AOL's sales team is about to get schooled—sort of.
The company's entire sales staff will be required to pass the Interactive Advertising Bureau's certification exam, the IAB announced on Thursday, calling AOL the first "large-scale" digital media firm to enroll in the program.
As the pace of change in the digital advertising universe accelerates (and becomes increasingly complicated), the certification is a way to standardize knowledge across the industry, said Michael Theodore, IAB's vp of training and development.
"It is something that agencies are starting to ask for, and it is a way for companies to show that they want to help standardize and professionalize the industry," he said. "Plus, we think that, certainly short-term, it gives AOL a competitive advantage."
The certification, which was first offered last summer, is aimed at professionals who have been in the business two to five years. Certification is good for two years, with a path for recertification, Theodore said. Some of the topics covered on the exam, according to the IAB's announcement, include "selling digital media" and "managing digital advertising campaigns."
For AOL's part, the company is using the exam to set an example in the industry (and surely, to market itself as forward thinking). "We are taking a step at AOL: this is the minimum requirement a seller in the digital space should have," said Marta Martinez, AOL's head of sales strategy and operations, adding that the company wants to "raise the marketing services profession, especially when it comes to interactive and digital."
The certification exam is offered four times a year, and it changes often to reflect the latest industry issues, Theodore said.
Since the certification exam launched, more than 900 people—including some AOL sellers—have applied to take the test, according to Theodore's count, and the IAB has awarded more than 600 certificates so far. The gap between those figures includes people who weren't eligible to take the test, people who haven't yet scheduled an exam, people who have failed, and people who are scheduled to take it in July. "We're pretty happy with the numbers so far," Theodore said.