Agency staff outperform in-house staff in digital skills, study shows

Agency marketers were ahead in all 12 areas examined in test of 9,000 marketing professionals.

Digital marketing skills: survey found they have declined overall (Image: Maskot/Getty)
Digital marketing skills: survey found they have declined overall (Image: Maskot/Getty)

Agency staff outperform their in-house peers across a full range of digital marketing competencies, a major study has found.

The benchmarking test, carried out by Target Internet in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Marketing, asked almost 9,000 people a series of questions on 12 core digital marketing topics and assigned each participant a percentage score for each topic. The pool included more than 500 staff from 56 UK agencies.

The results found the agency staff to be more highly skilled across all 12 measures – although in all but one, both agency participants and the full sample scored below 50%.

The biggest skill gaps were in email marketing, which produced the highest scores for both groups – 59% for agencies, against an average of 48% – and online advertising, with 40% for agencies compared with an average of 31%.

The gap was least pronounced for general marketing – 48% for agencies against 47% overall – followed by social media (37% versus 34%) and content marketing (31% versus 28%).

The research also found that since the last time it was carried out, in 2018, there had been an overall decline in skill levels in most disciplines – illustrating the fast pace of change facing all marketing professionals. 

The findings are significant because of the widespread practice in recent years of in-housing operations that previously had been handled by agencies. A survey by Denstu last summer found that more than half of chief marketing officers worldwide planned to increase their in-house digital and programmatic capabilities and direct investment in marketing technology, customer platforms and ad tech platforms. 

Another survey in February by MediaLink and Warc found that one-third of marketers planned more in-housing across all areas of marketing and advertising this year. That, however, was before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which Goldman Sachs suggested in June could lead to a swing back towards agencies. 

Gemma Butler, director of marketing at CIM, said: “The complex nature of digital means that marketers need to be continually upskilling themselves just to stay in the same place. The agency sector is taking seriously its role in providing counsel and consultation to organisations and brands, proving that it is keeping pace with technology and can deliver marketing advantage.

“However, in general, the results of the report ought not to be too disheartening, this is a real opportunity for marketing teams to identify the skills gaps in their teams and do something about it.”

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