For anyone wanting a career in digital marketing, graduating this summer is just about the best thing they could do.
The digital sector is growing fast across the board, but for agencies stuck at the wrong end of the supply and demand equation it’s tough to find and keep staff. Several have started to look for employees abroad, frustrated by the shortage of talent in the UK.
Agency.com is planning to grow by a quarter this year, according to its human resources director Stephanie Lunn. It is filling some gaps by enticing back former staff like its recently appointed London managing director Alex Wright and its new head of technology Mark Hopwood – two of the ten “boomerangs” to return this year.
But it is also casting its net across Europe and beyond. It recently launched a recruitment programme in Poland, South Africa and Australia, according to Wright, confident that the lure of London life will persuade people to move.
Others, such as Modem Media, are adopting similar tactics. “The great challenge in our industry right now is to stop poaching each others’ employees from a finite labour pool and start bringing fresh new talent into the industry,” says Norm Johnson, managing director of Modem Media in London. “We’re pursuing recruitment in many new areas, including other countries, particularly on the Continent.”
Modem has been working with Swedish “digital university” HyperIsland to offer placements to its students. It also recently hosted over 40 French university students at its London office, several of whom it is taking for internships and permanent jobs.
But with a limited pool of talent, the inter-agency poaching game continues apace. It would be cheaper and easier if agencies could find graduates from UK universities, but digital agencies have struggled to find enough talent at home – partly because of the allure of above-the-line agencies grabbing a lot of the marketing talent; partly because of their own rate of growth.
The problems faced by digital agencies are “massive” according to Souk Digital managing director Chris Searson.
“We interviewed four account managers over a couple of weeks and before we’d got them to a second interview the majority had already got jobs. It’s very difficult across the board – not just account management but creative people and anyone who has a sniff of experience.”
Among other large digital agencies, many like Profero are growing by as much as 20% this year in staff count; while others such as Dare are moving into bigger offices to accommodate their growth.
The danger if the industry can’t find enough talent is that its growth will be stifled. On the other hand it has had plenty of experience of growing too fast – which ended in the crash of 2000. That might still be an uncomfortable memory for many agency bosses but it’s unknown to the latest batch of graduates.