Debate Joined: Agencies And Marketers Must Combat The Skills Diaspora

Dave Morgan

Founder & CEO

Last week’s debate between the 4A’s Nancy Hill and the ANA’s Bob Liodice exposes the tension that exists in the marketing and media industry. The irony of this debate in which Ms. Hill takes that tack that agencies are not compensated well enough to hire the best and brightest, to which Mr. Liodice counters that marketers don’t trust agencies, doesn’t really highlight the underlying problem.

The 4A’s argument kicks off with the summary of a speech by Keith Weed, CMO at Unilever in Cannes Lions in June. The interpretation of that article is that marketers blame agencies for poor creativity. If you read his actual script, Mr. Weed takes the heat along with the agencies, stating that the real challenge is not salaries per se, but more of a cultural problem that the agencies and marketers both face: the rise of technology as a creative industry, with salaries aligned to the industry, rather than history. He is very clear to point out that the solution Unilever has taken actual depends on one of their agencies R/GA helping them with making the job more interesting.

Marketers have told me time and again that the problems are fundamental in some case, because hot talent wants to create and invent rapidly. But marketers and agencies are not set up to help deliver that result. The reasons:

  • Business model. Agencies, per Ms. Hill, are hamstrung by existing business models that have seen their manual labor needs rise along with fragmented consumer audiences and channels to reach them. Clients suffer this challenge too, as purveyors of low-margin products in consumer goods or retail struggle to compete with high margin sectors like tech, or fast growing brands like Wayfair.
  • Location. SoHo or Englewood Cliffs, NJ in the New York metro area? Venice Beach or City of Industry in California? Lincoln Park or Riverwoods in Illinois? Most young talent want to be around other young talent, not stuck in their cars commuting to far-flung suburbs. This NYT article ( Generation Nice) highlights the interests of the millennial set, and how they would like their lives to develop to serve, not just earn. Hot digital agency Swiftin Portland, Oregon has made agency life better by changing the dynamic of what constitutes a successful work/life balance, in a city that has become a draw for bigger city talent.
  • History. Hierarchy and firmly established market positions limit the desire to hire creative minds. Established marketing managers may actually seek less creative staff or approach creativity cautiously, to hold onto their own jobs. Not a great justification, just a reality of personal survival.

The Real Skills Gap: Innovation

The discussion of skills gaps on marketing teams is not new, but I agree that the tenor of the conversation has shifted. Technical skills, data synthesis, and mutli-channel proficiency have changed the expectations of what makes for a good marketer these days. Some examples of the change:

  • Brilliance from unexpected sources. Mofilms expert crowd sourcing of video. When I was in Cannes for the Festival of Creativity, Mofilm hosted their dinner/awards to the videographers that won the latest contests. Which brands led? Rolo, Chevrolet, Heineken, and Durex. They were willing to find creative talent that didn’t sit inside either the agency or the client, but embrace ideas from non-traditional sources.
  • Creative use and distribution of data. The mathematically inclined historically eschewed marketing for the payouts in finance or science. But creative types can also be numbers geeks. Data visualization tools like Tableau and help the numerically obsessed show off their skills and insight in visually appealing ways. The complexity of today’s marketing warrants it, and should be encouraged by management.
  • Invention or reinvention. The finesse of Amazon, Warby, and YouTube celebs on networks like Maker and StyleHaul show that the most talented are not just running to tech start-ups. But what they do seek is the ability to have impact. Companies that stick to their knitting have a harder time recruiting top talent than those that are not only open to change, but have it built into their business that change will naturally occur. It’s a top-down decision from the CEO, not a one-to-one agreement with a direct manager.

Where’s your talent gap? Is it driven by external factors or internal factors. The true test for marketers is how willing they are to break with traditional either with their agencies or within their orgs to make the changes that attract the best talent.

Interested in getting the latest from Simulmedia?

News, insights, and events sent straight to your inbox!