What I've Learned As A Global Digital Manager for 15 Years


Isabelle Hudovernik | April 27, 2017

Isabelle Hudovernik has served as an international digital manager in the luxury industry for over 15 years. Here she breaks down what the job entails and how the industry can ensure they hire the right people.

Digital has unquestionably changed the face of the world, and in particular the way in which new professions are becoming involved with the corporate world. The digital boom has spawned a whole host of competencies, featuring varying degrees of technical complexity. Until recently, jobs with titles such as community manager, web designer, data expert, UX/UV developer or digital manager simply didn’t exist.  It would indeed seem that many people have no idea what these profiles even mean.

Having served as a digital manager for many years in the luxury industry, and often having to explain what my job entailed, let’s take a closer look at this particular role.

In short, the mission of a global digital manager is to boost brand awareness on the web and to enhance the appeal of the products and/or services of a given brand. To achieve this, digital managers are not only expected to have an excellent overall grasp of digital channels, but they also need to be able to map out the customer journey, and create content that is so beautiful and inspiring that even the hesitant customer will take that final step towards acquisition.

There is far less talk, however, of the informal and even non-explicit missions with which digital managers are sometimes charged, requiring personal qualities rather than technical skills.

Today for example, be it in-house recruitment or seeking to outsource a project, digital managers have to deploy HR competencies and become essential partners of HR departments when it comes to drawing up job descriptions corresponding to those new desired skill sets.

And that’s not all.

In addition to their interpersonal skills, digital managers are also expected to exercise a rigorously mathematical approach to their tracking budget-related expenditure. Finance departments will naturally call them to account, especially since the constant increases of this cost center can prove incomprehensible. The digital manager will need to negotiate with numerous service providers and contractors. For example, simply producing a website calls for around ten different professions involved. Managing the invoicing of all these providers is not only time-consuming but a technical challenge.

Further adding to the intense ‘fun’ of budget management, the digital manager will have the delicate task of explaining complex and technical details in layman’s terms to senior management, providing welcome reassurance by clarifying what lies behind ‘suspect’ billing details such as ‘activating pre-prod. env. site’; ‘opening a ticket for CMS Base correction’ ; or ‘urgent roll-back’…

After overcoming the challenge of simplifying literature designed for geeks, to make it understandable to those who are not, digital managers face another field brimming with obscure terminology – legal clauses – and decoding it for others. The short answer is that digital managers have to grasp the subtle meaning of the laws governing digital in the name of risk management. Anything that is on the web is public, and anything that’s public is risky.

It doesn’t stop there. Digital managers also have to display sharp negotiating skills in order to highlight the performance of their digital developments, such as implementing ROI measures, ranging from the simplest (media performance measurements) to the most complex (linked to immaterial values such as brand awareness or level of engagement).

Here, the difficulty lies in understanding the needs of the audience in order to provide a satisfactory answer. Does the request come from finance, senior management or product marketing teams? With no inkling of listening and pedagogical skills, digital managers are liable to get it all wrong. And that really would be a shame, given that any request to calculate ROI represents a not-to-be-missed opportunity to evaluate the role of digital in the corporate business model!

Would that just about sum it up? Far from it, since I haven’t yet dealt with the crux of the matter: the very reason one becomes a digital manager in the first place. Any digital man or woman’s key weapon is their creativity. This does not mean taking over from Artistic Directors or snubbing Web Designers, but rather refers to the quality that ensures survival within a hostile and constantly changing digital world.

The word creativity implies the ability to imagine and create new things within an imposed structure. The job of digital managers and their teams is never carved in stone. The scope of their mission is constantly changing. Without this creativity and the capacity to take a step back and look at things in perspective, working in digital could prove an extremely painful experience.

Creativity is thus a professional quality that should be part of the job description. People working in digital must be able to deliberately set aside time to think out of the box represented by their wide-ranging, multi-faceted responsibilities; reach out to people working in other industries; have time to read digital-themed articles with a clear head: in a word, take salutary time out. A digital manager who does not nurture such means of creative release is headed for disaster!

Digital transformation occurs from the inside out and digital managers are key players in making this happen, using innovative new tools to contribute to changing their company’s business model, imagining new revenue sources as well as targeting new customers. This should be borne in mind by recruiters and bosses.

Rather than hiring someone who thinks and breathes digital, industries – and in particular luxury Maisons – should ensure that these people share the same corporate values. It is not the greatest digital expertise that will make luxury businesses successful, but rather the ability to find people able to combine their traditional strengths with a capacity for extensive digital capability-building.