Digital Essays: A question of talent

Any shortage of talent in digital is because agencies are looking in too limited a pool - the talent is there, but we need a broader recruitment policy.

It is time to put paid to this talk of a shortage of talent in the digital industry. If the temperature of digital recruitment is rising, then the thermometer gauge must be broken.

Yes, industry growth has created unparalleled demand for digital talent.

But that does not mean we do not have the scope to fill it. And, yes, some agencies clearly need to rethink their talent management strategies to get their houses in order. But I would argue that those strategies were always well wide of the mark.

As an industry, it never fails to surprise me how quick we are to foresee our own downfall and lament what we perceive to be our shortcomings. Rather than applauding what is groundbreaking, there will always be someone quick to point out how it will all go wrong (whatever else, it is certainly not something I am guilty of). The reality is that this is the point in time to be involved in the digital space and there is a wealth of talent queuing up to be part of it.

So where is the disconnect? On many levels, there is not one. Agencies should not have a problem finding or attracting the best talent. After all, there is no shortage of it. It is a perception problem. Recruiters simply are not looking in the right places or asking the right questions in their hunt for digital creatives.

Given our field of expertise, this seems more than a little ironic. How many people can put their hands up to really questioning a client's brief?

We have all accused clients of "not knowing what they are looking for", and yet here we are with our "must look like" outline that so often misses the point.

The problem is two-fold. First, to recruit "talent" successfully, we need to redefine what we mean by the word. To say there is a shortage of "digital marketers" may, in fact, be true. Given such a narrow framework, it encourages us to search in too limited a pool. But remember that the first "digital marketers" did not meet any single definition. They were individuals drawn from other areas of marketing services, sparked by passion and curiosity for a developing medium. So, while an understanding of digital is increasingly important, it is also true that it can be learned. What is more important is an understanding of the role digital can play in an integrated approach to marketing.

Industry crossover, then, is the first step to easing recruitment concerns.

When you take a good look, there is a wealth of people from traditional agency disciplines who want to get into digital.

With the correct training, there is scope for the kind of people who possess great track records in other fields (something lacking in most younger designers) and can bring their experience of wider marketing disciplines to bear.

The benefits of exchanging ideas above, below and through the line should not be underestimated. Increasingly, digital is an essential part of many of the communications briefs out there. To meet this need, as an agency group we often collaborate on projects across the Euro RSCG network. We get insight derived from those partners who have worked above or below the line and come away with greater digital know-how.

But this is by no means the only route to better recruitment. Another prime target should be the generation who have grown up with digital - those for whom it is not new and for whom a career in digital is not a case of saying "shall I risk it?", but the logical next step. Agencies should look at who is coming out of the design schools. Schemes such as D&AD's New Blood offer a good indication of who is being recognised at graduate level.

To stay at the cutting edge of recruitment, it is also important to look at people who are already doing things in the digital space for themselves - people who have set up alone or who show unmistakable flair in the content they have developed for their own projects or business.

If your agency is part of a group, you should be looking within your network, not just for people from different disciplines, but candidates from other markets. Every country is adopting a different approach to the digital revolution and the added benefits of an international perspective should not be underestimated.

With more agencies operating globally, it becomes ever harder to make the idea of a talent shortfall stand up.

Everywhere you look, there is an abundance of talent to draw on. But this can lead to a second problem.

Borrowing brain power from the wider industry can smother the way in which digital should be approached. Expectations need to be reset. It is not just about who you approach, but how they work together. All good creatives should be passionate and curious - that is a given. But to staff a "digital" creative department, it is no longer simply a case of looking for the classic "married couple" creatives, the pair who hooked up in college and have been together ever since.

The point is this: the nature of digital demands a more challenging brief.

You need more than the easy-to-find advertising copywriters whose CV falls straight into your lap from colleges or speculative enquiries from those snugly employed in rival agencies. In fact, as the scope of potential employees suggests, the trick is to call on the many different types of people with a vested interest in, and passion for, digital, to build groups and teams. The wide-ranging skill-sets needed - three, four or five people with specialisms ranging from a Flash scripter to a creative technologist - then have to be carefully combined.

Ask yourself: what does a strong digital team look like? In some ways, it is not that different from the old set-up: to build a team, you need to look at client needs and tailor your offering accordingly. But you also need a broad spectrum of skills and people who understand where digital sits within wider communications activity. And, above all else, you need people who are excited about the digital future and who embrace technology.

- Anne Davies is the managing director of Euro RSCG 4D Digital.

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).