Desperately seeking digital advertising talent

In an understaffed and rapidly expanding industry, staff with experience in the sector are at a premium, Noel Bussey reports.

Mark Collier, the managing partner at Dare, believes he has pulled off a "real coup" by appointing the former managing director of Grand Union, Lee Wright, as the managing director of his agency.

Collier knows that good, senior people with experience of digital marketing are hard to come by.

As an added bonus, Wright has a wealth of experience in recruitment, training and retaining staff. That experience will be vital to her new agency: the digital advertising industry is facing a near-crisis-level talent shortage.

At senior level, the effects of the dotcom crash are still being felt after many who were made redundant moved into different careers, thinking that they would never find digital work again.

Now that the industry is entering a second, more sustainable, boom period (figures released by the Internet Advertising Bureau show that online spending hit £1.4 billion in 2005), the dearth of available talent is becoming more obvious.

"The whole digital industry is growing at such a rapid pace," Collier says. "I'm not saying the talent isn't there, but the demand for staff is so great we're struggling to fill roles. We need more people to enter the industry."

The IPA's digital group - of which Wright is a member - is focusing much of its energy on tackling the talent issue. At a more junior level, the industry needs to recruit more graduates and must also try to attract people from above-the-line and direct marketing agencies. That will be no easy task: there's the hangover from the dotcom crash, the difficulty in matching above-the-line salaries (particularly on digital budgets) and the fact that many creatives would rather work on a TV ad than a digital campaign.

Wright recognises these challenges, but remains undaunted. "We are looking at different avenues to rectify as many of these problems as we can," she says.

"At the IPA, we're developing training courses to inform people about the industry and try to change the image it picked up after the dotcom crash. We are also running recruitment schemes in colleges to entice graduates into the industry and running courses for staff from above-the-line agencies who may be interested in changing their career. I'll be implementing a lot of these on a smaller scale at Dare as well."

Staff with any sort of digital experience are now fiercely fought over.

Even junior account executives receive weekly phone calls from headhunters, and inter-agency poaching is reaching unprecedented levels.

Ed Ling, the strategy director at the digital media specialist i-level, says that the situation is creating fresh problems.

"Bidding for talent is definitely a problem now, because staff are beginning to realise they are in a strong position," he says.

"You can get to the offer stage with a candidate and their agency will suddenly counter-offer them the crown jewels. This sort of bidding war can also lead to people being promoted before their time, which will be detrimental to the industry in the long run."