As Demand For Ad Tech Expertise Soars, Companies Must Grow Their Own Digital Talent

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Carl Smith, owner, Bureau of Digital.

Corporations have long been known to poach talent from marketing and advertising agencies every five years or so, a practice that continues today with a focus on digital shops.

Their goal is to acquire the latest skills. When they do, a new generation of recruits must learn under fire. Many wash out due to stress. Others stick around long enough to learn what they need to move on to perceived greener corporate pastures.

Unfortunately, these same personnel often become out of touch because corporations don’t invest in their development. Frustrated, many leave and start their own digital shops, which requires talent that is difficult to find. As a result, digital leaders either face team expansion or contraction, and if not, they’re trying to absorb and onboard new personnel to fill gaps. It’s a vicious circle that creates many problems.

Marketing and advertising routinely make Top 10 lists for most stressful careers. In recent industry research, 32% of agency pros worried about their mental health, a rate that climbed to 40% for those working between 50 and 59 hours per week. Many fall regularly into this category, never mind when their agency is short-staffed.

It’s not easy to build and maintain a high-caliber team, especially when you’re serving as a corporate farm club. In-house teams also feel this pinch when they realize talent prospects are slimmer than in the past.

What the industry collectively needs to do is grow its ranks. We need to attract and cultivate our own talent, otherwise, the digital landscape will be bleak for both agencies and corporations alike.

Get ‘onboard’

Roughly 70% of agencies in a 2018 HubSpot study reported difficulty finding the right fit for open positions. Even with the right talent, only half are equipped to encourage personal career growth. And just 41% of agencies have specific training programs for new hires; nearly 60% don’t have job descriptions or even KPIs for roles.

It’s no wonder talent retention is an issue.

Digital leaders should be on board with onboarding, particularly with distributed workforces where remote staff aren’t seated next to each other to offer guidance. When people know what’s expected and see what’s coming, they’re more comfortable and less likely to be overwhelmed. They also feel more secure in an environment that illustrates long-term thinking about individuals and the organization.

Making it personal can help, such as developing and retaining talent through strong mentors.

If you have senior staff who share similar qualities or interests with more junior members, pair them up and get them out of the office for lunch or coffee. This encourages open, candid dialogue, and newer employees see people just like them making this a viable career and feel supported.

That, in turn, may make them more likely to stick around to fight the good fight, instead of fleeing when the action gets hot.

Invest without rest

Losing a high-producing, savvy employee will not only jeopardize work quality and impact client relations: You’ll also be out an experienced trainer. That substantial loss can be tied to the bottom line.

A company should look for ways to show staff it’s investing in them. It doesn’t always have to be through salary increases or promotions, though those are certainly motivators. It can be as simple as sending employees to seminars or providing tuition reimbursement for specific courses. Also, regular discussions about their career paths, and not just during performance reviews, can show the opportunities ahead.

It’s about putting as much emphasis on keeping employees as on seeking new ones. If companies fail, they’ll be back at square one, facing staff shortages and repeating those same recruiting and onboarding efforts, costs and frustrations.

Planting the seeds

Studies show talent demand is outpacing supply, with fewer marketers than jobs available. The most in-demand function, digital marketing, has soared while talent levels have dropped. In fact, with the exception of comms, research and analysis and relationship management, every facet of digital marketing saw the pool of available talent drop from the previous year.

At the same time, in a survey of UK students aged 18 to 24, more than half responded that “marketing was ‘never’ or ‘hardly ever’ mentioned at their school,” with just 1% reporting it was talked about significantly at all. In HubSpot’s report, roughly three-quarters of agencies have no formalized internship program.

With a decreasing digital talent pool and upcoming generation with little exposure to marketing as a viable career, today’s talent gaps are nothing compared to what will happen if we don’t cultivate tomorrow’s talent.

That said, digital leaders should encourage college internships to foster full-time candidates who are ready to go upon graduation. They should work with universities to develop courses, give presentations to students, push schools to offer job placement services and more.

Many see great success through apprenticeships programs, including ones that reach alternative groups like high school students or experienced workers looking to transition. The industry should continue to create its own accredited programs, too.

Digital services or design shops and in-house corporate teams all have the same talent needs. We should plant seeds now to grow a new group of digital producers able to carry teams to a brighter future.

Follow Bureau of Digital (@bureauofdigital) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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