Create pathways to engaged, empowered and motivated staff

The general digital skills shortage we are facing in the UK, highlighted this week by O2 at the Campus Party technology festival, is something that anyone in the communications industry will be well aware of.


For us one of the most immediate problems is a shortage of digital marketing talent, from generalists to more specialist roles such as search. Project forward another five or even ten years and this problem seems almost certain to be significantly more pronounced across brands, agencies and publishers.

There has been quite a bit of speculation about the future nature of the client side marketing function. As is the case now, of course, it will be different for different business models. However, what seems certain is that everyone will need to understand how to use digital marketing and technology in their approach to marketing, a subject that has been well covered by the trade press over the last few years.

It is also pretty clear that, increasingly, it will require resource which is more technically savvy and data orientated, and this is the area I’ll focus on in this column. While many aspects of marketing may be becoming automated, other functions are becoming more specialist and resource intensive. This year’s IAB Real Time Bidding Conference and Mobile Engage make the point: as sell-out events of 300 delegates, they reflect marketers’ thirst for knowledge and direction around recent trends. The size of each event is comparable to many ‘mainstream’ marketing events this year.

So where is the required talent going to come from?

The education system is an obvious source. Lobbying efforts from Google and others addressed the problem of a lack of graduates with the right skills and qualifications, which resulted in the Government committing itself to introducing elements of Computer Science in the new national curriculum for 5 – 16 year olds from September.

There are other initiatives designed to encourage a more technical mindset in children too such as the Raspberry Pi computer hardware being used in many schools and Coder Dojo events in London, which aim to introduce children to coding. They are all pointing in the right direction and over time will add up. However, by their very nature and the age of those being affected, any impact on the industry will be less than immediate.

Some agencies are more agile than their clients in identifying a business opportunity in these resource gaps in specialist roles. A new type of agency is particularly notable for this – there are a handful of specialist analytics providers like Qubit that have sprung up offering conversion optimization and analytics solutions. Search and mainstream agencies too have exploited skill gaps client side. For example, many have scaled their specialist expertise by adopting the digital academy concept of recruiting strong graduates and training them up. Indeed, many have moved elements of their operations outside London, to where their key staff will be less easily poached by competitors.

Restructures are now the norm for brands, and anyone working in communications or marketing will be well advised to expect this to be increasingly the case in forward-thinking brands. In my experience, though, in thinking through these restructures many brands race to catch up with change rather than anticipating it and building for the future.

I believe we should think about rebalancing the skillsets in our teams based on our vision of our organisation’s future requirements. We should recruit the brightest talent we can. In order to produce the required volume whilst not sacrificing on quality we should look to adjacent industries and sectors. For analytics, for example, relevant alternate pools of talent could be banking, finance or even IT. We also might do well to adopt some of the techniques of our agency partners to ensure we retain the IP and competitive advantage available in some of these specialisms by building our own strong in-house capability. However, perhaps obviously, what will be most important of all will be good leadership and development of talent to ensure we have engaged, empowered and motivated employees. They will, after all, increasingly have alternative vocational options available to them if we fail to provide a compelling and rewarding workplace environment.

Alex Tait @astait
Chair ISBA Digital, Data & Direct Action Group 2010-13



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