Double Standards - Are media agencies finding the skills they need?

Hybrid skillsets are much in demand, but adland can still attract the top talent, according to two experts.

Keith Rattray, owner, Dot-Gap digital media recruitment
Keith Rattray, owner, Dot-Gap digital media recruitment

KEITH RATTRAY OWNER, DOT-GAP DIGITAL MEDIA RECRUITMENT

- Media agencies increasingly look for T-shaped skillsets. How hard is it to find and recruit these hybrid workers?

Extremely hard is the short answer, and for a couple of significant reasons. First, media agencies view prior agency experience as a prerequisite. The pool of talent for emerging agency disciplines is tiny by its very nature, and if you are just looking at those currently in agency jobs, then you will be looking at a handful of people. Second, it's that illusive hybrid that is really in demand: the right combination of specific tools and software skills coupled with an operational experience that is more often than not rooted in online advertising campaign delivery.

- To what extent are you looking to talent from other industries in order to satisfy the skillsets you require?

Perhaps not looking quite as hard as we should be as the belief is still strong that if you have not worked in an agency before, you are unlikely to make that transition. But agencies are very good at looking to other organisations that specialise in slightly different disciplines, and that widening of the traditional net is absolutely the right approach. New skills are evolving all the time, but let us not forget that it is an evolution rather than the introduction of a brand new species, so in order to locate those with the right skills, you need to look in the right places.

- Considering media agencies are looking beyond their direct competitors for these new hires, are advertising headhunters struggling to source the right individuals?

From conversations with senior agency people about digital talent, it is apparent that most headhunters in this space do struggle - primarily because they don't know where to look and are still using the same routes to market that they are familiar with. If you don't fully understand the brief you are working on, you're never going to be able to fill it. Don't get me wrong - it's tricky and you have to dedicate a lot of time to just keeping up with what goes on inside agencies.

- What could headhunters do better to help agencies find the talent they need?

There is no substitute for knowledge and experience, which is why a thorough briefing and deep, first-hand understanding of the employer you are working with is an essential first stage. After that, it's all about dialogue and appropriate, considered advice. New roles in sectors such as those on agency trading desks are complicated and technically challenging, and without sufficient grasp of the subject, you are never going to find appropriate candidates for your employers.

- Is it difficult to retain digitally native talents when other industries can outbid the advertising industry and lure them away?

The appeal of working in a leading agency is always strong, especially when you are talking to people who specialise in fields such as analytics, search engine optimisation or smart tracking and targeting solutions. Sure, the likes of Accenture, Shell and PricewaterhouseCoopers will happily throw money at these rare breeds, but many will still choose the challenge and rewards of top-flight agency life.

DAN CLAYS MANAGING DIRECTOR, OMD

- Media agencies increasingly look for T-shaped skillsets. How hard is it to find and recruit these hybrid workers?

The challenge is not just recruiting media generalists who are passionate and knowledgeable about data and technology's influence, but it is also finding digital specialists who can adapt to the integrated world and offer the same client service and leadership ability. The bottom line is that everything is digital today, and anyone who hasn't adapted to that - be it a comms planner or a TV buyer - will find it harder to succeed in the industry.

- To what extent are you looking to talent from other industries in order to satisfy the skillsets you require?

We are open-minded. A teacher joined us last week to restart his career, so if he can present every day to a rowdy bunch of 13-year-olds, this should be a breeze. The likelihood is that Generation Y will change career direction more often than the mature Campaign reader and we have to embrace that. When it comes to dataand technology-related roles, the agency pool is limited and so we have to look outside. And as we spend more time collaborating with media owners and developing ideas outside of traditional media spend, creative agency talent will increasingly have a big impact in our business.

- Considering media agencies are looking beyond their direct competitors for these new hires, are advertising headhunters struggling to source the right individuals?

The digital advice clients need today is much more than simply how to run a high-impact display campaign or a Twitter strategy. We are moving from thinking in channels to a broader understanding of how technology can influence communications strategy. And when you have an industry in transition, it is challenging for headhunters. Specialist technology and data roles are unquestionably where the struggles are greatest - finding people who fit culturally as well as having the craft. We work in a brilliant industry, with important differences in the personality of agencies - so not only do headhunters need to get the skillset right, but the mindset fit is critical. Not easy.

- What could headhunters do better to help agencies find the talent they need?

Hopefully, whoever is writing the other column will mention charging less, so I don't have to. They should build international ties - such as The Lighthouse Company, which is about to launch in the US, opening up talent from those markets into the UK. They could also gain more understanding of the people inside technology and innovation-led businesses. That is where we will increasingly hire from. There is some brilliant talent who would be amazed by the culture and creative autonomy in agencies. I'd also like to see a breakdown in the media and creative agency headhunter divide. More talent will move between the two and not enough headhunters serve both.

- Is it difficult to retain digitally native talents when other industries can outbid the advertising industry and lure them away?

I would dispute that all other industries can outbid the advertising industry as we will always value people in terms of their contribution to the business, but technology and data talent is vulnerable given it is in shortest supply. The key is to ensure "digital natives" have sufficient autonomy and scope to create - and with the full attention and appreciation of senior management, not neglected in a dark corner of the office.

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