OMCP Take 10, and we’re talking to Doctor Kevin Tharp, program director of the BS and digital marketing technologies program, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Dr. Tharp, please tell our audience a little bit about yourself and about your background.
Kevin W. Tharp: Like you said, I’m an Associate Professor of digital marketing technology here at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. I’ve been here for eight years, and during that time, we have built the program that has turned into the Bachelor of Science in Digital Marketing Technology. What I brought that allowed us to do this personally, obviously I need to give credit to a lot of other people, but what I bring to this is that I’ve been working on the web since 1994. In most of that time, my focus has been in finding ways of getting information to the people that need that information. It started with early community networks and online community and made my way through that whole thing. And that eventually brought me to teaching, and that sort of continues to be the thread that I’m following is how do we get people to the information so that those people and us reach our objectives?
OMCP: Right. Thank you. As you said, you’re currently on the faculty at University of Wisconsin-Stout, I think what we’d love to hear about is the program itself. Who all is involved, how it came together, why you saw the need or what the need was that you saw?
Kevin W. Tharp: Okay. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we started working towards this degree as early as late 2008, 2009 when listening to our industry advisory board and specifically a company called Findlaw, which is a Thomson Reuters property. They play heavily into the path that we followed. But it started with listening to them saying, “Hey, we need to hire students who understand web analytics.” And so we started with that: what is web analytics? Let’s figure out what this is and let’s create a program, and we worked with them to develop the curriculum.
They had heavy input into the curriculum, and so that’s where it started. And then a couple of years later it was, “Hey, we need a search engine optimization course,” and along similar veins. So we went along that path with sort of a web technology path, but at the same time we had a parallel path going in the same department with enterprise technology systems. And so while I was doing the web thing, we had another of our people doing, Evan Sveum, doing the enterprise technology systems, and they co-emerged as a series of courses that both lead to minors. Each of them created a minor. I want to think that was 2013 when we first started accepting students into the minor, and then the next logical step was our industry partner saying, “Hey we need a degree. We would really like to see a degree.” We didn’t know what to call the degree at the time.
We were sort of web development, we played with a number of names, and when you are creating a new program in a public university system, there are a lot of people that have input and influence into moving that forward. We actually had to negotiate with publics on campus, and then when we got to a point of agreement on campus, I think it was in the realm of calling it Web Technology, we then shopped that out, or not shopped it out, it went to the entire University of Wisconsin system, and the feedback we got from other programs is, that sounds too much like a computer science degree, web development. And they were like what you’re proposing isn’t really a Computer Science degree, so we went back to table and we came out with Digital Marketing Technology because that’s really what it was.
We always didn’t have that quite fit with the name, but when we found the right fit for the name, it was like, of course, that’s what we’re doing. And then we started looking and there were no other Digital Marketing Technology programs, and so we went through them. We went very quickly through the process for a public university, and we were approved in June of 2015 to offer the program and that involves the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin system approving that, and then we started taking students in September of 2015.
Kevin W. Tharp: And that gets us very close to where we are now.
OMCP: That’s right. Here we are today, caught up. As OMCP, our mission is standards and certification, and I’m wondering how do you see OMCP standards and certification standards in general for the profession? Applying to the course of study that you’ve developed, what’s important about it? Or what’s the connection?
Kevin W. Tharp: The important thing about having a standards body and standards that you can demonstrate as a professional or an emerging professional that you meet the standards is that it’s really easy to talk about, “Oh, I know marketing,” or “Oh, I know technology.” What that certification does in this field, just like every other field, is it goes to an established set of criteria. These are standards, and so that ability to get certified as having those standards when you go then to an employer from a student’s stand point, you can say that this actually is vetted knowledge. Other professionals, industry, education have looked at this field and have decided these are things that are important to know, and by the way, I know them.
From the standpoint of being a university, those same standards, they look at our curriculum to see if we are meeting those standards, because it’s really easy to put something together. It’s another thing to put something together that is achieving the core competencies that industries want to see. And so really to me, that idea of core competencies is what it’s all about. What are the core competencies and what are the different levels of the core competency? So that if you got different levels of standards, I might be starting off or I may be well-established, and then that differentiation allows, with that certification, it allows you to see what level is this person is really coming in at.
OMCP: Right, right. I think we’ve also been looking at sort of the growth of the industry, the promotability of professionals, getting people who are into digital marketing and knowing those and digital marketing technologies being able to work their way up the corporate ladder and be able to affect business from that point of view, as well.
That’s why the degree piece is so important to us from the Stout program. In addition to OMCP’s mission of creating and maintaining standards and certification exams for professionals in the field of online marketing, we’re also a community of practice. Like the University of Wisconsin-Stout’s BS program, we rely on the contributions and influence of people in industry and people on the academia like you to ensure that the certifications we provide deliver the value and the real working knowledge both for students and for the employers that are seeking to hire them. Where do you see the field of online marketing going in the next few years, and what’s your advice for people preparing for the profession?
Kevin W. Tharp: We’re at an interesting point in that we’re looking at that tipping point where the technology becomes crucial to marketing. There’s always been some degree. If you’re printing, you’re using technology. If you’re doing radio or television, you’re using technology. But now we’re getting to the point where you’re not using technology but technology is, I don’t really want to use the term driving but it certainly is…
Kevin W. Tharp: Yeah, informing. It’s integral to it. When you start thinking about marketing, sometimes the first thing you think about now is the technology that you’re going to use to deliver that. And so it’s more and more and more going to become part of the core competency of being a professional communicator of any kind, whether it’s marketing or sales or whatever. It’s becoming a foundational…it’s becoming a part of literacy.
OMCP: Yes. Very well put. Thank you so much. Anything else that you just would like to share or say or advocate for?
Kevin W. Tharp: We’ve got the program. We’ve got some students. We’re ready for more students. If people are interested in roles as faculty, keep an eye on us, because we’re going to have to grow our faculty. If you’re also interested in becoming a part of the program, whether it’s industry, student, in any way, we’re at that point where that is what we need. We’ve got the vehicle. Now we need to put the passengers in it. We need to put the gas in the tank, to take the metaphor just as far as we can, and to put the seat belts on. We’ve got to have the standards and the protocols and the people that are making sure that we’re going down the right path. And it looks bright.
OMCP: Good. Yes, and you have a blog post out that maybe we can point people to, as well. We’ll work that into the transcription of this and make sure that you get that and they get to read it.
Kevin W. Tharp: The ChiefMarTec blog got us a lot of publicity when we first launched this, and Scott Brinker’s blog. That’s a good place to look at our ideology of how we’re working with industry and how we want to move this model forward.
OMCP: Great. Thank you.
Kevin W. Tharp: Thank you.