Online advertising spend in the UK burst through the £2bn barrier last year. But for the sector to continue to grow at anything close to the rate it has been recently, there will have to be a big expansion in marketing personnel with an understanding of the online world.
This observation is nothing new. Industry experts have been warning of the possible implications of the lack of staff with new media experience for the past couple of years. And some actions have been taken to address the gap.
Ella Smillie, media and advertising manager at the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, says most advertisers "now recognise the potential of digital and are assigning resources appropriately"; their growing confidence in online as an advertising medium "allows them to allocate a greater share of their marketing spend and this is playing its part in helping to fuel the rate at which the online industry is expanding. This rapid growth, of course, has great advantages for marketers; but with it come challenges, not least in recruiting enough staff to keep pace. But advertisers have consistently shown themselves able to adapt and exploit existing and emerging markets. They survive and prosper by being fleet of foot. The best have already recruited new and expert talent from outside as well as skilling up their existing, highly experienced marketers."
Try to get to grips with online
Guy Phillipson, chief executive officer of the Internet Advertising Bureau UK (IAB), says: "The fact that there is an industry skills shortage is now widely acknowledged and steps are being taken to address it at all levels. New technology to aid the marketer is being created on an almost daily basis. The integration and convergence of digital and traditional media means that it is the responsibility of the whole industry to get to grips with online, and this wider shift in thinking will ultimately bring about further solutions."
A year ago, the IAB UK set up a training scheme, IAB Progress, which was aimed at educating people who already had considerable marketing and media experience about new media and interactive. The scheme was established in partnership with Digital Strategy Consulting, the consulting firm run by Danny Meadows-Klue, Phillipson’s predecessor as head of the IAB and now president of IAB Europe.
Certainly, there has been a significant movement of people out of traditional media and marketing fields and into the online world. Blake Chandlee, director of media sales for Yahoo! UK & Ireland, says that this will accelerate as marketers realise the potential for branding that the rapid rise of broadband offers. He says: "The broadband boom has opened up the possibilities of the internet as a display advertising platform – whereas before, marketers may have only considered search marketing. People from traditional backgrounds are just starting to see online as a branding platform, so more offline experts are seeing the advantages of moving into digital and more are saying they need to know about it. That’s changing the perception of the medium."
Back in 2005, the Institute of Direct Marketing launched two qualifications, a Diploma and a Certificate in Digital Marketing, with financial support from Google and input from the IAB. It has since added a number of other courses, including one targeting the business-to-business sector. IDM programme director Joanna King says/ "Digital is the fastest-developing marketing channel in history. The demand for marketers who understand how to devise and deliver effective digital marketing campaigns is at an all-time high."
Some agencies have begun to offer training, too, both to their own staff and to clients. Digital agency Dare launched its Dare School in May 2006. i-Level is another agency that offers training, while the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and the Association of Online Publishers also run courses.
Nigel Gwilliam, senior communities manager at the IPA, says that informal research with IPA member agencies suggest that during 2006 "at any one time, there were 200 places to be filled."
But even with these programmes, and many others that have not been mentioned, there is still going to be a shortfall in digitally qualified marketers. As Stephanie Carr, deputy managing director of The Search Works, says: "It goes without saying that the online marketing industry, and search engine marketing agencies in particular, are lacking high-quality, experienced people. People looking for jobs in the sector are aware of this shortage and as a result we have seen instances of people asking for inflated salaries that do not reflect the level of experience or skills they can bring to the job."
Carr thinks that even with all the various schemes that have been set up, people are still not taking steps to meet the demand. Understandable, perhaps, because of the significant investment necessary: but, as she observes: "Setting up graduate and ongoing training programmes takes time and money, but we’re seeing the benefits in our staff: high levels of retention and low staff turnover and a growing business with motivated work colleagues."
There is some good news in the not-too-distant future, though. Most industry experts agree that the skills shortage is a relatively short-term issue, and one that only affects certain areas of business. As the IPA’s Gwilliam points out, so many marketers dropped out altogether after the bust that followed the dot-com boom of the early 2000s, that there is a scarcity of midand higher-level staff – younger graduates are now so tech-literate that they have little difficulty understanding digital marketing.