IAB CEO David Cohen: Talent And DEI Are Top Challenges For The Digital Ad Industry

There’s a talent crunch bearing down on the digital advertising ecosystem.

There’s a talent crunch bearing down on the digital advertising ecosystem.

Agencies, brands and publishers are struggling to manage an ongoing labor shortage that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic, a demand for more flexible working environments and elevated expectations for diversity, equity and inclusion practices.

“Everyone’s heard of ‘The Great Resignation,’ and we’re really seeing the movement,” said David Cohen, CEO of the IAB, which released survey data last week together with PricewaterhouseCoopers examining the main trends set to impact the US digital ad ecosystem in 2022.

The outlook is based on conversations with roughly 20 CMOs, CIOs, CROs and other industry executives across the buy side and the sell side.

The executives highlighted three main challenges on their horizon. In addition to steep competition to woo and keep talent – in concert with fostering corporate DEI policies – the ad industry is also contending with the widening consumer trust gap and looming federal scrutiny.

The majority – 88% – of executives are facing higher-than-average turnover, and 65% of employees say they’re looking for a new job, according to a PwC US pulse survey on the future of work released in August.

It’s a big problem, because to continue growing the industry needs a smart, engaged workforce behind it.

US internet advertising increased by double digits last year and hit nearly $140 billion in revenue, according to the IAB and PwC 2020 annual revenue report. That number is forecasted to crack $200 billion by 2025.

Which is great. But to keep that momentum going, the digital ecosystem needs more “qualified, switched-on, leaned-in employees to support it,” Cohen said, “and that’s become increasingly challenging.”

A big part of the challenge is related to the expectation among current and prospective employees that companies offer hybrid work arrangements, location flexibility, expanded benefits, compensation equity and DEI policies that “walk the walk,” Cohen said.

The collective digital ad industry realizes that failing to act, especially on the DEI front, is a significant and immediate risk, according to the IAB’s 2022 outlook.

“There is a clear acknowledgment in the industry that whether we’re talking DEI in their own employee base or in terms of where they’re spending their money, there’s been too much lip service and what they’ve been doing to date hasn’t been moving the needle in a meaningful way,” Cohen said.

And this is where recruitment and DEI efforts intersect. The digital ad industry should reflect the country’s complexion, and not just at the entry level, he said.

In July 2020, the IAB launched an umbrella program called the Inclusion Institute to improve diversity standards in the industry through education, outreach and leadership development.

As part of that effort, the IAB is also in the midst of launching an apprenticeship program to help member companies offer mentorship and on-the-job training to attract more diverse candidates to ad tech, digital media and marketing.

“People always nod and agree and say they understand when the conversation turns to these topics,” Cohen said. “But they realize now we’ve reached a crisis state and that they need to act."

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