Which skills are going to be most in demand as the ad industry recovers?

The road to recovery can't come soon enough and it'll take talent to help advertising on its way.

Skills: what are needed to future-proof businesses?
Skills: what are needed to future-proof businesses?

"A crisis is a terrible thing to waste." Well, at least that’s how the old saying goes and it’s pretty cold comfort to those in the industry who have either been put under the uncertainty of furlough or, worse still, have lost their jobs because of the current health crisis.

But thoughts must turn to recovery – this situation won’t go on forever – and the best agency leaders must be looking at what future shape their businesses need to be in when the lockdown is eventually eased, clients are spending and customers are buying.

Given that most agencies have been forced to reduce costs in all parts of their business, the big question is what skills will be the most valuable – and therefore in demand – when the ad industry recovers from this terrible shock.

Ian Priest

Global chief executive, Grace Blue

First, individuals who can lead genuine business transformation will be incredibly valuable as our industry re-emerges. Secondly, leading talent who really understand the end-to-end customer experience with specific expertise across data analysis, customer experience, ecommerce as well as new areas such as connected packaging – these will be vitally important as brands evolve their direct to customer channels. Thirdly, the timeless ability to engage with audiences, differentiate from competitors – in short, creative problem-solvers – will always be sought after, even more so with less resources available.

Finally, businesses will hire on attitude too. Leaders who are ambitious, agile, adaptable and brave with personalities to drive change and bring people with them will lead the businesses and brands that will ultimately thrive.

Sally Quick

Partner, Mission Bay

For me, this answer falls into two skillsets – emotional and professional. More than ever, the ad industry is going to need open and empathetic trust-builders, who can tap into the zeitgeist, "read the room" and display their passion and purpose – alongside the more classic skills of resourcefulness, a huge understanding of their clients' challenges and the ability to be strategic and pragmatic at the same time. 

Having watched way too many Friends repeats during lockdown, the word "pivot" keeps popping up too: the most sought-after talent will be able to pivot from one area to another, bringing a fresh perspective with them. As F Scott Fitzgerald said: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

Xavier Rees

Chief executive, Havas London and Havas Helia

This is a unique economic event, unlike any previous recession, making it near impossible to predict what form the recovery will take. As a result, the most important skill will be the ability to flex and adapt to whatever comes our way – and to do so at speed. Brands and agencies with slow, rigid planning and production processes will struggle.

The winners will be those who can quickly make sense of any significant changes to consumer behaviour as they unfold – and calmly execute both short- and long-term strategies in response. To shamelessly rip off Darwin, the most important skill will be the ability to adapt quickly to change. And this will apply to brands and agencies alike.

Harjot Singh

Chief strategy officer, Europe and UK, McCann Worldgroup

The industry will recover using this crisis as a pivot towards even greater ambition and creativity lead by self-aware, emotionally intelligent and decisive leaders.

Exceptionally creative and strategic problem-solvers who demonstrate high levels of adaptive intelligence will be most in demand.

Adaptive intelligence will be most sought after because it’s a skill that hinges on an attitude of creativity, resilience and EQ, as much as it does on proven technical prowess of rapid innovation, applying and envisioning data/technology in the most creatively and commercially effective ways, and seamless stakeholder management.

As an industry, we create, claim and deliver value through differentiation, and the urgency of embedding and empowering diverse talent who challenge the clichéd normality can never be undermined.

Helen Kimber

Managing director, The Longhouse

Technical skills and personal qualities. Leaders with conviction, confidence, but crucially empathy too – not only for people but clients needing to completely reinvent their businesses. Leadership breeding partnership and supportive solutions. Set direction, but seek advice, flex and adapt in our approach to projects, fees, process and delivery. A tightrope between conviction and flexibility. Brands need us to re-establish lighthouse statuses, simultaneously connecting on an intimate and authentic level. 

Bigger strategic thinking; consultancy approach, willingness to be generous with creativity without the same production payoff. Creatively, polymaths who glide effortlessly across the communication landscape, applauding pragmatic, practical creatives who can learn new technical skills and deliver with limited resources. In delivery, resurgence of the multitasker and integrated CV. Less bodies, more inventive solutions across channels. Those with a zig-zag of experience will be in high demand. Similarly, the ambidextrousness of combined client service/project management; ability to manage and make.


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