The Advertising Association (AA) has warned the marketing industry that it needs to “stem talent loss and attract new people”, as a new report reveals the number of people working in marketing and advertising fell by 14% between 2019 and 2022.
Unveiled at the joint industry conference Lead 2023 today (25 January), the ‘Investing in our talent’s future’ report calls on both the industry and government to take urgent action.
The report was produced by the AA’s Talent Taskforce, set up at the beginning of 2022 to address the talent shortage in the industry, alongside UK advertising thinktank Credos. It investigated advertisers, agencies, media owners and tech platforms and found the shortage of talent in the industry is due both to a failure to attract talent, and to retain it.
There is a distinct lack of awareness about marketing and advertising as a career option, the taskforce finds, thus decreasing the industry’s ability to attract talent. School and university leavers do not prioritise it as a career choice compared to other industries.
Additionally, there is a need to attract career switchers who can bring their skills to the advertising and marketing industries.
Digital and data skills are particularly in demand. In 2019, there were an estimated 3,500 “hard-to-fill” vacancies across advertising and market research companies. The report says this is likely to have increased as the taskforce has found vacancies are on the rise since the pandemic.
Therefore, one of the first steps the AA will be taking is to develop a campaign, aimed at all those who might be interested in pursuing a career in marketing and advertising to demonstrate how “dynamic” the industry can be.
HR leaders across marketing and advertising reported skill shortages were most acute at mid-level (people three to five years into their careers) as well as entry-level.
In addition, training existing employees within a business can be a tool for retention, with the report citing research from LinkedIn which found 94% of employees would have stayed in their role longer if their employer had invested more time in their professional development.
To help upskill workers, the AA is creating an online guide to existing industry skills training and accreditation available for all stages of marketing and advertising careers. It highlights the Data and Marketing Association (DMA) as a “trailblazer” on this kind of in-job training, with its 12 week data and marketing bootcamps.
The report authors found “uncompetitive salary levels” to be a “recurring theme” throughout their research, posing issues in both attracting and retaining talent.
Once adjusted for inflation, annual advertising spend has increased by 42% since 2011. However, salaries have not kept pace with this industry growth. Average annual advertising and marketing salaries for junior and mid-level roles have fallen across the same period, dropping by 4% and 10%, respectively.
Inflation and the cost of living crisis will only make this real-terms salary decrease worse, the report warns.
In addition to ensuring marketing and advertising salaries remain competitive, the industry must ensure workplaces can foster creativity and collaboration to retain talent. The report acknowledges the difficulty of doing this in a hybrid environment and has committed to supporting businesses to help create a rewarding work environment for their staff.
“We need to seek and share best practice to make work enjoyable and rewarding for everyone – there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” says AA president and Tesco chief commercial officer Alessandra Bellini.
Calling on government to take action
While the report contains a call to action for businesses to work on improving talent gaps within their own industry, it also places the onus on government. AA CEO Stephen Woodford says the UK government must take “stronger action and leadership” on the issue.
“We need a plan to address long-term, systemic issues,” Woodford says. “Our education system needs to equip our young people with the skills needed in the modern workplace, and skills training is needed to anticipate long-term workforce supply shortages.”
Being an inclusive industry is a critical factor in attracting and retaining all talent.
Stephen Woodford, Advertising Association
Apprenticeships are acknowledged in the report as a “unique and valuable tool for increasing the diversity of talent” within a business as well as a way to improve retention, with 80% of employers reporting improved retention rates due to apprenticeship schemes, according to a recent survey by the Skills Funding Agency.
Despite these benefits, apprentices within the industry are still rare. Between 2020 and 2021, there were just 1,220 apprentices in advertising and market research companies, representing 0.6% of total employment spread across only 1.7% of companies, states the report.
It lays out some structural barriers, particularly for SMEs, to taking on apprentices, including length of training and concerns that apprentices may leave the business.
Increasing uptake of apprenticeship schemes is one of the preliminary actions laid out in the report, which calls for businesses which have run successful schemes to help showcase the potential of the programmes.
“By acknowledging the shortage, we are putting ourselves in a strong position to fix it,” the AA states.
Now that these shortcomings have been acknowledged, the AA’s Talent Taskforce will set about forming a solid plan to address them, and create ways to measure the success of these actions.
It will link these actions to its All In initiative, which is designed to encourage inclusion in the marketing and advertising industry.
“A key finding from the All In research was that being an inclusive industry is a critical factor in attracting and retaining all talent,” AA CEO Woodford notes.